April 21st, 2005

A mind is a difficult thing to change: Part 4A (Vietnam–the home front)

(Part 1)
(Part 2)
(Part 3)
(Interlude)

PREFACE

Part 4 has been a long time coming. The article itself is long, too–so long that I finally decided it would be best to divide it into segments, so readers might have a chance of swallowing it without getting a massive case of indigestion.

I’ll tell you what this post isn’t–it’s not a history of the war itself. It isn’t about those who fought in it, or the Vietnamese people who suffered through it. It’s a political psychological history, an attempt to describe how perceptions were formed in those who remained in this country, particularly those who were young liberals, or who became liberals as a result. So, please don’t castigate me for ignoring this or that aspect of the war; this is not meant to be comprehensive or definitive.

This first segment, Part 4A, deals with my own personal history during the Vietnam era. I start with it to set the scene, and because I think in many ways it is typical of liberals of the time, and can serve as a springboard for later, more general, discussion. Part 4B, which will probably come out tomorrow, is relatively short, and deals with some Vietnam-era photographs. If you think Part 4A is self-indulgent, or rambling, or pointless–after all, who cares about my history?–please bear with me; there’s method to my madness. The payoff (I hope!) will occur in Part 4C.

Part 4C, the third and final segment of Part 4, will probably be posted at the beginning of next week. It’s the part in which I attempt to bring it all together in terms of intrapersonal political change, the theme of this entire “Mind is a difficult thing to change” series. In Part 4C, I will be coming to some more general observations about how the Vietnam War formed (and, in some cases, transformed) political perceptions for many people of my generation, particularly liberals. In later posts (as yet to be written, but definitely on my mind), I will attempt to connect all of this to post-9/11 political change.

So, that’s my blueprint and my plan.

THE VIETNAM WAR–THE HOME FRONT

For those of you accustomed to the almost lightening-quick “major operations” phase of the Gulf, Afghan, and Iraq wars, it’s hard to get a sense of how agonizingly interminable the Vietnam war seemed to those of us who grew up during it. And the Vietnam war was long, even by WWI and WWII standards, although smaller in scope.

The first Green Beret advisors arrived in Vietnam in 1961, when I was still in junior high. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution occurred in the summer of 1964, right before my senior year of high school, and the first US combat troops entered Vietnam shortly thereafter. In this manner, the war went from a distant background noise throughout my junior high and early high school years to a much more audible presence by my senior year of high school, and continued as a loud and discordant cacophony the entire time I was in college and for four years thereafter, with peace talks occurring in 1972, and the catastrophic US leavetaking in 1973. Saigon finally fell to the Communists in 1975. The toll in human life was high: the total number of US deaths there was over 58,000, with Vietnamese deaths in the war variously estimated as having been between one and two million.

The most serious escalation of the war coincided exactly with my college years, 1965-1969. I was younger than most of the other students; I had entered college shortly after my seventeenth birthday. We were all Cold War babies, having grown up with the constant threat of nuclear war but without the US actually having been involved in a major “hot” shooting war (except for the Korean conflict, which we were too young to really remember). So this was new to us.

I was very uneasy about the Vietnam war right from the start of the first troop commitments. At the beginning, the war upset me simply by the distressing fact that people were being killed; later on, I hated the war because it seemed unwinnable and thus an utter waste of human life.

Like most young people of the time, I took the war very personally. It’s probably hard to convey to later generations the powerful and all-pervasive nature of the draft, a sword of Damocles that hung over the heads of everyone. Even though I was a woman, and therefore couldn’t be drafted myself, every young man I knew was facing it, and so it affected me indirectly.

My boyfriend had flunked out of college (almost deliberately) in 1967, was drafted early in 1968, and six months later was sent to Vietnam and into heavy combat. Looking back, it seems to me that we were both painfully young. I was eighteen when we had begun to date, nineteen when he was drafted, twenty when he went to Vietnam, and barely twenty-one on his return. He was only one year older than I. I made sure I wrote to him every day while he was there. He was wounded and spent several weeks recuperating, but was sent back into the thick of the fighting. I was frantic with fear and pretty much alone with it; I didn’t personally know anyone else in college who had a loved one in a similar situation.

During the time he was there, and afterwards, I continued to hate the war (as did my boyfriend, by the way, although he felt it was his duty to serve). I hated the killing, was stricken by the nightly TV news featuring what seemed to be the same harrowing scenes played over and over: wailing Asian women clutching children, wounded soldiers on stretchers (I strained and squinted to see whether any of them looked like my boyfriend, because one of them might actually be my boyfriend), thick vegetation, burning huts. Over and over and over, to no seeming purpose, and with no end in sight. I could barely stand to watch, and sometimes I turned away, overwhelmed.

Throughout this time, both during the war and after, I was getting my news from several sources: network TV, Newsweek, Time, the Boston Globe, and the NY Times. I was under the impression that this represented a broad spectrum of news. These sources displayed a unanimity of opinion that I never questioned–after all, if so many highly respected media agreed, it must be because they were written by intelligent people who were seeking the truth, and telling it to us as best they could.

I remember Tet, Hue, Khe Sanh, all bunched together within a few short months in 1968, around the time my boyfriend was drafted. I remember those battles being portrayed as pointless scenes of carnage, signifying nothing. I remember the My Lai massacre, which also had occurred during the same time period, although we didn’t find out about it until a year later. It was deeply shocking to most of us; we had previously believed American soldiers incapable of such atrocities. We had been raised in the 50s on heroic WWII movies from the 40s, and had grown up with a press that had generally considered soldiers heroes, so this was a profoundly troubling revelation.

My attitude towards the war seemed to be quite typical, according to what I remember of my friends in college. We weren’t political junkies, for the most part, and hadn’t learned about the war in exhaustive detail. We read and/or watched the basic news and discussed the war, but in general terms–we felt we had the big picture correct, which was the most important thing, and we all agreed with each other, anyway. A few of my leftist friends (SDS was very active on my campus), spouted a more extreme version of events, in which they demonized the US–for example, I got into an argument with one friend who insisted that the goal of the US was to commit genocide in Vietnam–but the leftists seemed to me to be more interested in sloganeering and grandstanding than in actual facts or rational debate.

Of course, there were people who had different ideas about the war. But I personally knew none of these people, nor did I see their ideas being advocated in the media, for the most part. But there was the idea that the war originally had been both a good cause and a winnable one, although for political reasons the war had been mismanaged and fought in a half-hearted fashion. There was the idea that a liberal press had misrepresented the battles of 1968, including Tet, as defeats, when in fact they had been victories. There was the idea that, if we were to put more effort and money into it, the later policy of Vietnamization had a real chance of working and giving us the “peace with honor” we all desired, but the public had so turned against the war by that time that such money and effort would not be forthcoming.

But these voices seemed barely audible at the time. The only airing of some of these thoughts that I can recall was by John O’Neil during his June 1971 Dick Cavett show debate with John Kerry. O’Neill seemed sincere but naive and idealistic; Kerry had a world-weary air of having seen it all and known it all. But at least the debate provided food for thought and an airing of alternate views in a substantive manner, in a popular and readily-available forum. As such, it seemed unusual to me.

As time and the war had gone on, the tale told to us by the media wasn’t just about the war itself: it was about how the government had lied to the American people and deceived us, how it couldn’t be trusted. That message grew more focused during the early 70s, during the spring 1971 Congressional hearings on the war (the ones that featured John Kerry), and with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which came out two months later. It was particularly convincing to hear disillusioned veterans such as Kerry speak out and demonstrate against the war–after all, they were the ones who been there and seen it firsthand. The Pentagon Papers revealed that the government had been deceptive about the war and the planning behind it. Then there was the invasion of Cambodia, perceived as an escalation of the war after Nixon had promised a reduction; and the killing of student protesters at Kent State by the National Guard, which made us feel as though war had been declared on us, too–on young people, on students. The message that the government could not be trusted was further reinforced by the Watergate scandal, commencing with the break-in in 1972 and ending later, after we had left Vietnam, in the ignominious 1974 resignation of Nixon.

If we couldn’t trust the government–well, then, who could we trust? Many decided to trust the whistleblowers: the press, our new heroes. After all, they had published the Pentagon Papers. They had showed us photos of what had happened at Kent State. They had brought the horror of My Lai to our attention. They had been instrumental in the exposure of the Watergate scandal, which had disgraced (and later was to bring down) a President most of us already disliked anyway.

WAR’S END

By the early 70s, virtually everyone I knew had become convinced that the war had been a tragedy and that the lies were so endemic we had no way of learning the truth from the government. I attended the 1969 march on Washington and a few smaller rallies. I believed that what the US had tried to do–prevent the Communists from taking over the whole country–had been a worthwhile goal, but an impossible one.

It seemed that, in our efforts to prevent that takeover, we had caused great damage. I wasn’t even sure that the Vietnamese people had ever wanted us there in the first place, or that they supported the South Vietnamese government; there seemed to be so many North Vietnamese, and they just would not give up. What about that domino theory, anyway, the original justification for the war? It was just a theory, after all–was it even true, did it actually apply here? If the war kept going on this way, indefinitely, Vietnam itself would be destroyed (if it hadn’t already been), and more and more Americans would die, too, all in a losing cause.

Therefore I rejoiced as we pulled troops out, and was happy about the peace talks. I watched some of the footage of the fall of Saigon, and was heartsick, but I believed nothing could have prevented this–it had been inevitable, and better sooner than later, after more death and destruction. Finally, I turned away from those pictures, just as I’d turned away, at times, from footage of the war itself–too painful, too hopeless, too sad, too powerless to help.

These Vietnam memories and judgments remained encapsulated within me for the next thirty or so years, untouched and unexamined, a painful and unhealed wound. I saw no reason to re-examine them, and nothing to make me doubt them. They lay dormant but retained their potency, needing only the right conditions to germinate in surprising ways much later, post-9/11.

UPDATE: Part 4B has been posted.

73 Responses to “A mind is a difficult thing to change: Part 4A (Vietnam–the home front)”

  1. Chief RZ Says:

    Anonymous–

    Was going into Bosnia’s Civil War wrong? What about Kosova? Albania?

    Tell us. Does it matter how many innocent civilians the facist dictator killed? Hitler may have killed 6 million Jews. Stalin killed 7 million Ukranians in that country alone.

    We could have freed the South Vietnamese. Communism is evil….

    I will be glad to continue this. Email me, or visit my blog.

  2. Chief RZ Says:

    Communism is evil. Walter Chronkite…If you are there….
    You don’t know how many American’s lives you damaged and contributed to the two million Cambodians killed as well as millions of Vietnamese.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Vietnam was wrong. Period.

    We were involved in another nation’s civil war in a part of the world we didn’t – and don’t – understand. On the surface, the Vietnam conflict – the whole thing from 1945 to 1975 – was much more about nationalism and self-determination than it was about communism. Underneath, it was about the more Chinese-influenced north’s historical desire to dominate the south.

    If the Western nations hadn’t given colonial Indochina back to France – who had lost it to the Japanese and been unable to retriever it by their own means – Vietnam probably would’ve been an utterly non-threatening agrian Communist nation with loose ties to the Soviets. The conflict, and the US phase specifically, pushed it tightly into the Soviet orbit, gave it the region’s largest military (aside from China’s) and caused the whole mess to spill over into Cambodia as well.

    Oh – and 58,000 Americans died along the way.

    War is necessary sometimes. That one most certainly was not. Nor the current one.

    We’re the only developed nation that still has militarism as a core component of our national identity. We need a military. Sometimes we gotta fight. BUT, we have to stop treating it like it’s a football game. And judging ourselves by whether or not we can kick the shit out of paper tigers in the third world.

    If anyone is anxious about their actions back then, please, leave it at that. Don’t start re-thinking Vietnam. It was wrong. It is wrong.

  4. JIM Says:

    For the ignorant fool called Anonymous,
    You quoted a lot from King’s April 1967 speech. So what? Most of what King said that day could have been lifted from Pravda or Izvestia. That fact that King worked for civil rights doesn’t mean anything. Ezra Pound was a great poet. Does that also mean that his political views were to be automatically accepted? Now let’s have some of the lies and a quick rebuttal:
    “Ho quoted the Declaration of Independence.” Big deal! Have you ever read the Soviet Constitution of 1936? It guarantees freedom of speech, the press, religion, etc. It might even have guaranteed freedom from arbitrary arrest! Did the ignorant King ever bother to learn that the great Ho sold out Vietnam’s main nationalist leader, Phan Boi Chau, to the French colonialists in the 1920s? How about you Anonymous?
    “The Viet Minh were indigenous forces with some communists.” A Hitlerite big lie for which King should be ashamed. The Viet Minh were totally communist controlled. As a matter of fact (if King and you had bothered to study history), the Vietnamese Communists made a deal with the French in which they agreed to let French troops return in 1945 in exchange for the French police files on non-communist Vietnamese nationalists in the Dai Viet and VNQDD parties. The communists then unleashed a reign of terror against the non-communist nationalist leaders, killing thousands.
    “Diem was one of the most vicious modern dictators.” For a lie like that, King should have been put in a padded cell at Bellevue. At that time, 1967, China was consumed in an inferno called the Cultural Revolution. Maybe in heaven King should read the fantastic biography by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday about Mao, whom the authors say (with massive documentation)was responsible for 70 million deaths due to his criminal policies. For King to say that Diem was “one of the most vicious dictators in history” suggests that he was reading Soviet or Maoist propoaganda or was a total fool.
    “There are 20 civilian casualties for every casualty inflicted on the Viet Cong.” Another monstrous big lie, which would have made Molotov or Goebbels proud. In 1995, Hanoi admitted that communist forces in Vietnam had lost 1.3 million troops killed in action. If King’s lie had been correct, US forces in Vietnam would have killed or wounded 25 million South Vietnamese civilians i.e. the entire population by 1.5 times over. This clearly shows that King was parroting Soviet propaganda, and so is Anonymous by accepting his quotes as Gospel truth.
    Now prove me wrong Anonymous.

  5. Michael B Says:

    As you noted, some might choose to read Pham Thi Hoai’s article in OpenDemocracy, Vietnam In My Heart, some excerpts of note:

    The opening sentence, in a section entitled Whose Victory?: “The first post-war decade was marked by a continuation of the wartime subsidy system, the regimentation of daily living, and the reign of hardline ideology.”

    [...]

    “The result of the Vietnam war was a complete victory for the communists. The war was the mother’s milk, the school and the testing-ground of Vietnamese communism. It provides historical justification for the indispensable leadership of the Communist Party, endowing it with the “mandate of heaven”. Communism found a special route to the Vietnamese throne through this remarkably bloody mandate. The war is gone, but the claim it represents remains. To this day, the legitimacy earned thirty years ago is constantly reiterated, repeated, reaffirmed, validated and deified.”

    [...]

    “Thirty years after the war, all of our foundational cultural values have lost their validity and the noblest ideas of communist ideology have become a joke. No space has emerged for basic western democratic values or for the positive dimensions of modern globalisation.”

    “Instead, Vietnamese people face a morass of social problems: rampant corruption; violation of the rule of law; perversion of morality and dignity; the collapse of medical and educational systems …”

    [...]

    “After liberation, however, southern society was subjected to intense repression: prison, concentration camp, the seizure of property, discrimination against bi-racial children, the purge of intellectuals, the destruction and prohibition of southern culture, the complete erasure of numerous careers and many lives.”

    “Thirty years after the war, the country has never once acknowledged the painful exodus of almost 1 million southern Vietnamese, the “boat people”. It is as if they are no longer Vietnamese and have been excommunicated from the unified nation.”

    “If there was ever a reason for anyone to be Communist it is Vietnam.” HCM

    Hardly, such a statement elides, occludes, denies and omits enormities. The North invaded the South, not the other way around. Reference, this overview from Texas Tech’s Vietnam Center for Research, search or scroll to the following statement, about 1/4 the way down:

    “In the North, in the years after the Geneva Accords of 1954, no non-communist group, no matter how much love its members expressed for their homeland, was allowed to form or grow. Deaths from Communist-lead ‘reforms’ between December 1953 and July 1956, have been placed variously at from 5,000 to one million. Let us look, for a moment, at these variations.”

    Further down this:

    “Atrocities continued. In the 1959, Hanoi’s politburo received a series of reports indicating that even though the North had been directing a phase one guerrilla insurgency in the South for two years, the South was socially and economically out-pacing the North. ‘By Tet of 1959,’ William Colby writes in his book, Lost Victory, ‘it was plain that a nationalist and non-Communist Vietnam was firmly established. It was also becoming apparent that its future was, if anything, more promising than the gray and regimented society in the North.’

    “It was in response to these reports that the Communists decided, in May of 1959–to establish Trail 559 [later to be expanded and become known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail], and to launch an expanded insurgency, the Second Indochina War. By 1961 northern Communist were assassinating one hundred southern hamlet, village, and/or district officials each month. By 1962 that figure had grown to one thousand per month. If this is not part of our ambient cultural story, can one make sense of Eisenhower’s or Kennedy’s troop responses?”

    And this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

  6. Ho Chi Minh Says:

    I read Pham Thi Hoai’s article, “..Vietnam In My Heart”, on opendemocracy.net. I am an American, and can certainly sympathise with many of her thoughts and feelings. Here I don’t mean to critiize her, only to offer some observations:

    The “Southern Republic of Vietnam” was never a country, nor ever recognised by the U.N. Neither was the North. The Geneva Cessastion of Hostilities Agreement of 1954 only created two cease fire zones for the billigerents, France and the Viet Minh, to regroup into, and the French had another year to pull out completely. After that elections were to be held and the cease-fire zones were to disappear. The territorial integrity of Vietnam was guaranteed throughout this internationally binding agreement. Neither the north or the south were ever “legitamite”. It was the U.S. (in the McCarthy era) that, knowing “communist” Ho Chi Minh would win the elections, blocked the Geneva provisions, ..odd behaviour for “the champion of democracy”. (see Command Paper, 9239, Great Britain Parlimentary Sessional Papers, XXXI, 1953/54, London, pp.9-11, 27-38, and International Control Commision Reports).

    This was not the first time the Vietnamese were cheated either: The March 1948 Agreement and the creation of the Associated States went up in flames when France had enough re-inforcements and levelled Haiphong, killing thousands, and setting off the French-Indochina War in earnest.

    Ho Chi Minh worked with the American’s as well in W.W.II, ironically seeking a U.S. alliance after W.W.II, only to be dumped and handed over on a silver plater to the French (via an English and Chinese horse-trade). It would take another thirty years of war but this bitter U.S. betrayal, hardly ever discussed, would be avenged. Let us not forget Vietnam’s fledgling independence, declared Sept. 2 1945 and celebrated as such today, was crushed when the English re-armed 105,000 Japanese P.O.W.s, after W.W.II had ended (see “Newsweek”, October 8, 1945, p.57), with the help of French Foreign Legion troops, half of which were Nazi’s recruited from European prison camps (see “Newsweek”, August 19, 1946). A nice reward for Ho Chi Minh siding with the U.S., helping them prepare an invasion of Vietnam in 1945 (Operation Carbonado, scraped after Hiroshima).

    France’s collaboration with Japan in W.W.II, perhaps the darkest days in Vietnamese history, seeing a third of her population die from starvation as she fed two armies, cannot be forgotten either as the Communists “took revenge” against the catholic south after 1975.

    Prior to siding with the Japanese in W.W.II French (catholic) colnialism had already brutalised Vietnam for 80 years. Yes, it was a long road to Vietnam independence. A long ugly fight, full of betrayal, from the west, and from Russia and China too.

    That the “victors” took revenge on southern collaboraters is, for me anyway, quite understandable. I believe American’s would have been extremely more harsh with, let’s say, American’s who had collaborated with the Russian’s under the same miserable circumstances.

    Of course none of this ever had to happen. If the U.S. had stood up for her principles after W.W.II (instead of bowing to European pressure to re-occupy their colonies) Vietnam would have become an American Protectorate, like the Phillipines (See “Why Vietnam”, Ret. Col. A.A.L. Patti, University of California Press, 1981).

    In all respect for what the Vietnamese are experiencing, it took “us” a 130 years to screw Vietnam up, it could take that long for her to heal. In the meantime I would not blame her for being paranoid and over-reacting. Certainly she has every reason to distrust “us”, or any dissent. After such a long bitter fight it is only natural she is reluctant to “let go of the bit”, not to mention the glory of the most remarkable upset in military history.

    On the other hand, if the Vietnamese are so terribly unhappy I imagine they will take to the streets and change things, like so many other countries have. Certainly after defeating France and the U.S. they have proven they, if anyone, are capapble. I would guess though the numbers will be hard to muster, as those feeling persecuted today are most likely the catholic minority, instigator’s of the whole mess back in the 1860′s, right through Ngo Diem and the 1970′s. Maybe for those catholic ex-pats it’s time to stop complaining and become a Vietnamese Communist, so everyone can finally relax. The Vietnamese are finally eatting and have a bright future ahead of them, not to mention a God-damned strong government, a product of their hostile enviroment. Welcome to planet earth.

    If there was ever a reason for anyone to be Communist it is Vietnam.

  7. Ho Chi Minh Says:

    I read Pham Thi Hoai’s article, “..Vietnam In My Heart”, on opendemocracy.net. I am an American, and can certainly sympathise with many of her thoughts and feelings. Here I don’t mean to critiize her, only to offer some observations:

    The “Southern Republic of Vietnam” was never a country, nor ever recognised by the U.N. Neither was the North. The Geneva Cessastion of Hostilities Agreement of 1954 only created two cease fire zones for the billigerents, France and the Viet Minh, to regroup into, and the French had another year to pull out completely. After that elections were to be held and the cease-fire zones were to disappear. The territorial integrity of Vietnam was guaranteed throughout this internationally binding agreement. Neither the north or the south were ever “legitamite”. It was the U.S. (in the McCarthy era) that, knowing “communist” Ho Chi Minh would win the elections, blocked the Geneva provisions, ..odd behaviour for “the champion of democracy”. (see Command Paper, 9239, Great Britain Parlimentary Sessional Papers, XXXI, 1953/54, London, pp.9-11, 27-38, and International Control Commision Reports).

    This was not the first time the Vietnamese were cheated either: The March 1948 Agreement and the creation of the Associated States went up in flames when France had enough re-inforcements and levelled Haiphong, killing thousands, and setting off the French-Indochina War in earnest.

    Ho Chi Minh worked with the American’s as well in W.W.II, ironically seeking a U.S. alliance after W.W.II, only to be dumped and handed over on a silver plater to the French (via an English and Chinese horse-trade). It would take another thirty years of war but this bitter U.S. betrayal, hardly ever discussed, would be avenged. Let us not forget Vietnam’s fledgling independence, declared Sept. 2 1945 and celebrated as such today, was crushed when the English re-armed 105,000 Japanese P.O.W.s, after W.W.II had ended (see “Newsweek”, October 8, 1945, p.57), with the help of French Foreign Legion troops, half of which were Nazi’s recruited from European prison camps (see “Newsweek”, August 19, 1946). A nice reward for Ho Chi Minh siding with the U.S., helping them prepare an invasion of Vietnam in 1945 (Operation Carbonado, scraped after Hiroshima).

    France’s collaboration with Japan in W.W.II, perhaps the darkest days in Vietnamese history, seeing a third of her population die from starvation as she fed two armies, cannot be forgotten either as the Communists “took revenge” against the catholic south after 1975.

    Prior to siding with the Japanese in W.W.II French (catholic) colnialism had already brutalised Vietnam for 80 years. Yes, it was a long road to Vietnam independence. A long ugly fight, full of betrayal, from the west, and from Russia and China too.

    That the “victors” took revenge on southern collaboraters is, for me anyway, quite understandable. I believe American’s would have been extremely more harsh with, let’s say, American’s who had collaborated with the Russian’s under the same miserable circumstances.

    Of course none of this ever had to happen. If the U.S. had stood up for her principles after W.W.II (instead of bowing to European pressure to re-occupy their colonies) Vietnam would have become an American Protectorate, like the Phillipines (See “Why Vietnam”, Ret. Col. A.A.L. Patti, University of California Press, 1981).

    In all respect for what the Vietnamese are experiencing, it took “us” a 130 years to screw Vietnam up, it could take that long for her to heal. In the meantime I would not blame her for being paranoid and over-reacting. Certainly she has every reason to distrust “us”, or any dissent. After such a long bitter fight it is only natural she is reluctant to “let go of the bit”, not to mention the glory of the most remarkable upset in military history.

    On the other hand, if the Vietnamese are so terribly unhappy I imagine they will take to the streets and change things, like so many other countries have. Certainly after defeating France and the U.S. they have proven they, if anyone, are capapble. I would guess though the numbers will be hard to muster, as those feeling persecuted today are most likely the catholic minority, instigator’s of the whole mess back in the 1860′s, right through Ngo Diem and the 1970′s. Maybe for those catholic ex-pats it’s time to stop complaining and become a Vietnamese Communist, so everyone can finally relax. The Vietnamese are finally eatting and have a bright future ahead of them, not to mention a God-damned strong government, a product of their hostile enviroment. Welcome to planet earth.

    If there was ever a reason for anyone to be Communist it is Vietnam.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    I don’t know about the Bowery, Robert Aldridge–it does also say “Take the cash and let the credit go” :-).

  9. robert aldridge Says:

    It is, indeed, an excellent poem, when one is being plagued by ghosts from the past, or terrors of the future – “Ah, my beloved! Fill the cup that clears today of past regrets and future fears! Tomorrow? Why! Tomorrow I may be myself with yesterday’s ten thousand years!” The theme is to live for the day, and it does rather dismiss worldly concerns as being rather pointless. You cannot run your life on these precepts without ending up on the Bowery!

  10. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Thanks, Omar, but does that mean we have to be stupid all over again, world without end, amen?

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey–It is very hard to think of all the suffering that could have been avoided by some courage and some prescience.

    But:

    The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

    The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – 11th century

  12. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I think this may be the point to go back even further.
    In 1936, when Hitler occupied the Rhineland, he could have been stopped by a resolute French reaction. Hitler knew this. He knew he didn’t have the combat powe at the time to beat the French. It was a bluff, but it worked.
    Had the French, perhaps with British help, crushed the attempt, that would have been seen as an unforunate residual of WW I, maybe 10,000 men killed, and nobody would have a clue what we missed. In fact, anybody trying to write a novel describing what we missed would probably have had a hard time finding a publisher.

    So here’s a question. How many Rhinelands are you willing to fight if you know that one of them–but you don’t know which one–will preclude WW II? How do you keep the democracies’ citizens on board? How can you point to what never happened and claim to be preventing it?

    That was a question kicked around for a long time beginning shortly after May of 1945, if not sooner.

    Then, about fifteen years ago, additional historical investigationr revealed something new.
    There would have been nobody killed. The German generals had a plan to stop short and return to Berlin and can Hitler if there was even a bit of French resistance. The reasons Hitler was on shaky ground at the time are beyond the scope of this post, but it should be said that his magical victory in this case cemented a number of waverers into his camp.

    He really knew what was going on. Well, he did. It worked, didn’t it? Maybe that means the rest of the stuff he says will work out, too.

    My father, an Infantry officer in the ETO, is discussing more difficult subjects as he gets older, although nobody was fooling us when we enlisted thirty-five years ago. We have an elderly neighbor who fought in the Phillipines and sometimes he gets so worked up over what he saw of Japanese atrocities against civilians and US prisoners that he can’t speak.

    To think that this could have been avoided by a different French reaction is too much to contemplate.

    Contemplating it, however, does give one a bit of attitude when confronting anti-war types.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  13. Michael B Says:

    I’m in full agreement with Richard Aubrey’s more detailed set of emphases. Too however, I wasn’t intending to equate Korea and Vietnam in some mathematically precise manner; was drawing an analogy and making a comparison of some specific and critical Cold War era aspects of the two situations, and I do believe those comparisons hold up. On the other hand the comparison remains a generalization and as such all the cautions and “yellow flags” that attend a generalization should, of course, be observed.

    As a final note, and to further detail and emphasize why our commitment in Vietnam was, in fact, fully warranted, despite occasional political ineptitude and other errors, a third comparison and more limited analogy can be made with Taiwan. Unlike the Korean and Vietnam episodes, thankfully, we never did have a hot war in Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. This was, in very large measure indeed, precisely because our Cold War commitments in Korea and Vietnam could not possibly be percieved as mere bluff or bluster; they were, perforce, all too real in the eyes of both Moscow and mainland China.

    Those types of secondary effects, during the Cold War, are rarely tallied in the debit column of the United States and other committed Western powers. They very much should be. And let us be unabashedly clear in another area as well, those secondary effects are also being experienced today (e.g., in Lebanon) as a result of our real, and similarly costly, commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is, precisely put, not in the least about jingoism or “my country right or wrong,” it is about moral clarity and intellectual honesty to the degree we can summon and apply those values. After that it’s about making some decisions in the real world with requisite resolve, all the while understanding we are never going to execute those decisions perfectly, in a manner that the Left, among others, is ever going to stand up and applaud our actions.

  14. robert aldridge Says:

    I’ll tell you what it feels like. I lived under an emperor who was just and generous and committed to freedom. The only thing is, when he went out in public, he went naked. I tried to point this out, and no-one would believe me; but eventually over the years, I convinced more and more people, and when they were all convinced, they became angry, ganged up and lynched him. (9/11). I was aghast. “Why did you do that!” I exclaimed in horror. “Because he lied to us. You said so yourself!” “But I didn’t mean you to do that! It wasn’t THAT important …”, and I went away, wondering what on earth I had done.
    My conclusion? Truths, in the wrong hands, are dangerous things. Keep them to yourself. Try to see the overall picture, even if it doesn’t stand up to detailed scrutiny. I don’t know.

  15. robert aldridge Says:

    Very interesting; thanks; I stand corrected.

  16. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Mr. Aldridge, you are sort of correct about Korea, but you miss the point, I think.
    The special characteristics of the Viet Nam war gave the left more opportunities to work against it at home.
    It is almost certainly true that more Korean civilians died in the Korean War than Vietnames civilians did in the latter struggle.
    However, since the fighting positions were, for the most part, fixed, the civilians got out of the way. The major casualties were during the opening phase, and the skedaddle after the Chinese came in. The UN’s grinding, slow advances gave the civilians time to escape. The exception, during the first part, was inadequately covered, and, since the clear mass of the civilian deaths was at the hands of the Norks, they were of no use to the left.
    The terrain was different, making off-road movement horribly difficult, reducing the effect of the UN’s mechanized forces which were road-bound, or nearly so. This benefited the lightly-loaded peasant soldiers who could move up and down the hills forever, and because of gaps in UN positions, rest when they needed to. Use of helicopters in Viet Nam overcame the issue of roadboundedness.
    Artillery is less effective if the enemy is dug in on the reverse side of a slope. Korea has hills. Somebody said if you flattened it out, it would cover the world, which is probably an exaggeration.
    So, while the terrain was not tropical, it was not therefore favorable to the UN forces. Deserts, as in the Middle East, are most favorable.
    The Koreans could have, presumably, done what Hanoi did, and fomented armed guerrillas in South Korea, fought from among the civilians as the VC did, and to a lesser extent the NVA. This would have meant a counter-insurgency war as we had in Viet Nam. It was the North’s choice to fight a conventional battle, believing that they could win fast. Insurgencies, even if succesful, are for the patient.
    All of the left’s BS about nasty imperialists, and massive killing of civilians–by our side–and the outrised upraged peasantry tired of being oppressed, suppressed, repressed and depressed finally exerting their rightous wrath could have been a feature of the Korean War had the Norks chosen a different path.
    Lucky for the South they didn’t.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  17. robert aldridge Says:

    Michael B., I’m sorry to say, you haven’t convinced me. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, ’cause Neo neocon isn’t about Korea (not even, really, about ‘Nam) but I’m afraid I can’t let it go. I don’t know too much about Korea, I confess, so I wouldn’t dispute the details of what you say, but even a cursory glance at that country reveals to me some profound differences between it and ‘Nam. In the first place, Korea’s only occupiers were the Japanese, so the Americans were, and were seen as, liberators, untainted by their APPARENT support for European imperialism, as in ‘Nam. Secondly, N. Korea’s invasion was clearly, manifestly, obviously, aggression in the eyes of the whole free world. It could not be seen as anything else. Thirdly, the US went in under the UN flag (at a time when the UN was indeed the hope of the world, and a prestigious intitution.) These three facts gave the US legitimacy in all that they did. Moreover, it was a relatively easy job to roll the communists back to the cease-fire line, and to secure the south. I’m under the impression that the landscape is favourably different to Vietnam, and the war was fought with conventional armies much more than was the case in ‘Nam, giving the UN forces a great advantage. Because it is a peninsula, unlike ‘Nam, infiltration was much more difficult; because of all these advantages, and others (like greater trust in government – even Eisenhower’s enemies couldn’t portray him as a hawk), it was a shortish war, thereby, like Greece, not giving time for domestic opposition to grow. ‘Nam was bound to be a long war with a greater military commitment by comparison. In any long war, throughout history, you have to consider “the home front”. So, with respect, Mr. B, I beg to differ on this one.

  18. robert aldridge Says:

    Why, thank you kindly, Mr. Aubrey.

  19. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Mr. Aldridge.
    Your next-to-last sentence.
    Bravo! Terrific insight.
    I could say I wish I’d thought of that, but I try not to be greedy.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  20. robert aldridge Says:

    I couldn’t possibly dispute that the elections would have been marred by violence and intimidation; I think to deny that would be naive. We are not talking about an election in Buckinghamshire! The Vietnamese had had over a decade of lessons in brutality – French, Japanese, British, and now communist (I don’t equate them all – even among thieves there are differences). My point is that in the chaos I discern evidence to suggest that the communists, talking the language of nationalism and “economic justice” were winning the propaganda battle, and the superficial facts seemed to support them. As I have said, perceptions in politics are everything. (In Britain to-day, most people think Blair lied about Iraq. It’s nonsense, of course, but the election may well be determined by that.) I agree that the war was lost because of the radical left. I also agree that a great many of these people were stupid, treasonous or communist fellow travellers. But not all. There WERE profound and legitimate doubts about the war. From this point on, I get lost: is it a case of “my country right or wrong”? as a democracy, are we not entitled to question the government? As a parent not wanting my child to die in a horrific war of questionable purpose, can I not demur? Are young people who are to be called up not entitled to wonder why they are going to possibly give up their lives? Above all, in my case, as a young man,I thought that sacred TRUTH was the ultimate arbiter. I now have my doubts, which makes me feel very old. Perhaps there are truths, but over-riding that are greater truths. Perhaps the over-riding truth of defeating communism world-wide far exceeded the truth that Vietnam was (in my opinion) a profound mistake, just as winning WW2 was more important than the Dieppe Raid, Norway, Greece, Singapore, etc. But when young people discover a truth denied by their elders and wisers, they rather like to flaunt it triumphantly! That is the way things are in a democracy.

  21. Michael B Says:

    “… defeat is an orphan.”

    The following will primarily reference two sources: Vol 1, Chpt 5 of the Senator Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers (aka: Origins of the Insurgency in So. Vietnam) and Michael Lind’s Vietnam, The Necessary War. Too, this is entirely polemical (though the referenced historical facts per se are now widely accepted), while intended respectfully.

    Three theses: 1) Complexity, such as that evidenced by the social/political strife in 50′s and 60′s Vietnam, need not be tantamount to a confusion that defies a well supported analysis. That’s especially true as pertains to the purposefully sown confusion and distorted propaganda of the soft and the harder Left of the Vietnam era. 2) The blunders in Vietnam were numerous but they were primarily tactical, not strategic; entering the conflict in Vietnam was fully warranted, equal to if not surpassing the warrant in Korea, which serves as an apt Cold War analogy and comparison. 3) A crucial difference between Korea and Vietnam was that the soft and the harder Left’s propaganda and general zeitgeist was not emerging and then dominant during Korea’s military phase, as it was during Vietnam. The defeat of the people of So. Vietnam, our defeat, was primarily caused by the moral confusion and highly distorted propaganda sown by the soft and the harder Left, not by the military and political missteps and blunders per se. Every war is marked by varying degrees of missteps and blunders.

    Much is made of the social/political and moral confusion and ineptitude of that era in Vietnam, mid to late 1950′s and beyond, that led to our greatly increased involvement, beginning with JFK (immediately following Kennedy’s inauguration there were little more than 500 US advisors in Vietnam, by Nov, ’63 there were 16,000). Diem was widely regarded as corrupt and often enough inept. Ho Chi Minh was, from the outside at least, often regarded as a nationalist figure, but in fact was a committed ideologue, a Marxist/Leninist and Maoist who engaged in brutal and methodically murderous repressions, both against rival elites – also against the peasantry via land reforms and other oppressive and brutal measures. Even Ho Chi Minh’s brutal repression can be regarded as inept, rather than “efficient” in the Maoist sense, as it resulted in critical and additional rebellions on the part of the peasantry. Adding to the early confusion was the unpopularity of Bao Dai, the French appointed post-colonial ruler, among many other factional disputes as well, often enough leading to assassination attempts and other intrigues, both in the North and the South. Nonetheless, none of this complexity and confusion, caused by various internecine rivalries, was any worse than that which was evidenced in Korea.

    In Korea, Syngman Rhee was not dissimilar to Diem, they both spent time in exile, were both restored nationalists and were ardent anti-communists. Fifty-six thousand American lives were lost in Korea, attempting to reinstate Rhee to power, obviously comparable to the fifty-eight thousand figure in Vietnam. Rhee was later ousted from power by a rebellion in ’60, then in ’61 Rhee’s successor was ousted via a military coup, instating Park Chung Hee who, years later was murdered by the head of the So. Korean intelligence agency. Park’s rule was often repressive and despotic and severe political turmoil ensued after his murder, eventuating in yet another military dictatorship wherein severe repression and occasional murder and broader massacres were evidenced. All this turmoil and confusion (and more which could be elaborated) continued under the watchful gaze of the communist North and similarly viewed (with similarly aggressive interests) from the Kremlin and from Mao’s vantage point as well.

    Hence Korea was not merely analogous with Vietnam but virtually ran parallel to it in substantial respects. Yet we did not abandon Korea to the historical fate of Soviet and Chinese totalitarianism.

    Again, the most striking difference, domestically in the West, was the lack of an emergent and then more dominant ideological Left, both a soft and a much harder Left that was marked by both overt and covert, both conscious and unconscious alliances with Soviet and Chinese interests of that era. The commitments of the soft and hard Left in the West ranged variously from Gramscian/institutional through to Maoist programs.

    Both Chrenkoff and Belmont Club, by way of analogy with Algiers, help to underscore why revisiting and better comprehending Vietnam can be important. Ultimately, both then and now, it’s an ideological war first and foremost and a well reasoned and well supported moral clarity – lacking during Vietnam due to the propaganda ploys of the Left – is basic. The Left’s ubiquitous slogan, both overtly stated and even more often implied, of “no more Vietnams” seeks to perpetuate that era’s confusion and sow yet additional confusion in the midst of the current War on Islamofascism.

    *** Three points regarding the referenced Pentagon Papers: 1) The Sen. Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers is roughly a 2,000 page abridged but not otherwise redacted version of the original 7,000 page document. 2) By contrast the redaction published in the NYT and the WaPo in 1971 was a highly edited and paraphrased version, out of necessity – due to the length of the original – but also out of design, to lend distorted propaganda in support of the then prevailing “anti-war” movement and zietgeist of that era. 3) The referenced chapter (covering the origins of the insurgency in So. Vietnam in the mid to late 50′s) is only 70 pages in length yet serves to encapsulate the even-handed tone of the overall document in addition to covering what in some sense is the most pivotal phase, that which preceded different parties hardening their positions.

  22. TmjUtah Says:

    So far, the appropriation of Arab resources can be seen in the light of the apparent fabrications which lead to the police state which has come to pass.

    Without the oil that they happen to live over, the Arab tribes would be ecotour oddities today.

    Appropriation? Is that what paying market price is called these days?

    Be honest now – the entire post that I pulled that sentence from is the product of a ChomskyEssayGenerator software routine, isn’t it?

    I think that any MacNamara quote passes the Godwin threshhold.

    Want to know what we failed to do in Vietnam? Read “Carnage and Culture” and “Ripples of Battle” by Victor Davis Hanson.

  23. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Mr. Aldridge. You are correct about the complexities, although whether the Vietnamese saw things as you say is not proven. Certainly, the Catholics among them would have had a different view, and if any election was even close among non-Catholic voters, the Catholics would have swung it.
    My point was whether the US was correct in its assessment of the possibility of honest elections. That the other side might have won an honest election is a possibility, but the point is whether the US was entitled to doubt the possibility of a free andn honest election in the first place.
    My point is that earlier post-war elections where the communists were on hand did not provide hope.
    Besides, the elections were between Vietnamese. No whites need apply. It would be a matter of political tactics as to who could paint one side with Joe Stalin–more less legitimately–versus who could paint the other side with white guys.
    Sort of like Detroit mayoral elections. The candidate who insists the other is in league with those awful whiteys of the ‘burbs has a leg up.
    But since the question had to do with the US’ refusal to countenance elections, the answer is in what the US could be expected to see.
    The question of interfering in another nation’s election is touchy.
    There are any number of tyrants who could have won, sometime.
    Perhaps we need another metric.
    Like, who threatens us?
    Who turns out to be buttheads?
    Or something like that.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  24. robert aldridge Says:

    If I may just add to what I wrote above. The Americans were paying for virtually the whole of the French military effort. How on earth could the Vietnamese – apart from the most educated or sophisticated – not draw their own conclusions from this? We are talking perceptions, here, because politics is all about perceptions. I am convinced ‘Nam was an error of judgement. Yet, recognition of a truth can do more harm than good, and I fear that the radical movement did much more harm than good, even though we were, in my opinion, “right”. This is not unknown. Keynes wrote a book on the devastating consequences of the peace at the end of WW1; the book was a brilliant, critical and true analysis of the peace. But its main effect was to provide ammo for the likes of Hitler. These are problems that I am wrestling with, and I just don’t know the answers. The second dilemma I have is that politics IS a brutal business. The alternative to war was, indeed, to abandon the hapless Vietnamese to an appalling tyranny. Tragically, in history, this has happened time and time again, and I am convinced that sometimes, it just has to be done. I recall that when De Gaulle finally managed to extricate France from Algeria, the Algerian loyalists, who were being abandoned, complained that they would get it in the neck. He replied, “Eh bien, vous souffrirez!” And suffer they did, horrifically. But the realities of politics are like that. Could he have done anything different? If you find yourself on the losing side, in non-democratic countries, it’s tough on you. Sadly, if the Vietnamese had voted communist, they would have had to suffer the consequences. In the long term, that is how societies evolve. I don’t think the Iranians will ever greet a Mullah as liberator again! Without the war, I THINK the Vietnamese would have been in the same situation they are in now, except with less destruction to have to contend with. Perhaps, viewing the failure of the communist system, and having less bitterness towards the West, they might have drifted to a democratic and open society, like Eastern Europe fifteen years ago.

  25. robert aldridge Says:

    Richard – with respect, Sir, I think you fail to recognise the complexities of the time. Communism was at the height of its prestige after the war. There were large communist parties all over Europe, and a real danger that they would be elected in Italy and France. When a Vietnamese (without any experience of communism) looked at Ho Chi Minh, he didn’t see a tyrant, he saw a liberator. When he looked at an American, he didn’t see a liberator or a Thomas Jefferson, he saw a white face, like a French or British face – an imperialist. (It is a little known fact that the first foriegners back in ‘Nam after the war were the British, who found a Vietnamese government installed. With the help of ex-Japanese POW’s, re-armed by the British, they smashed the fledgling government; they weren’t interested in its political complexion; they were interested in re-establishing the French.) Eisenhower makes it absolutely clear that he was not talking about rigged elections or communist intimidation; he was talking about electoral popularity. Philosophically you seem to be saying that all free elections produce “democratic” results, therefore, if the results are not “democratic”, the elections could not have been free and fair. No, Sir – I agree that once the communists take over, they suppress elections; I agree that if they could they would muscle their way to power. But in the case of Vietnam, I think the facts point to confidence on their part that they would win a free election. Besides, politically, it would have been much better if the US had allowed the elections, then cried “foul”. That would have given them legitimacy. If you will accept this for the moment at least, the question then becomes – under what circumstances is it permissible to interfere in a country’s free elections if one doesn’t agree with the predicted result? To a political moralist, I am a fascist even for merely asking the question. It is a nasty but legitimate query. The answer must be “very few”. We saw what happened in Algeria when the election results were ignored. And what if a free Iraqi election voted for a hardline Islamic government? It is beyond my abilities to answer that one! On the other hand, the British suppressed the Greek communists. (I don’t know whether the Greeks are now grateful for that or not – I have met Anglophiles and Anglo phobes.) The British succeeded because of their agreement with Stalin to deny help to the insurgents, and because Greece is a peninsula. In other words, my argument is that, leaving aside the morality, the prospects of British success, purely on strategic grounds, were high. This did not pertain in ‘Nam. The French chose to take a stand at Dien Bien Phu in their struggle against the Vietminh, and it was a catastrophic strategic blunder. The US chose to take a stand in Vietnam against the worlwide spread of communism, and it was a catastrophic strategic blunder. “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” (Cromwell)

  26. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Once upon a time, the VC intimidated the inhabitants of a ville by castrating their priest and killing the altar boys during Mass.
    They villagers stopped cooperating with Saigon.
    The US peace activists considered that grass roots support for the forces of liberation until they found out how it happened. Then they called it grass roots support for the forces of liberation.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  27. Minh-Duc Says:

    There are several severely incorrect assumptions I need to point out. The assumptions are either wrong, has a very small kernel of truth but lack nuance. The list is far from exhasted. It is only the important points.

    MYTH:
    1. Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist and not a Communist. It is the US that push him into the hand of Communist China and the Soviet Union.
    2. Vietnamese are supportive of Ho Chi Minh and his protege. That the War is defined as Vietnam versus the US.
    3. An opposition to President Ngo Dinh Diem is an act of support for his enemies, primary the National Liberation Front.
    4. The National Liberation Front is a grassroot movement.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    The comments on this thread are another reminder of how raw and intense feelings still remain on this topic, all these years later.

    I know my post only scratched the surface. But I just wanted to mention again that I am by no means finished with the subject. There will be one more post specifically on Vietnam (coming some time early next week), and then quite a few more on the topic of post-9/11 change. Wish I could churn them out more quickly–these things always seem to take more time to write than I think they will.

  29. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Actually, Lichanos, I am worse that a true believer. I never believed the one.
    I went to Mississippi as a conservative.
    The US lined up with Stalin in WW II, but, except for some propaganda, held the collective nose while doing so.
    I don’t see the left lamenting any bad guys they had to link up with to get good stuff done. Unless they lament the demise of the bad guys.

    Unless you think this has some entertainment value or educational value for the other folks, feel free to use my email.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  30. Lichanos Says:

    R. Aubrey opines:
    “The left are patriots. They love America. They just want it to be better. Like Cuba. Lichanos will probably disagree with that, but if he can explain it differently, he’s welcome to.”

    A ridiculous comment. Rest assured, RA, I do not want the USA to emulate Cuba. I’m very partial to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The only riposte I will offer to your absurd contention is that, yes, I, and liberals, want America to be better. Better as Langston Hughes said it, “Let America be America…”

    As Stephen Decatur said, though his quotation is usually truncated, “My country, may she always be in the right, but my country right or wrong.” [He obviously understood that it COULD be in the wrong, but his epigones today, forget that.]

    As for these groups that have so soured you – two points.

    Perhaps you have bad judgement. For every bad experience you cite, I can site groups and individuals doing good that perhaps even you would find unobjectionable, unless you feel that the rights of those with whom you disagree are never worth anything.

    Second-it is true sometimes that to do good work, you have to join in with people that think things, and perhaps do things, you don’t like. That’s the nature of compromise and coalition. It’s a tricky business – perhaps you didn’t know that. It doesn’t excuse anyone, but why do you assume a unitary ‘Left’ that embodies all the worst of whatever you say you’ve encountered?

    Your ranting sounds to me like the song of the True Believer – you used to believe in the one, now you believe in the other. Why don’t you THINK about what you believe?

  31. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I would submit that the election issue in Viet Nam ought to be seen in the larger context of post-war elections. Nobody ever believed the Czechs really voted for what actually happened to them. Ditto some others east of the Elbe. With that in mind, which it must have been with the folks in charge, the election would have been suspect. Why have an election which is bound to be corrupted by the other side? One of the themes about agreeing to an election is to not whine about the results. If the election had been held and Ho’s village cadres had stuffed the ballot boxes, we’d have looked like sorry whiners complaining about it. Even though it was absolutely true. Without the context of the post-war elections in Eastern Europe, you can’t understand the US’ view of same only nine years later in SEA.

    Lichanos. The left are patriots. They love America. They just want it to be better. Like Cuba. Lichanos will probably disagree with that, but if he can explain it differently, he’s welcome to.
    I mentioned, and this is for you, Lichanos, that I was involved in the Civil Rights movement before I enlisted. I also went to Central America in 1987 with some faith-based peace folks, under the guidance of the Center for Global Education, a real lefty group. One of our guides was found to have three quarters of a ton of Warsaw Pact stuff in her garden in El Salvador. Another is now with the Latin American Working Group whose main interest seems to be making sure Castro isn’t inconvenienced. I also spent four or five years with the Social Justice and Peacemaking Committee of the Presbytery of Lake Huron. I say this to explain that certain groups got the impression–snort–that I was on their side and put me on mailing lists that were for the insiders only. I discovered, for example, that the objection to Low Intensity Conflict is that it doesn’t kill enough civilians.
    Thus warned, Lichanos, go ahead.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  32. KeithM, Indy Says:

    I’ll tell you what this post isn’t–it’s not a history of the war itself. It isn’t about those who fought in it, or the Vietnamese people who suffered through it. It’s a political psychological history, an attempt to describe how perceptions were formed in those who remained in this country, particularly those who were young liberals, or who became liberals as a result. So, please don’t castigate me for ignoring this or that aspect of the war; this is not meant to be comprehensive or definitive.

    *****************

    So much for disclaimers.

    Wonder if there’s a corallary to Godwin’s Law, regarding discussions of Vietnam.

    I think the interesting thing is that so many people are still conflicted about the war, and everyones roles in the war. Military, political, media, protestor, by-stander, everyone who had some part in it.

  33. Lichanos Says:

    This comment by R. Aubrey illustrates the ‘echo chamber’ effect of so much that I read on this post:

    “I think an examination of why one remained left in the few years just prior to starting to move would be interesting….Did the professors’ tactic of making The Kids feel like the elite moral and intellectual minority–not like all those rednecks–continue its effects after graduation to the detriment of critical thought?”

    Does anyone here actually know anything about what the “Left” is, or do they just like to set up strawmen and rant and rave about moral and intellectual depravity? It’s pretty darn easy to make liberals and the more left seem stupid and self-involved; sort of like if I decided to assume that Jerry Falwell was the sine qua none of contemporary conservatism. Even I don’t believe that.

    So much of what I read here is people venting their suppressed hatred and humiliation born of slights they recieved, or believed they received, from people they know, from ‘society’, from The Media. I’d like to think that somewhere there are conservatives with some backbone and some ideas (with which I strongly disagree), and not the self-absorbed whiners that I seem to hear in these posts.

    From what I see and read, the only thing that changed after 9-11 is that people who were secure and complacent suddenly became afraid. Fear can be a useful spur to action and analysis, but I don’t see much of that here.

  34. Anonymous Says:

    Richard, when I lived in China, I used to talk with older people who had been young men and women when the Chinese Communists first seized power. Even though they had personally seen all the crimes committed by the Communists and even though they had suffered lives of unfulfilled potential, many of them were still unwilling to let go of the naive hopes they had originally had for the Party.

    Why? It was obvious they didn’t want to admit they had been complicit in supporting a criminal government. They were human. Who really wants to admit that they’d wasted their idealism and entire life supporting a tyranny?

  35. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Goesh. Interesting point about who “won”.
    In what was possibly meant to be provocative, the authors of “A War to Be Won” assert Germany won WW I.
    They had what they won on the Eastern Front and they were everywhere on Allied soil when the Armistice came into being.
    It was only later that they lost what they’d gained under Brest-Litovsk.
    Depends on defintions, I guess.

    The original thrust of this post had to do with changing left to right.
    It’s been interesting, but I expected a bit more depth.
    I think an examination of why one remained left in the few years just prior to starting to move would be interesting.
    Presumably, evidence was accumulating, or the move wouldn’t have happened. How was that dealt with?
    Is the choice of reference persons important?
    Did the professors’ tactic of making The Kids feel like the elite moral and intellectual minority–not like all those rednecks–continue its effects after graduation to the detriment of critical thought?
    How does the leftist turned conservative address the phenomenon of those who were conservative all along? What was the difference, since all lived in the same world?
    To be more specific, what about 9-11 was new and what was the same old that finally got through?
    David Horowitz was a dedicated leftist. It took the murder of a friend–whose death he thought he may have inadvertently enabled–to get his attention. Most of those who moved needed less trauma, but some not a lot. One writer in Detroit, interviewing Horowitz, remarked that it was The Killing Fields that got his attention. You’d think….
    I was involved with civil rights in the Sixties and have been recently contacted by or contacted several of them. For some, it’s still 1968.
    A puzzlement, but some of the questions I’d like to see addressed.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  36. Anonymous Says:

    Richard, a solid response to Lichanos.

    I would add that the reason North Vietnam was a safe sanctuary was because LBJ was absolutely obsessed by the possibility the Chinese Communists would intervene as they had in Korea if we invaded North Vietnam. As I noted earlier, LBJ was wrong. But he couldn’t have known he was wrong.

    It wasn’t the first time America’s intelligence services failed its President, and it wouldn’t be the last.

  37. robert aldridge Says:

    I have lost my three best friends over my apostasy, so it ain’t easy; and I’m delighted to discover a fellow ex-liberal, thanks to Roger’s blog.
    I’m British, but lived in Australia from 1968 for some years, and I was politicised over the Vietnam war. But my take on the discussion is a little different. I’m sorry to see so much bitterness still engendered by the debate, and I’m not sure that it is necessary. The essential fact that made me anti-war was quoted in Eisenhower’s memoirs: had elections been held in Vietnam, 80% of the people would have voted for the communists; and the US prevented the elections. It was also unfortunate that the Americans, so traditionally anti-imperialist, simply took over from the French. On the other side, one can see that the Americans, so naive in their perceptions of the USSR during and just after the war, received a very rude shock – Eastern Europe, the Balkans (the Greeks too, would have voted communist if the British had let them), Korea, and China, all demonstrated that the communists were not “just like us, only different”. Vietnam was the place where the US took a stand against tyranny. In 1991, it became clear that the American strategy of containment had worked beyond all expectations, and that communism was indeed as bad as the “right” had painted it to be. Vietnam can now be seen as a dreadfully tragic component of that successful strategy. How to assess ‘Nam? Surely it was not ignoble to stem the tide of tyranny, and to try to set up a free society in half the country? But, just as surely, was it not a mistake of calamitous proportions, ruining that unhappy country, corrupting American politics, and creating a virulent and mindless anti-American “left” whose hysterical voices we still hear to-day?

  38. Huan Says:

    As a Vietnamese survivor of the war, i find americans bemoaning the cost of war as a tragic corruption of morality and a betrayal of the spirit of humanity that gave rise to the US. How could it be better to live under tyranny and oppression with squalid lives, not risking your own to provide your offspring with better chances and freedom?
    For those that doubt the US was winning militarily, read General Giap’s post war account of how close North Vietnam came to surrendering as they hold out for the anti-war crowd to win in the US.
    Speaking of the anti-war vets and John Kerry.

  39. Goesh Says:

    I’m not so sure what the North won and what the US won. The North’s economy was devastated, what little it had, and has never recovered and now they are stuck administering the southern real estate that is devoid of talent and brains – they all fled, were killed or programmed into stagnation. From the perspective of recovery, recouping and moving on from a major war, NVN remains essentially where it was 30 years ago. I find it ironic that they import our processed sugar (coca-cola) and nicotein, both of which are slow killers. And as previously stated, shoes are made for us, and others, at .38 a day. Somehow that doesn’t seem like they won very much. As for us, we buried 58,000 and the same debate and dissent has continued to resonate, despite our involvement in Lebanon, Haiti, Kosovo, Bosnia, Grenada, Somalia, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq I and II. My point is that if the US had truly lost the war when viewed from all perspectives, I seriously doubt all of the subsequent ‘wars’ would have occured. History does repeat itself.

    There was a Tet offensive every year, 1968 being the most aggressive by making the fight primarily urban. They took it from the bush to the village, as we used to say. It made the statement that they had the capacity to continue fighting and that the US was not winning in the conventional sense. It was not a turning point. It only further entrenched the US and intensified the bombing in the North, the consequences of which they still feel. Technology was not glorified back then like it is now, but the state of the art stuff back then is now on display in our military museums 30 years ex post facto. War is not good for anyone and I don’t see any real clear winner with that one, or any war for that matter.

  40. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Lichanos.
    You got it backwards. You evade my reasoning. To make the point, as you did, that Tet may have been a military loss for Hanoi but a propaganda and thus a political victory makes the point that so many lie about, which is that it was indeed a military victory. It was a propaganda loss in a new way. The purveyors of the propaganda were US media. Ordinarily, the enemy has to do the heavy lifting.
    How would the Bulge have looked reported so?
    Don’t be deliberately obtuse about McNamara. Nobody opposes “know your enemy” as you well know. I was referring, as you know, to the point about Hanoi being prepared to fight for a hundred years.
    My point is, if they’re beaten, they can’t fight any more. See Japan, whose determination was never in question.
    As I said, we did not try to destroy Hanoi’s warmaking principle, mostly because of strategy put in place by McNamara. We were in the position–by our own choice and mostly to please the US left–of a boxer who’s restricted to punching his opponent’s forearms when the other attacks.
    This is the first war in our history where the primary obstacle to winning was at home. We could have won, as we won other wars, by doing what we did in other wars.
    Hanoi could have claimed to be ready to lose millions, but so was Japan. And Germany. And, in fact, they did. The difference is we beat the government of the country in question by pounding it flat and occupying it.
    It did not matter how many Chinese the PRC was willing to lose in Korea. We killed them faster than they could be shipped to the front.
    We could have done so in Southeast Asia, but LBJ and McNamara put us on a different track.

    Hanoi learned a couple of lessons. From the Greek civil war, don’t depend on another country for sanctuary. From the Korean War, don’t look like a conventional war.
    So they had North Vietnam, themselves, for a sanctuary they could depend upon, and they played the people’s liberation thing rather than coming across the border horse, foot, and guns.

    Viet Nam has to be defined as a war that was never possible to win. That way, when the US is about to try something else, calling it another Viet Nam means we can’t possibly win no matter what we do and so we shouldn’t start.
    Because we might win and the left doesn’t like that.

    In sum, we handcuffed ourselves. Initially, we had the political climate to do at least as much as was done in Korea. It wasn’t until LBJ and RSM put us on the wrong track and the American left got traction that we were on the wrong road.

    BTW. I know this will bite. Years ago, Gen. Westmoreland mentioned he’d been at an ASEAN meeting and was told by the attendees that our effort in SEA gave them time to get their own houses in order.

    And I ran into some German troops who were pleased that the Battle of The Fulda Gap was being fought in SEA. If the Americans would do all of that there, what would they do in Germany, they thought Moscow was asking itself.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  41. Lichanos Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    Your reasoning evades me:

    “Without the lies of the media, Tet would have been seen as what it was, a military defeat for the VC and Hanoi.”

    I was remarking on the bad reporting of the pre-Tet years. Are you saying that that was all lies? [I prefer "bad reporting" to "lies." The straight-out lies are few in number.]

    You also missed my point, and the point of the Tet Offensive. It was NOT solely a military effort – they were going for a calculated political effect, and they got it. They were more canny than we because they were brutally practical, committed to their goal, and more patient.

    The fact is, the North Vietnamese fought the Chinese for centuries, they fought the French for generations, and they were determined to fight us for as long as it would take to unify the country. You don’t have to sympathize with their ideology to recognize their skill and clarity of purpose. They were prepared to suffer grevious losses – millions, it seems, killed by our technology – in order to meet their goal. We were not, and they knew it. That’s why they won. They were on top of their game, we were stupid and naive, and our geo-political thinking (what Dominoes?) was based on a skewed reading of history that dismissed many central facts of east Asian culture, e.g., that the Chinese and the Vietnamese hate each other’s guts, despite the fact that they were all communists.

    McNamara is not my source – he simply made a very good, and general point. Do you disagree with the dictum, “Know your enemy?”

  42. Anonymous Says:

    Democide in Vietnam
    1.7 million people killed

    The Vietnamese communists had a simple plan for establishing themselves in power: kill anyone who opposed them. They implemented this plan in 1945 and have continued using it to this day.

    Apart from the normal, workaday murder of fellow communists, the Viet Minh slaughtered non-communist politicians and sympathizers by the thousands, including in this class- and therefore murdering as well- the friends, family members, and children of their political enemies.

    This killing continued with the establishment of communist North Vietnam in 1954, while the new power of state allowed for additional forms of murder as well.

    The class of landlords was targeted. When it was discovered that this class did not exist in any meaningful sense, the communists redefined “landlord” to mean anyone with an above average income (say, an extra cow), or anyone who once upon a time had an above average income, or anyone whose ancestors had had an above average income. The lower class peasants were instructed to choose which of their fellow villagers fell into this category, and kill them. The central government laid down a death quota- 5 percent of the population of each village were to be killed. From 1953-1956, an estimated 150,000 people were killed in this manner. Peasant rebellions that followed these extermination campaigns were suppressed, at the cost of an additional 10,000 lives.

    In 1957, the communists began to supplement the domestic death toll with an active campaign of murder in the South. This campaign was highly selective, being directed against those individuals who were capable of mobilizing opposition to the communists. This could include, not just the outspoken anti-communists, but anyone who exhibited skill or competence, whether a government official or a civilian. In the countryside, village leaders were murdered, disrupting the traditional social structure. Communist guerillas listened in on the classrooms, and when they found teachers who were not sufficiently sympathetic, killed them too.

    In this way, from 1957 into the early 1960s, the communists denuded South Vietnam of those individuals who could provide effective leadership, who could forge resistance among the people, or who could inoculate the children against communist lies and propaganda. The number of people killed in this campaign has been estimated at around six to seven thousand. This is a comparatively small number, but it was precisely those few thousand who could cause the communists the most trouble. To the communist, egalitarianism does not mean everyone is equal. It means those who are superior can be rounded up and shot. The murder campaign put this theory into practice.

    In America, President Kennedy was very clear about America’s role in Vietnam – assist the South Vietnamese in their war, without fighting it for them. In 1964 President Johnson reversed this policy. Americans have been very creative in explaining this change, but the most compelling reason may have been the success of the North Vietnamese murder campaign. The South Vietnamese could not fight their own war- they no longer had the able officials and competent leaders to do so, this apart from the fact that their top level government was totally unstable. The South was heading towards collapse. Without direct American intervention, Vietnam would fall, and the communists, enthused by the success of their murder campaign, could very well have repeated it elsewhere. But instead, the murder campaign led to a massive American invasion.

    This did not mean the campaign came to an end. On the contrary, it continued with greater force than before. In the years of direct American involvement in the war, the South Vietnamese singled out and murdered because of their anti-communism, their association with anti-communists (as friends or family), or simply because of their competence and ability, numbered in the tens of thousands.

    Alongside this assassination campaign was a more general terror campaign. An entire village might be massacred, breeding fear in other villages. Roads used by the civilian population would be mined. Buses would be ambushed with machine guns and mortar fire, residential neighborhhods were shelled, for no other purpose than to kill innocent civilians. Refugee camps were attacked as a matter of policy.

    All told, through assassination, terrorism, and massacre of civilians and prisoners of war, the communists killed an estimated 164,000 non-combatants in South Vietnam.

    The killing did not end with the the surrender of the South in 1975. War and rebellion continued in Vietnam, costing an estimated 160,000 lives. Vietnam was invaded by both Cambodia and China, costing tens of thousands of lives. In turn, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and Laos. The total killed in battle is estimated at 149,000. A staggering 3 million people may have been killed in foreign democide, including those killed by Vietnamese puppet regimes.

    Vietnamese concentration camps, called “re-education camps,” left perhaps 95,000 people dead. Deportations to “new economic zones” left some 48,000 people dead. The number of people simply rounded up and shot for whatever reason has been estimated at 100,000, with much higher estimates coming from various sources.

    Perhaps the best way to gauge the true nature of the murderous peace in Vietnam is the vast number of people who, having tolerated decades of war, risked their lives to flee the unmitigated brutality of communist rule. The “boat people,” refugees who attempted to escape by sea, numbered in the millions. An estimated 500,000 of these people drowned trying to escape.

    http://www.freedomsnest.com/rummel_vietnam.html

  43. Anonymous Says:

    Let us never forget that the influence of Leo Strauss brings about the result of a pre-fascist atmosphere in America. So far, the appropriation of Arab resources can be seen in the light of the apparent fabrications which lead to the police state which has come to pass. For one thing, the deal between the Department of Defense and Halliburton unit Kellogg, Brown & Root leads our attention to this calamity brought to us by a horrific onslaught, known as Shock and Awe. This suggests that the pro-Sharon neoconservative cabal is solid evidence of a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable scale.

  44. Goesh Says:

    Myself, I never had a desire to return to ‘Nam, but I had a friend who went back 2 years ago. He told me nothing has changed except the fighting has ended. Last I heard there was a Nike factory somewhere there where the wage was .38 a day, and they can’t get enough coca-cola and Marlboros. The peasants still don’t have electricity, phones, running water and their children still die from diseases that have been eradicated elsewhere for a long time. Victory certainly is a relative and subjective notion, and from that perspective, some could argue the US has not won a war since WW2. The irony of that view is the fact that it is always US military muscle that is called on, i.e. Kosovo, Bosnia, Gulf War I, when the rest of the world sees a problem that requires resolution by force. From a simple battle field perspective, the US always has left far more enemy dead than what we take home in body bags. From a grunt’s (infantryman) view, the US won in Viet Nam, hands down.

  45. M. Simon Says:

    Ah, I remember.

    What convinced me to change my mind was the re-ed camps and the boat people.

    The Vietnamese people are still suffering under communist oppression.

    Sad thing is Congress pulled the rug out from under the Vietnamese people. I remember I favored pulling the rug at the time.

    I have a lot to answer for.

  46. Anonymous Says:

    On the flip side one could say that today’s Vietnam exists in a darkened totalitarian hellhole because of the political distortions manufactured by Marxist ‘anti-war’ anti-Americanists.

    The enemy within will always use America’s goodness as a means to bring her down. The weapon of choice used by the progressive Marxists to attack America is to manipulate the political landscape through manufactured lies and distortions whereby undermining the fabric of America’s goodness. Marxists portray America as an Evil Imperialist governed by the Military-Complex yet her actions have always been to the contrary.

    We did not hear much about men such as John O’Neill because that would have defused the progressive anti-American Marxist’s only weapon, that being, attacking America’s goodwill.

  47. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Lichanos. You make the point many have been making. Without the lies of the media, Tet would have been seen as what it was, a military defeat for the VC and Hanoi.
    One wonders how the Ardennes Offensive would look if reported as Tet was reported.
    I don’t think McNamara is a source you would want to use, even when his statements agree with you.
    But he’s wrong. Hanoi was close to bailing on the process several times, only to be encouraged by some boneheaded withdrawal or mollifying tactic by the US.
    I suppose you could say that RSM was using hyperbole to say Hanoi was determined, but so were Japan and Germany and, for that matter, North Korea. People can be prepared to fight for a century, but if they are defeated, it doesn’t matter what they thought.
    If, on the other hand, you permit them to continue to expend only what could be considered their interest and not their principle, they can indeed go on for a long time. And that’s what we did.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  48. Lichanos Says:

    Sincere and gripping post, but personal history and annecdote don’t make history.

    Revisionist history? You talk about the media only as it was incarnated post ’67 – what about the media before then, when it more or less parroted the JFK/LBJ line?

    Tet actually a failure? Listen to McNamara, “Know your enemy.” The North Vietnamese were prepared to fight for 100 years – Tet was a victory for the NV because it shook the USA into thinking they might loose or would be there for years. It may have been a failure at the moment-militarily-but politically, the North met its goal. One of the reasons for our messing up is that we always thought the enemy thought they way we did – they didn’t.

    Now the revisionists seek to re-examine the war(the war they wanted to fight but that never existed) and show that we could have won if we had just…

  49. Emmunah Says:

    It is not clear to me that one can say we were right about all events in Vietnam, nor all wrong. We made a lot of mistakes. The same people that told some things truthfully, also lied…often in the same day. Those were difficult times, and none of the various perspectives that try to make it a black and white, right or wrong war are correct. It was much more complex than that and to try to make it otherwise is folly.

    In any event, Vietnam was very differen that what we face today. I think there were many reasons to object to Vietnam, but I abhor the people that try to make today’s events resemble those of Vietnam. I suppose it is natural to do this as we all try to find some past experience in our own lives to compare current events to…we want to have a “compartment” to place new experiences into…but this too is folly. It is perfectly reasonable to have been against the Vietnam War and see IT as completely different from the war in the middle east today. Proving only, that life, events, time, technology, global interconnectedness, and the threat we face is not the same…I did not “grow up” and decide to revise my views about history, I merely view the events of today as completely different. Something that many of my “Leftist” friends seem unable to do…perhaps that’s the “growing up”…not revising history, but not seeing today the same way you saw yesterday.

  50. VietPundit Says:

    To Anonymous at 2:51 AM:

    “almost all Vietnamese would sooner die than endure the hell we had imposed on them.”

    I have refrained from responding to your posts, since I don’t think that it would do any good, but now that you have presumed to speak for all Vietnamese, I would like to say that I, as a Vietnamese, preferred that “hell” to the “peace” that followed, and millions of my fellow boat people felt the same way. In fact, hundreds of thousands of boat people, some of them my neighbors, *did* die fleeing that “peace” that you apparently advocated.

  51. Michael B Says:

    To be clear, my post above was a reply to the ‘anonymous’ of 4:53 p.m. and 8:50 p.m., also (apparently) 2:51 a.m.

  52. Anonymous Says:

    I just find it funny how all the comments on this blog fall into a few basic categories: self-aggrandizement and self-pity from those who agree with neo-neocon, counter-arguments from those who don’t, and vicious personal attacks from her suppoerters on those who dare to disagree, while the substantive issues are completely ignored.

    As for the issue at hand, I understand that it’s very hard for people to come to terms with the idea that our beloved Fatherland ever did anything wrong, and that 58,000 people died for absolutely nothing, but it happened, and we need to know how and why to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

    We could never have won in Vietnam, because it was a war against the entire nation from within – and almost all Vietnamese would sooner die than endure the hell we had imposed on them.

  53. Michael B Says:

    Anonymous, reducing the conflict to an obviously tragic statistic, then reducing that statistic to what “we” did, may make you feel content with your summary evidence and conclusion, but it’s an arrogation with an exceedingly poor foundation.

    Firstly, for purposes of historical backdrop, Vietnam has long known great tragedies, before our “Vietnam” there was the French, before that the Japanese, before that another French period, before that various periods of invasions by the Chinese, among other regional conflicts as well. That provides some of the very broad historical backdrop.

    Leading up to our period, in the ’50s, Uncle Ho initiated purges in the north both against the peasentry as well as against rival leaders, in a manner that was reminiscent, in fact likely blueprinted, from Stalin’s purges of rivals, real and otherwise, in the ’30s in the Soviet Union. (Or do you believe the romantic notion that Ho was simply a benevolent and popular figure, brought to power by the popular acclaim of the masses?) Such was Uncle Ho’s m.o., well known in the north as such. Ho was a founding member of the French communist party circa 1920 and in the ’30s was tutored in the proletariat faith in the Soviet Union, under Stalin. For example Ho modeled his cult of personality and his repressive “land reforms,” gulags and reeducation camps after those of both Mao and Stalin. Hence our “benevolent” Uncle Ho, despite the propaganda of the Left, was not a simple, peasant loving nationalist, he was a doctrinaire Leninist/Stalinist and Maoist, committed to such very early on. A typical estimation of peasants killed as a result of the land reform begun in March, ’53 alone is 50k to 100k, counting only those who were subjected to summary executions. It was this type of murder and repression as fundamental policy that caused so many in the north to long for a different form of rule and governance.

    Despite this backdrop of severe repression and murder, as policy, various “useful fools” in the West played their part in advancing the romanticized propaganda that became a ubiquitous staple of the era, as apologetic for Uncle Ho and the North. Some of these included Barbara Tuchman, J. K. Fairbank, J. S. Service, later Chomsky, among many, many others, as is well known.

    Hence the political, historical, moral, etc. complexity, obviously enough, is pronounced; though that does not mean a substantially incisive and well reasoned analysis cannot be obtained. One pivotal question that might be asked is, what did the Vietnamese themselves desire?

    Elections per se were never held across Vietnam (South Vietnam) and the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam, i.e. North Vietnam) as a whole. It was (and is) often assumed that if elections were to be held then Ho Chi Minh would have won. (A false myth that is made prominent in a reprised Hollywood film of Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American”.)

    By the time this was being claimed the South and North were each sovereign countries, recognized as such as a result of the Geneva convention (’53?) and by various countries. There simply is no indication whatsoever that South Vietnam would have voted for Ho’s Stalinist regime. Too, even if elections had been held and Ho had won, no one, not even Uncle Ho’s own supporters and apologists, has so much as suggested that a second election would have ever been held. Still further elections as such in the North would have been meaningless in his Stalinist regime. For example elections, of a kind, were held across Vietnam after 1975 once the U.S. forsook its commitments. No one was surprised that the communists won 99% of the vote, the penalty for not voting was confiscation of ration cards with which and only with which food supplies could be purchased.

    Regarding “elections” broadly understood, there were two instances wherein people voted with their feet and wherein Uncle Ho’s reign was roundly rejected, not affirmed.

    The first example where people voted with their feet was immediately after the Geneva convention in the early ’50s. After the mutual sovereignty of South Vietnam and the DRV (the North) was established, a period of 300 days was provided for in the Geneva document wherein people who wished to could freely migrate from the North to the South and visa versa. Approximately a million people migrated from the North to the South while only around 100,000 immigrated in the opposite direction; this despite the fact that in the North there were recorded instances of the North’s military personel and political cadres of the Communist Party who literally moved into peoples houses to ensure they would not move to the South. That’s roughly a ten-to-one ratio of immigrants during that 300 day period. Again, recall the purges of elites and of the peasantry mentioned in a prior post roughly during this period that provided much of the incentive.

    The second instance wherein people voted with their feet was following 1975 where over 1.5 million people attempted to escape communist rule, the well known “boat people” representing the better known contingent of those almost 2 million refugees. As is generally known, many of those who attempted to escape died in the process.

    The tragedy was writ large, it was immense, unquestionably, but to reduce it to a statistic to satisfy an incredibly superficial sense of self-righteousness, a la Jane Fonda and so many others, is to be duped by ones own self-indulgence, not any substantial degree of moral seriousness or intellectual and historical veracity and transparency.

  54. Anonymous Says:

    I am looking forward to future issues. Well done.

    I am sorry to see that at this late date we still have commenters who believe that Vietnam was an evil war by the US, and who imagine that the “revisionist history” is wrong. AFter hundreds of thousands of boat people, the “reeducation camps” and mass murders in Vietnam after we betrayed it, one would think they would at least question their beliefs.

    General Giap was demoted (quietly) for the failure of Tet – he was never again allowed to command the forces in the war without supervision. The North Vietnamese leadership decided to sue for peace after Tet, until they saw the reaction in the US to the lies by the US main stream media (especially Walter Cronkite) about Tet.

    For those not familiar, the Tet Offensive of 1968 (a breaking of a truce by the VC, BTW) was an all-out attack on the cities by the Viet Cong. It presumed that as areas were “liberated,” the populace would rise up and join their “liberators.” This did not happen, and that single offensive wiped out half of the entire Viet Cong (the rest was wiped out later that year in two other failed offensives. This showed that the VC was not a popular insurgency, but rather unconventional warriors run by the North and despised by the ordinary citizens of the South.

    58,000 Americans died in Vietnam to stop the spread of communism, and then as a result of the anti-war sentiment, the congress (led by Frank Church) handed Vietnam to the North on a silver platter.

    The result: massacres, a gulag of “re-education centers” and hundreds of thousands of boat people.

    That in itself should show that the war was justified and the North was an agressor and representative of Soviet communism.

    Oh well.

    This Vietnam Veteran is sick of those who will never acknowledge the truth.

    The silver lining: last year we beat John Kerry, the man who wanted to be a war hero and an anti-war hero at the same tme. We rose, as a grass roots insurgency of our own, fighting against the same monolithic press, unsuccessful until the Swift Boat Vets and John O’Neil knocked down the Iron Curtain of the press.

    For many of us, it was the first time we got together after the war (Sept 12, 2004 on the Capitol Mall). It was cathartic and it was a feeling of brotherhood. We knew who lost the war, and we knew we had won it. And we won it again by helping to defeat Kerry.

    It was a good year… at last.

    If the traitor John Kerry ever runs again, we will be waiting.

  55. VietPundit Says:

    Thank you for a moving post. My reaction, as a Vietnamese-American, is here.

  56. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Some conservatives are liberals who got mugged by reality.
    Others, the more alert, picked it up day by day.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  57. John Moreschi Says:

    I think we change because we see our impact – seeing our impact do harm, seeing the impact of our cherished beliefs go awry and be negative, having things turn out the way we didn’t want them to turn out.

    For example, the counterculture (including me) “won” the Vietnam war at home in that we got the U.S. to get stop the war and let Vietnam go its own way. But, its own way was a hideous and brutal tyranny called Communism which was so terrible that thousands and thousands of boat people risked death at sea to escape. I started looking at the rest of Communism – Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea – all brutal, heartless tyrannies. Changed me by 1980.

    It hurt to change. I went through an agonizing time of not knowing answers to very basic and important questions, especially about who I was and what were the values most important to me. The hardest thing about walking away from the Democratic Party and “liberalism” was deliberately giving up being “cool, hip, with it, in the know”. I had to be willing to be seen as none of that by those with whom I used to agree.

    When I was about 16 years old I observed that almost every adult I saw had made up their minds about everything by the age of 25 and hadn’t changed it since. Indeed, it seemed to me that there was some kind of unwritten rule about adults that you were not allowed to think or learn after age 25. I was committed to continue thinking throughout my life. It is so easy to simply reconfirm what we think we know. It takes seeing your impact as negative that makes you rethink yourself.

    But, it was worth it. I can live with myself so much easier today knowing that I don’t have to attack the good intentions of the good people and good government of America as we try to defend ourselves and bring freedom to people around the world. And I don’t have to defend, de facto, horrible tyrants like Saddam or Fidel or Kim Jong or Osama. America is not evil. America is good, and I am happy to be proud of America and what America is doing in the world.

  58. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Pancho, I get the impression that the folks like the one above yours really don’t believe that tripe, but hope to find someone on the loose from a group home who might be persuaded.
    I’ve had something to do with the left for a good many years, off and on, and I see a kind of inexplicable arithmetic. They seem to feel that if they convince one hundred people that they are inveterate liars by telling whoppers which are obviously bogus, and still have the likelihood that one somebody, one anybody, out there might believe, they net out ahead.
    Don’t get it.

    71542 by Jan 70

    I went to a fraternity reunion about ten years ago. Several things surprised me. One was how many of the guys turned out well. Another was how many were married to girls they were going with in the Sixties–Little Joe cut the average having just split with number four–and how many had served.
    As one guy said (KC135 nav), “It takes about fourteen seconds at a party to figure out who are the veterans.” and by implication who not to bother with.
    There is a split in our age cohort which will end with as the mortality tables will it.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  59. Pancho Says:

    revisionist history (we won the Tet)

    Apparently neither historical research nor reality has reached the depths of inner Montana. It was generally conceded by the Vietnamese communist military leadership that their military efforts during Tet were not only ‘not’ effective but in fact were a major setback. A setback so severe it caused them to delay a planned major campaign to invade the south until 1973. Read Peter MacDonald’s fine book….”Giap”.

    What the North had not counted on and what they did win was a major progaganda coup in the US.

  60. troutsky Says:

    Thanks, anonymous,you won’t change the mind of those who have built an entire world view on a revisionist history (we won the Tet,McCarthy was persecuted,the “left” dominated US culture etc..) but it’s still important to present an opposition on the vague chance it might spur someone to do real research and not just read memoirs or watch Sylvester Stallone movies.The true testimony to the generosity of the human spirit is that no Viet Namese ever highjacked a plane and crashed it into an American city.Or French.

  61. Anonymous Says:

    “And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

    They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

    Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

    For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.

    Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of the reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

    After the French were defeated it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva agreements. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators — our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly routed out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords and refused even to discuss reunification with the north. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by U.S. influence and then by increasing numbers of U.S. troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change — especially in terms of their need for land and peace.

    The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy — and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us — not their fellow Vietnamese –the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go — primarily women and children and the aged.

    They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals, with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one “Vietcong”-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them — mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children, degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

    What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

    We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force — the unified Buddhist church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. What liberators?

    Now there is little left to build on — save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these? Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These too are our brothers.

    Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front — that strangely anonymous group we call VC or Communists? What must they think of us in America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the south? What do they think of our condoning the violence which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the north” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

    How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent Communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them — the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again and then shore it up with the power of new violence?

    Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

    So, too, with Hanoi. In the north, where our bombs now pummel the land, and our mines endanger the waterways, we are met by a deep but understandable mistrust. To speak for them is to explain this lack of confidence in Western words, and especially their distrust of American intentions now. In Hanoi are the men who led the nation to independence against the Japanese and the French, the men who sought membership in the French commonwealth and were betrayed by the weakness of Paris and the willfulness of the colonial armies. It was they who led a second struggle against French domination at tremendous costs, and then were persuaded to give up the land they controlled between the thirteenth and seventeenth parallel as a temporary measure at Geneva. After 1954 they watched us conspire with Diem to prevent elections which would have surely brought Ho Chi Minh to power over a united Vietnam, and they realized they had been betrayed again.

    When we ask why they do not leap to negotiate, these things must be remembered. Also it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva agreements concerning foreign troops, and they remind us that they did not begin to send in any large number of supplies or men until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

    Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard of the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

    At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless on Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create hell for the poor.”

    Martin Luther King Jr, “A Time to Break Silence”

  62. Pancho Says:

    Very good, thoughtful and somewhat tearful to some of us..thanks for your efforts in doing this. As another said here, I’m the same age as you and went went from childhood thru to manhood during this time. Literally.

    I was in college and ROTC from ’67-’71, thinking surely that the actual combat would be ending before I graduated. I went to Infantry, Airborne and Ranger school directly from college…..and then to Vietnam arriving in the late Fall of ’71 and being withdrawn during the Spring Offensive of ’72.

    I didn’t relive, nor much talk about, my experiences for decades afterwards until I met and became close friends with Joe Galloway who wrote the best seller “We Were Soldiers Once and Young”…later made into the Mel Gibson film, We Were Soldiers.

    Becoming friends with and being involved in reunions with the group of guys portrayed in the book and movie I began to see what good we had done, or intended to do, in Vietnam and how changing winds in Washington condemned a whole generation of young US servicemen and the Vietnamese people to live as an asterisk in the annals of history. I pray that we never again abandon the support of our troops or those in other countries where we have made the commitment of our military forces. Indecision killed 1000′s of young US soldiers and millions of Vietnamese.

    On this the 30th anniversary of the fall of a Saigon, my friend Joe Galloway is leaving for Vietnam tomorrow with other members of the group who fought in the Ia Drang in 1965 to pay his respects and to remember all those friends who did not come home.

  63. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I was on campus at the time. I did not fear the draft because I planned on enlisting–which I did.

    A funny thing happened over the ensuing years. Much of what was posted as “lies” turned out to be, one way or another, more or less true.

    From time to time, a rumor would go around the clubs, the barracks, a guy heard this, was there. Years later, a version of the rumor in a war novel. And later, a documentary. True. Site 185, for example.
    I went, literally, looking for anybody who would say that the massacre at Hue was characteristic of the other side. Never found one.
    IMO, there were two anti-war positions. One wanted to get out of the war because it was icky. The other–with us today–wanted the US to lose.
    Neither had much interest in what happened to the civilians after their heroes took over. Except, when pushed, to refer to eggs and omelets????
    So what would a therapist say about those who’ve been on the right side since the beginning?
    How did that happen?
    Which of us demonstrates more pathology, or less?

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  64. Anonymous Says:

    Talk about denial, Judith.

    We killed millions.

    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=5096

    I don’t care about what side of that war you were on; it’s a clear fact that thousands of south vietnamese supported the US and were made to suffer for it; that the genocide in cambodia might have been prevented (though, given the track record, I doubt it would have been the US that did).

    But add it all up; it doesn’t add up. There’s no WAY it was worth it. It’s not the time to start denying that.

  65. Judith Says:

    “our nation killed MILLIONS of vietnamese for absolutely…no…good…reason.”

    First of all, no, we didn’t kill “MILLIONS” of Vietnamese. Second, Communists killed and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of their countrymen in re-education camps, and another hundred thousand fled onto rickety boats where many were drowned or killed or enslaved by pirates.

    It is likely that if the South Vietnamese had been able to repel the Communists (with our help) the genocide of Cambodia by Cambodians would not have happened.

    We helped create a situation where MILLIONS died, by not staying and winning.

    Look into how Vietnamese-Americans voted in 2004. It will be hard to find any who voted for Kerry.

  66. erp Says:

    I can’t read it all. It’s too painful to relive those years. One question: Did any of you who lived through it all too come to the conclusion as I did that the war was deliberately being lost? That is was all political. Take a hill today. Retreat tomorrow, retake the hill the next day. Military commanders being blindsided by Kennedy and Johnson’s anti-war advisors.

    Soldiers totally demoralized. Casualties kept up, so the left could consolidate their position and destroy a lot of our infrastructure as more and more people became disturbed by the images on TV and the lies and distortions in the media. The anti-war riots giving aid and comfort not only to the enemy in SE Asia, but to the those bent on destroying the U.S. from within.

    Watching the documentary FDR last weekend on PBS brought back all the lies of Roosevelt’s administration and his complicity in the Soviet westward expansion, the millions killed by Stalin and Mao, glossed over by the media then and glossed over by the documentary makers now and finally the complete take over by the left of American culture after the second world war leading to the demonization of McCarthy, the debacle of the Korean War, the disaster of the Vietnam War, the destruction of Nixon and our slide down to a literal 1984.

    When it looked like things couldn’t be bleaker, along comes the American prototype cowboy and it’s morning in America again. The Berlin wall comes down, Gore invents the internet, talk radio flourishes, we survive eight years of Clinton, and the blogosphere is born.

    After what may be our darkest hour, our new president rises to the greatness thrust upon him and smites our enemies. Peace and freedom is on the verge of blossoming in the Middle East and other troubled spots around the world for perhaps the first time in history.

    We’re not all the way there by a long shot, but when I remember the despair of past decades when there seemed no way out, I’m emboldened to hope the future of my six grandchildren will be a peaceful one not only for them, but for the kids all over the earth.

    Allah Akbar.

  67. Anonymous Says:

    Brilliant, moving and a great reminder of the world in which I, too, came of age …

  68. Anonymous Says:

    what leaves me really rubbing my eyes in disbelief is the desire to revise this wound in history. talk about denial and passing the buck.

    i know it’s hard, but it’s not hating america to squarely face the fact that our nation killed MILLIONS of vietnamese for absolutely…no…good…reason. Give me, with a quarter century of perspective, one convincing reason we needed to drop more bombs on a third-world country than were dropped in all of world war two.

    i think it’s hating america to ever let your guard down against that ever happening again.

    does anyone in america ever talk about the nation of vietnam in a context other than the old war? shows how important the outcome was.

  69. VietPundit Says:

    Excellent first piece. Looking forward to the next ones.

  70. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t know what the Soviet Union would’ve done. But in the past, I did a little research into what the Chinese Communists might have done: Probably nothing.

    During the late 1960s, Mao was so afraid of the United States he ordered whole factories to be moved to or built in China’s interior, regardless of economic logic, which warped the country’s development for a decade. He actually believed that if the war spread from Vietnam to China, the American air force would bomb the coast, which was where most of China’s industry was then located. Mao was even willing to tolerate an American invasion of North Vietnam as long as a rump Communist Vietnamese state survived to be a buffer between the United States and China.

    The only problem was, the United States didn’t know any of this.

  71. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent summary. I am the same age as you. I first supported the war, then opposed it, went to marches in Washington, was almost drafted but spared by the lottery, didn’t know about O’Neill, thought the MSM was basically honest. The military feel they were winning the war. They have the testimony of N. Vietnamese generals to back them up today. Still, I wonder. What would China and Russia have done if we were close to winning? It still seems like the wrong war, but we were not evil to have gotten snared in it. That is the bit difference with the SDS, Ward Churchill etc. Personality disorder. Hate the U.S. for all it has been involved in. (Oops. I’m not a psychologist. Almost started practicing without a license). thanks again.
    John H.

  72. brdavis Says:

    Omigawd! A fellow traveler …isn’t it odd being in your 50′s, and finally growing up (especially to certain – former – realities)? – And isn’t it sad to see so many, friends, NOT “growing up?”

    (And alas, to find that often they become former friends …or at the least, that the closeness has gone from a friendship anchored so deeply in the past?)

    Even though I went through “the conversion” in the early-1990s, it was still somewhat of a shock to go back to the histories after 9/11, and find out – to cite a single example – that Tet was, indeed, a victory? And Westmoreland was telling the truth all along? And Walter Cronkite lied? – Who knew?

    I read voraciously and everything back then …to no avail. Never heard of John O’Neil until the Swifties came on the radar last year. How pathetically naive a young man …an old man …I was.

    Honey? – We’ve been lied to a long, long time. (Eh …maybe simply manipulated?) And by such a diverse group, too (if that helps, as an excuse).

    At any rate, you go girl.

    (Hopefully, We’ll all of us reach the point where the desire for truth sort of overwhelms the social proprieties …at least, I hope so; sometimes I miss the familiar easy camaraderie of those roots.)

  73. Goesh Says:

    Well done, thought provoking and it brought back memories of the mixed feelings I had when I returned from Viet Nam.

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