Examining the Myths of the Vietnam War

What Other Outcome was There?

Day Three -- Wednesday, July 28, 2004 First Session 0830-1015 (Click to see video) (Click here to see transcript) [Suggestion: you might want to listen to the Video while reading the transcript. To do this, open the Video which will take you toWindows Media Player and then minimize it and open the transcript.]

11. What other outcome was there?Why did America go to war in Vietnam, why did it end so tragically, and what were the human costs of our decision to abandon our allies?  How influential was the anti-war movement on the outcome?  Was a better outcome reasonably possible?

Speaker: Dr. Robert F. Turner

Speaker’s Biographical Information: Professor Robert F. Turner holds both professional and academic doctorates from the University of Virginia School of Law and has lectured and taught about the Vietnam conflict for nearly four decades. He first became interested in Vietnam in the mid-1960s while an undergraduate at Indiana University, where he wrote a 450-page honors thesis on the conflict.  The son of an Air Force medical officer, he joined Air Force ROTC prior to the start of the war but was declared ineligible for the advanced program because of medical problems (including a history of asthma).  Wanting to serve, he concealed his medical problems and was permitted to enroll in advanced Army ROTC.  Following graduation and commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the Intelligence Service (IS), Turner was transferred to Armor Branch (AR).  Due to a clerical error, his orders to active duty were delayed several months.  (Before the war began he had indicated a desire to attend law school before fulfilling his active duty obligation, and the Army apparently assumed his plans remained the same despite the war).  Learning of the delay, the editor of the Indianapolis News issued Turner press credentials so he could go to Vietnam prior to being ordered to active duty, and he was thus able to travel extensively around South Vietnam in late 1968, living in military press centers and traveling space-available on military aircraft.  He returned just in time to report for training at Fort Knox in January 1969.   On his first day of active duty, he volunteered for assignment to Vietnam.  After graduating near the top of his class from Armor School he was assigned to Schofield Barracks, HI, where he volunteered for assignment as an Infantry reconnaissance platoon leader in the 100th Bn, 442nd Infantry (which during WW II had been composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans who fought with such distinction in Europe it became the most decorated unit of its size in the Army.  Second Lieutenant Turner soon earned the Expert Infantryman Badge.  While in the hospital recovering from surgery after re-injuring an old football injury, Turner was contacted by Lt. Gen. William P. Yarborough, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, Pacific (USARPAC)—a legendary WW II airborne leader who had commanded Special Forces under President Kennedy—who was assembling a group of scholars to examine North Vietnamese psywar vulnerabilities and had learned of Turner's background.  After the conference, LTG Yarborough invited then First Lieutenant Turner to join his staff.  Upon the death of Ho Chi Minh in 1969, Turner published an article in the Honolulu Advertiser that predicted Politburo member Le Duan would emerge from the leadership struggle in Hanoi as first among equals.  (At the time, CIA and DIA were predicting that former Secretary General Truong Chinh would succeed Ho—perhaps failing to consider his unpopularity following his "self-criticism" and acceptance of responsibility for the "excesses" of the 1953-56 "land reform" purges that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in North Vietnam.)  By chance, the director of the North Vietnam/Viet Cong Affairs Division in the American Embassy in Saigon read the article and immediately asked to have Turner detailed to his office.  After an extended TDY as "Assistant Special Projects Officer" in NVA/VC Affairs--during which Turner traveled extensively through the country investigating Viet Cong terrorism and assassination--he returned to USARPAC for a brief period and was assigned to the Psychological Operations office of G-3 (a Major's billet).  A few months later, the Vietnam tour for which he had volunteered when he reported for duty at Fort Knox came through, and Turner was again assigned to MACV, this time slotted to become a province PSYOPS adviser.  But upon reporting for duty in January 1971, he was immediately detailed back to the Embassy, promoted to Captain, and returned to the job that had been created for him the previous year as "Assistant Special Projects Officer," working once again for Donald "Rock" Rochlen, who had been a psychological operations "troubleshooter" for several years for the Embassy.  Rochlen and Turner traveled extensively throughout the country, investigating terrorism incidents, working with defectors, evaluating captured enemy documents, following the North Vietnamese radio and press, working with members of the Intelligence Community, advising the special branch of the national police, and occasionally briefing members of the media.  Turner spent time in Hue in connection with the exhumation of mass graves containing bodies of some of the thousands of victims of Viet Cong executions during their occupation of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive and authored a classified study on "The Viet Cong Tactic of Assassination."  He repeatedly witnessed first-hand the horrors of war, and occasionally came under enemy fire and saw people die around him, but he is the first to emphasize that he was “no hero.”

Upon leaving the Army following his second Vietnam assignment, Turner accepted a position at Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, where he served for two years as Associate Editor for Asia & the Pacific of the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs and authored the first major book in English on the history of Vietnamese Communism.  (Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development, Hoover Press, 1975).  In September 1972 he authored a monograph ("Myths of the Vietnam War: The Pentagon Papers Reconsidered") demonstrating that most of the key arguments against the war embraced by the anti-Vietnam movement were readily refuted by the documents contained in the so-called "Pentagon Papers." The monograph was published as the September 1972 issue of Southeast Asian Perspectives.  In addition to his expertise on "the other side" of the war, Turner was recognized in the early 1970s as a leading academic authority on the issue of whether there would be a "bloodbath" in Indochina if the United States abandoned its commitment to protect its allies.  In September 1972 he wrote an op-ed on this issue for the New York Times at the request of Harrison Salisbury, and in January 1973 he appeared on the PBS program, "The Advocates," arguing (alongside NYU Professor Frank N. Trager) that a bloodbath was likely on a program that also featured Yale Chaplain William Sloan Coffin and a first-term Congressman named Les Aspin.  Appointed a Public Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution in 1973, Turner spent the rest of that year finishing Vietnamese Communism, which was praised as a “superb corrective” and “mandatory reading” by Douglas Pike; called the “definitive account of Vietnamese Communism” in the American Political Science Review; and described as “a landmark” that “rekindles confidence that there is quality work again appearing after an interlude of emotional and severely biased pieces” about Vietnam in the American Historical Review.

In December 1973 Turner accepted a position as a congressional fellow on the staff of U.S. Senator Robert P. Griffin, who had recently joined the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.   Hired off the fellowship by the Senator a few months later, Turner spent five years as the Senator's national security adviser, visiting Indochina each year until he became the last congressional staff member to leave Saigon during the final evacuation at the end of April 1975.  Between 1968 and 1975, Turner visited 42 of South Vietnam's 44 provinces at least once as well as Laos and Cambodia. 

He left the Senate in August 1978 to attend law school in Charlottesville.  Just prior to graduation in 1981 he co-founded the Center for National Security Law with Professor John Norton Moore and has served as its Associate Director since then except for two periods of government service in the 1980s and during 1994-95 when he occupied the Charles H. Stockton Chair of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.  Between 1981 and 1985 he served in the Pentagon as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in the White House as Counsel to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, at the State Department as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs (and for several months as acting Assistant Secretary).  For twenty months during 1996-97 he served as the first President of the congressionally-established United States Institute of Peace.

A former three-term chairman of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Law and National Security (and from 1992-99, editor of the ABA National Security Law Report), Professor Turner has taught undergraduate courses at Virginia on International Law, U.S. Foreign Policy, the Vietnam War, and Foreign Policy and the Law in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, in addition to co-teaching law school seminars on Advanced Topics in National Security Law I & II. The author or editor of more than a dozen books and monographs (including coediting the Center's 1200-page law school casebook, National Security Law. and The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War: Reflections Twenty-Five Years After the Fall of Saigon) and numerous articles in law reviews and professional journals, Turner has also contributed articles to most of the major U.S. newspapers and has testified before more than a dozen different congressional committees on issues of international or constitutional law and related topics. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Association of American Law Schools, the Academy of Political Science, and several other professional organizations.

Website : http://www.virginia.edu/cnsl/turner.htm

Discussion Forum: Click here to discuss Session 11

Articles of Interest:

Myths and Realities in the Vietnam Debate, By Robert F. Turner
Bloodbaths in Vietnam: The Reality and the Myth, Robert F. Turner, New York Times, October 24, 1972 (.pdf, requires Acrobat Reader)
Aftermath of the Vietnam War; Kerry was not the only one who made a serious miscalculation. By Peter Kirsanow, National Review, March 29, 2004

Suggested Reading:

1. Assessing the Vietnam War; Lloyd Matthews & Dale Brown (eds.); Pergamon-Brassey‚€™s, NY; 1987.
2. Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam; H. R. McMaster; HarperCollins, NY; 1997.
3. The Key to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War; Norman Hannah; Madison Books, Lanham, MD; 1987.
4. Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America's Sixteen-Year Involvement in Vietnam; William Colby; Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1989.
5. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War; Harry Summers; Presidio Press, Novato, CA; 1982.
6. Strategy For Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect; U.S. Grant Sharp; Presidio Press, San Rafael, CA; 1978.
7. Vietnam: The Necessary War; Michael Lind; The Free Press, NY; 1999.[Chapters 3 and 8 are not recommended.]
8. Vietnam: Strategy for a Stalemate; F. Charles Parker, IV; Paragon House, NY; 1989.
9. The War Managers: American Generals Reflect on Vietnam; Douglas Kinnard; Da Capo Press, NY; 1991.


"A big lie is more plausible than truth." --- Ernest Hemingway.