WHY NO KHMER ROUGE TRIAL FOR THE HANOI COMMUNISTS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Co Van,

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

Here We Go Again

Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher

Whenever Vietnam is mentioned in an opinion article, we always sit up and take notice. It is not at all uncommon for the history of Vietnam and the lessons of Vietnam to be invoked in reference to other conflicts. In fact Vietnam is the fulcrum from which all false arguments about war are launched. We are told we should not forget the lessons of Vietnam, but the lessons are often based upon falsehoods and misrepresentations that make the lesson unhelpful.

Such is the case with a recent article published by CNN.  Writing about the recent Paris attacks, the author invokes the specter of Vietnam to “prove” how badly America has handled foreign policy.

It helps to look at history — not to find equivalencies but understanding, taking the long view that recognizes appropriate contexts. We make bad decisions about foreign policy — and war — when we fail to take into account the historical setting, which is, well, almost everything.

For example, we lost 50,000 American soldiers in Vietnam because our policy-makers failed to look at the wider historical context, ignoring the traditional animosity between China and Vietnam — a conflict in which it was highly unlikely that the “domino effect” would ever be relevant. It wasn’t, and we created mayhem in the region.

Pushed to the limit, we simply withdrew in 1975, with our tail between our legs. And where is Vietnam today? The U.S. is currently the largest single importer of Vietnamese goods and Vietnamese are the eighth-largest student group studying in the States. Of course, it took almost four decades for that kind of healing to occur.

So much untruth packed into such a short space!

First, we certainly wouldn’t argue that it doesn’t help to look at history.  The problem is, it actually needs to be history to be helpful.  We lost more than 58,000 men and women in Vietnam because we faced a determined enemy who was willing to sacrifice over 1.4 million of its own citizens to conquer an independent nation.

Citing the animosity between China and Vietnam, which exists to this day, as proof that  US policy makers failed to understand history is so profoundly ignorant that it takes one’s breath away.  China provided billions of dollars in materiel and support to North Vietnam and tens of thousands of military advisors.  Whatever differences there were between China and Vietnam, they were set aside during the 2nd Indochina War to pursue a common goal – the defeat of South Vietnam and the spread of communism.

What US policy makers failed to understand was that their enemy was not a rational actor that would respond to stimuli the way Americans would respond.McNamara’s graduated escalation policy had little effect on the North Vietnamese and the bombing pauses were used by the North Vietnamese to regroup, resupply and reinforce their defenses. We are making the exact same mistake today in the war with ISIS.

The idea that the Domino Theory was fraudulent has been a central point of the communist propaganda campaign from the beginning.  Many Americans have fallen for it.  But we have addressed it in detail here and shown that not only was it legitimate but the dominos did not fall precisely because the US intervened in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Furthermore, the claim that the US “created mayhem” in the region ignores several things.  First, the North Vietnamese began the first steps of their conquest of South Vietnam in 1945, left troops behind in 1954 in violation of the Geneva Accords and began escalating the war in 1959, long before the US inserted combat troops.  They had been creating mayhem for quite some time.

By the time the US got involved militarily, North Vietnam had been actively committing atrocities and terrorist activities in South Vietnam for almost 20 years.  By 1959 they had also invaded both Laos and Cambodia and began establishing bases in both countries.  After the US left, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese, tens of thousands of Laotians and 1.7 million Cambodians were killed.  The mayhem created in Indochina was a direct result of North Vietnamese communist party policies, not US policy, and continued long after the US left Vietnam.

Finally, claiming that the US was “pushed to the limit” and “withdrew in 1975” again displays profound ignorance of the 2nd Indochina War.  The US began removing combat troops from Vietnam in 1969 and by the time the peace treaty was signed in 1973 we did not any combat troops in Vietnam.  North Vietnam, consistent with all their previous deceits, violated the treaty before the ink was signed, but they were so weakened by US and South Vietnamese forces that it took another two years before they could again invade in force.

There are certainly lessons that need to be learned from Vietnam, but we will never learn them until we finally acknowledge the truth about Vietnam.  That will not happen until communist propaganda is no longer used to justify arguments about Vietnam that have no relation to the history of the conflict.

Thoughts From A Vietnam Veteran

Recently I received the below email from Del. Del is R. J. DelVecchio. He was a Marine combat photographer and wandered all over I Corps photographing Marines in combat, resting, taking care of Vietnamese civilians in MedCap operations and grieving over the loss of their buddies. Some of his photographs are featured on our website. Del is one of the founding members of VVFH and the author of Whitelist, Blacklist: Myths of the Vietnam War. He administers a personal charity caring for crippled ARVN veterans living in Vietnam. He was on another of his self-financed trips to Vietnam when he wrote this.

On the way to Hong Kong I got to watch the movie about Chris Kyle, which I had heard many good things about. And they were all true, it’s an outstanding movie about war, what happens to people in it, the terrible costs of it. And it makes you immensely proud and thankful that we have men and women who will put on the uniform and go in harm’s way to defend us and our way of life.

But when I think of the thousands of wonderful Americans who died in Iraq, and the much larger number who came home with terrible wounds on their bodies and some in their minds, and what has happened since, mostly I am angry.

I am angry that our politicians still haven’t learned the simple lessons of Viet Nam, the simple lessons of war. 1- don’t send Americans to fight and die unless you have a clear goal in mind that you are fully committed to achieving 2- don’t send them unless you have a damn good understanding of what it will take to reach that goal 3- don’t send them if you aren’t going to give them 100% of what is needed to achieve the goal and maybe I should add 4- and don’t betray their sacrifice of blood and lives by backing away from doing whatever is required to keep whatever gains they bought with that blood.

What is Iraq today? A broken state, a nightmare of sectarian ferment, with large chunks being run by maniac fanatic murderers, including cities we paid for in swimming pools of blood, while minorities that have lived there literally for millennia have been subject to horrific oppression and even genocide.

Why did this happen? In part because we left a sectarian jerk in charge, but in large part because we yanked all our troops out of there and left the fragile state on its own, ripe for the ISIS conquest. And the “JV Team” turned out to be all too competent, all too ferocious, and we didn’t begin to do much about them for too long, and still haven’t done, aren’t doing, anything like what it will take to smash them as they need to be smashed.

So by lack of serious, thoughtful, looking ahead kind of leadership we have made a waste of all our blood and treasure there, and told the world we cannot be trusted to do anything right, and that it’s probably smarter to cozy up to Vladimir Putin than the USA. How utterly sickening.

And it looks like we’ll follow up by abandoning the Afghans to the Taliban, bringing on another waste of our blood and billions, and condemning a lot of people, women in particular, to a life of horror and misery. Great.

What will it take for this nation to regain any respect in the world, and be able to do any real good against such clear sources of evil? I just don’t know, but I am sure it’ll start with a change in the White House in 2017 if it can change at all.

Del

SOG OP 35 and U.S. Army Special Forces in South Vietnam

James D. McLeroy

SOG OP 35

In January, 1961 President Kennedy ordered the CIA to begin unconventional warfare (UW) operations against North Vietnam. Because of the Cuban invasion fiasco in April of that year,
he ordered all CIA paramilitary and UW programs transferred to the Pentagon. In early 1964, the Pentagon created the Studies and Observations Group (SOG), a top-secret, joint-services unit with a cross-border UW mission in Southeast Asia.

SOG was commanded by Army colonels and was a formal component of Westmoreland’s Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). COL John Singlaub, the CO (“Chief”) of SOG in 1968, was a key member of Westmoreland’s staff in the 101st Airborne Division and was personally selected by Westmoreland to command SOG. Singlaub briefed Westmoreland weekly on all SOG’s activities, but was not officially subordinate to him.

The “Chief” of SOG, Singlaub in 1968, reported to a Pentagon officer called the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA). The SACSA reported to the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All of SOG’s cross-border missions had the implicit or explicit concurrence of the Secretary of Defense and the President.

SOG was designed by veterans of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in WW II, when the OSS was the UW tip of a conventional military spear. Behind the OSS was a large, conventional force attacking the main enemy to decisively defeat it. SOG was also like a UW spear tip, but unlike the OSS, there was no spear behind the tip. The SOG teams were fighting alone with no strategy for victory against vastly greater numbers of NVA troops in NVA territory.

Neither GEN Westmoreland nor GEN Abrams, the two MACV commanders from 1964 to 1972, included SOG in their operational planning, because they did not command it and were not
allowed to operate in Laos and Cambodia. In addition, Abrams was viscerally opposed to the concept of elite military units in general.

The cross-border missions of SOG’s Operation 35 (OP 35), “Ground Studies Branch”, were its main activity in terms of the number of men and aircraft committed to it and the number of enemy casualties produced by it. All the covert OP 35 troops were given a cover assignment to the overt 5th Special Forces Group.

Their top-secret mission required them to live separately from other U.S. troops, however, including other SF troops. Many men in the 5th SF Group and SOG knew each other from previous SF training or SF assignments. They all wore the green beret, but the SOG men were discouraged from fraternizing with anyone outside of SOG. Ironically, SOG’s cross border missions were not a secret to the NVA. They were only a secret to other U.S. troops and the U.S. media.

SOG’s OP 35 had three forward operating bases (FOBs) in three of the four Corps Tactical Zones (military regions) of South Vietnam. FOB 4 in I Corps was on a beach in the Marble Mountain area of the Tiensha Peninsula on the eastern outskirts of Danang. The SF I Corps headquarters was fairly close to it on the same beach, but the SOG men and 5th SF men had separate living and recreational facilities.

In late 1968, FOB 3 in Khe Sanh was abandoned. FOB 4 near Danang was re-designated Command and Control North (CCN); FOB 2 near Kontum was re-designated Command and Control Center (CCC); FOB 1 in Phu Bai was transferred to CCN; and a new FOB was opened in II Corps at Ban Me Thuot designated Command and Control South (CCS).

Most SOG recon-commando teams consisted of three SF men and between four and nine carefully selected and trained indigenous mercenaries, usually Montagnards and Nung. There were also some ethnic Vietnamese and Cambodian teams, but different language groups were not intermixed on the same team.

Op 35’s reconnaissance-commando teams had several missions, but the main one was to locate NVA troop units, convoys, bases, and supply depots on the Ho Chi Minh Trail network in eastern Laos and Cambodia and direct air strikes on them. In 1968, they usually did not have to search for NVA troop units; on almost every mission they encountered large numbers of them.

In addition to its cross-border reconnaissance teams, OP 35 had U.S.-led indigenous platoons and companies called Hatchet Forces. They occasionally made short incursions into eastern Laos and Cambodia to raid and ambush NVA targets. Most Hatchet Force troops in I Corps were Nung, and in 1968 most of their operations were on the Vietnam side of the border.

OP 35 combat actions were a classic example of the principle of war called economy of force, and as force multipliers they were extraordinarily effective. By 1968, the NVA were sacrificing
thousands of their troops in fanatical efforts to kill or capture the SOG teams at all costs. No matter how many NVA troops the SOG teams killed, however, and no matter how much war materiel they destroyed, the NVA always replaced their losses as quickly as possible.

Few U.S. ground combat actions in the war were as hazardous as SOG’s cross-border missions. In 1968, the number of Purple Heart medals awarded to SOG recon men was more than the total authorized U.S. troop strength of OP 35’s three recon companies. That year fifty-six U.S. SOG men were killed; 214 were wounded, twenty-seven were missing, and twenty-nine helicopters were shot down.

The same year, 133 indigenous SOG troops were killed, 481 were wounded, and fifty-five were missing. During the eight-year American Phase of the Second Indochina War 163 U.S. SOG men were killed and eighty more were missing (presumed dead). Some 12,000 men served in the SF in South Vietnam, but only 2,000 of them served in SOG. Those 2,000 suffered more than half of all the SF fatalities and eighty-five percent of all the SF missing-in-action cases in the war.

Twelve entire SOG recon teams disappeared after insertion and were never heard from again. Forty-nine U.S. SOG troops, together with some of the brave pilots and air crewmen supporting them, are still unaccounted for. By 1968, OP 35 no longer had enough volunteers to replace its increasing losses and conduct its increasing number of missions. Men from the 1st SF Group on Okinawa, the 10th SF Group in Germany, and the 7th Group at Ft. Bragg were assigned to OP 35, whether or not they wanted that notorious assignment.

Repeat volunteers for OP 35’s recon teams were the most elite of all Special Forces soldiers, and the motivation of such men was as special as their missions. The challenge and pride of gambling their lives against far greater odds and repeatedly winning by skillfully evading their enemies, killing them, and surviving to do it again and again was emotionally addictive to some.

Despite the potential consequences of repeatedly taking such risks, a life on the razor’s edge as a prestigious member of a small band of truly elite warriors with much more freedom than that of almost all other soldiers was far more valuable to them than a longer and more normal life. Their motto was: “You have never lived, until you have almost died.” The unspoken corollary of that motto was, “The more you have almost died, the more you have really lived.”

John Plaster, a three-year veteran of SOG’s OP 35, described its special attraction as: ” … the allure of secret operations ….” “… that tingle of outwitting the enemy in his own backyard.”
“… accepting inevitable death made everything easier.” “I accepted that I would die running recon.” “… and with that my fear evaporated.”

Of the seventeen SF men who received the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War eight were in SOG. In the seventy-man recon company at FOB 4 (CCN) two men received the Medal of Honor and three received the Distinguished Service Cross. In the sixty-man recon company at FOB 2 (CCC) five men received the Medal of Honor, which made it proportionally the most highly decorated U.S. unit in the war. When its top-secret history was finally declassified and the exceptional heroism of its covert warriors was revealed, SOG was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, the highest U.S. valor award for a military unit.

U.S. Army Special Forces in South Vietnam

The Truong Son range and the highland plateaus of central Vietnam were originally inhabited by eighteen major groups of some thirty indigenous tribes called Montagnards (mountain people).
Compared to the culture of the lowland ethnic Vietnamese they were politically, economically, and technologically disadvantaged. Most lowland ethnic Vietnamese despised the primitive, dark-skinned tribesmen with unintelligible languages, and most Montagnards hated and feared the arrogant, often exploitive ethnic Vietnamese. The relatively few ARVN troops in the Central Highlands could not defend the Montagnards from VC control, and they did not trust the Montagnards’ loyalty enough to give them weapons to defend themselves. The U.S. advisors to the South Vietnamese government knew that with no anti-Communist forces in that strategic area, the VC would increasingly use it for infiltration routes, guerrilla bases, food, recruits, and forced laborers.

In an attempt to prevent that use and develop the Montagnards’ paramilitary potential, the Saigon CIA station organized the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). Twelve-man SF A-teams were assigned to CIDG camps in the highlands to help the local Montagnards with self-defense and “area development” projects, later called civic action. The main activities of the SF teams were equipping and training the CIDG troops to protect their villages from local VC attacks and organizing practical projects to improve the villagers’ basic standard of living. CIDG troops led by SF teams and armed with surplus WW II weapons were capable of defending their villages against small bands of VC terrorists and guerrillas.

By 1964, however, regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalions were infiltrating into South Vietnam to train, augment, and lead increasingly large, combined VC-NVA units. The VC squads
became VC-NVA platoons, and VC platoons became VC-NVA companies. The guerrilla tactics of local VC bands soon became the semi-conventional tactics of mobile VC-NVA battalions. The CIDG camps were not fortified to withstand mass attacks by such forces, and the CIDG were not trained or equipped to defend their villages and camps against them. The CIA realized that local patrols of CIDG troops to protect their villages from VC guerrillas were inadequate for the rapidly growing VC-NVA threat in the border regions.

As the infiltration of NVA troops increased, the SF mission in the Montagnard highlands evolved from village defense and local civic action to include border surveillance and interdiction. It was an impossible mission for the SF teams and their CIDG troops to accomplish, however, for six reasons.

First, the SF teams were not allowed to command the CIDG troops and could only “advise” the LLDB teams, who were the official commanders of the CIDG camps.

Second, in the vast, jungle-covered Truong Son mountain range between South Vietnam and Laos it was not difficult for the infiltrating NVA troop units to avoid the isolated CIDG camps. Most LLDB commanders of those camps were equally eager to avoid the NVA infiltrators. A few LLDB teams were skilled, motivated, honest, and brave, but many more were corrupt, cowardly,
unqualified, and unmotivated.

Third, most LLDB teams were composed of lowland ethnic Vietnamese, whose appearance, culture, and language were radically different from those of the CIDG Montagnards. The contempt of most LLDB teams for Montagnards as racially inferior savages and the historic exploitation of the tribesmen by the ethnic Vietnamese caused mutual mistrust and hostility.

Fourth, in some remote mountain areas there were not enough Montagnards to recruit for the CIDG border camps, and in other areas the local Montagnards were too primitive and elusive to be organized as soldiers. To fill the void, inmates in city jails were sent under guard to serve as CIDG border troops. They were more like minimum security prisoners than combat soldiers.

Fifth, some of the CIDG troops were covert VC infiltrators. They collected intelligence on the camp defenses, passed that information on to VC agents outside the camp, and initiated attacks
on the camps from the inside. VC intimidation often prevented local villagers from giving the CIDG camps advance warning of VC attacks from their observations of the VC preparations.

Sixth, even in areas with enough Montagnards to recruit, they had critical problems as border interdiction troops. Their tribal culture, rudimentary military training, WW II surplus weapons, and poor LLDB leadership were very inferior to the military culture, training, leadership, and weapons of the regular NVA troops infiltrating South Vietnam in 1964. With few exceptions, the combat performance of most CIDG troops against VC/NVA units was conspicuously weak.

The American Betrayal of President Diem

Dr. Geoffrey D. T. Shaw

This is an excerpt of an upcoming book (which you can pre-order) The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam by Geoffrey D. T. Shaw by permission of the author, who is a member of VVFH.

“The fall of the dictator, greeted at the beginning with joy by the Vietnamese as the grounds for a quick peace and a better government, is regretted by many today as an unpardonable mistake which has deprived the country of its most prestigious non-communist nationalist leader.” 1

Rufus Phillips, a CIA operative who had just met with Diem but a few days before the coup, was deeply saddened and distraught when he entered Gia Long Place on the day after the overthrow as it brought to his mind the immediate sense of waste and stupidity in the acts of those who were responsible for Diem’s murder: “I wanted to sit down and cry. And I was so upset when I heard that he’d been killed…That was a stupid decision and,God, we paid, they paid, everybody paid.” 2 At the time, Vice President Johnson had supported Nolting and other officials who had attempted to stop the coup plotting as, by all accounts, he genuinely liked Diem and thought him a superior leader. He was livid over the murder of Diem and did little to hide his contempt for those who had a hand in it and later, in 1966, when he was President, he confided to Senator Eugene McCarthy the horrible reality of what happened back in 1963, in Saigon: “We killed him [Diem]. We got together and got a goddamn bunch of thugs and we went in and assassinated him. Now, we’ve really had no political stability since then.” 3 William Colby had stated nearly the same thing to this writer back in 1996 when he confided that after Diem, things never really got back on track. On November 5th, Madame Nhu stated: “Whoever has the Americans as allies does not need any enemies…I can predict to you all that the story in Vietnam is only at its beginning.” 4 Her words were to be proved prescient and true.

Of course, one of the great paradoxes of the coup and murders of Diem and his brother Nhu was that it also destroyed any harmony there had been amongst the Vietnamese generals who had launched the whole process in the first place: i.e., in killing Diem they had also killed their own chances at governing as any sort of cohesive body. General Tran Van Don took an almost immediate loathing to General ‘Big’ Minh for having ordered the killings and this meant, in all practical estimations, the coup leadership was now at daggers drawn as General Don’s following was just as considerable as Minh’s. 5 This rancor spilled over into all of the ruling junta’s appointments and dealings thus leaving it weak and vulnerable, in turn, inviting overthrow which, inevitably, occurred in 1964. But even in this, General Don should not be given too light a pass as he knew, full well, the petty and vicious motivations of his coconspirators such as Generals ‘Big’ Minh, Kim and Xuan; moreover, he later admitted that he knew ‘Big’ Minh would most likely feel compelled to murder Diem and Nhu as, indeed, the military junta would prove itself incompetent. Thus, General Don told historian, George Mct.Kahin, if Diem and Nhu had been left alive, in about three months’ time the Americans would have ‘fired’ him (Tran Van Don) and the other generals and then they would have returned Diem and Nhu to power; probably with a sigh of relief. 6; page: 418.]

One of the last public comments that Ambassador Nolting made about Kennedy’s decision illustrates the longterm strategic costs of the President’s short-term tactical gains:

Now the young president was caught in a dilemma; there was no question about it. There were several things he could have done, but the worst alternative was what he opted to do. Even worse than the practical consequences of the coup were the moral effects. I will not go into the sequence of events here because I believe it is now clear that after the revolution things went from bad to worse, regardless of the number of troops that we put in and regardless of the fact that the cost went up dramatically: 57,000 American lives, eight years of dissension in our country, huge increases in public debt, and the inflation that afflicted us throughout the 1970s. The actions of the Kennedy administration set the stage for all this 7

In correspondence between themselves written after the coup and murder of Diem and Nhu, General Harkins and Ambassador Nolting tended to be harder on Hilsman, Harriman, and the American press than on the President vis-à-vis responsibility for what went wrong in South Vietnam. For example, on March 27, 1964, Harkins wrote a letter to Nolting expressing his sorrow that the latter had resigned from the State Department. Harkins claimed that the removal of Diem had set the whole counter-insurgency program back about ten months, and he apportioned a good deal of blame to the press: “As you know, the press took the sails out of Diem starting last June and July to make him practically ineffective.” 8 Nolting replied to Harkins on April 7, 1964 and informed him that he and his wife, Lindsay, had gone over the tragedy of what had happened to Diem and Nhu so many times that it was driving them crazy. He told Harkins that he wished that he had been allowed to stay on in Saigon; but, in the final analysis, he had come to believe that the destruction of Diem’s GVN was inevitable. Nolting also reiterated that his reasons for resigning from the State Department in protest over the Government’s poor behaviour, which resulted in Diem and Nhu’s murders, were well-founded.

I too wish we could have stayed on there, but I doubt that would have done any good in the light of what I now know. The deliberate undercutting last summer of our Government’s and our Country Team’s position by certain elements of the State Department is now crystal clear to me. Among other things, these people were feeding to the press the very line that you and I were instructed to counteract — i.e., the ‘can’t win with Diem’ line. As a result, our efforts have been set back by many months, as you say…This is a most unsavory story, but some day the facts will be publicly known. They already are known around Washington, but not admitted, and the press doesn’t like to eat crow…Under these circumstances, it has restored my feeling of integrity to have resigned from the Department of State. 9

In another letter, hand-written to Nolting in 1971, Harkins enumerated the people and actions that alienated President Diem and resulted in his murder, as well as the destruction of an effective U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. Harkins placed Harriman, Hilsman, Senator Mansfield, and the American press corps in this descending order of those he believed were most responsible for this destruction. 10 In 1981, the editor of the Wall Street Journal, in “The First Lesson of Vietnam,” summed up what had happened during the Kennedy years. He singled out the coup and murder of Diem as the central pivot upon which massive U.S. involvement had hinged. Quite accurately, the editor placed the responsibility for what had occurred upon the same individuals Nolting and Harkins had identified back in 1964:

There was no slippery slope; we drove over a cliff. Once we had implicated ourselves in overthrowing the head of an allied government in the name of winning the war, no American president could turn and walk away…As Vice President, Mr. Johnson had strenuously opposed American involvement in any attempt to unseat Diem…That the coup followed a massive struggle within the U.S. government is the first of a number of things to understand about the events of 20 years ago. Averell Harriman and Roger Hilsman at the State Department and incoming Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge led the Diem-must-go faction, arguing that Diem was losing the war by not pressing internal reforms to win the hearts and minds of the people. Gen. Paul Harkins, the American commander in Saigon, outgoing Ambassador Frederick Nolting and Gen. Victor Krulak, the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency expert, warned that toppling an ally was no way to help the war effort. Mr. Hilsman pushed through the decisive cable over a weekend with most officials out of town…. The anti-Diem faction dominated the press through the efforts of three young men in Saigon – David Halberstam of the New York Times, Neil Sheehan of UPI and Malcolm Browne of APP. The pro-Diem faction was represented by Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune, who had already covered two other wars. The significance of this is that those who championed the coup have written the popular histories of its aftermath…What is the lesson of Vietnam? No doubt there are many, but somehow the clearest also seems the hardest for the U.S. to digest. We can always see the imperfections of our friends…And of course it is easier and in the short run a good deal safer to put pressure on friends than on adversaries. We will have learned very little from the pain of Vietnam if we do not learn to beware of that temptation. Too often American policy remains, as Miss Higgins described it, ‘friendly to the neutrals, neutral to its enemies, and hostile to its friends.” 11

In March 1967, The Wheeling Register published an article entitled: “Ex-Ambassador Nolting Speaks: Refusal to Admit Blunder Trapped LBJ in Vietnam.” Therein, Nolting identified the destruction of Ngo Dinh Diem as having been the number one tactical objective of the Viet Cong. The State Department unwittingly collaborated with dissenting generals and radical Buddhist bonzes to hand this objective over to the communists. 12 Nolting warned that, while he was not defeatist, it would take a very long time to build back what had been thrown away in the 1963 coup. He gave another very clear warning about those who had directed the coup: “The facts speak for themselves, I think concerning the judgement of those who encouraged the revolution in Vietnam in the fall of 1963 — some of whom are still in key positions in our government.”13

When Nolting started to go public with his views on what had happened in Vietnam, he maintained that the ultimate responsibility for America’s blundering policy lay with Kennedy and Rusk. During a public address in Lynchburg (Va.), Nolting stated that the “fatal error” which had led America into so much trouble in Vietnam was the consequence of the decision to undermine Ngo Dinh Diem, and this decision had been taken by Secretary of State Dean Rusk and President Kennedy. 14 Nolting recalled how Rusk had remonstrated with him over the Buddhist burnings — “We can’t stand any more burnings” – and wryly observed, “Behind this laconic statement there lay an abysmal lack of understanding and judgement.” 15

Even Nolting’s departure from Vietnam became a point of acrimony and controversy in the aftermath of Diem’s murder. Dean Rusk would later try to absolve himself from any connection to the coup and murder of Diem by claiming that he had asked Nolting to stay on in Saigon and that Nolting was the one who insisted on going home. Rusk’s implications were clear, and Nolting discerned them immediately upon hearing rumor of them: that Nolting had deserted his post during a crucial and tough period. Rusk’s position, however, cannot be sustained by the facts, and the weight of evidence is certainly on Nolting’s side on this issue. First of all, as the cable traffic and memoranda from the State Department’s files show, Harriman and Hilsman wanted Nolting out of Saigon as rapidly as possible and, as previously noted, even if this meant there was no Ambassador at the post. Hilsman had been given the authority by President Kennedy to determine the departure date of Nolting. Accordingly, he acted upon this authority in short order. The weight of documents supporting this is substantial and lends support to Nolting in manifest manner. Secondly, and relatedly, at the time Nolting had placed a request to stay on as Ambassador and for the obvious reasons just mentioned, his request was denied. (16)

On March 18, 1964, Nolting wrote to Rusk about the controversy surrounding his leaving Saigon and his subsequent resignation from the State Department. The key issues which had found their way into the public forum and which the Ambassador was concerned about and required explanation for, were as follows:

  1. That he had been unwilling to go along with the State Department’s policy while serving as US Ambassador in Viet Nam.
  2. That he had refused Rusk’s personal request to extend his tour of duty in Saigon beyond two years.
  3. That he had been over-zealous after his return from Saigon in urging in U.S. government councils that they should continue to support South Viet Nam through the Diem government, and in opposing actions which would weaken that government. 16

Rusk wrote a very terse letter back to Nolting on April 9, 1964. He admitted that there was “not an iota of truth in the first” rumour that the Ambassador had brought to his attention and then stated, “And you and I know to what extent there is anything in the other two.” 17 Nolting responded immediately to Rusk’s brief note and spelled-out the specific details of how he was treated with regard to being informed about Henry Cabot Lodge replacing him and the timing of his being sent home and there was no covering up the fact that the State Department had wanted him out of the way. 18

Nolting heard no more from Rusk on this issue, at least directly, until late summer of 1964, when more than just rumors began to reach the Ambassador’s ears. A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Nolting does not give his name) told him that testimony given by Rusk to his committee indicated that Nolting had refused to stay on as Ambassador in Viet Nam in 1963. Even this committee member noted that Rusk’s implication was clear: that Nolting had quit when the going got rough and was therefore to blame for the deterioration of the situation in Viet Nam during that year. 19 The committee member told Nolting that he believed Rusk had made an unfair charge. Nolting concurred and promptly took Rusk to task in a five page letter which concerned itself with all the pertinent issues related to his departure from South Vietnam. Accordingly, Nolting told Rusk, straight out, that he was disappointed that he had chosen not to talk to him in a direct manner about these issues — something that the Ambassador had requested. 20

Nolting then proceeded to lay out an accurate chronology of events and correspondence related to his permanent return to the United States. The Ambassador also pointed out that regardless of the serious problems that erupted with the Buddhists when he was on leave in Europe, no one informed him. None of this was reported to Nolting, even though his deputy, Trueheart, and the State Department in Washington had been instructed to let him know immediately if a real problem came up, as he would have cut his vacation short and returned to Saigon had he known. 21 Further implicating the Department’s attempts to keep him uninformed, Nolting was not even told about Henry Cabot Lodge’s appointment as new United States Ambassador to South Vietnam. Instead, he first heard about it over the ship’s radio on his way back from Europe at the end of his vacation. Once in Washington, both the State Department and Diem requested his further presence in Vietnam. He promptly returned there, only to find relations between the U.S. government and the GVN all but destroyed and in serious jeopardy. As such, he set to work with Diem, as opposed to the Harriman/Hilsman instructions of table pounding which Trueheart had carried out in his absence. Thus Nolting was able to stabilise the situation so that by the date that he was actually recalled and went home to the United States, affairs were much calmer.

Nolting pointed out that the renewed agitation of the Buddhists and the subsequent crack-down of the GVN occurred when he had already left Vietnam and Henry Cabot Lodge had not yet arrived. The facts, as Nolting stated, cleared his name and placed the onus on the State Department. He went further than this by clearly implicating Harriman as the leading force in ensuring a revolt broke-out in South Viet Nam. He noted that when arrived back in Washington for consultations, in early July of 1963, he had to report first to Harriman who immediately back-handed him with the blunt statement that if it had been up to him, Nolting would have been relieved of his post after a two year term in Saigon and that, regardless of Nolting’s wonderment at not being informed of the troubles that erupted while he was on leave, he would not have been able to help the situation anyway. Thus, in Nolting’s mind, Harriman was making it crystal clear that he wanted to see Diem’s government overthrown and there was nothing that he, the ambassador, could do to stop it. Naturally enough, this admission of Harriman’s caused Nolting to suspect that it had been Harriman who arranged for him to go on his home leave when it occurred and that he had overseen the decision not to inform him when matters were getting out-of-hand in Saigon. In short, Harriman wanted things out-of-hand and Diem gone as a result. 22

Nolting went on to tell Rusk what he believed and thought to be the major defects which had led up to the debacle in Saigon; and he had apportioned a fair amount of blame to State Department misjudgements and actions. 23 But, not all of Ambassador Nolting’s experiences leaving Vietnam were as sordid as his treatment at the hands of the State Department. Ironically, the Vietnamese seemed to have sincerely appreciated his mission to Saigon. A very moving and relatively accurate article appeared in The Times of Viet-Nam on August 12, 1963, just a couple of days before Nolting left, and it was concerned with the ambassador’s tenure in Saigon. Maybe the saddest and most profound indictment ever made of the out-of-control American press was alluded to in this article, which noted that the American newsmen had accomplished what the Viet Cong had been unable to do, and that was get rid of Nolting. 24

Later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson revealed that he thought Nolting’s recall was a serious mistake. Johnson noted that Nolting had the courage of his convictions and could not be cajoled into a contrary position by influential reporters like David Halberstam. More importantly, Johnson believed that Nolting’s judgement was sound. 25

David Halberstam and his editors at The New York Times, recognized, astutely enough, that Nolting’s removal, more than Lodge’s appointment, represented the undoing of the official policy toward Diem. This was because, in their relatively accurate estimation, Frederick Nolting had become “the symbol for all-out American support for the anti-Communist cause and for Mr Ngo Dinh Diem personally.” 26

What makes the Nolting ambassadorship so worthy of examination, and why it has been called upon with some regularity in this work to reveal the truth about what happened to President Ngo Dinh Diem, is the compelling fact that his advice was the opposite of those encouraging President Kennedy toward the active support of a coup against Diem because Nolting’s position was grounded in realism – and he was right! William Colby, in his Foreword to Frederick Nolting’s, memoirs rendered the best overall analysis, which sums up the Nolting era in American policy toward South Vietnam:

Nolting’s task was to support the Southern government and to understand its need to assert its nationalist credentials even against the United States, on whom it depended. He did a superb job. He developed the closest of relations with the leadership of the new nation and influenced it by persuasion as a friend, not pressure by an adversary…But Nolting had to contend with another constituency — the Kennedy administration that had sent him to Vietnam and its natural sensitivity to American public opinion. This constituency found flaws in the Mandarin regime Diem exemplified as failing to match the democratic standards the United States held up for itself and insisted on for its clients and dependents…. The eventual result, against Ambassador Nolting’s advice, was American complicity in the overthrow and murder of Diem, and a period of political chaos and confusion in Vietnam that President Lyndon Johnson felt compelled to respond to by the commitment of a massive American expeditionary force… As the drama unfolded, Nolting retained a clear and persistent view that the United States should support the constituted authority in Vietnam which Diem represented and that it should persevere in the strategy of helping the Diem government to win its own struggle against the Viet Cong, through such programs as the strategic hamlets. He fought for his policies from Saigon to Washington and against some of the towering figures of the Kennedy administration. In the end he lost the battle, but his story of it is a necessary piece of American history. It is made more important because in retrospect it is clear that the policies he fought against proved to be massively mistaken and engulfed America in a war which shook it internally and which it lost…this account by a farsighted Virginia gentleman of our early Vietnam experience deserves particular attention. 27

Nolting’s entire argument was consistent and straightforward down through the years. From his early letters and cables sent from the embassy in Saigon to the State Department, to his very last arguments at White House meetings; from his early private letters to friends and associates, immediately after the fact in 1964, to his late 1980’s interviews; the consistency of his testimony is remarkable. Hence Nolting’s account of his mission to South Vietnam is of particular value, enhanced, ironically, by the inconsistencies of those who railed against him in the Department of State. The inconsistencies of the testimonies and recollections of the Harriman faction have been made manifest in this work and stand in stark contrast to that which Nolting stood for. From Halberstam et al. in the news media, who attempted to hide behind a veneer of journalistic objectivity, but then openly admitted to wanting to bring down the Diem government, the contradictions are clear. From Harriman and Hilsman, publicly declaring, after the fact, that they had no intention of seeing Diem destroyed, to the transparent coup plotting machinations of their cables and instructions to both Nolting and Lodge, a distinct picture of arrogance, deceit and duplicity is driven home. Indeed, this direction of the Harriman group becomes so unmistakable as to undermine any claim to the truth that they may have had. From Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge we even have an incredible and blatantly inconsistent testimony. He was the diplomat who, after the fact, stated that the cable sent from Washington, which had called for a coup, was a terrible mistake. In his own words, he stated that these instructions had left him “thunderstruck,” but his cables at the time told the Kennedy administration, with compelling urgency, that they had better not back down from overthrowing Diem.

The record of Department of State meddling in South Vietnamese internal affairs, and the department’s internal clash over the issue of promoting a coup against Diem is abysmal and the consequences speak to this directly. Nevertheless, there are a few positive things that can be said, which are made plain for the reader in this work, which indicate that the American government had, in Frederick Nolting, placed the right man for a very difficult task in Vietnam. For one has to consider, quite apart from his work as a diplomat, that Nolting had to have the imagination and mental dexterity to discern that the war America was facing in Vietnam was something new. He recognized that the fight against the communists was not so much that of guns and bombs as it was one of political legitimacy. He discerned that Ngo Dinh Diem had a true political legitimacy that spoke to something much deeper in the Vietnamese soul than mere democracy. Democracy was a foreign political construct that held little meaning, and had virtually no historical tradition, in the centuries-old customs of Vietnam. Accordingly, Nolting intuited that the most valuable gifts America could give the struggling GVN under Diem were patience and time. In this sense then, Nolting was not only a great American diplomat but a military strategist of some substance.

A gifted military mind is naturally drawn to a strategy wherein appropriate weapons and tactics suited to the needs demanded by the terrain, political and otherwise, bring about the defeat of the enemy. In this regard, Frederick Nolting, unlike many in the Kennedy administration, never lost sight of what the fight was about and where it locus lay. His clear-sightedness and steadiness of purpose exemplified a fine and tough moral character beneath the self-effacing Virginian manner on display in his public demeanour. Given that the Kennedy years and U.S. policy were replete with ironies and contradictions, it is fitting that the final irony of this study should be an article written in The New York Times. For this sang praises to Nolting’s steadfast moral qualities at the beginning of his mission to South Vietnam in 1962:

Spirits are noticeably higher in Washington about the fate of Southeast Asia, especially the still precarious struggle for South Vietnam. One reason for the lift is what someone today described as the country-doctor manner of Fritz Nolting: gentle but firm, a bit of old Virginia mixed with broad colloquialisms, lyrical and hard-headed – just about what you would expect of a brilliant philosophy student and a member of a musical, old-line Virginia family…When President Ngo Dinh Diem’s associates went into fits over what they thought was excessive United States pressure to reform their government, their economy and their war, Mr. Nolting spent long patient hours explaining that Washington wanted for them only what they wanted for themselves…His first pleas everywhere in Washington have been against fits of temper over the besieged Vietnamese. These are good but troubled people, he says in effect…Sniping from Washington, he suggests, will not kill one additional guerrilla for them. That, associates here say, is typical of the Ambassador’s steady performance in Saigon…Of all Nolting’s traits, his associates emphasize his courage. 28

Postscript

Frederick Nolting proved to be as resilient as he was courageous as he rebounded from his lonely fight in the State Department to a prestigious position in private business. After having served in the Department of State for eighteen years, he resigned in protest over the destruction of Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu. 29 His official letter of resignation was sent to President Lyndon Baines Johnson on February 25, 1964 and it read as follows:

“Dear Mr. President,
I am sorry to have been unable to get an appointment to see you, for I have wanted for several months to talk with you about Vietnam and related matters. I believe you and I have seen the issues in Vietnam in much the same light from the time of your visit there in May, 1961; at least, I have that impression from talks we have had in the past. I know, therefore, how heavily this problem must now weigh on your mind, as indeed it does on mine also, and I earnestly hope that, despite certain irrevocable errors that I think have been made, a way can yet be found to fulfill our national interests there with honor.

I take the liberty of sending this letter, Mr. President, because I feel an obligation as well as a desire to tell you frankly and directly about my future course of action, which is likely to be interpreted in the press and elsewhere as being related to my tour of duty in Vietnam.

I have today sent to the Secretary of State a request to be granted retirement from the Foreign Service, in order to accept an offer in private business. That my decision has been influenced by my strong disapproval of certain actions which were taken last fall in relation to Vietnam, with predictable adverse consequences, I do not deny. Nor do I deny that I have been uncomfortable in my association with the Department of State since returning from Vietnam six months ago.

Under these circumstances it seems sensible for me to accept a position in private business. As a private citizen, I shall continue to do my best to contribute to our country’s success.

I solicit your understanding, Mr. President, and I wish you, as you know, personal happiness and all success in looking after the affairs of our nation.

Sincerely and respectfully yours,
Frederick E. Nolting

Nolting went to work for Morgan Guaranty Trust in Paris as its Vice-President. 30 He worked at this post in Paris from 1964 until 1969, when he became Assistant to the Chairman in New York City. In 1973, he became a consultant to the company and was able to maintain this position until 1976. All along and simultaneous to his business career, he re-established his academic contacts.

Thus from 1971 to 1973 Nolting served at the University of Virginia as Diplomat-in-Residence. He went on to hold teaching and administrative posts as Olsson Professor of Business Administration in the Darden School of Business (from 1973 to 1976). He also became Professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs and helped found the Miller Center of Public Affairs, of which he became the first Director. He went on to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and as a member of the Center for Advanced Studies and the International Management and Development Institute.

He retired from his full-time academic commitments at the University of Virginia in 1982 and began the painstaking process of compiling documents for his critical analysis of the Kennedy administration’s blunders in Vietnam. This work produced his political memoirs, From Trust To Tragedy, a work that devastates many of the popularly held myths about the Kennedy–Diem period. Because of its unrelenting precision, it will stand as a testament to his gentlemanly yet bold role in American diplomatic and military policy toward Diem’s GVN.

Frederick Nolting died on December 14, 1989, at the age of 78, only a year after From Trust To Tragedy was published. 31 His wife, Mrs. Lindsay Nolting, and four daughters — Mary, Lindsay, Jane, and Francis — survived him (although Francis died in 1995). 32

William Colby would go on to become the Director of the CIA (1971 – 1975) under Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford but his penchant for seeing things clearly, naturally enough, never made him a likely candidate for an even higher political post after this prestigious appointment. The travail of South Vietnam’s war years never really left him alone and, indeed, in his retirement years he went on to become one of the founding executives of the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. Some of us who knew him always held a small thread of doubt in our minds as to why he perished so suddenly after returning home from a Vietnam Center conference in 1996; for this was the conference wherein Bill Colby actually went after some of the senior figures who had been involved in the escalation of the war. Within less than a week of his return home, his body was found floating in the Chesapeake as he had gone missing when he went out on a solo canoe trip thereupon. Mrs. Nolting, Ambassador Nolting’s widow, told this writer straight-out that many of their diplomatic friends believed that Colby had indeed been assassinated.

As for the martyred Ngo Dinh Diem, General Nguyen Khanh told me that most of the Buddhists who were in full support of the coup, and even the subsequent killing of the man, that took place on November 1-2nd, 1963, have since changed their minds in the intervening decades and now regard his murder as a mistake of unparalleled proportion for South Vietnam. 33 And, as things would turn out, after the war it was revealed by Communist sources that their agents had indeed infiltrated the Buddhists. This resulted in the campaign to get rid of Diem that was pursued with an ideological impetus well beyond the normal means of the regular bonzes which, in turn, caused the Americans, through the auspices of their well-biased press to play right into the Communists’ hands: i.e., by persuading the Americans to get rid of Diem and Nhu for being, amongst other things, so ‘oppressive’ in their treatment of the radical Buddhist bonzes. 34

One of the most fitting tributes given for Diem came from Cardinal Josef Frings, the Archbishop of Cologne when, in 1965, he stated: “Only today, in the midst of these grave incidents (in Vietnam), do we realize that the greater part of the world has not given just recognition of this noble man.” 35 In his pastoral letter, Cardinal Frings went on to note that those who thought the death of Diem would bring peace and plenty to South Vietnam had learned to repent in leisure, and through great sorrow and tragedy, for what they had wrongly assumed in haste. 36 Diem’s memory is kept alive, unto this day, by devout Vietnamese Roman Catholics and all those who know the truth of what transpired in Vietnam, now half a century ago.

Antiwar Activists and Historians: Selected Quotes

Adopted from Roger Canfield’s Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy—America.

SAM ANSON

24-year-old Robert Sam Anson, a Time Magazine reporter who arrived in Vietnam in early 1970 was an experienced war protester who already believed the war was colonial, immoral, illegal and unwinnable.1

Upon release by North Vietnamese Anson said, “They weren’t…my enemy. I never considered the people of Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos to be my enemy. I believed in peace…and so they treated me like a friend. …We really got to be brothers.” Press conference after a recording over Radio Hanoi.2

FRED BRANFMAN

Fred Branfman head of Project Air War, along with Howard Zinn and Tom Hayden, visited Hanoi. On November 12, 1972 he “We hope the war will end soon…if the war continues we hope you will grow up and become valiant combatants and will be able to down U.S. planes.”3 He authored “Air War the New Totalitarians.”4

Branfman later said, “I was naïve and wrong in my belief that [the Communists] would usher in a better world. Communism is obviously no better than capitalism. But I certainly have no regrets that I tried to stop the bombing.”5

RENNIE DAVIS

Rennie Davis, planner of the disruption of democratic convention6, said, “Chicago was really conceived coming out of Vietnam.” The Davis and Tom Hayden plan of March 23, 1968 described, “imperialistic role of the United States in the world.” Anti-War Union, a Rennie Davis organization,7 met the North Vietnamese in Paris where “The Vietnamese…stated they would be interested in having any information…concerning development of new weapons by the US…. Such information would be especially helpful…before such weapons were used on the battlefield.”8

RON DELLUMS

Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley) authored a joint resolution on the “terrible realities of war atrocities as an integral component of our illegal, insane and immoral adventurism in Southeast Asia.”9 On October 18, 1971, Radio Hanoi lauded Dellums and others for protests “condemning the Vietnam war as immoral.”10

BERNARDINE DOHRN

“We understood the reason the Vietnamese called the meeting was to get us moving against the war again. The Viet Cong was giving us a kick in the ass….” Bernardine Dohrn appreciated Ba’s advice, “look for the one who fights hardest against the cops.” Now the “only way we’re going to build a fighting force is if we become one ourselves.”11 Havana 1969

At Kent State on April 28, 1969, Dohrn told Kent students to arm for revolution.12

The August 23, 1969 issue of New Left Notes, Dohrn, Ayers and others wrote, their National Action is “a movement that allies with and proposed material aid to the people of Vietnam. …Its primary task the establishment of another front in the international class war –not only to defeat the imperialists in Vietnam but to BRING THE WAR HOME! 13

Travels with Bernardine. In 1967 Bernardine Dohrn14 attended a celebration in Moscow of the fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.15 In August 1968 Bernardine Dohrn attended a conference on “Anti-Imperialists and Anti-Capitalist Struggle” in communist Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, well attended by proclaimed communist members of SDS including. In 1969 in Cuba Vietnamese given her a ring of comradeship made from the debris of an American aircraft. 16 In March 1969 in Austin, Texas Dohrn and Bergman “star-chambered” Carl Oglesby for rejecting Marxist-Leninism and cavorting with the neo-imperialist camp. 17 In Budapest she talks with five NLF members. Two NLF told her they worked with American GIs in Saigon—“attempting to obtain information.” Military intelligence. Vernon Grizzard said, “North Vietnamese give no directions… but were pleased and interested in ‘our’ plans.”18 A German SDS conference Dohrn and comrades were demonstrating international solidarity not only on Vietnam, but also anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism.19

Bernardine Dohrn Notes of July 13-15, 1969 outline Viet Cong concerns about GI’s, their motivation, morale and involvement in antiwar movement and the objective of “work w/GIs” to “weaken the enemy.” (U.S. forces).20 U.S. troops were not very good: they were “not trained for close-in fighting,” and “140,000 U.S. troops (were) wiped out.”

At a Flint Michigan “War Conference” about the Charles “Manson family” who butchered the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, her unborn child and her houseguests, Dohrn said, “Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach. Wild.”21 Mark Rudd who was there says a four-finger fork salute became a Weather trademark.22 At a secret leadership meeting in Flint, “Part of armed struggle, as Dohrn and others laid it down, is terrorism. Political assassination… and… violence…were put forward as legitimate forms of armed struggle.”23

Larry Grathwohl testified before the Senate that Bill Ayers said Dohrn had to “plan, develop and carryout the bombing of the police station in San Francisco (all by herself) and he [Ayers] specifically named her as the person committing the act.” Matthew Landy Steen and Karen Latimer attended two meetings in which the bombing of the Park Station was planned. Dohrn was the ringleader. Howard Machtinger was the bomb builder. Latimer had herself cased the police station and handled the bomb,24

DANIEL ELLSBERG

“We weren’t on the wrong side. We are the wrong side.”25

RICHARD FALK
Adopting the Hanoi view Richard Falk said, “We urge…the end of combat operations by a date certain prior to June 1, 1972… [There is] no other way to secure prisoner release.”26 Ending US air and naval power and stopping all aid to Saigon.27 Later he would say the victims of 9 11 got what they deserved.

Falk defended Karleton Armstrong, who bombed the Army Mathematics Research Center, University of Wisconsin, killing a researcher and injuring four. The New York Times reported that Falk “appealed for full amnesty for all resistors, including those who use violent tactics to oppose the war in Vietnam.” Falk “cited the Nuremberg Trials as precedent …to actively oppose the war by any means.

Falk said “free fire” zones, authorized pilots and soldiers to kill whatever moved, even farm animals and most of the victims of illegal methods being on the Vietnamese side. “I remember listening in my living room… to tear-filled stories told by returning GIs about their role … involve[ing] the deliberate killing of Vietnamese peasant women and children. … [R]ecognition of the criminality of the war policies in Vietnam cannot bring the victims back to life.” Falk cited “journalistic accounts of crimes associated with US military…28

JANE FONDA—one quote out of hundreds.

We have a common enemy—U.S. imperialism. JANE FONDA, July 1972

TODD GITLEN

Todd Gitlin revised a “Freedom Song,” “And before I’ll be fenced in, I’ll vote for Ho Chi Minh, or go back to the North and be free.”29

Todd Gitlin, whose wife Nanci Gitlin was with the North Vietnamese and the WSP in Indonesia in July 1965, proposed an SDS sponsored trip to North Vietnam: “”The proposal is to send a mission … to North Vietnam to help rebuild a hospital or school destroyed by American bombing…and to serve as American hostages against further bombing in their vicinity.”30

TOM HARKIN

After a 30 minute visit Tom Harkin described S. Vietnam’s “tiger cages,”, “They were never let out, the food was minimal …little water. … forced to drink their own urine. Most…could not stand up, their legs having been paralyzed by beatings and by being shackled to a bar. …There were buckets of lime dust …above the cages… [to] throw down on the prisoners when they beg for food and water.”31

Tom Harkin, claiming falsely, to having been a combat fighter pilot in Vietnam, was elected to Congress (1974) and the US Senate (1984). 32 Senator Tom Harkin, visiting Vietnam in July 1995, claimed the communist regime was “not allowing freedoms it should, But it [is] better than the ousted South Vietnamese regime.”33

JEFF JONES

After the 1969 SDS convention Weathermen—Mark Rudd, Jeff Jones, and Bill Ayers—sent a letter to Mao’s sycophant Anna Louise Strong.34 “Our…convention… was highly honored to hear greetings from our best-loved revolutionary writer and champion of People’s China and the thought of Mao Tse Tung. …Long life to comrade Mao Tse Tung….”35

“In August 1969 (Cuban UN) mission intelligence personnel…counseled Mark Rudd and Jeff Jones of SDS concerning slogans to be used in demonstrations planned that fall.”36

Clark Kissinger

Clark Kissinger, SDS leader, now active in the Revolutionary Communist Party USA:

“I think that the largest single failing that we made during that whole period of time was not sending a contingent to North Vietnam to fight on the North Vietnamese side. For example, to man antiaircraft gun emplacements around Hanoi. …I felt it was significantly important for the movement to take on a more treasonous edge.37

Larry Levin

On June 5, 1971, Larry Levin, Tom Hayden and others attended the Soviet funded, CP-USSR and KGB, Stockholm Conference on Vietnam.38

In Washington, Larry Levin, was Hayden-Fonda’s Indochina Peace Campaign full time lobbyist, using an office of Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA) where they lectured 60 House staff on “American Imperialism”

Visiting Hanoi Larry Levin, staff director of the U.S. Coalition to Stop Funding the War, interviewed Paris negotiator Xuan Thuy 14 days before the fall of Saigon, broadcast on April 16, 1975. Observing thousands of South Vietnamese choosing to flee their homeland, Thuy condemns “the forcible evacuation… (the U.S. Government) …refers to as rescue of ‘evacuees.’ This is a mere U.S. hoax aimed at upsetting world public opinion and providing itself with a pretext to intervene in Vietnam.”39

DON LUCE

The Viet Cong’s official South Vietnam in Struggle, published letters of Don Luce and women prisoners 40 claiming “The women were stripped naked, transported naked, and loaded on the planes naked.” It hadn’t happened, but Don Luce believed what the Viet Cong women told him and no one else.41

Led efforts to propagandize “torturous [and brutal] conditions in the Tiger cages” at Con Son, South Vietnam. He interviewed and translated the stories of Viet Cong prisoners making claims of being doused with lime and urine, beaten and shackled, denied food and water; fed rice with sand, live lizards and beetles, and suffered paralysis from cramped quarters.42 During 1972-4 Luce’s Mobile Education Project43 toured the U.S. with mock prisoners shackled in cramped mock, bamboo, tiger cages, which in fact only existed in Vietnam as VC cells for American POWs, not at Con Son.

Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter used word for word English translations44 of North Vietnamese propaganda tracts.45 He dismissed Hanoi’s slaughter of no less than 50,000 or more during their 1954 “land reforms” as a myth.46 The slaughter at Hue of perhaps 5,800 during Tet 1968 was a fabrication.47 Gareth Porter and Edward Herman wrote, “And there is no evidence in documents, graves, or from individual witnesses which suggests any large and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians by the NLF at Hue.”48 Also a myth was Pol Pot’s “killing fields” genocide in Cambodia.49 In several articles and his 1976 book Cambodia. Starvation and Revolution, Porter denied the Khmer Rouge holocaust.50

In 1975 Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi, Cora Weiss, Gareth Porter opposing the evacuation of people and evacuating orphans from South Vietnam.”51 in Vietnamese 1000 GMT 9 Apr 75, SG, IV. 10Apr 75 L 13, South Vietnam.]

Gareth Porter denounced peace activist Joan Baez’s Appeal to expose oppression after the fall. Baez aimed to “impugn the good faith” of the Vietnamese. Hard core Hanoi defenders signed a “A Time For Healing and Compassion,” in the New York Times praising “the present government of Vietnam…for its moderation and its extraordinary efforts to achieve reconciliation among its many signators were Richard A. Falk, Don Luce, Cora Weiss, Friendshipment.52 Porter “spent days campaigning against the [Baez] letter. He spent literally hours on the phone haranguing Daniel Ellsberg…” 53

Barry Romo

Barry Romo, long-time leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, VVAW said that in Vietnam prisoners were tossed out of helicopters, pregnant women kicked in the gut. “The military is constructed to…instruct individual soldiers to conduct…(abuse and torture of …prisoners).”54 Barry Romo, claimed at a “Winter Soldier” conference that the racist military dehumanized the enemy and made it easy and normal to kill civilians.55

While in Hanoi VVAW’s Barry Romo claimed the “Christmas” bombing in 1972 was never to destroy military targets, but to terrorize and demoralize the Vietnamese people. Bombs falling on nonmilitary targets were not errors. The same homes and shops were hit several times.56

Mark Rudd

Mark Rudd remembers a February 6, 1968, Cuba paid57 and Soviet KGB subsidized58 visit of some 22 SDS members to Havana, “to talk with …the National Liberation Front…” The group received “souvenir rings made of extremely lightweight titanium. The number 2017 was stamped inside to indicate that each ring had been made from debris from the 2017th American plane shot down in Vietnam. I wore mine proudly for years afterwards.”59 Rudd says, “I passionately wanted to be a revolutionary like Che, no matter what the costs. …Our goal was…ending the capitalist system that caused the war.” Mark Rudd bragged to his Havana comrade Huynh Van Ba that New Left Notes of August 29, 1969 declared “Vietnam has Won.”

During the Columbia University protest led by Mark Rudd, tThe Viet Cong flew over the Math building at Broadway and 117th Street from on April 23-30, 1968.60

In 1969 Weathermen—Mark Rudd, Jeff Jones, and Bill Ayers– sent a letter to Mao’s sycophant Anna Louise Strong.61 “Our…convention… was highly honored to hear greetings from our best-loved revolutionary writer and champion of People’s China and the thought of Mao Tse Tung. …Long life to comrade Mao Tse Tung….”62

MORLEY SAFER

About the burning of Cam Ne, a fortified and bunkered Vietcong63 village, Morley Safer wrote,

“conjured up not America, but some brutal power — Germany. …To see young G.I.s, big guys in flak jackets, lighting up thatched roofs, and women holding babies running away, wailing… . Soldiers aren’t innocent….It was so shocking…it’s not how we do things…seen to be doing it. …There was a realization…that the rules had changed,” Morley Safer.64

Robert Scheer

In 1965 Robert Scheer claimed the Viet Cong were patriotic nationalists free of Hanoi and that Catholics, spies and hawks had dragged the U.S. into a civil war65 and that Diem was a puppet of Americans rather than a genuine Vietnamese nationalist and patriot.

In a 1966 Radio Hanoi broadcast Robert Scheer said the Vietnam War was untenable, violates “all the norms and decent values of this society.”66 Duncan, [Robert] Scheer,” Hanoi in English to American Servicemen in South Vietnam 1300 GMT 26 February 1966—S.]

An August 8, 1970 article of The Black Panther has a Scheer statement,

Since the peoples of the world have a common enemy, we must begin to think of revolution as an international struggle against U.S. imperialism. …Understanding the [North] Korean people’s struggle and communicating this to the American movement is a crucial step in developing this internationalist perspective.”67

Robert Scheer made a broadcast on Radio Hanoi on September 5, 1970.68 Robert Scheer said, “The US government is a criminal government that got those pilots [to] perform the highest war crimes…”

Pham Van Dong, General Giap69 received Robert Scheer quite well: “Our delegation moved …met openly with the peoples governments and were received as comrades-in-arms. We are fellow combatant against US imperialism.”

September 16, 1970 FBI agents watched Customs inspect literature and films mostly from North Korea written by Kim IL Sung and V.I. Lenin. Robert Scheer later sang the praises of the thoughts of North Korea’s Kim IL Sung in Tom Hayden’s Red Family commune at Berkeley and at Ramparts magazine.70

NEIL SHEEHAN

Sheehan’s Bright Shining Lie accepted Ho Chi Minh’s murders of Vietnamese nationalists as a necessity, called Hanoi’s butchery of 50,000 in 1956 “an unfortunate mistake” performed by Ho’s renegade underlings, dismissed the communist massacre at as a “stupid mistake” and a public relations problem. As late as July 2002 Sheehan told CSPAN that Hanoi’s “reeducation camps” were not so bad (no less than 10% died there) and, falsely, that Hanoi “didn’t shoot anyone.”71

“In some countries a Communist government may be the best government. …“Anticommunism [is] as destructive as Stalinism.”72 March 1969, NEIL SHEEHAN at First National Convocation on the Challenge of Building Peace. Neil Sheehan said that North Vietnam was a “modern dynamic society” and South Vietnam was a “dying post-feudal order.”73

After the exposure of Pham Xuan An, Hanoi’s master spy, Neil Sheehan remained a gushing fan: “My friend, who served the cause of journalism and the cause of his country with honor and distinction—fondest regards.”74 In late 1974 Neil Sheehan would tell his audience at the Army War College “The idea of fairness and objectivity is specious.”75

Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone’s error laden film “Born on the 4th of July” in 1988 portrayed Ron Kovic attacked and thrown from his wheel chair by Republicans, which he was not. Films such as Oliver Stone’s Apocalypse Now or Platoon, showing barbarous soldiers largely formed early public opinion about the Vietnam War and all its participants.

I will come out with my interpretation. If I’m wrong, fine. It will become part of the debris of history, part of the give and take.76

Cathy Wilkerson

In Hanoi Cathy Wilkerson, SDS Weather, remembers,” I absorbed the optimistic Vietnamese belief that most people deep down did not want to live by aggression and manipulation… They could …reject leadership based on brutality.” She believed Ho Chi Minh taught his people to resist “the corrosive powers of hatred and revenge.”77

DAGMAR WILSON

Dagmar Wilson, on a tour of North Vietnam for Women’s Strike for Peace, said, “We knew the Vietnamese were going to win.”78

Dagmar Wilson, Women Strike for Peace, was a member of “The Wilfred Burchett 60th Birthday Committee,”79 Burchett was a Soviet agent. Dagmar Wilson, said, “the Russians want to disarm.… They won’t have… vested interests profiting from the arms race.” After a flyover, Wilson said, “Vietnamese presence in Cambodia left no military or political marks in Cambodia.”80

Wilson described antiwar activity in the U.S. as a ‘Second front’ in …Vietnam’s fight against ‘American aggression.’…’The Vietnamese are resisting violence on their side and we resist in our way here. …We are a second front in the same war. We need each other’s support. 81

JON VOIGHT

The communists were behind organizing all of these rallies and things. … We didn’t want to believe in evil so we just hid from it.82

MARILYN YOUNG

“[T]he Vietminh acted to alleviate the famine then raging in the North by opening local granaries and distributing rice.” Marilyn Young26

The Sixties…centrally about the recognition, on the part of an ever growing number of Americans, that the country in which they thought they lived – peaceful, generous, honourable, just – did not exist and never had. The emergence of a more nuanced history of the US as opposed to the patriotic meta-narrative taught in grade school…83

Marilyn B. Young, member of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars and a well-read orthodox historian of the war developed a more nuanced rationalization of the Hue massacre. “A]ll the accounts agree that NLF rather than North Vietnamese units were responsible for the executions (in Hue),” 84

The central mechanism of US policy in the 1940s, as today, the pivot around which all the rest rotates, is the conviction that the particular national interests of the United States are identical with the transcendent, universal interests of humanity. The increasingly evident falsehood of this claim produces what Che Guevara once hoped for, “two, three, many Vietnams.” Thank you. Marilyn Young.

“There was no conceivable justification for the horrors daily inflicted on and suffered in Vietnam.”85

WINNING THE BATTLES AND LOSING THE WAR

James D. McLeroy

After the 1954 partition of Vietnam into a Communist north and an anti-Communist south, approximately 100,000 South Vietnamese Communists moved north to the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV). About 80,000 of them were Viet Minh veterans of the First Indochina War against the French, and an estimated 10,000 of those were Montagnards. Between 5,000 and 10,000 other Communist Viet Minh combat veterans were ordered to remain in remote areas of the Republic of Viet Nam (South Vietnam), carefully bury their weapons and radios, and wait quietly for future orders from the DRV.

Many of the South Vietnamese “regroupees” in the DRV became regular soldiers in the 338th NVA Division stationed at Xuan Mai near Hanoi. Some 4,500 other regroupees were trained to infiltrate South Vietnam as covert military and political cadre. Their mission was to organize Communist Viet Minh veterans in guerrilla platoons and companies. Other regroupees were trained as agitation-propaganda (agitprop) teams. Their mission was to recruit disaffected South Vietnamese civilians, indoctrinate them in Leninist ideology, and organize them in covert intelligence and logistical networks to support the guerrilla forces.

In 1957, the Communist Viet Minh veterans who remained in South Vietnam were ordered to initiate a terror campaign in rural areas to destabilize the local governments and organize shadow Communist governments. They did so by intimidating, kidnapping, torturing, and assassinating thousands of village leaders, influential individuals, and their families. The South Vietnamese government called the South Vietnamese Communists Viet Cong (VC).

When NVA Transportation Group 559 began work on the Ho Chi Minh Trail network in May, 1957, 12,000 NVA troops were already in Laos to shield and protect them. The first stage of the Trail was completed in October, 1959, and by the end of 1960, some 3,500 NVA regroupee troops had infiltrated South Vietnam. In May, 1961 500 senior and mid-level NVA regroupee officers left for South Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The next month, 400 NVA regroupee officers and sergeants followed them.

After all the regroupees had been sent to South Vietnam, regular NVA troops began to infiltrate in increasingly large increments. Continued infiltration of regular NVA troops enabled the Viet Cong forces to transition from the first stage of their three-stage Maoist strategy, terrorism and guerrilla warfare, to the second stage, mobile, semi-conventional warfare.

In early 1961, the Politburo planned its military strategy in South Vietnam for the next five years. Company-size VC forces were to be organized at the district level, battalion-size VC forces at the province level, and regimental-size VC forces at the regional level. The new VC regiments were eventually to evolve into between three and five full-time VC divisions.

By October of 1961, the covert NVA cadre had organized two new VC battalions. By the end of 1963, more than 40,000 NVA troops, including 2,000 senior and mid-level officers and technical personnel, had infiltrated South Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh Trail network. Their mission was to augment the VC platoons and companies, train them, and develop them into new battalions and regiments. An additional 30,000 troops were recruited, trained, and organized in five new VC regiments. By the end of 1964, half of the 70,000 troops in the main-force VC units were regular NVA soldiers, and eighty percent of their leaders were NVA officers and technicians.

In September, 1965 the 9th VC Division was formed. Later that year two more VC regiments were organized, and in 1966 a third VC regiment joined them to form the 5th VC Division. In 1966, two regular NVA regiments arrived from the DRV, and a third regular NVA regiment arrived in 1967 to form the 7th VC Division. Those soldiers were not VC guerrillas; they were regular NVA troops from North Vietnam, who were VC in name only.

In early 1967, the five men in the Politburo’s Subcommittee for Military Affairs (SMA) faced two critical situations. First, the semi-conventional VC forces that had been fighting the U.S. forces since late 1965 were losing the war of attrition. Westmoreland’s big-unit, “search and destroy” campaigns, although clumsy and inefficient, were relentlessly attacking the main VC combat forces and pursuing them into their formerly safe base areas in the RVN. His aggressive tactics combined with superior firepower, manpower, and mobility were depleting the VC forces and exhausting the survivors, who were constantly forced to evade the conventional U.S. forces.

From January to June, 1967, VC-NVA losses from all causes exceeded 15,000 men per month. NVA infiltration was about 7,000 men per month, and VC recruitment was about 3,500 men per month. More VC combat forces were being lost than could be replaced by NVA infiltrators or VC recruits. The depleted VC ranks were being replaced with inexperienced and increasingly younger NVA troops from the DRV. As the age of the troops decreased, their combat quality also decreased. By 1967, the attrition “crossover point” had been reached: more NVA troops were being killed in the RVN than male children were being born in the DRV.

Second, the U.S. bombing campaign in North Vietnam, although arbitrarily limited and often interrupted, was severely degrading the DRV’s basic economic infrastructure and threatening to destroy what was left of it. The DRV economy had been reduced to little more than a conduit for Soviet and Chinese war supplies. Farm workers had to be used to repair the constant bomb damage, which led to widespread food shortages, rationing, and malnutrition.

The key men of the SMA led by Le Duan, the First Secretary of the ruling Lao Dong [workers] Party, knew that an unrestricted escalation of the U.S. air campaign would be disastrous both for the DRV’s remaining economic infrastructure and for the ability to support their forces in the RVN. They also knew that a major invasion of Laos to permanently interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail network and destroy the VC and NVA sanctuary bases there would be equally catastrophic for their VC and NVA forces in South Vietnam. They feared that unless they could reverse those two trends, they might lose the war in the south and the north.

Dissension arose in the Politburo between two factions over their future grand strategy for winning the war. From 1959 to 1964, it had been Mao Tse-tung’s three-stage, protracted attrition model. In 1964, Le Duan attempted a rapid transition from the second, mobile stage of the model to the third, positional stage. The second stage was short attacks on vulnerable targets and rapid withdrawals by semi-conventional VC battalions. The third and final stage was sustained attacks on the main enemy forces by conventional VC/NVA regiments and divisions to seize and hold key terrain.

Le Duan’s 1964 strategy was to rapidly conquer the RVN before the inevitable arrival of large U.S. conventional forces. He began by invading the Central Highlands in 1965 with three elite NVA regiments. They were to advance to the coast and be followed by several NVA divisions. The combined force would then move south and capture Saigon, the RVN capital. In the Ia Drang Valley battle in November, 1965 Le Duan learned that his attempted transition to positional warfare was premature. Two of the three NVA regiments were defeated by a reinforced battalion of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) with the aid of artillery and close air support. In 1966, the NVA were forced to revert to the mobile warfare stage.

In 1967, Le Duan attempted again to transition from mobile to positional warfare by replacing the Maoist attrition model with an adaptation of the Leninist coup de main model. The latter required a nationwide, civilian insurrection combined with the rapid seizure of strategic urban targets. Le Duan thought that with his new strategy he could conquer the RVN quickly without having to wait for U.S. forces to be withdrawn and without having to defeat the RVN Army.

He believed that by coordinating all the VC forces in the RVN in one General Offensive he could incite a spontaneous, nationwide General Insurrection of rural and urban civilians. According to his Leninist ideology, the “revolutionary masses” would then join the victorious VC forces to overthrow the “imperialist puppet” RVN government. He called it the August, 1945 Strategy, assuming that it would be as successful as Ho Chi Minh’s rapid and virtually unopposed seizure of power in Hanoi in August, 1945.

Le Duan evidently did not compare the military context of Ho Chi Minh’s 1945 success with the military context of his new strategy. If he had, he would have seen that no significant points of comparison existed. Giap and his Politburo supporters, including Ho Chi Minh, recognized the fallacy in the new strategy and opposed it as militarily unrealistic and potentially disastrous.  Giap agreed that they needed a decisive victory in a large battle soon, but he disagreed that widely dispersed VC forces could defeat the combined firepower of the U.S. and ARVN forces in simultaneous assaults against the most heavily defended urban targets. He advocated delaying the transition to the positional warfare stage, until U.S. political will to continue the war was clearly exhausted. Despite increasing VC losses, he wanted to continue in the mobile warfare stage by conservatively attacking only vulnerable enemy units and avoiding large battles that risked more major losses.

Le Duan, ignoring Giap’s advice as Defense Minister, marginalized him in the Politburo and gave the command of the 1968 General Offensive/General Insurrection campaign to Van Tien Dung. Giap then temporarily exiled himself in Hungary for unspecified “health reasons”, and Ho Chi Minh, also marginalized in the Politburo for his support of Giap’s opposition to Le Duan’s new strategy, temporarily exiled himself in China for medical treatment.

The culmination of Le Duan’s 1964 strategy was intended to be a decisive victory over large U.S. forces in a set-piece battle comparable to the decisive 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu. That iconic battle was officially portrayed as the glorious triumph of the heroic revolutionary masses, but Giap’s name was prominently associated with it. Le Duan was jealous of Giap’s popularity and wanted to win a strategically decisive battle against U.S. forces with no connection to Giap.

He apparently chose the U.S. Marine base at Khe Sanh as the target. Lacking technical military knowledge, he did not understand that he could never match Giap’s victory over the French forces at Dien Bien Phu with a comparable victory over the U.S. forces at Khe Sanh for technical reasons beyond his control.

Westmoreland confidently welcomed a multi-divisional NVA attack in a remote area with no possibility of collateral damage to civilians from U.S. firepower. He knew that Khe Sanh’s all-weather, twenty-four hour, radar-controlled air defense system; its secure, external artillery support; and its acoustic, seismic, and infrared sensor system could detect and destroy any size and number of NVA ground attacks under any conditions.

The NVA isolated Khe Sanh by land, bombarded it with long-range artillery, dug deep trenches near its perimeter, and repeatedly attacked the surrounding high ground. As Westmoreland predicted, the same WW I tactics that were successful against the French at Dien Phu in 1954 failed against the U.S. forces at Khe Sanh in 1968. In more than two months of futile attempts to capture the base, the NVA lost an estimated ten thousand or more of their best troops in repeated avalanches of U.S. bombs and artillery shells.

Despite those losses, at the end of January, 1968 Le Duan launched his nationwide General Offensive/General Insurrection campaign. Some 84,000 VC troops simultaneously attacked five of the six major RVN cities, thirty-six of the forty-four provincial capitals, and sixty-four of the 245 district capitals. In doing so, they lost an estimated 58,000 VC troops and failed to achieve any of their main objectives. Some VC troops held out for over three weeks in Hue and parts of Saigon and Cholon, but most of them were eventually killed.

Not surprisingly, there was no General Insurrection of South Vietnamese civilians. The mass atrocities of the defeated VC forces in Hue and other towns alienated even most formerly passive VC sympathizers.   For the first time in the war, feelings of national patriotism and urban hostility toward the VC began to develop.

Le Duan’s shock at the disastrous failure of his new strategy in Tet 1968 was likely equaled by his astonishment at its portrayal by the U.S. media as the failure of Westmoreland’s attrition strategy and by implication the failure of President Johnson’s war in Vietnam. The five men in the SMA must have known that the Khe Sanh and Tet battles actually validated Westmoreland’s mass attrition strategy beyond his own most optimistic expectations.

The U.S. media’s radically misleading reporting of those battles, their failure to report the huge tactical losses of the VC-NVA forces, and their discrediting or ignoring all the tactical successes of the U.S. and ARVN forces was a serendipitous gift to Le Duan. That strategic propaganda victory in America far outweighed all his 1968 tactical losses in South Vietnam.

Most of the U.S. media seemed to believe the simplistic cliché that if the “counterinsurgency” forces are not consistently and visibly winning a “guerrilla war”, they must be either losing it or hopelessly stalemated. That widespread fallacy was based on the misinformed impressions of a few militarily ignorant and politically hostile U.S. reporters in Saigon, whose pseudo-knowledge of the U.S. military’s performance in the war was partly based on the constant gossip and rumors of the other militarily ignorant and politically hostile reporters in Saigon.

Their pseudo-knowledge of the war was pseudo-validated by a deep-cover disinformation agent in the Saigon bureau of Time magazine. He enjoyed unquestioned credibility with all the U.S. reporters, but was later revealed as a North Vietnamese spy and general in the intelligence service of the DRV. The reporters’ superficial impressions were further pseudo-validated by their occasional glimpses of combat in their brief visits to deployed U.S. troop units to film background scenes to legitimize their staged war reporting.

Most of their Liberal U.S. editors were prejudiced against the RVN’s authoritarian regime. They resisted acknowledging the facts that the DRV and the RVN were two independent nations, not one nation with two names, and the RVN was diplomatically recognized as such by more than sixty nations. They also resisted acknowledging the obvious facts that a war between two sovereign nations is not a civil war, and an invasion of one sovereign nation by another sovereign nation is not an insurgency.

Their Liberal news editors were not pro-Communist, but they tended to be viscerally anti-anti-Communist. Most of them ignored the fact, reported by a few objective journalists in Vietnam, that in the 1968 Tet battles the VC used semi-conventional tactics, not guerrilla tactics. Most of them also ignored the fact that U.S. and ARVN forces won all those battles with conventional tactics, not counterinsurgency tactics. Most of them refused to believe that the U.S. and ARVN forces had annihilated most of the main VC combat forces, and that the relatively few surviving VC combat forces were no longer an existential threat to the Republic of Vietnam.

In 1968, most Americans got their news in capsule form from television. There were only three national television networks, and most TV news editors were more entertainment managers than journalists. Their minimized or ignored the critical fact that the defeated VC forces were constantly being replaced by regular NVA units in an increasingly overt invasion from the DRV.

Their consistently negative visual messages about the war in 1968 produced the popular belief in America that as long as the “VC guerrillas” could still fight big battles, the U.S. forces must be losing the “counterinsurgency” war in Vietnam.

The tragic irony of the failure of the NVA’s Dien Bien Phu strategy at Khe Sanh and the failure of the VC’s General Offensive/General Insurrection strategy everywhere else in the RVN is that both of those moribund strategies were inadvertently resuscitated by the U.S. media. That unexpected result evidently convinced Le Duan that a second series of such battles in May would again be reported by the media as U.S. strategic defeats, regardless of all the NVA’s tactical losses, merely because they were fought.

The second series of nationwide battles in 1968 was called “Mini-Tet.” The results were again the same in South Vietnam and America: tactical victories but strategic defeat for the US forces; tactical defeat but strategic victory for the NVA forces. Despite the military defeat of both the VC and the NVA forces in the Republic of Viet Nam, that is how the American Phase of the Second Indochina War finally ended five years later.

 

The Ho Chi Minh Trail

By James D. McLeroy

The first step in the North Vietnamese Politburo’s grand strategy for the conquest of South Vietnam was its May, 1959 order to the Ministry of Defense to begin construction of the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route, later known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Ministry of Defense gave the task to its Rear Services Directorate, which assigned it to the 559th Transportation Group. The Group was designated 559 for the date of its creation in the fifth month of 1959.

The complex transportation network built with enormous difficulty through the jungles and mountains of eastern Laos and Cambodia was one of the greatest feats of military engineering of the 20th Century. Aided by Russian and Chinese advisors, NVA engineers began to improve, expand, and lengthen animal trails, Montagnard paths, and stream beds through the Truong Son range.

River fords were hidden by underwater bridges. Roads and paths were wound around trees to enhance their concealment from the air. Open areas in the jungle canopy were camouflaged by interlacing tree tops or connecting them with trellises interwoven with living plants and vines.  The result was an interconnected, 12,000-mile network of roads, paths, bridges, bypasses, tunnels, caves, and pipelines.

Its widest east-west axis was about thirty miles, and its north-south axis from North Vietnam to the South Vietnamese delta was approximately 3,500 miles. It was vital for the supply of war material and replacement troops to the Communist Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces in South Vietnam. Because of its strategic importance the NVA eventually made eastern Laos and Cambodia virtual extensions of North Vietnam.

After traversing three mountain passes from North Vietnam into Laos, the Trail was divided into eleven regions, five large base areas, five main roads, twenty-nine branch roads, and numerous, frequently changed shortcuts and bypasses. In addition to sanctuary bases for VC and NVA troop units recovering from or preparing for combat in South Vietnam, fifteen large logistics headquarters called binh trams were spaced along the Trail.

They were commanded by NVA colonels with up to 2,000 troops in transportation, antiaircraft, engineer, logistics, and infantry battalions. Both men and women served as route guides, cooks, nurses, porters, mechanics, maintenance, and construction workers. Antiaircraft and infantry battalions guarded their sector of the trail and the roads from it into South Vietnam.

Crude bivouac facilities called “communication liaison stations” were spaced about one day’s march between the binh trams to provide basic food, shelter, medical aid, and route guides for transient NVA troops. The route guides only knew the sections of the Trail half way to the next bivouac stations north and south of their own.

They met the route guide escorting NVA troops from the station north of theirs at a point half way to that station and took them to their own station for the night. The next day they took the transient troops halfway to the next station south of theirs, where they were met by a route guide from that station. U.S. intelligence analysts identified base areas as places where large numbers of NVA troops could always be found. The first headquarters of the 559th Transportation Division was in Vinh, North Vietnam, and its main logistics center was at Base Area (BA) 604 near Tchepone, Laos.

Troops and supplies from North Vietnam were unloaded at BA 604 and divided for distribution to base areas farther south. BA 604 sent most of its troops and supplies to BA 611, where they were further distributed among the base stations south of it. BA 614 east of Chevane, Laos sent its allocations into South Vietnam on an extension of Road 165 from Chevane to QL 14.

In October, 1968, a second Trail headquarters was established in southern Laos near the junction of Roads 92 and 922 (see map). It controlled an entire infantry division, three antiaircraft regiments, two engineering regiments, twenty-three antiaircraft battalions, thirty-five engineering battalions, eighteen transportation battalions, and two pipeline battalions.

Some 50,000 NVA troops guarded, maintained, and extended the Trail network. An estimated 10,000 NVA antiaircraft guns were hidden along the Trail, most of them around BA 604 near the junction of roads 9 and 92 east of Tchepone and BA 611 near the second Trail headquarters. The U.S. Air Force lost more planes at those two places than anywhere else in Laos.

An estimated 8,000 trucks traveled the Trail in relays from one truck to another. On heavily overcast and rainy days and nights, when there was less chance of air attacks, up to 100 trucks traveled in convoys with their lights on. Each truck traveled at an average speed of five to eight miles an hour, depending on road conditions.

First priority was given to trucks carrying artillery, tanks, and anti-aircraft missiles. Second priority was given to trucks carrying fuel, ammunition, and food. Third priority was given to trucks carrying troops urgently needed in South Vietnam. The drivers only traveled fifteen to twenty miles back and forth on one stretch of road. Like the trail guides, they only knew the routes half-way to the next way stations north and south of their own.

Driving back and forth on the same length of road every night and most overcast days, they learned every detail of that section of road and the terrain on each side of it. Eventually, they could drive some sections of the Trail fairly quickly even in the dark. Many trucks had radios to warn them of incoming air attacks and current road conditions.

Fuel and lubricants for up to twenty-five trucks were stored in camouflaged truck parks hidden about three miles off the main roads. At each station the cargo of each truck was unloaded and transferred to another truck. Damaged or destroyed trucks were quickly replaced by others from the nearest station to the north. That station replaced those trucks with trucks from the next station to its north, and so all the way to Haiphong harbor in North Vietnam, where new trucks and new repair parts constantly arrived from the USSR.

NVA monitoring stations at intervals along the roads collected current data on road conditions in their area and the number of trucks passing through in each time period. The data was sent to traffic controllers on each section of the Trail, so that emergency route changes and repairs could be made as quickly as possible.

Most road repair work was done at night, and each binh tram had two or three bulldozers for that purpose. From 1959 to 1975, an estimated 300,000 Laotian men, women, and children were used as forced laborers to repair sections of the Trail and augment NVA food supplies with their small farms.

During daylight hours most transient NVA troops walked from one way station to another on trails at safe distances from the roads. The average infiltrating unit was a battalion moving at between one and three miles per hour, depending on the terrain. Preceded by route guides, they walked in platoon or company groups spaced about 100 yards apart. They did not fire at passing aircraft, but quickly moved off the trail and stood still or lay down. Several times a day they changed the foliage on their camouflage to match the foliage they were passing through.

In 1964, the first regular NVA regiment entered South Vietnam via the Trail, and in 1966 the first regular NVA division arrived the same way. The CIA estimated that between 1966 and 1971 the NVA sent more than 630,000 troops, 400,000 weapons, 50,000 tons of ammunition, and 100,000 tons of food into South Vietnam on the Trail. In 1968 the NVA needed to send 8,000 troops and 100 tons of ammunition and weapons to South Vietnam every month to replace their huge losses in the nationwide battles that year.

Every year more and younger draftees from North Vietnam and more and newer military supplies from the USSR and China were sent down the Trail to South Vietnam. Regardless of how often and heavily the Trail was bombed, and regardless of the human cost of constantly repairing it, the NVA continued relentlessly to do so year after year.

An estimated twenty percent of the infiltrating NVA troops died on the Trail, but only about two percent of those deaths were caused by U.S. air attacks. Ninety-eight percent of NVA deaths on the Trail were from illness, accidents, malnutrition, exhaustion, or exposure.

Seventy-nine large military cemeteries, including one covering forty acres with more than 10,000 sets of remains, were located along the Trail. They are grim evidence of the enormous human cost to the NVA of building, maintaining, extending, and defending the Trail network from its beginning in 1959 to the NVA’s conquest of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

How to Lose A War: The Press and Viet Nam

By Robert Elegant
Reprinted from Encounter (London), vol. LVII, No. 2, August 1981, pp. 73-90
Republished with permission from the author

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

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

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

The Brotherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cloud of Unknowing

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

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

As one West German correspondent has confessed (Uwe Siemon-Netto in the International Herald Tribune, reprinted in Encounter, October 1979): “Having covered the Viet Nam war over a period of five years for West German publications, I am now haunted by the role we journalists have played over there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eye of the Beholder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Imaginary General

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Self-Deception

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reasons Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Naive Expectation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Crippling Ignorance

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

Not even the “old hands” were necessarily well qualified to cover the conflict—who could have been? Arthur Waley?—but, considering our divergent backgrounds and political convictions, the old hands’ general agreement about the nature of the war was remarkable. Most deplored the ineffectiveness and the corruption of successive South Vietnamese governments, but judged native (i.e., Southern) disaffection incapable of mounting an armed rebellion without direction, reinforcement, and weapons from the North. Most concurred with the thesis Robert Shaplen advanced in The Lost Revolution (1966), agreeing that ineffectual leadership had failed to foster latent nationalistic and reformist enthusiasm in the South, by default ceding those dynamic forces to the North. We did not deceive ourselves that the South enjoyed even marginally good government; but we believed that Northern rule would be much worse for the mass of the people.13 management. Recently the Government in Hanoi has admitted planning effort and introduced incentives for private enterprise in both industry and agriculture The collectivization of agriculture in the south has also been stopped. There it a rice surplus in the south but the Government appears unable to transport it to the north and those who need it in the south cannot afford to buy it….

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

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

] We knew that the North and the South, though not necessarily two separate countries, were distinct entities because of the strong regional feelings of the Vietnamese. Although most of us had opposed major U.S. involvement, we saw no way the United States could withdraw unilaterally.

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

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

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

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

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

The “Viet Nam Syndrome”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The North Vietnamese Army

By James D. McLeroy

At various times and places the Second Indochina War (1959 to 1975) displayed some of the characteristics of a South Vietnamese revolution, insurgency, guerrilla war, and civil war. Primarily, however, it was always an incremental invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese Army, at first indirect and covert, then direct and overt.

In 1945, Ho Chi Minh and his guerrilla forces quickly seized control of the North Vietnamese government in the power vacuum left by the surrender of the occupying Japanese army. Ho then proclaimed himself President of the new Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). After the 1949 victory of Mao Tse-tung’s army in the Chinese Civil War, Ho went to China to ask Mao for military aid. Ho’s irregular Viet Minh forces were then fighting the conventional French forces attempting to reclaim their former control of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia).

Mao gave the DRV not only weapons, but also military training, logistical support, technical troops, and secure bases in southern China. In 1951, General Vo Nguyen Giap, commander of the Viet Minh forces, went to China to arrange the assignment of a resident Chinese Military Assistance Group in the DRV. Without massive Chinese aid the Viet Minh forces could not have defeated the French forces and won the First Indochina War (1946-1954) at the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu.

In the Second Indochina War (1959-1975) against the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces the initial North Vietnamese strategy was again an adaptation of Mao Tse-tung’s three-stage, rural-based, protracted attrition model. The first stage was squad and platoon-size terrorism and guerrilla tactics. The second stage was company and battalion-size semi-conventional, mobile tactics. The third stage was regimental and division-size conventional, positional tactics.

In the Second Indochina War the NVA fought a strategically offensive, total war to conquer South Vietnam and achieve military hegemony in Laos and Cambodia. President Johnson’s refusal to allow Westmoreland to fight a strategically offensive war in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, where the NVA were fighting it, forced him to fight a strategically defensive war limited to South Vietnam.

Johnson always feared the entrance of China into the war (as in Korea). For that reason, he refused to approve a large-scale U.S. invasion of eastern Laos and Cambodia to destroy the NVA’s sanctuary bases and permanently block the Ho Chi Minh Trail network. For the same reason he also refused to approve a truly strategic, unrestricted, sustained air campaign to destroy the physical capability of North Vietnam to receive Soviet supplies.

Westmoreland knew that his defensive attrition “strategy” was only a grand tactic, but he had no alternative. He knew that pacification of South Vietnam would be impossible, as long as large VC and NVA troop units had protected sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia and unlimited Chinese and Soviet war supplies delivered through the Ho Chi Minh Trail network in Laos.

He knew that the only way he could seize and hold the strategic initiative was by invading Laos and Cambodia to destroy the NVA’s base areas and permanently block the Ho Chi Minh Trail network. Without unlimited logistic support from the USSR and a constant supply of troops from North Vietnam, the NVA would lack the physical capability to conquer South Vietnam, regardless of their indomitable will to do so.

In the long term it was politically futile to rely on an offensive operational strategy based on an attrition grand tactic limited to South Vietnam as a substitute for an offensive grand strategy to achieve a decisive victory in Indochina. The political futility of relying on an attrition grand tactic is irrelevant, however, to the factual question of the short-term effectiveness of the attrition tactic itself.

The fact that Westmoreland’s large-scale tactics were often operationally inefficient does not imply that they were also tactically ineffective. In all the large battles from 1965 to 1968 his use of combined-arms firepower to produce mass enemy attrition was, in fact, tactically effective, usually devastatingly so.

By the end of 1968, U.S. and ARVN conventional forces had effectively destroyed the VC main combat forces. In the first half of 1972, ARVN conventional forces, supported by U.S. airpower and augmented by regional and local civilian self-defense forces, decisively defeated the NVA’s second conventional invasion of South Vietnam. By the end of 1972, South Vietnamese and U.S. counterinsurgency forces had also eviscerated the VC civilian infrastructure.

Both the internal and the external war for the survival of the Republic of Vietnam had been temporarily won. After the NVA’s crushing defeat in 1972, the decisive destruction of their bases in Laos and the permanent blockage of the Ho Chi Minh Trail network would have made it impossible for the NVA to recover. An offensive grand strategy would have enabled both of those tactics.

Instead, the hard-earned conventional and counterinsurgency victories of the ARVN and U.S. forces were deliberately forfeited by the anti-war Democrat majority in both U.S. Houses of Congress. The ARVN, militarily depleted by the NVA invasion in 1972, were critically weakened by the radical 1973 Congressional reductions in U.S. military aid, including basic ammunition. They were then fatally crippled by the 1974 Congressional prohibition of all U.S. military activity in Southeast Asia, including U.S. air support of ARVN forces from bases in other countries.

In 1975, the modern, Soviet-equipped NVA forces invaded South Vietnam again in a mass, armored Blitzkrieg, exactly as North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. With no concern for U.S. air counterattacks, no need for any VC guerrilla fighters, and no attempt to win any “hearts and minds”, they quickly defeated the demoralized, inadequately equipped ARVN forces.

Two years after all U.S. forces had been withdrawn from South Vietnam, the NVA, not the Viet Cong, conquered South Vietnam with modern, conventional forces using conventional tactics and weapons, not with guerrilla forces using unconventional tactics and weapons. They had been planning to do so since 1959 and had unsuccessfully attempted to do so three times before (in 1965, 1968, and 1972). They finally won their American War strategically in America, as they always believed they eventually would, by political default, not tactically in South Vietnam by combat victories over U.S. forces.

As Ho Chi Minh predicted, they won it by resolutely daring to continue losing battles like Khe Sanh tactically at an unsustainable military cost longer than the irresolute U.S. Congress dared to continue winning such battles tactically at an unsustainable political cost. The paradoxical battle of Khe Sanh – a tactical success for the U.S. military in the short term, yet a strategic failure for the U.S. government in the long term — was the largest of many Pyrrhic victories in a tragic, seven-year failure of U.S. national leadership.

The DRV, neither democratic nor a republic, was a Stalinist police state controlled by Le Duan, First Secretary of the ruling Lao Dong Party and leader of its Political Bureau (Politburo). From 1960 until his death in 1986, he was the de facto commander and chief strategist of the DRV. By 1967, the DRV’s titular President, Ho Chi Minh, was merely an aged and ailing figurehead, whose only political power was the prestige of his name as the founding father of the DRV.

Le Duan was not a charismatic dictator. He was a Machiavellian manipulator, who ruled the DRV collectively through its multilayered committee system. The most important one was the five-man Subcommittee for Military Affairs (SMA) of the Central Military Party Commission. It was subordinate only to the Politburo led by Le Duan. The other members of the SMA were Le Duan’s long-time deputy, Le Duc Tho, and three North Vietnamese Army (NVA) generals with overlapping offices in the Ministry of Defense.

They were Vo Nguyen Giap, Minister of Defense and NVA Commander; Nguyen Chi Thanh, senior Political Commissar of the DRV’s Viet Cong (VC) forces in South Vietnam; and Van Tien Dung, Giap’s deputy and Le Duan’s protege. In 1967, Nguyen Chi Thanh died, and Le Duan replaced him with Le’s close friend, Pham Hung. Those six key men, dominated by the militant zeal of Le Duan, controlled the DRV’s grand strategy in its sixteen-year war to conquer the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and achieve military hegemony in Laos and Cambodia.