April 28th, 2005

A mind is a difficult thing to change: Vietnam interlude–after the fall

(For earlier pieces in the series, see the right sidebar under “A mind is a difficult thing to change.”)

Introduction

No, this isn’t the long-promised Part 4C, the post in the “A mind is a difficult thing to change” series in which I plan to discuss general changes in political/psychological beliefs wrought by the Vietnam War era, changes in the ways many people viewed our government, military, and the press. That post is still on the way, but it turns out that I need to break it down into parts. So this is the first part, which deals with a narrow and more focused question.

Once again, I don’t have statistics or research to back me up. I’m simply using my own remembered experiences, and the experiences of those around me, as a springboard for ideas about what might have been going on in people’s minds and hearts, particularly liberals growing up in those tumultuous times (and, since those days were the heyday of liberalism, a large percentage of those growing up in those times were liberals). I’m trying to be as honest as I can, and some of what I have to say isn’t pretty or noble. The following is not offered as an excuse; rather, it is an attempt at explanation.

The question

This particular post was sparked by a comment by Dean Esmay, found on this thread. His comment is as follows:

What continues to confound me is how many people who were staunchly against the Vietnam War still have not confronted the brutal reality of what our leaving that conflict wrought. The death camps, the millions of refugees who barely made it out alive, the horrors perpetrated on the people by Ho Chi Minh [sic; see this] once he was victorious…

I’d like to try to tackle the difficult question implicit in Dean Esmay’s comment, which, as I see it, is, “Where were you in the mid- to late-70s, oh bleeding-heart Vietnam War protesters? Didn’t the terrible aftermath of the Vietnam War convince you that you had been wrong to work so hard for US withdrawal? And, if so, why not?”

I think this is an excellent, although difficult, question (perhaps all excellent questions are difficult?) I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer–the situation is extremely complex–but this post is my attempt at a response.

Difficulty of facing unintended consequences

The first reason many who were antiwar during the Vietnam era have not really faced up to the negative consequences of their actions for the people of South Vietnam is that it is ordinarily incredibly difficult–for human beings of any stripe, whether liberal or conservative–to admit to an error of that magnitude. It is human nature that most people will do almost anything to avoid doing so. How many people can tolerate the terrible irony of having (in most cases, with the best of intentions) inadvertently, and with great naivete, caused the very thing they were desperately trying to prevent–the further suffering of the Vietnamese people? To acknowledge the situation of the South Vietnamese people who were left behind to the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese Communists would be to acknowledge an almost unbearable situation–one in which, like Romeo, whose best friend Mercutio was killed as a result of Romeo’s efforts to stop the fighting (Mercutio: I was hurt under your arm. Romeo: I thought all for the best.), the very thing they had tried to prevent would have occurred as a result of their activism.

Of course, the suffering of the Vietnamese people was not the only concern of those of us who had turned against the war. There was self-interest involved, also. In part 4B I described the weariness and cynicism people had come to feel, over time, about the conduct of what seemed to be an endless war. One of the main goals of the movement against the war was to ensure that no more Americans would have to fight and die in what was perceived (again, rightly or wrongly, but honestly) as a hopeless cause. Who, in the famous words of John Kerry, would want to be the last man to die for a mistake? The answer is: no one, if he indeed was convinced it was a mistake. The protesters were also successful in a related goal, that of ending the draft, which was repealed in 1973, the same year as the US withdrawal from Vietnam.

“It was inevitable”

As I said, it is astoundingly difficult to face up to the unintended negative consequences of actions that were thought to be “for the best.” Fortunately for those who supported the pullout, they didn’t have to face those consequences. There were many ways out of that dilemma. The best way out (and this was one that I took, and that I honestly believed at the time to be true) was that, if someone was firmly convinced (as I was at the time) that South Vietnam would have fallen to the Communists no matter what we had done, then all consequences– however horrific–are seen as inevitable, and therefore unavoidable. They are not seen as a result of the American abandonment of the South Vietnamese, they are seen as a consequence of the failed war itself, and then there is no need to take responsibility for them or feel guilty about them. Rather, one can comfort him/herself with the small solace that, as bad as the results were, things would have been even worse had we continued in a misguided and doomed effort. Even more people would have died, only to reach the same endpoint.

Notice I am not saying the antiwar advocates were correct in their assessment of the inevitability of a Communist takeover of the South. I am merely saying that, at the time, most of us sincerely believed it; and the press, as well as the majority of public figures, were overwhelmingly projecting this opinion in their analyses of the situation. So, given this set of facts, it is understandable that, although most antiwar activists regretted the horrors that followed the American withdrawal, they didn’t see any reason to relate them to their own antiwar efforts.

So, were we correct in thinking the outcome to have been inevitable? I certainly thought so then; I no longer think so today. My change of opinion is based on reading I’ve done on the subject in recent years, post-9/11, and especially around the time of the buildup to the Iraq war. We can argue over this issue ad infinitum (and ad nauseum), but the truth is that no one knows the answer for sure. The important point is that, for those who do still believe it today, it removes a burden of remorse that they would otherwise carry, the burden they would be taking on if they were to accept that they had been mistaken.

Other approaches

There were other approaches to dealing with the problem. One was to simply ignore it. That wasn’t as hard as one might think. After the American involvement was over, my recollection is that the news of Vietnam started to drop off the front pages and the evening news. Now that our own lives and the lives of our loved ones weren’t on the line via the draft, the whole story of the suffering Vietnam people could be allowed to recede into the background and join all the other sad tales of suffering around the globe, becoming part of that vast wail of humanity that we must somehow block out in order to have some joy in our own lives. The effort that a person would have had to have made at the time to learn more about what was happening in Vietnam after the withdrawal, once it no longer was front page in-your-face news, was one that not many people were likely to make. Remember, again, how long the war had been, and how much news we had assimilated over the years; how many hopes dashed, how many fears felt and horrors viewed. People were only too happy to have Vietnam recede into the background after all those terrible years of concern.

Is this callous? Yes. Is it admirable? No. But it’s also a normal and self-preservative fact of human nature. And, because of the concomitant “it was inevitable” idea, it’s easy to see why there seemed to be no point in dwelling any longer on what could not be helped.

Another way some people (a much smaller number) dealt with it all was to see the stories of what was going on in Vietnam after we withdrew as an exaggeration or a lie. These people felt that the situation wasn’t really all that bad; that the Vietnamese people, as John Kerry had famously stated, didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. To those who believed this, they felt it was just a tiny proportion of the South Vietnamese people who were suffering; and that most people didn’t care what form of government they had, they were just happy to see peace at least.

Then there was that minority on the very far left who believed Ho and the Communists to be heroes. Sure, they said, there was a little suffering going on in South Vietnam when the Communists took over, but it was just on the part of the people who had been our capitalist imperialist lackeys. And it was all OK, anyway, because, in the end, the society that was being built would be a better one. After all, when making an omelet, you have to break some eggs, right? The numbers who felt this way were small–but they existed, and they still exist. To them, there was, and is, nothing to rationalize or explain. To them, the fall of Saigon was not a fall at all; it was an ascension.

So, we have a wide variety of reactions, explanations, and rationalizations, some more acceptable than others. As I said previously, I personally have come to believe that there was at least a fair chance that Vietnamization might have worked, had we not pulled the financial rug out from under the ARVN. I also believe that, by the time the decision to cut funding was made, most of us were so demoralized, so weary of a lengthy process of killing that seemed interminable and endless, so confused about what the Vietnamese people themselves wanted, and so uncertain of what the outcome would be, that we simply were tired. We wanted out, and we were going to get out, and so we did. I personally feel a deep and terrible sense of regret about what happened, and about my own inability to see what was happening more clearly.

Here is an article I came across the other day, on the fall of South Vietnam. Please read the whole thing, although it’s long. I’m not a historian, and I’m sure there are people who will question the story detailed in this article. But, if it is true (and I have found as yet no reason to doubt it), it is beyond chilling. I want to draw your attention in particular to the phrase “little-known battle;” by the time the events described here were occurring (1975), few in the US were paying much attention, because we no longer had much of a military presence in Vietnam. The events described were a violation of the Paris Peace Accords by the North Vietnamese, who were emboldened by the fact that they knew the US had lost the will to do fight, or to assist the South Vietnamese in fighting.

The little-known battle for Phuoc Long was one of the most decisive battles of the war, for it marked the U.S. abandonment of its erstwhile ally to its fate. Le Duan’s “resolution” had been all too correct. In the face of this flagrant violation of the Paris Accords–and it was deliberately designed to be flagrant so as to clearly test U.S. resolve–President Gerald Ford pusillanimously limited his response to diplomatic notes. North Vietnam had received the green light for the conquest of South Vietnam.

From the same article, here is an exchange between the author, whose task it was to negotiate the terms of the American withdrawal with the North Vietnamese, and a North Vietnamese colonel. Read it and weep.

“You know you never beat us on the battlefield,” I said to Colonel Tu, my NVA counterpart.
“That may be so,” he said, “but it is also irrelevant.”

Lessons learned from Vietnam: all that is necessary to win a war against the US is to turn domestic public opinion against it, even if you are militarily outclassed, even if you are defeated in every battle. It’s a lesson that was not lost on our current opponents. In a sense, our recent task in Iraq has been to reverse that perception, to finally learn the lesson of what happened so long ago and far away.

Vietnam and Iraq are very different countries, and these are very different wars, but there is one thing that is a constant–the paramount importance of the battle for public opinion in the United States. Oddly enough, even some of the players have been the same: John Kerry, for instance.

So, in closing, here is John Kerry, speaking on the topic of what will happen in South Vietnam after we withdraw. It is taken from the transcript of his debate with the very young and skinny John O’Neill, which took place on the June 30, 1971 Dick Cavett show. I offer it as a good example of the mindset that lulled some of us into believing all would be well.

MR. CAVETT: No one has said that there’ll be a bloodbath if we pull out, which is a cliche we used to hear a lot. Does either of you still think there would be a –

MR. O’NEILL: I think if we pull out prematurely before a viable South Vietnamese government is established, that the record of the North Vietnamese in the past and the record of the Viet Cong in the area I served in at Operation [unintelligible] clearly indicates that’s precisely what would happen in that country.

MR. CAVETT: That’s a guess, of course.

MR. KERRY: I –

MR. O’NEILL: I’d say that their record at Thua, at Daq Son [phonetic spelling], at a lot of other places, pretty clearly indicate that’s precisely what would happen. Obviously, in Thua, we’ve discovered, how many, 5,700 graves so far, at Daq Son four or five hundred.

MR. KERRY: The true fact of the matter is, Dick, that there’s absolutely no guarantee that there would be a bloodbath. There’s no guarantee that there wouldn’t. One has to, obviously, conjecture on this. However, I think the arguments clearly indicate that there probably wouldn’t be. First of all, if you read back historically, in 1950 the French made statements – there was a speech made by, I think it was General LeClerc, that if they pulled out, France pulled out, then there would be a bloodbath. That wasn’t a bloodbath. The same for Algeria. There hasn’t been. I think that it’s really kind of a baiting argument. There is no interest on the part of the North Vietnamese to try to massacre the people once people have agreed to withdraw.

Many people listened to this debate and heard what they wanted to hear, which is that it would be better if we pulled out, better for everyone. To the best of my recollection, I was one of those people. I didn’t like Kerry, even then–something about his air of slightly bored, unctuous superiority rubbed me the wrong way–but O’Neill seemed foolishly and naively optimistic. At the time, it seemed that the world-weary, war-weary Kerry was the winner of the debate. Now it’s he (and, by implication,we) who sounds like the naive fool.

[ADDENDUM: For the next post in the series, Part 4C, go here.]

108 Responses to “A mind is a difficult thing to change: Vietnam interlude–after the fall”

  1. Michael B Says:

    The primary Geneva document, signed by all parties, created the two sovereign states.

    “This is not a fact.”

    Well, rather belatedly, but it was originally (vis-a-vis the Geneva treaty which ended the French Indochina war) intended to be a temporary accord with Vietnam-wide elections to be held in July of 1956. But when the North evidenced systematic bad faith, it became a de facto sovereignty/border dispute which eventuated in the protracted conflict.

  2. still realizing Says:

    Michael B said:

    The primary Geneva document, signed by all parties, created the two sovereign states.

    This is not a fact. Read the treaty. I have. It’s a long treaty. Most of the text is taken up with endless tiny details of where the border was between the French and the Vietnamese. But if you persevere you’ll find the spot where it says the line is not a political or territorial boundary.

    Neo and the rest:
    The bloodbath was made by Pol Pot in Cambodia. Which surprised everybody in the States. The Vietnamese were the ones who put an end to it. So the bar of what constitutes a bloodbath was set high.

    And the Vietnamese were perceived to have preferred the Communist government over the US-backed government. The pain the government inflicted was seen (by us) as being legitimate in the eyes of the Vietnamese. The US has 2 million people in jail now, but it is largely seen as legitimate by the American people. A good essayist (especially outside the US) could make it seem as horrible as we see the Vietnamese re-education camps today.

    Also, not known, the “South Vietnamese” government was deeply infiltrated by the communists and was inneffective, for that and other reasons. This is supported by a pretty good book by Neil Sheehan “A bright and shining lie”. Well worth reading. The book is about the war and an American officer John Paul Vann. Vann didn’t write the book, he was dead by then.

  3. Ho Chi Minh Says:

    To Michael B. (about half way up the page) :-)

    Reagrading the “myths” you cited from Thomas Lipscomb (NYPost):
    The 1954 Indo-china Cessation Of Hostilities Agreement hammered out in Geneva can be found under Command Paper 9239, Great Britain Parlimentary Sessional Papers, XXXI. London, 1953/54, pp.9-11, also 27-38, also the follow up Internaional Control Commision reports on the monitoring of the Cease-fire zones. I would ask you not to believe me, or Mr. Lipscomb, but to get a copy and read it yourself.

    Firstly the Agreement guaranteed Vietnam’s territorial integrity throughtout, referring repeatedly to the demarcation line as “provisional”, pending elections”.
    Neither the North or South were ever “sovereign countries” as you state, as they were never accepted into the U.N. Being an internationally brokered Cessasation of Hostilities Agreement, ending a terribly ugly international conflict, any threat to it would constitute a “threat to peace” under international law, a war crime. France and Representitives of the North, the Viet Minh, signed the document because they were the belligerents in the Cessastion of Hostilities Agreement. Just because “we” didn’t sign it didn’t mean we weren’t bound to it under international law. We didn’t have to sign it, because we weren’t one of the belligerents, we weren’t at war (yet anyway). Again, any threat to the agreement would constitute a threat to peace, a war crime. Not America’s first. You can read the ICC monitoring reports yourself, documenting in detail infringements of the cease-fire agreement.

    Neither do I see the logic in starting yet another war “to save 10,000,000 people from slavery”, as it was as false a statement then as it is now, a McCarthy era demonization that has no place in justifying our crimes then or today. That perhaps those non-catholic Vietnamese that wanted to feed their people (a third of Vietnam’s population died of starvation in W.W.II under French-japanese collaboration, feeding two armies) and break the chains of colonial slavery were anything other then devils to American’s is more a testimony to U.S.-Cold war brain-washing techniques then what actually happened in North Vietnam, or any other communist country for that matter.

    Lipscomb is not the first either to remind us of Vietnamese “voting with their feet” in their mass migration south, into the French zone, undeniable proof the Vietnamese were refuting Ho Chi Minh. Firstly, most Catholics were in the North, as Hanoi was the administrative capital of their Colonial Administration. And almost all those regrouping were Catholic. In addition it would be negligent to overlook the fact that the U.S. military was running an enormous scare campaign, dropping leaflets identifying where we were going to drop Atom bombs on the North for instance, and horrific stories of Communist atrocities to come. The message: “get out while you still can”, Ho Chi Minh was going to cut the babies out of pregnant mothers and eat them (I’m not making this up). These U.S. militry scare tactics are documented, and one can easily access them from U.S. military archives, if you care to look. Having said that there were few Viet Minh southerner’s in the North, and many saw no need to go north because the zones were to be united soon anyway. Besides, if we were so sure of ourselves we would have had a ballot count, not a foot count (and a U.S. tax payer scare campaign).

    I will not respond to “Ho Chi Minh’s Maoist liquidations and despotic regime in general, prior to Geneva”, ..because I don’t have time. But you can be sure I will :-)

    In the meantime perhaps you can look up “The Myth of the Bloodbath”, by D. Gareth Porter, International Relations of East Asia,, Cornell University, Interim Report No.2, September 1972. Also “Land Reform in China and North Vietnam”, Edwin Moise, Assistant Professor of History (now professor), Clemson University, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 1983.

    “Origins of the Sourthern Resistance (the NLF) will have to wait for another sitting as well. I hope we can “read the whole thing” together, for I believe it is you who is “given to vacantly repeating the historical dogmas of the would-be betters” ..on the Right.

    Until then.

  4. DonKeck Says:

    In 1960 I was a Kennedy Liberal. In 1964 I was anti (Vietnam)war. This in itself was a contrdiction in terms that few of us perceived at the time. In 1968 I moved to DC and had my first experience with the actual anti war movement. What I found was a movement led by radical leftist/pro Communist/anti Americans fanatics who wanted to see a Communist victory and American defeat in Vietnam. By 1972 I was a hawk, made so by the radical left.By 1974 I was neo conservative. By 1976 I voted for the first time in my life foer a Repubican. By 1980 I was a Reagan Republican.
    I was fully aware of the holocaust taking place in Vietnam & Cambodia after the American withdrawl in 1975. While the mainstream news did everything it could to ignore it the facts were available for anyone who cared to look for them in such venues as Commentary magazine which I read avidly in those years.
    No doubt therew were naive people such as the author described who were confused by it all and who joined the anti war movement for “noble” reasons. But if I could see in 1968 that the movement had been hi jacked by the radical left and was being manipulated by Moscow and Hanoi anyone who wanted to see could have done so. It only took a little reading and an open mind.
    It was then and remains today my belief that all those naive fools who supported the antiwar movement chose to be deceived, did not want to know the truth. Many have since discovered the truth (most famously David Horowitz and Peter Collier, former editors of “Ramparts” — the most notorious antiwar journal of the time.) I can only say thar the real tragedy is that they did not discover it until it was too late for the people of Cambodia and Vietnam.

  5. robert aldridge Says:

    Anon – I really have to take issue with your interpretation. “(The US) economy would die if there was peace.” “The USA’s economy is so dependent on conflicts around the world.” And you draw this conclusion from the fact that the US is the world’s leader in the export of arms. I don’t find this logical in the least. All the big economies in the world export arms, including the UK and France. The US just happens to be the biggest economy with the biggest arms manufacturing base – which it needs for its huge defense commitments – along with other “biggest” in various businesses. Its exports of weapons include countries like Israel and South Korea, for whom it has certain responsibilities, which other countries do not have. You pluck out the “record exports” to “prove” that the US is warmongering, and it proves nothing of the sort at all! The whole issue of arms exports – whether by the USA or by MANY other countries is controversial, but I personally don’t have a problem with this. Sovereign countries are entitled to buy weapons if that is what they want. If the UK wants to buy submarines from the USA, then what do you want the USA to do? Refuse? There are two consequences – 1) they are condemned as interfering and 2) the British would simply take their business elsewhere. Finally, your assertion that the US economy would die if it stopped arms exports, I think is nonsense. The one extraordinary and essential feature of capitalism is its need to be flexible, adaptive and forward looking. If swords are no longer wanted – why, make ploughshares instead. This goes on all the time. Britain once produced ships, coal, locomotives, cars, cotton goods. She now produces none, or few, of these; and Britain is still one of the strongest economies in the world. Mrs. Thatcher destroyed an astonishing proportion of the industrial base of this country by ending subsidies, denationalising, etc. Our economy hasn’t collapsed! Capitalism creates rich people, who have spare money to invest in risky but potentially highly profitable ventures. Arms sales decline, they pull their money out, they look around for the latest fast-growth enterprise, and stick their money there. The US is probably the best country in the world to recover in this way. There will of course be hardship for those directly involved as there always is in such cases, but that is the nature of the system. But US collapse? I’m afraid I just don’t buy that. As far as US companies promoting war to maintain their profits, again, I find this to be a little hysterical and patronising. So a country will go to war simply because it has superior weapons to its neighbour, which it has just bought under pressure from a salesman? After WW1, everyone looked around for a scapegoat for that catastrophe, and the armaments industries were one of these “culprits”. (I’ve seen it all before!) But I am sure that you know as well as I that WW1 was a complex political, national, strategic, even cultural war, but there really is no evidence to blame the arms manufacturers, and even if there were, it would play such a negligible role compared to the main reasons a country goes to war. No, Sir. One of the many reasons that I have abandoned the left is what I regard as their sloppy reasoning, sort of like saying, “dogs bite and bark, therefore dog breeders are a menace to society.” So, sorry mate; you haven’t convinced me.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    50+ woman–I really think, with all due respect, that you need to read more carefully.

    I did not say you “have a dislike or hatred” for me. I said you had some rage and some anger. I differentiated that from a personal hatred for me. And I based my statement about rage and anger on the fact that you came in here accusing me of two pretty nasty things: the first, that I was only against the Vietnam War originally because it was “cool” at the time (therefore accusing me not only of lying here, but of being shallow and thoughtless), and the second, having lied about ever having been a “leftist.” Both statements demonstrate anger on your part, I believe–an anger that you have backed off from quite a bit in subsequent posts.

    Your statement that I (and my fellow neocons) don’t have to rewrite my past or erase it is beyond puzzling; it simply makes no sense in the context of these posts. What I am actually doing here is writing about and facing my past, which is the opposite of rewriting it (changing the story) or erasing it (eliminating the story).

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Anon

  8. Anonymous Says:

    To Robert A..About war Whores.Guess what USA,s biggest export ,in amount of dollars has been for most of the past 2 decades?Fact..Military related goods.including software.Where does this money for R&D come from,and where does it endup.?Ever ask yourself?People often say,’you want to find the answer,follow the buck”Nor did I say that peaceful nonmilitary countries could not prosper.Look at Japan.Military needs however open up often tightly sealed purses.The govt of and many people realize this and often great advances trickle down from military R&D to the common people.History is full of these examples.If you recall initially USA made Saddam pick up the bill for those who attacked his country..We think of of everything.You are right however.The most benifits come from arming your friends and letting them fight their and often our enemies.There is no country that can rival USA on this point.We are the best.The reasons for each war like I stated are like a big elephant.not just money. I am a capitalist but can still be critical of its faults.I get sick when I see people who are afraid to point out faults publicaly or privately.Hitler learned this and see where he took his people.They felt they were always right,and superior to all.Or he tried to make them feel this way.The people who spoke out were dead before WW2 started.Thats why I love USA cause we can speakout . many americans are so arrogant when it comes to nationalism sometimes its scary.God bless america,we need it

  9. robert aldridge Says:

    It is not the Iraq war that has made me (us?) revise our history. It is the fall of communism (thanks to Reagan), the liberation of South Africa, the Thatcher revolution in Britain, 9/11, the rise of the “Tiger” economies, the rise of Islamo-fascism, and the obscurantism of the left, among other things. If these things don’t make one wonder whether perhaps one might have been wrong earlier, then one does indeed deserve to be regarded as being, perhaps, a little “slow”.

  10. Another 50+ Woman Says:

    Neo-neo…

    Where did you get the idea that I have a dislike or hatred for you or that I thought you had the same for me? On the contrary, I think we might get along quite well if we don’t discuss politics.

    My little “aside” on hate was based on your agreement with another poster on how much you both hate Kerry. I believe the comment was something like. “oh, I really hate that man!”

    And, I agree that I misused the term Leftist… I meant to use liberal.

    With that, I leave you all to your attempts to justify your converstion to rightwing politics. I just wish you would realize that you do NOT have to erase your past nor do you have to rewrite it. Why not simply view today as TODAY?

    Just because you think the Iraq war is justified does not mean you HAVE revise your thoughts (and the history) of Viet Nam. Why on earth do you think you have to do that? Neo, with your educational background, do you see a problem here?

    Anyway, have a good future as neocons (could this be, gasp, a HUGE FLIP FLOP?) and maybe we’ll see you back on the other side in a few years.

  11. robert aldridge Says:

    Correction – NOT “the USSR”! – but Russia.

  12. robert aldridge Says:

    I’m sorry, Anon, but this sounds like an old canard regurgitated – that capitalism thrives on war. The evidence is so much to the contrary: war ruins economies, and one need go no further than look at the consequences of the Vietnam war which played a part in ruining the American economy. Here in Britain we have ample evidence of this fact. The only profitable war is to supply someone else’s war for hard cash, but in the case of Iraq, the US is shouldering the whole burden of war. Besides, it is well known that countries like Sweden and Switzerland, which have managed to avoid war so successfully, have managed to maintain prosperity as a consequence. And Nazi Germany was a case of a country that tried to thrive on war. No, Anon, what you say is economic nonsense; it is an ideological idea that sounds attractive to those who want a simple explanation for war, and a guilty party to point the finger at. And guess what? The guilty party is America! Why is American capitalism (not the capitalism of virtually every other country in the world) so much in need of war? Come off it, mate! America is at war because they are the world’s policeman. No-one else has the money or the clout to take up that role. Sometimes they get it wrong; sometimes they cop out of that role (isolationism), but 9/11 showed how dangerous that could be. Fate has placed them in that thakless position, and I, for one, am very grateful that it is America in that position and not, say, the USSR or China.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    I am amazed you forks refuse to acknowledge or are unaware of the one big common thread that runs thru most wars past and present.IT reminds me of the blind men and the elephant.Everyone is sure of his point of view but blind to the whole picture or to acknowledge others view.Why are hawks always pro war ,nomatter who we are fighting or for what reason.My freinds in Asia do not understand Bush and USA policy.Its like this.USA,s economy is so dependant on conflicts around the world.The fact is our economy would die if there was peace in the world.From selling bolts that go on airplanes ,the food for troops,boots,bullets .do you all get the message.where is the 100,s of billions of dollars for the Bush,s war going.Its helping to put little Jimmy thru college,Its helping to pay our mortgage.Its going into the pocket of a lot of people.Its making a lot of folks very very rich.Its going to political districts that most of you are totally unaware of.Why do you think Kerry flipflopped on the war.?One reason,It brought lots of money to both parties.It was easy to flip after money had been earmarked to everyone.Halbertons secret contract raised a few eyebrows but .Yes we should defend our country but Im suprised at all the sheep that are following the wolf .I welcome any reaction to this reality,

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    As I said before, another 50+ woman, I try to avoid getting drawn into arguments in the comments section because it tends to be an endless, bottomless pit. So, I have no particular reason to speculate, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, on what George Bush might have thought about the Vietnam War, or why he is not on public record as speaking out on the subject.

    But, in the interests of clarity, I am writing to correct a misapprehension of yours: I have never said that I was a leftist at any point in my life. You are absolutely correct in saying I was not a leftist, but you are incorrect in thinking I may have ever insinuated that I was. In fact, I have tried to take pains in previous posts to differentiate leftists from liberals. I was a liberal. If you care to go back and read what I wrote in Part 4A, for example, you’ll notice I use the word “liberal” over and over to describe myself, and mention the differences between my point of view and those of my friends who were leftists. I have tried to make that point very clear, because I agree that there is a real distinction between the two.

    In addition, I never accused you of hating me. I mentioned rage and I mentioned anger, both of which I am guessing you feel, although of course I have no way of knowing. It may be a subtle distinction, but I think feeling rage and anger are quite different than feeling personal hatred towards a person.

  15. Richard Aubrey Says:

    50+.
    What made you think taking over the North was our objective? Who said so? I should say that Oliver Stone’s company commander–who said Stone sort of jazzed things up–said the right thing to do was put two airborne divisions on Hanoi, two Marine divisions on Haiphong and meet in the middle. “That’s what we do well,” he said, but he was a captain at the time, or perhaps his date for doing this was before he got that far. But that was a strategic suggestion not made part of the mission.

    And, yeah, they had a DMZ during the war, which they militarized and we didn’t (being rule guys and all)

    So if they had one during, there’d probably have been one after. Considering how the nations split post-war arranged things, that is certainly the way to bet.

    You don’t know if Bush spoke out. My point is that if he did, there is every reason to think there is no record. The difference is that Kerry made it a point to lie about the US effort there to discredit it as much as possible and so he arranged as much publicity as he could.
    Bush, whatever his ideas, apparently didn’t think there was anybody who wanted to hear them. That was pretty much everybody’s view in the service.

    I got into the subject in exactly one letter, to a girl I knew who was concerned about her fiance’s upcoming Marine boot camp. After telling her it wasn’t as tough as they made it out to be, I went a bit into the subject. I didn’t say that in the Army we thought the jarheads thought eccentric belligerence trumped tactical competence. But he survived, they married and he turned out to be as big a butthead as I’d thought and she dumped him within a year. Couldn’t stay home, which, considering her, was astonishing.
    Getting letters from guy acquaintances is not the thing to do when engaged, so I presume she trashed the letter and that’s the end of my speaking out on the subject, as recorded for history.
    This is not to say I didn’t endlessly think and speak (verbal) about it.
    Which is to say that there is no reason to think Bush didn’t do the same.
    I have no idea whether Bush is deep or wide, but he’s doing mostly what I would like to see him doing, so it doesn’t matter. Being easily distracted by on-the-other-hand is not a virtue in a leader.
    Something done well is better than meetings to think about doing something perfectly.
    You can probabaly find dilettantes and procrastinators in the nearest faculty lounge–where they should stay.

    One commentator said the reason he likes Bush is that Bush gets up in the morning, scratches himself and says, “F—it. Let’s kill some terrorists.” That’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s the right view.

    Anyway, this started out with neo-neocon about to tell us how she changed her mind after 9-11, and where she was prior to that.

  16. Michael B Says:

    Via VietPundit, a couple of items. Some current Vietnamese nationals featured as Voices of Conscience within a Vietnam Reform Party site. Dovetailing with that theme, Claudia Rosett recently did a piece on one of the voices of conscience featured in the above site, entitled Saigon’s Sharansky, a brief outtake and quote follows:

    “What I want is liberty for my people.” The question now, he said, “is how to make regime change in Vietnam.” For democratization of his country, he added, “support from the rest of the world is important.” Specifically, he wants Hanoi’s decaying communist party to “put forward a timetable for free and fair elections.”

  17. 50+ Woman Says:

    Aubrey,

    You mention Occam’s Razor but make so many assumptions. Where do you find conspiracy in my posts?

    My thoughts on GWB are simple as is he. I think he is a rather single faceted guy, no depth, no introspection, no reflection on matters that do not directly impact him.

    My reason for questioning the posters on the BLOG about GWB’s Viet Nam war opinions is to, hopefully, point out to those who so venemously spit at Kerry that, at least he spoke out. They may not like what he had to say BACK THEN, but, at least he spoke out no matter how unpopular his statements were. GWB, on the other hand, did not.

    Interesting concept regarding the separation of North and South… you really think we would have had a DMZ? A wall? I figured, if we won, we would have taken over the North, united the country and let all the people of Nam be free. Go figure.

  18. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Jeez. 50+ How easy is it to get across the Z in Korea, revengeful or otherwise?
    Answer. Impossible.
    Ditto East and West Germany back in the day.
    Why would Viet Nam have been different?

    Missing records: Apparently there are none. In fact, there are so many extant that didn’t tell the desired tale that CBS had to fake some up.

    And Bush’s actions regarding his thoughts on the war are not recorded. Thus, he looks exactly like almost everybody else who served. We weren’t writing op-eds and letters were for other purposes.

    My mother died some time back and we discovered a cache of letters my father had written from Europe. No thoughts on the war–he had her convinced he was a chaplain’s assistant in the rear until the first time he was hit–but no long thoughts on the war.
    There have been no letters from my brother or me discovered about the house, despite my father’s preparation to move out. So, even if I had expressed something, posterity will not benefit.
    So Bush’s situation is exactly like millions of others and your view of Occam’s Razor is that it was a Conspiracy.

    Richard Aubrey

  19. 50+ Woman Says:

    Aubrey,

    My, my, you are a bitter sort of guy…

    Do you recall reading of Mr. Bush’s missing military records? (and pleeeeeeease, I am not rehashing that silly debate) Where was he? He was working on a political campaign. Was his Father involved in politics? Did his family have political friends? Was he a member of the infamous Skull and Bones club? Is his brother a politician? Is his father a politician? Is HE A POLITICIAN? Wow… I guess he wasn’t actually plannnnnning on running for office. Gee, maybe the whole family woke up one morning and thought, “Hey, why don’t we get elected to something?”

    And, as for that line between the North and South if we would have won…. I’m sure that would have stopped those people looking for revenge for the murder of their family members right in their tracks!

    PUH-LEASE… time for YOU to get a clue. While your at it, get a sense of humor, too.

  20. Richard Aubrey Says:

    50+.

    Prove his grooming for political office.
    Try to keep the Rosicrucians out of it.

    If we had “won” the war, there would have been no reprisals by the South against the North, since the object of the war was to keep the border where it was and both sides out of each other’s territory.
    So we have an impossibility, a hypothetical, hauled in to offset a reality.
    Cool.
    Also…clueless.

    At least, if you wish to think anybody believes this…clueless.

    Richard Aubrey

  21. Rafique Tucker Says:

    Neo-neo-con,

    I just have to say I’m really intrigued by this debate. I was born four years after the war ended, so my experiences with Vietnam are entirely based on historical review. Anyway, I appreciate the reasoned discourse, and as a 25-year old liberal hawk, I understand the complexity of your political evolution, although being only half your age, you’ve undoubtedly had a much broader approach.

    Iraq is not Vietnam (the stakes are much higher in Iraq), but a lot of the debate seems to mirror a lot of the debate over Nam. Many on the ant-war Left still cannot fathom how horrible it would if we pulled out of Iraq now. Debating this war with a lot of them is sometimes like debating a brick wall.

    Being in the that camp of Kerry voters who still supported the war, I know what it’s like to make tough choices.

    Anyway, great post.

  22. Another 50+ Woman Says:

    “It was impossible to not have had thoughts of the subject at the time. To challenge somebody to produce them or be thought a nullity is really, really to be without a clue.” RICHARD AUBREY

    Mr. Aubrey, you are surely aware that GWB was being groomed for the political arena just as Kerry was. The answer to my question is simple: Bush made no statements, took no stands. (My snide remark… no one TOLD him what stand to take)

    Of course your thoughts are not recorded… you are as insignificant as I. My horror at learning of the death of my cousin, was not newsworthy. The despair I felt when a dear friend returned maimed and disfigured was frankly just par for the course. The loss of another friend, then another and another…. well, what can I say? I was not from a political family, a wealthy family or a famous family. My opinions only mattered to me and my friends.

    But, as far as the loss of my friends in that war, I didn’t think the war was worth their lives then and your revisionist history will not convince me it was worth their lives now. Sorry.

    You want me to feel badly because we abandoned the South Vietnamese. I have read the comments regarding the horrors they faced after we withdrew. Well, they faced horrors while we were there… they faced horrors before we came.

    Do you really think, if we had “won” the war, there wouldn’t have been retribution by the South Vietnamese against the North? The “what ifs” I am reading in these posts seem to miss that point. War brings pain and suffering to civilians. It fosters hate and the aftermath is sometimes more painful than the war itself. It doesn’t matter who wins, someone always loses and the losers always suffer. People die. You all are saying that it is preferrable that north vietnamese civilians die instead of south vietnamese?

    So, Mr.Aubrey, do not call me clueless. I have, at least, one clue and that is that Mr. Bush was either oblivious to the suffering of our soldiers and the vietnamese people or, he was not allowed to publically express his opinion. After all, he was working for a Republican’s election committee at the time.

    Now, when it comes to the popularity of VW minibuses, I truly haven’t a clue….

  23. Richard Aubrey Says:

    We actually have no idea of what Bush’s thoughts were during the Viet Nam war.
    Like many, if he had thoughts, they were expressed verbally, and if written, not preserved (why should they be?)
    To presume from this that Bush had no thoughts is absurd.
    The outlines of the war are written in stone–afterwards. At the time, nobody in uniform, and a good many not in uniform, spent a day without thinking of the possibility of heading west to SEA. Because nobody knew what would happen. Would the Chinese come in as they had in 1950? Would we need a million troops?
    Would the Russians take advantage of our deployment in Asia to move in Europe? Hope my friend who got his orders last week will be okay. My name came up on the roster for Notification of Next of Kin. Or Escort Officer. Can’t go deepsea fishing because Lt. Graham is out in the direction of Asheville looking for a family to tell them their son was killed in Viet Nam. I have to call Mrs. Jones first before I run over to pick up some stuff my wife wants because you never approach a military home without warning unless you’re notifying. I don’t wear my uniform hat–at least my more formal garrison cover–when I’m driving on a residential street because I might be spotted as coming to notify somebody.
    Time for the quarterly briefing on Southeast Asia. Sign in and try not to fall asleep. One of my maintenance guys is back from SEA and his wife and he aren’t getting along.

    It was impossible to not have had thoughts of the subject at the time.
    To challenge somebody to produce them or be thought a nullity is really, really to be without a clue.

  24. robert aldridge Says:

    As an outsider, and not knowing much about it, I can’t comment on 50+ woman – except that one obvious thought occurs to me. Kerry is not in a position of power, so he has to be judged on his record – and a major part of his record consists of Vietnam, one way or another. Because Bush has been in power, his record is what he has done in power; Vietnam has very little relevance to that. It is well known that he was rather wayward as a young man, and probably apolitical – well, that is neither here nor there – it is not unusual, and the important thing is that he has obviously changed. As far as my being a “fan” of his – well, I have learnt that politics is a fickle world, and I would rather be on the fickle side than the political side – i.e. I’ll judge him as he goes along. So far I admire him enormously for his reaction to 9/11, for his practical idealism in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that has not “bought” my loyalty; if he starts cocking things up, I will no longer be his “fan”. For instance, I voted for Blair last time, but almost certainly will not this time, although I am proud of his support for Bush, and ashamed of the bulk of my fellow Britons for their hysterical, self-righteous mob-reaction to that support, their extraordianry ignorance about the reasons for the war, and the ASTONISHING spectacle of left wingers vigorously upholding the supposed “rights” of a proved madman, aggressor,mass- murderer, terrorist-funder, and liar, while condemning their own legitimate, elected government which acted in good faith, but on the side of caution – as any responsible government would do – to protect this country, its friends and its legitimate interests.

  25. Another 50+ Woman Says:

    I returned to see if any of the cons, neo or otherwise, had responded to my questions regarding our current president and his thoughts, statements, opinions of the Viet Nam WAR (thankfully, none of you have reverted to “conflict”.

    As I expected, NO COMMENT. Neoneo… you comment on my hostility toward you and make an assumption that I base it on your “leaving the fold”. I suppose my sarcasm was unwarranted and I do appologize. I will be direct. I do not believe that you were ever a leftist. That is not meant to be an attack nor is it hostile. Just as you have your opinions on the beliefs and opinions of others, I have mine of you. Please accept my opinion as only that. I bear you no hostility, hate or other emotion. Hell, I don’t KNOW you and find it silly to say I would hate someone I don’t know.

    Likewise I don’t HATE Bush as I do not personally know him. I do not like his philosophies, ideas or tactics and I am truly embarrassed that he is my president. But I do not hate him. Just as I do not LOVE people I don’t know. Those kind of emotional responses to public figures are childish, don’t you think?

    I am just curious… why do you and some of your commentators make references to Kerry but not one of you will refer to Bush and his thoughts on this most important part of American history?

    Could it be that Bush HAS NO THOUGHTS? Or, that Bush had no opinions on the war or that he sat on a fence, refusing to take a side?

    Please, would one of you Bush fans tell me what Mr. Bush said of Nam? You have many quotes from Kerry, as he was outspoken, whether or not you like or hate what he said. Let’s hear what our president said. I am betting you can find NOTHING.

  26. Tom Grey Says:

    Thank you, thank you, neo-neocon & Dean. Vietnam is really important, and evaluating the results of a policy followed are crucial.

    Allow me to note that I called Kerry on the “Moral Superiority” War about Vietnam when the Swifties came out. Some of the rage of both sides is over the moral high ground.

    On Michael Totten’s blog I said that the US should apologize to the Vietnamese — for not winning; for not learning how to do Vietnamization, right. (Starting with supporting THEM in doing security?)

    I note in your excellent list of excuses, no mention of Nixon — I think the Watergate scandal, “Nixon’s the one”, allowed most folk to blame ALL the bad outcomes on Tricky Dicky.

  27. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Certainly, the circumstances surrounding the US effort in Viet Nam are complex, especially if you go back a couple of hundred years.
    But so would be WW II.

    There is a kind of bias against the crude, brisk approach. In part, it’s because it takes no account of the words of the people of words. In part, because those who live by words get really scared. See “The Nightingale’s Song” where the author makes the same point.

    The Gordian Knot was so complicated that nobody could untie it. Some folks would prefer to remember its complexity; others its fate.

    The Vann book is interesting in itself, but the signature fight, Ap Bac, was redeemed many times over by the ARVN. To use Ap Bac as an exemplar is phony.

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  28. Michael B Says:

    Congratulations, of a kind, are due, Mr. Barnes. It must have been difficult (as in falling-off-a-log difficult) finding material that in turn is represented, seemingly, as offering conclusive evidence against involvement in Vietnam and then, without offering a single independent thought, cut-and-paste what must surely be two-thousand words or more. Not only, beyond the cut-and-paste itself, is a single thought not offered, but the “in your face” approach of such a lengthy and undistilled cut-and-paste is, ironically, directly reminiscent of the manner in which the Pentagon Papers themselves are often brandished about. Without reference to specific contents of the actual Pentagon Papers (if they are referenced it is often the paraphrased and distorted redaction that was published in the WaPo and NYT, ’71), the name “Pentagon Papers” is invoked as some type of magical incantation, as if nothing more needs to be said. The problem is, a thoughtful and critical reading of the actual Pentagon Papers do not at all lead to the conclusion that those who use the phrase as rhetorical agitprop assume (and more often than not they haven’t read the Papers in the first place). One specific example was detailed here.

    One could certainly cut-and-paste a few thousand undistilled words in reply, but in an attempt to be more direct, more substantial and more incisive, the following:

    First, to be clear, both a negative critique (against prevailing Leftist conceptions, informed by a variety of sources and ideological interests) as well as a limited positive critique is being suggested. The more limited positive critique was offered herein at NNC in a related thread here, which essentially suggests the strategic interest was entirely, not only understandable, but also justified within the overall Cold War strategy of containment. Comparisons and analogies with other trouble spots on the Pacific rim are made with Korea, also with Taiwan here, in that same thread.

    As regards Daniel Ellsbergs “Secrets, a Memoir …”, I’ve read it as I’ve also read the entirety of the Senator Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers. One startling omission throughout this apologia pro Ellsberg is that the motives and murderous campaigns of the communists, both those strictly indigenous to Vietnam as well as the COMINTERN, Soviet and Maoist links, are never seriously taken into account. A wee bit of an omission, that. Further, one of Ellsberg’s primary Vietnam era contacts, perhaps the primary contact, was, coincidentally, John Paul Vann, previously mentioned in this thread as the subject of A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan. Vann himself, by accounts I’ve read and despite his severe and on-going criticisms of tactics used during the war, concluded the conflict was warranted and that it could have been won if better tactics had been applied.

    Re, David Elliott’s lengthy monograph, if such be the right term, have not read it. It is billed as something of a historical and ethnographic study, focusing on a single province in VIetnam along with the various revolutionaries, internecine revalries, etc. that occured in that province. From this, if reviews are to be trusted, he infers broadly that it was a nationalist conflict only, at least virtually so, and further that it was unwinnable.

    However, without at all dismissing the work for its undoubtedly valuable historical and ethnographic research per se, such a far ranging inference fails to account for a great deal indeed. For example, Uncle Ho’s lengthy, enduring and committed relationship, since at least 1920, with various Marxist/Leninist, Stalinist and Maoist programs. It also elides the fact that Ho initiated Stalinist styled purges against rivals for the leadership in the North in addition to Stalinist and Maoist purges against the peasantry itself, pre-Geneva in the early 50′s. It further elides the million+ Vietnamese killed post-1975, e.g., the “boat people,” among many, many others.

  29. Michael B Says:

    Anon, 8:16 a.m.,

    Thank you, it was thoughtful of you to acknowledging the points made. Vietnam is a beautiful, beautiful country and the people of Vietnam are to be much admired, I respect them tremendously and am much humbled at what they have endured. Too, I do not doubt your own sincerely held views as one who obviously cares for his country, his long history and his people; I appreciate and admire that as well, very much so.

    However, we will simply have to disagree when it comes to Ho Chi Minh, which is not to say I don’t appreciate the forces of history he was facing. Nonetheless, by all verifiable historical accounts, Ho was a committed Marxist ideologue and has a long record in the French Communist Party, the ComIntern, Stalin’s program and Mao’s as well, then additional Soviet alliances after Stalin. That history dates back prior to 1920. After WWII, it continued through to his death in 1969. On Feb. 14, 1950, in Moscow, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh banqueted together, helping to cement their relationship, and I doubt the conversation consisted solely of the caviar served that evening. In my humble opinion that reflects virtually a life-long committment on his part.

    But whether we agree or disagree as regards Ho’s ideological and more practical social/political interests, many warm regards and thank you for your reply.

  30. Anonymous Says:

    I have posted a few comments here…One more.My grandfather inlaw was a VC.In the early 1950,s.Everyone in the village was promised a better life and they were tired of having foriegners rule thier country. Everyone in the village which was about 30 miles south af Saigon went VC. .Kind of like joining the depeche mode club,You didnt want to be the only one to be against nationalism.They had high hopes and dreams of independence.To make a long story short he was killed and dumped in the river near their village.Grandma had to fish him out of the river herself cause the other VC were afraid of being exposed.She was paid a sum of 1.50 cents a month after 1975 for his effort.She was a strong lady.,never badmouthing France,America and at the same time never said’” viva Ho chi minh”.She was just sad she had lost the person she loved and focused on feeding her 5 kids.PS Her son and brother joined the south forces to fight the VC…Lot of heartache , broken dreams and promises to go around….

  31. Michael B Says:

    Among other verifiable historical events, lichanos, you’re conveniently forgetting it was the North that infiltrated and invaded the South, not the other way around. Hence when the population did vote, de facto, with their feet, as noted in the last part of this post, they resolutely and unambiguously voted against Uncle Ho’s regime, not for it. You’re the one purporting to speak for all the people of Vietnam, the war was about defending the South from Ho Chi Minh’s Stalinist and Maoist programs, not invading the North. The Montagnards, to this day, among other groups, are still violently oppressed.

  32. Lichanos Says:

    Yep, you savage Kerry for his ‘superior’ attitude in speaking for the Vietnamese peasants, but you are quite comfortable speaking for the Vietnamese-American community. Are you sure this one source is representative??

    It seems to me that so many of the revisionist arguments posted here in these comments are based on the fact that all the horrors (inflicted by us for their own good, and inflicted by them on themselves, north and south) happened to THEM. Nobody is very interested in what the Vietnamese have to say about it.

    I’d say that the fact that they fought for 30 years is one way they registered their opinion. Yes, I know, it was a communist dictatorship, but you can’t fight that kind of war with a population that is totally against it. I imagine if you went to Vietnam, they’d have a different point of view about who’s to blame for what, even though they are more generous towards the USA than we are to them. (Some here still accuse them of holding POWs for heaven’s sake!)

    Your comment reminds me of the intellectual sludge that was dished out during the Cold War. You could always find some Russian emigre who thought that we should nuke the USSR. Great way to study history – find the people who agree with you and run with it.

  33. neo-neocon Says:

    That just reminded me–I meant to have mentioned this earlier: Ho Chi Minh was indeed deceased by the time of the fall of Saigon. I can’t speak for Dean Esmay, but my guess is that he referenced Ho in his comment because Ho was the political father of the North Vietnamese Communists and their inspiration, just as Mao was inspiration for the Chinese Communists. The Vietnamese-American community in this country certainly blames Ho for the travails and horrors experienced after the fall of Saigon. See this, for example.

  34. Lichanos Says:

    Whaaa?

    “…still have not confronted the brutal reality of what our leaving that conflict wrought. The death camps, the millions of refugees who barely made it out alive, the horrors perpetrated on the people by Ho Chi Minh once he was victorious…”

    Ho Chi Minh was dead years before. Thousands of boat people, especially ethnic Chinese – a terrible human situation, but “death camps?” Evidence please. Horrors perpetrated? No doubt there were many, but were they anything approaching saturation bombing by B-52s, Agent Orange, ‘pacification?’

    Several million Vietnamese were killed in the war by our weapons. Isn’t that a horror? What horrors did we prevent by being there?

    Did I read correctly in this post, or another, that the Vietnamese were responsible for the killing fields of Cambodia?!! As I recall, it was an invasion by the Vietnamese that ended the regime of Pol Pot. (Of course, they had their reasons, but facts are facts.)

  35. bill barnes Says:

    Volume 50, Number 15 · October 9, 2003

    Review
    Wartime Lies
    By Jonathan Mirsky
    The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta, 1930-1975
    by David W.P. Elliott
    M.E. Sharpe, 2 volumes, 1,547 pp., $140.00

    Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
    by Daniel Ellsberg
    Viking, 498 pp., $29.95

    1.
    David Elliott’s The Vietnamese War is, in my view, the most comprehensive and enlightening book on that war since June 1971, when The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers. Of course the papers were not a book in the conventional sense but a collection of documents and analyses commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who was beginning to doubt whether plunging deeper into the war that was destroying Vietnam was sound policy. If it wasn’t, had it ever been?

    The Pentagon Papers made plain the nature of Vietnamese nationalism and, from the late 1940s, the small chance of an American victory. Nonetheless, the war became a tragedy and entailed a loss for the United States. Ever since, a succession of administrations has determined there must never be “another Vietnam.” (Something similar may be emerging in Iraq.)

    Many books and articles have tried to show the American-backed Vietnamese as too cowardly to fight as well as too corrupt, while the enemy Vietnamese were puzzling, clever, implacable, and inured to hardship and punishment. So inured, in fact, that when we read in North Vietnamese novels about the war how terrified and discouraged their soldiers and civilians were, our puzzlement about their tenacity only deepens.[1] Elliott’s greatest contribution is to explain this.

    Concentrating on My Tho, a populous rural province near Saigon, Elliott takes us deep inside the world of the Vietnamese revolution over a period of forty-five years. He describes the ideologies of the revolutionaries and how they fought, as well as their policies on taxation, land redistribution, and recruitment. He gives a strong account of their internal disputes and rivalries, and their periods of despair and triumph. From it we sense what it was like to be the target of American military might.

    Had American leaders known this history would they still have attempted to crush the revolution? Daniel Ellsberg, for years a high-ranking Defense and State Department official, wrote in 1972: “…There has never been an official of Deputy Assistant Secretary rank or higher (including myself) who could have passed in office a midterm freshman exam in modern Vietnamese history.”[2] This claim is astonishing considering the materials on the subject that by 1972 were well known to millions of people in the antiwar movement. Even earlier, in 1968, James C. Thomson Jr., who had worked in the National Security Council from 1961 to 1967, wrote:

    In the first place, the American government was sorely lacking in real Vietnam or Indochina expertise…. The more sensitive the issue, and the higher it rises in the bureaucracy, the more completely the experts are excluded while the harassed senior generalists take over (that is, the Secretaries, Undersecretaries, and Presidential Assistants). The frantic skimming of briefing papers in the back seats of limousines is no substitute for the presence of specialists; furthermore, in times of crisis such papers are deemed “too sensitive” even for review by the specialists.[3]
    Such ignorance about Vietnam (or nowadays about Iraq) could easily lead to a belief in the “quagmire” thesis, the subject of David Halberstam’s The Making of a Quagmire. The quagmire thesis suggests that from the late Forties, when Harry Truman decided to help the French in Indochina, to the American defeat under the Nixon administration, America floundered ever further into a morass which, had its leaders known better, they would have avoided. But the Vietnamese disaster did not arise from lack of expertise. As the Pentagon Papers show, plenty of that was available from the late Forties. It was domestic politics, as Ellsberg has always argued, that made every president from Truman to Nixon determine not to withdraw from Vietnam.

    ——————————————————————————–

    David Elliott, professor of government and international relations at Pomona College, acquired his knowledge of Vietnam when he served in the army there from 1963 to 1965 and later, when he worked for the Rand Cor-poration, which was heavily involved in strategic intelligence–gathering and analysis. Recalling those years, Elliott writes that

    interviewing these “simple peasants” was a transforming experience. I was astounded by the political sophistication and analytic skills…as well as the truly remarkable ability to relate their experiences with concision and introspection.
    In the more than 1,500 pages of his book, Elliott offers few moral judgments. He exhibits occasional anger at the destructiveness of the American army, which altered Vietnam’s landscape and society forever, and killed a million people or more, most of them civilians. The main sources for his study of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement between 1930 and 1975 are four hundred interviews with prisoners and defectors from the Communist side, almost twelve thousand pages of transcript, which were conducted by the Rand Corporation between 1965 and 1971. Of those interviewed, 29 were women, 154 were Party members. Elliott writes movingly of the Vietnamese interviewers, some of them South Vietnamese army officers who, after the Communist victory, were sent to camps. He also examined a vast quantity of documents—letters, diaries, reports, orders, and analyses— that were captured during the war.

    At the center of Elliott’s study is the province of My Tho and a few of its surrounding provinces. My Tho lies forty miles from Saigon and across a main road that connects the city with the Mekong Delta, with its large population and ample supplies of food. Anti-French revolutionaries were active in the province in the early twentieth century, and Saigon took the province seriously enough to send some of its most able administrators to serve there.

    Of the many lessons in Elliott’s book perhaps the most important is that the long revolutionary struggle was homegrown and not initiated as part of Soviet or Chinese global strategy. Indeed, American policymakers’ eventual understanding that Vietnam had little to do with the cold war made them increasingly willing to abandon their long campaign, although only very slowly and very destructively. Elliott makes clear that the historic roots of this struggle were long and deep. That is why he starts his study in 1930.

    Here lies the book’s chief weakness. A reader new to Vietnam’s history would not know that the Vietnamese had fought the Chinese for over 1,500 years and that the war against the French began in the mid-nineteenth century. Knowledge of this immensely long history makes the word “nationalism” in Vietnam significant enough to be a matter of scholarly debate in Vietnam and in the West. I remember visiting a small town in the delta in 1965 with the legendary American official John Paul Vann (in my opinion wrongly admired by Daniel Ellsberg), who had had considerable experience in the army and in civilian work fighting the Vietcong. We were watching a puppet show in which Vietnamese puppets were bashing the Chinese while the rural audience was loudly applauding. “That’s us they’re really smashing,” Vann remarked.[4]

    Elliott’s second major point is that “while the revolution was often down, it was never out.” He does not agree, for instance, with those who say that had the Americans entered the war earlier and more forcefully they would have won. He insists that each new tactic of the French or the Americans (the latter often using the very tac-tics that had failed for the French) provoked a corresponding increase in the power and aggressiveness of the revolutionaries.

    The battle of Ap Bac in 1963, where John Paul Vann was the then-senior American army officer, is an exam-ple. When the Americans began using helicopters in Vietnam the terrified Vietcong would try to flee, often in the open, and would then be shot down. One of the veteran fighters interviewed by Rand recounted how the Vietcong changed their tactics at Ap Bac. Instead of running away they stood their ground and shot at the paratroopers and helicopters while they were still in the air. “Many of those who landed safely were pinned down by our fire,” one participant in the battle recalled. “That’s why the GVN [Government of Vietnam] suffered heavy casualties that day.”[5]

    ——————————————————————————–

    One of the main American justifications for the war was that North Vietnam was attempting to conquer the South. It is commonly accepted now that the US and its client regime in Saigon decided to ignore the 1954 agreement at Geneva, which stipulated that the separation of Vietnam was to last only two years before elections were held leading to reunification of the country. The Saigon regime argued accurately that the Communist Party would control any elections in the North; but it was understood by the participants at Geneva that this would be the case. Critics of the Saigon government argued just as plausibly that it would try to control any elections in the South. There is no doubt, in any event, that the leaders in Hanoi aspired to control the entire country and were willing to fight the French and then the Americans to accomplish this. They made this clear to postwar visitors such as ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

    Many southern fighters against the French had gone north after the Geneva agreement, leaving My Tho province stripped of its most capable guerrilla fighters. Those remaining had very few weapons to defend themselves once the Saigon regime began hunting them down. Elliott describes how one of the southern leaders who had gone north to Hanoi, Tran Van Tra (with whom Elliott posed years after the war in one of the many pictures in his book), asked Le Duan, the acting Party secretary general, to allow one hundred southern fighters against the French to return to the South. They haggled about the number. Le Duan finally agreed: “All right, let’s settle for twenty-five.” Elliott writes, “This was the beginning of the return of the Southern forces that had gone North in 1954 and ultimately of the direct military assistance of the North to the South.”

    Drawing from memoirs of cadres and provincial histories, Elliott describes how often Southerners and Northerners on the Communist side disagreed about tactics, strategy, and ideology. This was shown plainly after the 1968 Tet Offensive. Hanoi expected that widespread attacks would result in a “general uprising” against the government in Saigon. But despite the initial surprise, including the occupation of the American embassy compound, the offensive failed. The American and Saigon armies badly damaged the Vietcong forces that had carried out their orders from the North. Nonetheless, Elliott contends, “The southern revolutionaries in My Tho fully shared a commitment to a united Vietnam even though they wanted a much greater say in how it was to be led and were often frustrated by the dominance of a leadership based in the North.” In fact, at the end of the war, the Vietcong was disbanded and few of their leaders were given positions of authority.[6]

    Elliott writes that the land redistribution from rich to poor carried out by the Vietminh, the Communist-led guerrillas fighting the French, caused social changes that were antithetical to the Party’s ideology. The rural poor became more interested in individual rather than communal economic progress. The Communists in the North, traditionally ideological, secretive, and tightly disciplined, were increasingly suspicious of the new interests of the peasants. As Elliott points out, it is remarkable that the ruthless and authoritarian northern leaders, with decades of sacrifices behind them, were able by the late 1980s to embrace a more open economy, although they hardly budged in their determination to suppress open political dissent. (Much the same thing happened in China, starting in the early 1980s.)

    The destructiveness of the war, particularly by the Americans, also caused great social change, with large movements of population from country to town and city. The revolutionary leaders may have won the war but they were not able to carry out many of the aims of the revolution. “The unintended result of the war,” Elliott writes, was the emergence of a rural middle class in the Mekong Delta that “proved stubbornly resistant to collectivization.” Still, he writes, this must “not be taken as a vindication of the political and social policies of the opponents of revolution during the war.”

    2.
    The Communist movement in My Tho was preceded by an informal alliance of various classes of rural and urban Vietnamese brought together by the misery of colonial life. Their anger was focused on Vietnamese and French landlords and administrators. The global depression of the 1930s led to even more extreme poverty in Vietnam. Commercial agriculture caused widespread peasant debt and tenancy and the concentration of land ownership in a few hands.

    By 1931 there were Party organizations in one quarter of My Tho’s villages, under the umbrella of the Indochinese Communist Party, of which Ho Chi Minh was a founder. One of the early Party members, who became a Party leader, was Nguyen Thi Thap, a poor peasant whose father had been an active anticolonialist. She remembered her oath when she joined the Party: “I want to join the Party to fight the imperialists, to fight the feudal-ists [rich Vietnamese], and to kick the French out of the country.” She was entering a movement steeped in secrecy, authoritarian leadership, suspicion of outsiders, and approval of terrorism to enforce discipline. Throughout the long struggle, Elliott writes, the Party’s infrequent but murderous terrorist attacks were partly a response to repressive actions by the French, among them the arrest and execution of suspected radicals.

    An insurrection against the French broke out in 1940; it was brutally suppressed, partly by French air strikes, which devastated the revolutionary organization. That year the main Party headquarters moved north, and Southerners were often angrily opposed to receiving instructions from far away in the North, including the disastrous orders for the 1968 Tet Offensive. Following the fall of France in 1940 and the subsequent Japanese occupation of Indochina, Ho Chi Minh returned from abroad to establish direct control over the revolutionary movement in northern Vietnam in 1941. Throughout the Japanese occupation, ties between the central Party leadership and the southern revolutionary movement were tenuous.

    After World War II ended, many of the leaders of the Indochinese Communist Party, released from the prison island of Poulo Condore, based themselves in My Tho. They reasserted control—which they had never relinquished—over the southern revolutionary movement and reconstituted the regional revolutionary headquarters, later known as COSVN (Central Office for South Vietnam), which President Nixon tried vainly to find and destroy. In all of Vietnam there were only five thousand Party members. Some two hundred of them were in My Tho, which then had a population of 341,000. The revolutionary forces were armed with two rifles and a pistol captured from the French army. Drawing on the Rand Corporation interviews, Elliott writes, “This pitiful cache of arms [is] remembered as a major event in My Tho’s revolutionary history.” Le Duan, who went on to become a powerful leader in Hanoi, was a strong advocate of discipline and organization, and he unified what had been a fragmented southern movement. “On the national scale,” Elliott writes, “the Communist party’s leadership of the independence movement in 1945 created a deep reservoir of political legitimacy that sustained the revolution through hard times for the next three decades.”

    By the time of their victory over the French in 1954 the Vietminh had shown considerable military skill. They also took advantage of the political weaknesses of the French. Their political and military abilities were ignored by later American planners or remained unknown to them. Throughout the Sixties the Americans tried anything that could be given a hopeful label: pacification, “winning hearts and minds,” strategic hamlets. Some young American officers carried Chinese military classics in their rucksacks together with collections of Mao’s writings.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Throughout his book Elliott deals with forty years of revolutionary terror in My Tho. The French, the Saigon government, and the US used Communist terror as a justification for opposing the revolution. And as Elliott shows, the Communist terror often took especially horrible forms, including decapitation and torture, and was frequently used against victims regarded as innocent by local Vietnamese. Hundreds of thousands fled Vietnam after the final Communist victory, many of them because they feared the brutality of the new regime. But Elliott points out that during the war, while for most Vietnamese the possibility of punishment by terror was present, it was not the principal cause of support for the revolutionary movement. During the years between 1930 and 1975 in My Tho, and probably in rural southern Vietnam generally, the National Liberation Front was admired and supported by most of the population, even though many episodes of revolutionary terror horrified and disgusted ordinary people. Most people, Elliott writes, thought the French, the Saigon government, and the Americans were worse.

    In the years of the anti-French uprising, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, Elliott says, the main targets of assassination and other terrorist activity “had been those who worked for the Saigon government, or more often, their nonofficial henchmen.” From its earliest years, he observes, the beleaguered Communists’ passion for secrecy reinforced their tendency to authoritarianism, but without condoning the terror, he suggests that the revolutionaries

    responded in kind to the suppression directed against them. In the face of French colonial repression [including mobile guillotines], this style of politics was necessary for their survival.
    In 1940, for example, the French captured three thousand people in My Tho, roughly half of those arrested in all of Vietnam, and hundreds were killed in a single month. Some Vietminh defected or were suspected of defecting to the French. Because of these defections, some revolutionary forces suffered heavy military losses. One interviewee recalled that there were “many arrests and killings that created turmoil in our ranks for an extended period.” Others claimed that some assassinations were used to settle personal scores. But Elliott says that

    the alternative to the revolution proved to be worse in the eyes of many people in My Tho…. [French] atrocities were far more widespread and arbitrary than the more precisely targeted Viet Minh reprisals.
    As the war intensified, and the revolutionaries’ losses in the countryside increased, even local leaders lost heart. Rural people often left the areas held by the Vietcong to seek refuge from Saigon and American shelling and bombing. Others left because they objected to Vietcong control and threw in their lot with Saigon. This increased the burdens of taxation and recruitment imposed by the revolution on those who remained in the villages and prompted cadres to resort to yet harsher methods. In revolutionary tribunals guilt or innocence became even less important than they had been previously. Nor was evidence of guilt or innocence decisive. What was required from the population was their acceptance of “the Party’s power to define guilt as the situation demanded, and in a political context.” Elliott cites many passages from interviews which express horror at the incidents of torture, decapitations, and other kinds of execution of those regarded as no more than “suspicious.” It was clear in many of the “trials” after which the accused were executed that the verdict preceded the trial.

    In the late Fifties the Diem government used violent methods to intimidate the rural population and deter them from cooperating with former Vietminh fighters. When the government’s counterinsurgency accelerated between 1959 and 1960, the revolutionary leaders used brutal methods in their efforts to tip the “balance of terror” against the Diem government. This, Elliott suggests, made rural people even more afraid of the revolutionaries than they were of the Saigon authorities. Sympathizers were encouraged to support the uprising while non-sympathizers were coerced to do so. When the US entered the war as a fighting force, the issue of terrorism was submerged by the dramatic escalation in the overall level of violence in the countryside. The Americans were viewed by many rural Vietnamese as successors to the French and the power behind the Saigon regime, as they clearly were.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Despite the Communists’ brutality and the increasingly heavy taxes they imposed, along with conscription, and even when the guerrillas were condemned for attracting American fire onto increasingly depopulated villages, it was the Americans who were seen as the enemy in the late 1960s. Some details from the Rand Corporation interviews help to explain why. In one hamlet, we learn, “70 percent of the women in the hamlet [were] widowed. Many people died in the American counteroffensive [after Tet in 1968].” In another hamlet “there are 100 widows…; the widows are all in the age bracket 20–30. The older men don’t get killed off, so you don’t have older widows.” Inquiring why many Vietnamese preferred the revolutionaries, Elliott found that considerable numbers of the poor had benefited from Communist land distribution. Moreover, the peasants were historically patriotic. The Rand Corporation’s subjects regarded the Saigon government as corrupt, oppressive, and as the puppets of foreigners; the Americans, who were wrecking the villages, were remembered for having allied themselves with the French.

    Here some questions arise. Of the approximately four hundred prisoners and defectors who were interviewed by Rand, some 277 were either very poor or poor peasants, 83 were “middle peasants,” 2 were rich peasants, 2 were landlords, and 16 were “petit bourgeois.” We get relatively little sense of the views of Vietnamese in cities such as Saigon and Hue, and in other parts of the country, who were critical of the Saigon government but feared that Communist victory would bring greater disaster. Still, Elliott draws on many other sources besides interviews to give a convincing explanation of the American defeat.

    The supreme American commander, William Westmoreland, Elliott recalls, decided to “dry up the water” in which the revolutionary “fish” swam. In 1968, Westmoreland’s successor, Creighton Abrams, directed an operation called Speedy Express. Building on Westmoreland’s concept, the US 9th Division killed more than ten thousand suspected Vietcong in only six months. Most of these, Elliott writes, were civilians. At My Lai, Elliott observes, while a few rogue officers gave the orders to massacre civilians, “the civilian casualties [result-ing from] Speedy Express were a consequence of official policy.” An American admiral commented that one 9th Division brigade commander was “psychologically…unbalanced. He was a super fanatic on body count…. You could almost see the saliva dripping out of the corners of his mouth. An awful lot of the bodies were civilians.”

  36. novakant Says:

    See, when discussing hypotheticals re Vietnam the solution is pretty simple really: the US should never have gotten involved militarily in Vietnam in the first place.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    to mikeB:
    You raise some good points.However you answer my ?”Who should Ho trust “with another ?.??Also Did you think Truman sent battleships into Saigon harbor because it was or wasnt in the interest of the USA?Do you think the USA had anything to gain financially?Is it or was it USA policy that if a european country like Britain or France said do something we would jump thru the hoop?We will never know what Ho felt but I agree with a documentry that quoted a man who knew Ho as saying “he was a nationalist before he was a communist “which I believe reafirms the point that if USA had dealt fairly with Ho chances are he would have sided with the west instead of communism.USA could have assured Ho that if he side with the west we would protect his country against any agression by china or France.This could infact have happened behind the scenes,informally.We shouldnt forget,What were his opions at the time?

  38. Michael B Says:

    “This article seems rather specious considering that the then united Vietnam would have elected a communist government peacefully and legally in 1954. The creation of South and North Vietnams was an American political decision. Thus, America created the animosity and the conflict between two halves of a united country which did not exist prior to that time.” Anon, 10:42 p.m.

    Let specious be the operative word here, and pointedly so as regards the terms “united,” “peacefully,” “legally,” and “1954,” among other assertions in the above summary.

    Re, “united” and “peacefully,” Ho Chi Minh (aka Nguyen Ai Quoc, the nom de plume used by Anon, 10:38 a.m.), by ’54 was beginning to achieve a Stalinist/Maoist form of “unity,” unquestionably. He conducted purges against both the peasantry as well as against a wide variety of elites competing for leadership roles, some facts concerning which I previously detailed in this nnc post in a releted thread which, for example, emphasizes the “land reform” purges against the peasantry begun in March of ’53.

    Re, “legally” and “1954,” both Geneva documents were completed in 1954, the primary document, signed by all attendees, created the South (Vietnam) and the North (the DRV) while the second document, signed only by the DRV and France, but no other countries, indicated a date of 1956 for pan-Vietnam elections. Hence the presumptive “legality,” looking forward to 1956, was precisely that, both presumptive and specious. Regarding elections however, see the latter half of the post referenced above, for example the de facto elections that occured by virtue of the 300 day “regroupment” period allowed for by the primary Geneva document, where over one-million migrated from the North to the South while only one-tenth that number migrated in the other direction. Again, a direct reflection of the idea the country was “united” along the lines of Ho Chi Minh’s “peaceful” initiatives.

    “USA also promised [elections] to Ho chi minh.” Anon, 5:57 p.m.

    Not true, or if you have positive and supportive references to the contrary, please point to them. Because of Ho Chi Minh’s long and storied past association with the French Communist Party, the COMINTERN, Stalin’s Soviet enterprise and Mao’s China, both prior to and after Mao’s takeover in 1949, the U.S., outside of a handful of individual OSS agents, never did indicate any assertive promises to Ho, to the contrary. There was a brief period of two or three years, in the wake of WWII, where formal US policy expressed some ambivalence, but by the late 40′s and certainly no later than 1950, the U.S., at the highest levels of govt., had established to their satisfaction that Ho in turn had established binding relationships with Moscow and Beijing.

    “Who do you turn to? Do you trust USA?”

    Why would the USA have trusted Ho and his long history of Marxist/Leninist, Stalinist and Maoist associations?

    Additionally, post-WWII, Roosevelt attempted to effect a post-colonial trusteeship in Vietnam, for example language in the Atlantic Charter addressed, albeit without formally agreed upon resolutions, the idea of national self-determination in S.E. Asia in general, including Vietnam. Roosevelt similarly and more informally spoke to de Gaulle about a “more progressive policy in Indochina.” Later however, Britain and France convinced Truman to permit France to regain its colony, but that was despite U.S. interests to the contrary and British and French initiatives, not the initiatives of the U.S.

    The above references information from the Senator Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers here, here and here, also information or notes from The Black Book of Communism, from The Fifty-Year Wound, by Derek Leebaert and from Michael Lind’s Vietnam, the Necessary War.

    For those who care to refute any of this, fine, am happy to be corrected if any of the above or any of the supplied references reflect any error whatsoever. However, could you consider a refutation that relies upon supported (i.e., duly referenced) historical contexts and an argument that transcends ad hominem dismissiveness, ahistorical and counter-historical insinuations and strawman arguments more generally?

  39. Anonymous Says:

    to Cutler:
    A few years ago I was in saigon for the 200 year aniversary of its founding by the french.also a trip to Hoi An ,reminded us that the german,dutch and french Quarters were trading posts extracting marble and other riches from vietnam.every country wanted a monopoly on trade goods.a few vietnamese profited but slavelike labor and prices were the norm.The french NEVER left.they were defeated in the 1950s but as before, kept some major biz relations going strong.example ..where do you think michelins gets its rubber from ?also air france was one of the only airlines that never left Nam.the moral is …business decisions are always made before,and often after political decisions.

  40. Cutler Says:

    “200+”, actually even ignoring the + you’re short 40 years from 1946 (as the original poster stated). Pierre Pigneau de Behaine did get involved in Vietnam until the 1780s. There’s also a large gap from about 1820-1860 where the Europeans largely stayed out of Vietnam, during which the Chinese filled the vacuum.

    Vietnam didn’t become an actual French colony until the late 19th century, when large scale European colonialism picked up again for numerous reasons.

    “Thanks to Eisenhower and Nixon for creating this policy in the 50′s.

    And I realize, it being ‘Nixon’s War’ and all that somehow the two Democratic Presidents in between Eisenhower and Nixon were completely clean, but I’m curious about this time traveling thing. Would you like to expound?

  41. Anonymous Says:

    to Cutler:
    Yes 200+ years Go read some more.Your comment reaffirms my point about ignorance.What books have you limited yourself to reading?.Its a fact Believe it or not, vietnam policy started with Truman.

  42. Cutler Says:

    “Thanks to Eisenhower and Nixon for creating this policy in the 50′s.”

    And seriously, that one’s got to be a typo? Right? Please?

  43. Cutler Says:

    “France who was exploiting our country for 200+years have promised that if we fight against Japan we will be given free democratic elections.”

    Another history whiz. If you can’t guestimate French involvement in Vietnam within 100 years, should you really be pontificating about the issue?

    Really, go read a book.

  44. Richard Aubrey Says:

    “Tell it to….” is a really, really stupid argument.
    My father’s division, the 104thID, lost about 1500 KIA plus a number of accidental deaths in about seven months in the ETO. His division was so renowned for achieving its objectives with little loss (relatively speaking) that its after-action reports, particularly on night-fighting, were used in the intro to night fighting when I was at Benning several wars later. I told the instructor I didn’t need to be sold, having learned it at my father’s knee. So, a division which is so famous for achieving objectives with minimal loss has, in seven months, about as many KIA as the entire US effort in Iraq in two years.
    Just for context.
    Additionally, there is a possibility that the Iraq venture may actually have negative casualties. That is, there are always people killed and injured in training accidents, not to mention auto accidents when the troops are in the states. It is said the Desert Shield/Storm had negative casualties. That is, fewer killed an injured there than would be expected among the same number of troops for the same period of time. Difference is, the combat casualties get more ink for several reasons, not least the use to which the lefties can put them, liberally bedewed with crocodile tears.

    Miriam. You listened to the liars too much.
    90% of South Viet Nam and 95% of the population of South Viet Nam was in restricted fire zones. The rules of engagement got some of our guys killed because of restrictions on how and when US firepower could be used.
    When I, freshly minted a second lieutenant of Infantry, tried to explain this to my father, an Infantry officer earlier, he burst out, “What traitor made those rules?”
    LBJ and MacNamara, of course.

    I don’t know about “cool” to be a protestor, but there were certainly people who seemed to get some personal gratification out of the whole thing, identifying with The Good Guys, being superior to the rest of us. I wouldn’t rule out that component.

  45. Anonymous Says:

    I hope many people read my blog because when I hear their views about Vietnam I am puzzled as to how many Americans are ignorant,stupid or just plain brainwashed.First of all, lets pretend we are from north vietnam and the year is 1946. France who was exploiting our country for 200+years have promised that if we fight against Japan we will be given free democratic elections.USA also promised this to Ho chi minh.Then imagine the french flipflopping and are rushing back to invade vietnam again.France begs USA AND Harry Truman to send battleships to protect them.Which he does.How would you feel?///.remember this is in the 1940s,Who do you turn to?Do you trust USA?The only countrys left with power ,money,and weapons are china and Russia.You have been fighting china off and on for a couple thousand years but they are your only hope to get your country back.This war would never have developed if we had not lied to the vietnamese people.Why do Americans ignore history?When anyone argues about communists and abandoning the south without realizing these facts .the lies ,and USA hiding the truth .Well I feel sorry for them.We pushed the north into a corner and they came out fighting.I dare say given the time and place most Americans if put in that position would also make a deal with the devil.After all communism sounds good and even looks good on paper.only trouble is it is practiced by humans who are inherantly liers,with doublestandards and egotistical.therefor doomed to failure.As history shows.

  46. neo-neocon Says:

    Once again, as with previous Vietnam threads, it’s evident from the comments here how very powerfully the topic of Vietnam still stirs up feelings–and rage.

    I think it’s particularly interesting how much anger is engendered by my personal story, also (see, for example, the statements of “Another 50+ Woman,” two comments up).

    I ordinarily have a policy of not replying to those who do not seem to be interested in reasoned debate. My observation is that replying to such people tends to be a waste of time, as it accomplishes absolutely nothing.

    But I’m particularly intrigued by two accusations Another 50+ Woman makes towards me. The first accusation is that I was only protesting because it was “cool;” the second is that I was probably “one of those extremists who actually blamed the returning Nam vets for the problems caused by the war.” It’s interesting to me that she chose to make these particular accusations, totally unsupported in any way by the text, and in fact running counter to it.

    Where does this rage come from, fostering these wild accusations? (If I’m going to be criticized, I’d rather be criticized on the merits of what I’m saying than by ad hominem attacks–oh well, a person can dream, can’t she?)

    I think reactions like that of 50+ Woman’s are the result of two things–the first, as I said, the extreme feelings about Vietnam, particularly on the part of those who were alive at the time. Of course some of those who were against the war at the time will be angry at what I say in this particular post, even though my effort is to be fair towards them (after all, I was one of them!), and honest about what was happening. Defensiveness rears its head, and that’s to be expected. But still another reason, I believe, is the phenomenon of rage at the apostate, the one who leaves the fold. That seems to engender particular ire. I have touched on this point already on this blog here. It seems to be a very powerful phenomenon.

  47. Anonymous Says:

    Vietnam — A mind is a difficult thing to change?
    The ugly consequences and the sufferings that the South Vietnamese people have had to sufferred will forever be the blackest mark; and a dammest shame in the American history and its people.

    The South Vietnamese people had more than fullfilled their pledge to be the “Forward Base of the Freeworld” to contain Comunisnism — and in return they get the worst kind of betrayal that the very best of American politics had to offer — shame, shame, shame.

    The kindness and generosity of the American people in the aftermath in dealing with the refugee people — have somewhat soothed the wound of this war…

    Ironically, it is now the Red Chinese and the Communist thugs in Hanoi benefit the most…and continue to rule without the hope of democracy for their people….
    It is only fitting that these Communists are now sworn loyal servants of the Imperialistic America.

    Nguyen Ai Quoc
    California, USA.

  48. Another 50+ Woman Says:

    It took awhile for me to make it through this documentation of supposed “metamorphasis” from liberal to neocon. My comment? You, my dear, were never a liberal and are probably NOT a neocon.

    As someone who attended college between 68 – 72, who is also a professional (lawyer) and who also had a boyfriend in Nam, I take offense at your claim to be someone who was like me and my friends. I suspect you were one of the fringe who thought it was cool to protest. You were probably one of the extremists who actually blamed the returning Nam vets for the problems caused by the war. Now you are a right wing extremist who claims the label “neocon”.

    Your HATE of Kerry is the most disgusting aspect of this entire BLOG. I see so many references in your writing and and the writings of your commentators on his remarks and actions. Interesting, isn’t it, that there are no comments, opinions, remarks, or actions, made at the time of the war, by Mr. Bush? I guess he just didn’t think, at the time, that there was anything worth discussing? Don’t you find that somewhat disconcerting?

    George W. Bush was in the military during the Viet Nam war and there are absolutely NO records anywhere of his opinion on the conflict. What did he think at the time? Was he pro or con? Did he want the war to continue or did he want the war to end? What was his position? Don’t you wonder?

    In case you haven’t notice, Kerry LOST!! Bush, on the other hand, is the President of NEOCONS… why aren’t you all commenting on HIS POSITION ON THE VIET NAM WAR?

    Let’s hear it Neocon… stop your whining about Kerry and tell us what the leader of neocons thought of that “limited engagement”. Tell us what Bush said about the returning vets. What did Bush think about the atrocities? What did Bush say about the evacuation of South Vietnamese babies?

    My email: FEMDEM@aol.com

  49. Steve J. Says:

    “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated
    in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought
    were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions I
    n light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.
    We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
    Robert S.McNamara,

    IN RETROSPECT:THE TRAGEDY AND LESSONS OF VIETNAM
    by ROBERT S. MCNAMARA WITH BRIAN VANDEMARK

  50. KC Says:

    War is the problem. Rich old farts sending kids off to through rocks at each other to see who kills the most un the time it take the rich olf farts to set up their money making enterprises to rape the land. Been there. VN 68-69, infantry. Only the profiteers wanted us there. Plus the hookers and drug dealers. The VC were from the south. The NVA were from China. I was from Wisconsin and should have been home making venison sausage instead of seing my squad die and then pack them into Dole’s body bags and send them off on LBJ’s helicopters.

  51. VietPundit Says:

    To hrickclarki:

    “The deaths that occured after the war in Vietnam were nothing [...]”

    As a Vietnamese whose relatives died after the war, I want to say thank you for at least being honest. Also, thank you for your compassion (I assume you belong to the Democratic Party, the party of compassion. If I’m wrong, my apologies).

  52. hrickclarki Says:

    Very few people know the history of the conflict in Vietnam. The war started in 1917 with a broken promise by Pres. Wilson. Again a promise was broken in 1946. They wanted their freedom, we wouldn’t help so they turned to Russia. One thing that supporters of modern wars should understand is “a fight is never over until the loser says it is.” The Russians learned that in Afg., we learned that in Vietnam and Angola. The French learned that in Algeria. Now we must learn it again in Iraq. You should never go into a war that cannot be won. We should never fight in a manner in which we cannot win.

    The deaths that occured after the war in Vietnam were nothing compared to the 3 million people we killed there or the millions that died in Cambodia because of us destablizing that government. If one wants to be a neo-con a least get a complete history of the facts. Forget emotion and deal with the facts.

  53. Anonymous Says:

    This article seems rather specious considering that the then united Vietnam would have elected a communist government peacefully and legally in 1954. The creation of South and North Vietnams was an American political decision. Thus, America created the animosity and the conflict between two halves of a united country which did not exist prior to that time. This being the case, expecting nothing to happen after America mongered another 19 years of war is not too bright. Once we split the country the only adjustable parameter prior to reunification was the body count. It could have been zero if we had stayed out entirely.
    Thanks to Eisenhower and Nixon for creating this policy in the 50′s.

  54. Peter UK Says:

    anonymous seems to have the song sheet off pat,awfully familiar,the little tentative declaration then the long prepared screed.
    9/11 Democrat indeed!

  55. Anonymous Says:

    Gosh, to listen to you people one would conclude that Kerry didn’t serve in Vietnam. (But wait, it was Cheney and Bush and Wolfowitz who didn’t serve in Vietnam.) Or that he won the election. (He lost.) Or that he lied us into a $300 billion war. (But wait–it was Bush who did that, with the help of the neo-cons.)

  56. Miriam Says:

    Okay – let me bring up another issue about Vietnam that I saw only one other poster refer to – albeit briefly:

    My mom was a leftist intellectual during that time and dragged me and my brothers to every anti-war march that nyc was host to… including the one really huge one (the famous candlelight march). From my childhood eyes there seemed to be 2 stripes of anti war protesters – the first was concerned with the underlying political issues and decisions – and many of your posts have dealt with those issues and those that held them.

    The second brand of anti-war protesters (my mother, I think, among them) were primarily focused on the horrific anti-civilian manner in which the war was conducted (‘morale target’ anyone? – that was the term for strafing villages and napalming farmers and children in their fields).
    Back in those days our fight-a-war concept was pretty brutal – we werent that far away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which at least had some clear tactical rationale.

    Where the two anti-war camps converged is that the ‘political/marxist/communist/anti-us govt’ group could successfully co-opt the ‘humanitarian’ group because even though their concerns were a bit different, the goal was same – to end the war. So those who were more focused with protecting innocent loss of life were lumped together with those who were quite anti-u.s. and politically radical.

    In my humble opine – the government, with its insensitivity to civilian loss-of-life issues created a situation where they fanned the flames of both camps and eventually caused the collapse of their goals.

    I think this lack of sensitivity was inevitable (though terrible) at the time – just the stage of evolution that the govt was at. The bright side of it is that we learned the hard way that you cannot fight a war in a tactically amoral or immoral fashion and expect prolonged public support – maybe pre-vietnam, but not post.

    So the purpose of this post is to say – lets not lump all anti vietnam war protesters into one group – or oversimplify the manner in which the war was conducted – as if our govt’s only failing was that (absent enough public support and internal resolve) we gave up the will to win… it was not our only failing and I think we have learned from it.

  57. robert aldridge Says:

    Anonymous – “A high price indeed to pay for an unproven Idea”. Other examples include: The English Civil War, the American War of Independence, the Unification of Italy, the Protestant Reformation … my friend, nothing new comes without a price. But in this case, you are especially wrong, because democracy is not an “unproved” idea; quite the contrary – it has been proved to be the best idea around. Examples of “unproved” ideas that came with a high price were the communist revolutions. Those, indeed, should impose a heavy burden on the consciences of those who experimented by imposing them on hapless populations (with the best of intentions, of course.)

  58. Michael B Says:

    Thomas Lipscomb, in today’s NYPost, presents a particularly incisive and cogent set of Vietnam era historical facts in order to demythologize many of the certitudes, dogmas and cant that emanated, and continue to emanate, from the confines of the ideological religionists of the Left – and adjoining precincts as well whose confreres do little more than puppet the cant of the hard and the softer Left.

    The myths Lipscomb effectively counters include those that pertain to:

    1) The percentage of minorities that served in and died during the Vietnam war, “… 67 percent of those who served and 73 percent of those who died in Vietnam were volunteers, not draftees. And blacks “comprised 13.1 percent of the serving age group, 12.6 percent of the military and 12.2 percent of the casualties.”

    2) The idea it was merely a civil war in the South. After the first ’54 Geneva document was signed the North and South were each acknowledged, internationally, to be separate and sovereign countries. The second Geneva document stipulating a pan-Vietnam election, was only signed by North Vietnam and France, there were no other signatories. “(Then) Sen. John Kennedy regarded the election as ‘obviously stacked and subverted in advance.’” and “The New York Times in 1955 stated ‘we must not be trapped into a fictitious legalism that can condemn 10,000,000 potentially free persons into slavery.’”

    Lipscomb also highlights the fact that the first Geneva document allowed for a three-hundred day “regroupment” period where those Vietnamese who wished to do so could migrate from the North to the South and in the opposite direction as well. During this period appx. one-million migrated from the North to the South (while only 1/10 of that number migrated in the opposite direction). Ho Chi Minh’s Maoist liquidations and despotic regime in general, prior to Geneva, accounts for much of the incentive of the 1,000,000+ who chose to migrate. Lipscomb also notes the NLF was largely composed of infiltrators and insurgents from the North, not the South, a fact that is conclusively detailed in the Pentagon Papers, specifically, this chapter of the Pentagon Papers entitled Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960, one of the more brief, though also more pivotal and revelatory, chapters among the Pentagon Papers.

    Read the whole thing; for those not given to vacantly repeating the ahistorical dogmas of their would-be betters on the Left, it’s instructive.

  59. Anonymous Says:

    To Joseph (formerly Samuel)
    Go peddle your tripe about “saving lives” in Iraq to the 1000-plus Americans who have died, and much larger number of Iraquis who have died, and continue dying every day, as your $300 billion war, based on lies, continues.
    Or go to a VA hospital where there are brave soldiers now missing an arm, a leg or maybe a face, and talk to them. Better yet, volunteer to work there, or in Iraq. Put your money where your mouth is.

  60. Joseph (formerly Samuel) Says:

    2:47 Anonymous…

    Even if you succeed, you have cost thousands of lives and, so far, $300 billion dollars.

    Such logic isn’t even worthy of being called “half empty” as it is quite frankly prejudiced and ignorant. We have saved lives and continue to every day. The fact is we have had fewer deaths and casualties then we had during our do nothing pre-911 days. Further deaths not only from Saddam and Terrorists, but also any other way has gone down not only in Iraq but the rest of the world since we brought down the Taliban and established Democracy in the Middle East. The MSM and people spouting such things of course aren’t interested in true statistics but bent prejudicial rantings that have little to do with changing realities in this world.

    The ugly truth is that the deaths of Americans, Iraqi’s and other innocent people both pre and post 911 have little to do with much for people who make such arguments as they are really just excuses and smokescreens for convenience to excuse reactionary opposition, it certainly isn’t very thoughtful or impressive. Such arguing implicitly supports despot regimes staying in power and a continuation of appeasement policies that brought us 911 to begin with.

    Yes I an one of those dreaded lifelong leftist Democrats that has become a neo-con and I am even Jewish to make it official. Get used to it I am doing all I can to make sure I am not the only one. An opposition based on bile and thoughtlessness gives little challenge, I can think of some arguments to make for opposition to being in Iraq but comparing the life and monetary costs in lieu of the history pre-911 both here and abroad is quite weak, plus ones arguements must show some consistency and true adherence to facts. At least neo-cons have thoughtfully reconsidered and don’t suffer from brain-freeze and intellectual laziness though one must admit that when facts are really considered the left has little to fall back on, unless of course they decide to put stats and facts out of proper context. The true context is deaths have gone down since Bush has initiated the WOT but we know many don’t give a rat’s ass about Iraqi’s deaths. Well I am one person with enough fallout from the Holocaust who does, it all comes home to roost, 911 proved that.

  61. Michael B Says:

    “What are your solutions?” R. Aldridge

    Precisely, that’s it in a nutshell.

    In lieu of any solution whatsoever; in lieu of any very honest or thorough-going attempt to grapple with the entirety, the full range, of problems needing to be first assessed and then confronted (and confronted in the real world, not merely in the world of one’s morally ambiguous and unaccountable imagination); and most certainly in lieu of any commitment and resulting personal accountability – in lieu of all this the fallback position being expressed with such sweepingly dismissive and arrogating moral umbrage amounts to nothing more than a hollow expression of self-righteousness. (And often enough expressed as an anonymity – which further underscores the desire to express a lot of umbrage without being held accountable.)

    Further, by the “logic” being trumpeted, we also need to foreclose on our WWII initiative. Perhaps four million German civilians were killed during the war, many of them during Dresden-like episodes. In a single German city on the Baltic coast, Swinemuende (population 25,000), over 90% (23,000) were killed during a series of carpet bombings. Ergo – for the self-righteous and for those given to superficial displays of umbrage, false dichotomies and similar strawman arguments, the allied commitment in WWII was not only unjustified, it was wrong. (And the entire cost of WWII has been estimated to be around one-trillion dollars, presumably yet another reason to hold our heads in shame.)

    Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest …? Voila! C’est moi! What a surprise that such an incredibly superficial and jejune display of moral trumpery results in a facile and sweeping dismissiveness combined with virtually no accountability for real world solutions and personal commitments. Shocked, I’m shocked!

  62. Minh-Duc Says:

    I find people who use the term “chick-hawk” amusing. It is amusing for several reasons. When it comes to military decision, only an idea from a person who have served is valid. This is complete nonsense. The decision on military action should base solely on the soundness of an argument not who said it.

    Of course this line of thinking is also undemocratic – it is an implied advocacy of a military government. We certaintly do not want the military to run the government. We want a cilivian government to decide all matters, including war and peace. There is a reason that the military is subordinate to the civilian government – just look at Burma.

  63. Anonymous Says:

    You neocoms have, or should have, a heavy burden on your consciences. Although neocoms weren’t invented until after Vietnam fell, it was people like you who helped create the public opinion that, in turn, encouraged JFK and LBJ to intervene in Vietnam. It was, of course, a shattering defeat for the U.S. Although you claim to be mugged by reality, it is again people like you–this time openly flying under the neocom flag–who have worked behind the scenes, and publicly too, to help push the U.S. into Iraq. Your hope apparently, is that the U.S. can succeed in planting a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. In this, I hope you are correct, and hope that such a democracy can endure after our troops leave. Even if you succeed, you have cost thousands of lives and, so far, $300 billion dollars. A high price indeed to pay for what remains, at bottom, an unproven idea.

  64. Cutler Says:

    “The list of Conservative Chicken-hawks is long and embarassing: Dubya Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Hastert, DeLay, Gingrich,Giuliani, Limbaugh, O’Rielly, Saxby Chanbliss, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc get the point , You Moron!
    Semper Fi”

    You forgot 60% of military veterans who voted for Bush.

  65. robert aldridge Says:

    All wars, throughout history, have always produced atrocities. (I was shocked when I saw Goya’s cartoons of atrocities in Spain, during the Napoleonic Wars.) Sadly, tragically, that is part and parcel of the business. In the old days, that was accepted, now it isn’t, quite rightly. If these things are covered up, it is criminal; though soldiers, trained to kill, in situations of great power, under great stress, in danger of their lives, knowing that their own lives count for nothing, are hardly inclined to be people who behave normally. I’m not making excuses for them – they should be held to account. But the subject of atrocities should not have any bearing on whether a country should be at war with another – these considerations are quite different. Again, as far as the appalling casualties that take place – what are we saying? War is the failure of politics, so how can there be a political solution? And if there is war, how else can you fight it, except to win? These humanitarian matters are, and should be, of great concern, but what are you saying? We can all shout “No more war!” in outrage, but what good does that do? What are your solutions? One hopes that gradually, mankind will inch its way to a war-free condition, and the current notion, which may contain much truth, is that democracies tend not to go to war – so the spread of democracy may be our only hope. And if aggressive totalitarians resist that, then – we have to go to war. We live in a world where terrible things are done. They can’t just be abolished. But I also have to say that, as the British and Germans discovered in the war, being bombed is a horrific but necessary price to pay for the policies of their governments. Atrocities are committed by renegade individuals, who can infect whole platoons. But for a large organization to plan to hijack airplanes full of innocent passengers, and fly them into buildings full of innocent workers – I have to say that I find this to be far more criminal in its political planning and cold-blooded execution than the other matters mentioned.

  66. Anonymous Says:

    Dean Esmay leaves out an important fact: Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, he never saw the North’s victory. That one could not know this suggests that one may not know anything else.

    Now, DANEgerus said…
    “We shafted Ho Chi Minh to give the soft-on-Communism French back their colony…”

    Not exactly. We shafted all of France’s overseas colonies to get the French to join NATO. That “soft-on-communism” crack has been used as a smokescreen by right-wingers since the 1920′s and is utterly irrelevant in this context.

  67. Anonymous Says:

    has anyone realized that like the war we’re fighting now the reasons given for entering it were based on lies also?

  68. kbrou Says:

    It amuses me that the liberal turned neo-con has such a deep concern over any atrocities occurring following the departure of American soldiers from Viet Nam when over 3 million North Vietnamese, most of them civilian, were killed during the course of the war.

  69. confused Says:

    I thought Richard Nixon was running the war for the last five years of it. I now realize that the protesters were to blame for his lack of ability.

  70. Jim Plumley, Turnersville, NJ Says:

    The list of Conservative Chicken-hawks is long and embarassing: Dubya Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Hastert, DeLay, Gingrich,Giuliani, Limbaugh, O’Rielly, Saxby Chanbliss, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc get the point , You Moron!
    Semper Fi

  71. Anonymous Says:

    From the Song Ve Valley to Abu Ghraib: The Tiger Force Investigation Revisited
    Posted by Newt on April 29, 2005 – 1:20pm

    I’ve spent the last two days reviewing previously classified evidence of atrocities committed during the Vietnam War by certain members of the Tiger Force reconnaissance unit of the 101st Airborne. It’s impossible not to be affected by what the documents contain, and as I sit down to write, the spring sky grows dark, thunder rolls and a downpour clatters across the roof. It’s as if the atmosphere is adjusting itself to the documents and their grim explorations: a baby is beheaded with the blade of a hunting knife because a soldier covets the child’s symbolic Buddhist necklace; a farmer is shot in the face as he pleads for his life; and multiple grenades are lobbed at villagers who lay trapped and helpless at the bottom of bunkers where they were hiding.

    The eyewitness accounts of the unit’s murderous seven month rampage between May and November of 1967 have not lost their power to shock. The Army investigators who heard the stories first-hand must have been sickened and yet no one has ever explained why no action was taken against those responsible. The attacks on Vietnamese civilians and prisoners of war pre-dated the infamous My Lai massacre, which occurred in the same remote valley. A soldier who witnessed the crimes and tried to stop them tells “This is Rumor Control” that if only he’d been listened to, the stain that was My Lai might never have happened.

    In October of 2003, after two years of work, the Toledo Blade newspaper published a harrowing account of Tiger Force’s merciless patrols through Vietnam’s remote and deadly Central Highlands. Good soldiers of conscience blew the whistle but no one stepped in to stop the carnage. Later when the Army did investigate, even recommending murder charges, the case was dropped and forgotten until it was discovered by the Blade decades later. The Blade series won a Pulitzer Prize and the publicity prompted the Pentagon to begin anew an investigation into the old war crimes.

    “This is Rumor Control” has learned that the same Judge Advocate General officer who was charged with re-investigating Tiger Force also handled the Army’s review of Abu Ghraib. His report on the Tiger Force atrocities was due over a year ago. No one from the Army has offered an explanation for its delay and the story itself is in danger of receding back into history.

    The current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was also the Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford when the original queries were buried. That first investigation found that “a total 18 soldiers committed crimes, including murder and assault but no one was ever charged” according to the Blade, even though as the newspaper determined, Rumsfeld’s office was sent a copy of the report.

    Given the irrefutable truth of the Tiger Force and Abu Ghraib war-crimes evidence and the refusal of anyone high on the Pentagon food chain to take responsibility, a cynic might note a pattern of behavior from the Secretary. As one senior CIA source said of Rumsfeld’s Abu Ghraib testimony before Congress “Some people think you can bullshit anyone.”

    Over the next few days, I will be posting some of the testimony taken by Army investigators — word for word accounting from soldiers who witnessed or participated in one of the darkest episodes in American military history. I think it’s important that you know what they said.

    Next week, watch for the final chapter including an interview with a Tiger Force whistleblower that refuses to let the story die.

  72. Birkel Says:

    Neo-neocon,

    I very much appreciate your thoughts on the matter of your own evolution. Thank you very much for your candid approach.

    Sincerely,

    Birkel

  73. Joseph (formerly Samuel) Says:

    10:10 Anonymous…

    Are you willing to sacrifice Israel to the Christian Right in the name of 9/11

    YUCK! If it were not for the Christian Right Jews and Israel would be imperiled! SHAME ON YOU!

    As a post 9/11 Republican and Jew who left the Democrats I can only say my happinesss will only increase if Republicans continue to increase in their ranks with neo-neocon types to the degree people like you leave. Trust me as an ex-lefty you will feel at home with your attitude among them, if not maybe Pat Buchanan can keep you warm.

    Neo-neocon I love you! You are a genious!

  74. VietPundit Says:

    To Anonymous at 10:10pm:

    As a Republican, I’m very happy that you defected to the Democrats. I think the intelligence levels of both parties have been increased by your defection.

  75. jeffersonianman Says:

    The (Vietnam) war may be over but 35 years later our attitude towards this war is at best scizhopherenic. We continue to pin the blame on certain personalities but the fact remains that it was largely the fault of our government that so many precious lives (on both sides) were lost. There are lessons of every war but these lessons are useless if all we do is adhere ourselves to some political idealogy and view a conflict such as Vietnam through the colored lenses of either red or blue.

  76. Anonymous Says:

    As a woman of 55 all I can say is are you kidding? Are you willing to sacrifice Israel to the Christian Right in the name of 9/11 – an event I perceive was allowed to happen by the Bush admin and supported by neo-cons to comingle with Iraq? I WAS a Republican UNTIL 9/11

  77. VietPundit Says:

    I have new post which links to an article that has the second thoughts from a North Vietnamese.

  78. Linda Says:

    I posted recently on the Fall of Saigon, as the 30th anniversary was fast approaching.

    I am one that needs to spend time reflecting on my part in the tragedy. I’ve suggested that we, who sided with the “peaceniks”, need to admit our culpability, and use that assumption of guilt as a prod to making sure that it never happens again.

  79. Andy Says:

    It has become a cliche that Vietnam wasn’t lost in the Jungles and paddy fields of South Vietnam but on the streets of America.

    The consequences for the people of Indochina have been horrific.

    I have a post on the 30th aniversary of the fall of Saigon
    I have linked to this post because it compliments my thoughts on ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ so nicely

  80. DANEgerus Says:

    We shafted Ho Chi Minh to give the soft-on-Communism French back their colony…

    Then we picked up the pieces…

    After that series of mistakes we made the worst choice.

    We left.

    Because if bailing wasn’t wrong why did 3 million Vietnamese endure 3 decades of civil war yet flee the Communist takeover?

    How many of the 750,000 that were tossed into ‘re-education’ camps… failed?

    Then 3 million Cambodians were executed by the Khmer Rouge Communists.

    In leaving… we failed.

    And in that failure we let down our servicemen and the South Vietnamese.

    Even today the country is a totalitarian basket-case… if we had stayed their standard of living would be catching up to South Korea.

  81. jj mollo Says:

    Our main mistake in that war is that, unlike Iraq, we were unwilling to win it. That’s why we anguish over it and that’s really why we turned against it.

  82. Pat Says:

    Great post NNC! The only thing I would add is that during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Kerry volunteered that the US might have to offer sanctuary to 2000-3,000 people if South Vietnam fell. Senator Aiken mentioned tartly that when the North fell they had to help 800,000 to find sanctuary. Of course, as it worked out, Senator Aiken was far closer to the actual number of refugees.

  83. neo-neocon Says:

    Paul–here’s something very interesting on the topic of Ho Chi Minh in 1945. It’s part of a series by Minh Duc, an American of Vietnamese background who has a blog and is dealing with some of these issues.

    I am pleased and flattered that anyone thinks this material could be a book. Sometimes I fear it will be as long as a book, right here on this blog!

    And to those who can’t stand Kerry–I feel exactly the same way. So much so that I feel a post coming on…

  84. robert aldridge Says:

    Thanks for the book recommendations, Pancho; maybe it’s time I revisited the subject, to see for myself how erroneous or correct I was 30 years ago.

  85. Pancho Says:

    The list of reasons for the hows and whys of our involvement in Vietnam are as long as a West Texas highway. They include WWII, French Colonialism, Vietnamese Nationalism, Communist expansion, the Domino Theory and the goodwill of the U.S. counterbalanced by the naive ignorance and no small degree of blundering on the part of the U.S political leadership.

    For detailed reading on the subject try…

    A Bright Shining Lie: by John Paul Vann

    Vietnam, A History by Stanley Karnow.

    And, a picture being worth a thousand words…here’s some early photos from the war by my buddy Steve Stibbens who shot images in Vietnam for 5 years for Leatherneck Magazine, Stars and Stripes and the Associated Press. His 1962 photos of the battle of Ap Bac are some of the earliest combat photos of the war.
    Steve Stibbens, combat photo shooter

  86. Goesh Says:

    With the villification of soliders by the American Left, came in turn a strong suspicion of the Left by Vets. A fairly common sentiment and perception, in-country, was that the Left was on the side of the NVA and to a certain extent wishing us harm. The epitome of this of course was Jane Fonda sitting on that anti-aircraft gun. It is gratifying to see that subsequent combatants were not villified like we were in Viet Nam.
    There was a long term political price to be paid by the Left for this. To the credit of the Left, they have taken pains to make it known that they do not oppose the soliders themselves in Iraq.

  87. Paul Says:

    Hindsight is always 100% accurate whereas making a decision at the time is never perfect and we have to live with our actions. Ho Chi Minh asked for American help in 1945!

  88. Anonymous Says:

    Many Vietnam peaceniks couldn’t see the disasterous consequences of their action because their heads were filled with purple haze.

    Perhaps this explains their behavior towards Iraq, they are experiencing Timothy O’Leary LSD flashbacks.

    Then again, also explains why every national policy they advocated for and won at the time, ie., environmentalism, national defense, the economy, and education, are shown to be failures.

    So many rode the magic bus of ‘peace, love and understanding, man’, but the magic bus has run out of gas and the purple haze has finally cleared.

  89. gatorbait Says:

    Judith, I have despised John Kerry for 34 yars. He dumped all over my family, my buddies and me. It galls me that this carbunkle is a U.S. Senator. Boggles my poor little redneck mind the people of Massachusetts think he is worthy of anything except scorn. It boggles my mind further 48% of the electorate thought this lying manure sack should be President.

  90. robert aldridge Says:

    Richard – “How did the lefties get it wrong – chin deep in evidence to the contrary?” and “What were the processes by which (we) were able to avoid contemplating the evidence?” This is exactly what all this blogging is trying to answer! Let us use one example – Eisenhower’s infamous quote, because it was, for me, a pivotal moment in my attitude to the war. Michael B says it was taken out of context and refers to a specific moment in that unhappy country’s history. He may be right – I’m not going to quibble about it now. But you will surely admit it is a matter of interpretation how one takes those figures. In themselves they are bold, clear and uncompromising, yet even they, like all evidence, is confused, conflicting and submerged in a chaos of irrelevant but distracting facts. Michael B can’t “prove” his view any more than I can (except of course in retrospect). He can only persuade. Aged 21, I was persuaded that the US had got it wrong. But as I said in a comment above, situations are dynamic, but opinions seem not to be. My view MIGHT (concede me that, at least!) have been right, but I feel that where we got it wrong was not recognising the constantly changing situation. (For instance, it is probable that most Iraqis opposed the allied invasion two years ago, but the situation is now manifestly different.) I was wrong. My judgement was wrong. But it wasn’t because I was avoiding contemplating the evidence, nor was it because I was chin deep in evidence to the contrary. In good faith,it is how you approach and select the evidence when you are trying to form a coherent “story” from the mass of chaos. Eisenhower’s 80% figure shook my faith in the US position rightly or wrongly. Perhaps Sartre came close to the truth when he said “Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth.”

  91. KMac Says:

    As I recall, one of the end-of-discussion lines was “all they’re interested in is a bowl of rice – they’re not concerned about where it comes from.” It’s hard to believe that that could ever have been considered an enlightened position.

    Even at that young age (I was sweatin’ in 11th grade in ’72), I knew the game – it was a privilege to be able to share the derision of my teachers towards the rubes who thought that the war was just.

    At the time, I thought that the expression on the student’s face was incomprehension of our sophisticated thinking; now I know that that’s how a “simple” decent person looks when they feel contempt.

  92. Judith Says:

    About Kerry’s weasly parsing in 1975, which sounds just like his weasly parsing in 2004: Sure, the N Vietnamese weren’t “interested” in massacring people. They were interested in imposing a draconian communism on everyone at the point of a gun – for everyone’s good of course – and if you resisted, too bad. He can’t claim he didn’t know what their objectives were.

    God I despise that man.

  93. Judith Says:

    “Can you say, Harper-Collins? “

    Anyone know anyone there? Neo is already part of a book I’m trying to hawk….

  94. Emmunah Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a pillar of the Straussian philosophy that philosophy cannot be understood without the context of the times? I don’t know…but there was this large baby boom coming of age. The 50′s had been so restrictive and all era’s have a sort of backlash to them. The Left in the 60′s and 70′s were investigating, exploring, and inventing new ideas and that sort of comes with the spirit of that time. Naive…most certainly, but within that context it made sense. I supppose those that were older could see it better through the eyes of maturity.

    Also, I’m not so sure that America was global enough to care very much about the Vietnamese at that time. The Left thought they did, just like they do now, but they really have a very thin veneer when it comes to the cause of the day, and maybe that is youth (youth wasted on the young:).

    I was younger than all the others, but the first time I remember feeling shame for something other than the personal, was watching the fall of Saigon, the images were in my mind for a very long time. I did not understand very well what was happening. I wanted the prisoners of war to come home and I did not want my uncles to die. I wanted people to live in peace and I did not understand the outcome of leaving. Those are the only thoughts I remember…but shame was what I felt at our betrayal of those that fought with GI’s.

    Iraq is not Vietnam, and the Left, (of which I still seem to be a member, in a Joe Biden sort of way), continues to draw parallels. Why they do this is probably because everyone tends to compare situations they have lived through, with the current. Yet the stakes could not be higher for Iraq and not just the genocide, civil war, possible nuclear war that would follow any US defeat, but the idealogy underlying the insurgents is far, far more deadly than the Communists ever dreamed of being.

  95. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Harper-Collins, huh?
    Jeez.
    David Horowitz leaves the Dark Side and he does a book. Ron Radosh the same (The New Left, The Old Left, and The Left-over Left).
    How come us guys who weren’t on the wrong side don’t get book offers?
    Is there some kind of saintliness available only to those who were wrong first?

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  96. THIRDWAVEDAVE Says:

    I’ve passed your post on to many friends on the net and the opinions are all the same: Can you say, Harper-Collins?

    Now get to work!

  97. Minh-Duc Says:

    I wrote a whole post, first part I comment on Vietpundit post. Then I mentioned your post, particularly this series. I want to quote part of it, but do not know where to begin, so I did not. I call it “After the Fall of Saigon: Unwanted Memory.”

    I just want to say I deeply appreciate your sentiment, honesty, and courage. Thank you.

  98. Richard Aubrey Says:

    It is even more difficult to admit error when there were years of right-wingers warning of the very thing that “surprised” you when it happened.
    You have to get your head around having blown off all the warnings.
    You have to admit people you didn’t like very much at all, and about whom you may have said some uncharitable things, were right all along.
    You have to plumb your early thinking process and review the steps you took to dismiss and discredit those who warned.
    Nope. Not easy.
    It’s easier to get it right the first time.
    The question is how, chin-deep in evidence to the contrary, did the lefties get it wrong?

    Let’s pass over for the moment that they don’t actually think they got it wrong and all the post-takeover suffering ranges from irrelevant to they had it coming.

    How about the folks who’ve changed their minds/
    What were the processes by which you were able to avoid contemplating the evidence?

    Richard Aubrey
    raubrey@sbcglobal.net

  99. THIRDWAVEDAVE Says:

    Neo-neocon,
    A full accounting of the US’s pullout of VN, and its aftermath, has yet to be told. Some quick thoughts on the subject:

    Everyone knew there would be a massacre when we pulled out. John Kerry knew this more than anyone. The only thing that was an unknown was the amount of people that would be killed; hundreds of thousands or millions. When it came to this question, Kerry was a fence-sitter, saying there is no evidence either way. For Kerry to admit there would be a massacre if we pulled out, would bring into question his stance on getting America out of VN. Kerry couldn’t give a wit about those poor people left to endure the horrors the North would bring to their doorsteps; his goal of getting the US out was all he was interested in.
    You’re on to something very important in these writings and I hope you persue it further.
    And, I think it’s so fitting that the Nabob from New England and John O’Neill have gone full circle as of last November.

  100. Michael B Says:

    Another thoughtful, substantial and well written post.

    There is however reason to entertain much doubt as regards Eisenhower’s realpolitik as applied to the idea of an election throughout Vietnam in the early 50′s, at least as is commonly understood as a result of a certain quote of his. The quote is often (even in academic histories) taken out of context or its idea is simply reproduced without reference to Eisenhower at all, as it was by Michael Caine’s character, Fowler, in a recent film version of Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American.” (A decent film in terms of the drama, screen play and general production, but uneven at best in terms of the history it seeks to present.)

    Eisenhower’s quote, taken from his memoirs, specifically addressed a theoretical election scenario 1) between Ho Chi Minh and the post-colonial French appointed ruler Bao Dai, not Diem and 2) during a time prior to the conclusion of the fighting between the French and Vietnamese. Bao Dai was little more than a titular presence; he presented an attractive profile but never did exhibit the muscle needed for the job, it was this lack which broadly disaffected him from the Vietnamese people.

    It was ’55 or ’56 (after both Geneva documents had been concluded) wherein Diem, not Uncle Ho of course, actually did run against Bao Dai in an election in the South, an election that was not without its share of graft, nonetheless Diem demolished Bao Dai in that election.

    (The primary Geneva document, signed by all parties, created the two sovereign states. There were only two signatories to the second Geneva document, the one that called for pan-Vietnam elections, those two were North Vietnam and France.)

  101. Pancho Says:

    It was all to easy, I’m afraid, for the majority of Americans sitting comfortably on their sofas watching the fall of Saigon to hope, pray and believe that the suffering of the Vietnamese was over with a communist victory.

    However those of us who served with our Hmong and Montagnard allies had no real doubts about what the outcome for these peoples would be. And it came to pass….and it wasn’t pleasant.

  102. VietPundit Says:

    Another great post, neo. I linked to it here.

  103. John Moreschi Says:

    It is so easy to be in denial about things we are so emotionally entangled with. I wasn’t able to look at the Vietnamese boat people until about 1979. And I only saw them then because I, a pretty hard lefty at the time, was having big doubts about Jimmy Carter’s catastrophic presidency.

    I was initially questioning the liberal notions of how to run an economy, so I started to watch William F Buckley on TV, read some conservative articles, etc. Along the way I was exposed to conservatives’ very loud concerns about the after-effects of Vietnam – the boat people, the slaughters in Cambodia, the communist takeover of Nicaragua by the Sandinistas, etc.

    So, I was forced by my own sense of integrity to admit that things had not turned out well even though I had thought they would. Eventually I voted for Reagan, became an anti-communist thinker, and now support vigorous defense against the Islamofascists, agreeing with Bush that taking the war to the Middle East and initiating democracies is the only sensible way to defend ourselves. (Plus, it is the right thing to do and is in keeping with what I consider to be America’s true destiny in the story of the world – to spread freedom throughout the world: starting with ourselves in 1776, moving on to freeing the slaves in the 1860s, liberating Europe and Japan in WWII, freeing hundreds of millions by winning the Cold War, and now the Middle East.)

    The toughest part of getting out of denial is becoming aware of realities that you are trying so hard to avoid. This takes courage, leads to the remorse you spoke of, and if the remorse is allowed to move into self-forgiveness can lead to real change. I think some go from the remorse to change without the self-forgiveness and it leads to a brittle, hectoring, fanaticism on the opposite side of the old debate that produces no real change, but rather only adds to the bitterness of the old fights.

    The thing I am appreciating so much in your writing on this subject is the very human, insightful, and compassionate tone of it all. I look forward to reading more of you in times to come.

  104. meander Says:

    As I read your postings on the topic of Vietnam, I can’t help but think what a remarkable intellectual and psychological journey you’ve been on all through these years. Because of your boyfriend’s service over there, the war meant so much to you and you had so many urgent reasons to be hungry for information. It truly was a matter of life and death. It’s apparent that your nature is to be a truth seeker and that carries with it an interesting burden. I was not radicalized during the Vietnam era and, although aware of things and saddened by the death of a distantly known highschool or college classmate, the situation did not have a real urgency.I had some realities in my personal life (paralyzed father, money worries, etc.)that selfishly mattered more. So, anyway, it’s been fascinating to read about your experiences and how much your whole life attitude was affected. What’s equally impressive to me is that inspite of having started so early in your adult life caring so much about politics, you still have the mental energy to be intensely curious and hungry for information so that you can form your own conclusions. I only recently got my brain kicked into gear by 911 and blogs so this “thinking thing” is still kind of new to me ( I’m kidding a little). Something I’d love to have you use your analytical skills on is to speculate on what kind of Pres. Al Gore would have been for these challenging times. Saw video of some of his speech yesterday about the filabuster and I just can’t stand to hear him pontificate. During the 2000 election, I seriously lamented Bush’s lack of natural eloquence but even more, I couldn’t imagine 4 years of listening to Gore’s ponderous delivery.

  105. neo-neocon Says:

    Yes, one of the things missing in our approach to Vietnam (something I plan to discuss in a later essay) was a commitment to a truly democratic and representative government in South Vietnam. We played realpolitik there too much, I’m afraid. In the Eisenhower era, we may have done so through fear of what an election would have brought (although some argue that point). Later on, we supported some less-than-laudable people–and, in some cases, withdrew our support and allowed those people to be assasinated.

  106. robert aldridge Says:

    The problem is that situations are dynamic, and from the moment one has made up my mind, one’s views are not dynamic. Even suppose the war was a mistake, once the troops were committed, a different reality prevailed, and we on the Left were stuck with our opposition. One sees the situation today in its most ludicrous aspect; many people were anti-war to start with, regarding Iraq; the situation has changed completely, there isn’t a war, there is a successful, democratic and functioning government, yet they are still “anti-war”! Not trying to be self-serving, here, but at least to me, South Vietnam never seemed to have a successful, democratic, and functioning government. It has also to be said that, during the Cold War, the US acted on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I don’t fault that (we did it with the USSR in WW2)but it was cynical and the US DID support some rotten regimes.(“He may be a b—–d, but he’s our b—–d.”)We were idealistic. It didn’t seem to matter much, if the options were right-wing dictatorships or left-wing dictatorships. Now I can see that strategically, US policy may have been necessary. During the Napoleonic Wars, Pitt, who had been quite liberal, cracked down on all reform movements because they smacked of French radicalism. There are no subtleties in politics, sadly. I didn’t realise it then. I do now. Good work Neo Neocon.

  107. Goesh Says:

    I have read on several occasions in the past 10 years or so how the children with American fathers were quite badly treated by the powers that be once the US left. I can’t cite the sources on this because I didn’t see a need to make written note of it. The sources were from traditional, legitimate media outlets, I remember that much. There is no telling the number of children born from war relationships in the 10 years the US was there. The number has to be in the tens of thousands. Peak force numbers by the US were a little over 500,000 men and for the most part they were young, single men. Nature and hormones being what they are, combined with the fact that prostitution and sexuality are viewed from a non-WASP perspective in Viet Nam, I’m sure the number of these children was/is quite significant.

  108. Bobbi Says:

    Even though I am much younger than you, I saw things from a VERY different perspective during that time.

    I saw things from the perspective of a child whose father was sent to fight in that war (whether he wanted to go or not, doesn’t matter) it matters that he was there. It matters what the teachers who were supposed to be educating me said..I had very liberal teachers while telling me my dad was a ‘baby killer’ and that spread to my classmates saying the same thing. Imagine being on the playground in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade and having other children call you a supporter of ‘killing babies” because your dad was called to war.

    However, the irony was NOT lost on me (even at that young age) that these same people who were calling my dad a baby killer, and calling me one who supports the killing of these babies..were the same ones who were screaming for legalized abortions. They hated the killing of innocent babies except when it came to their own or other American’s to be–I did not support killing babies in Vietnam and I do not support the killing of babies through abortion..

    My teachers wanted us to debate the war, and they always called on me to debate the side in favor of the war, knowing full well the entire class would then go on a verbal barrage against me (including the teacher)–not just in class but on the playground, during lunch and walking home from school.

    My conservative views were formed from a very early age and yes, they were formed based on emotion..and from seeing the very very ugly side of liberalism at a very young age.

    So while I posted in another segment of your history If your not a liberal in your 20′s you have no heart, and if your not a conservative by your 40′s you have no brain..I skipped the liberal stage–some may say I don’t have a heart..but I know I do..

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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