On November 2nd, 2019, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association hosted a symposium on the Vietnam War. The symposium was held at the Atlanta History Center in McElreath Hall and was attended by over 350 Vietnam veterans, AVVBA members and interested citizens, including Vietnamese-Americans. Several VVFH members attended as well, including David Hanna, who flew from Australia to attend. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote an article about the event.
Our Executive Secretary, R.J. "Del" Delvecchio moderated the symposium and VVFH members Dr. Robert F. Turner and Dr. Mark Moyar spoke, along with Dr. Michael Kort from Boston University. Lunch was supplied, as a courtesy to veterans, by Chick-fil-A, and the symposium was sponsored by Synovus Bank.
Video of the symposium will be made available by AVVBA and will be posted here when it's been published.
During the Q & A period after lunch, we received so many questions that we couldn't possibly answer them all. So, we promised to answer all the remaining questions, which we will do here. Some of these questions will take some research, so they will show up as we obtain appropriate answers.
Q: What effect did the news media have on the outcome of the war?
A: News media coverage not only affected the outcome of the war, but it also impacted the current teaching of the history of the war. Over time a theme developed that the war was unwinnable, immoral, unjust, and illegal. This was a direct result of the books written by war correspondents whose coverage of the war shaped the views of many historians. (Most notably Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History, David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, and Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie.)
You may be interested in reading Robert Elegant's How to Lose A War which was published in 1981. Elegant was a war correspondent in Vietnam and has harsh criticism for how his colleagues covered the war. Another correspondent who has been critical of the media is Uwe Siemon-Netto, who wrote The Wrong Side Won. We argue that coverage of the 1968 Tet Offensive, which was a massive defeat for the communists, was turned into a victory by the news media's coverage of it as a victory for the North and of course, Walter Cronkite's famous "stalemate" opinion announced on national TV during his news broadcast.
Q: What is the current government of Vietnam now. Are the people better or worse off than if the US had stopped North Vietnam?
A: Vietnam is ostensibly a communist country although it's allowed a certain level of capitalism to arise in recent times. It is still a very oppressive society and has one of the worst human rights records in the world. If the US had not abandoned South Vietnam, it's likely that it would be similar to South Korea.
Q: What sort of reception do you receive on college campuses? Do you think you are successful in changing students' thinking? Are high school students aware of the VVFH?
A: Generally, we attend academic conferences on the war and participate when we can. Our reception has not been enthusiastic. Some of our members speak in high school classes, and they are often invited back after the initial presentation. We think we're having a small impact on high school students' views of the war. Changing minds in America's colleges is a greater challenge.
Q: Why did Congress not let the military win the war? And much sooner?
A: Congress supported the war early on. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 88-2. They continued to support the war until Richard Nixon became President, although support was eroding due to an effective propaganda campaign by the communists.
The difficulties the US military encountered in prosecuting the war were a result of the administration of LBJ micromanaging the war and ignoring the advice of military experts. The war was prolonged because LBJ would not authorize entering Laos or Cambodia to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail and refused to allow the military to mine Haiphong harbor and bomb key installations in the North.
Q: How did the US get involved in the Vietnam War?
A: The US monitored events in Vietnam immediately following the end of World War II. President Truman's administration was aware that Ho Chi Minh was a Comintern agent and worried that he might try to spread communism in Southeast Asia. Truman articulated a doctrine that promised, "to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures". Eisenhower later spoke of "the domino theory", a concept that postulated that if one nation in Asia fell to communism, the rest would fall like dominoes.
When France sued for peace with North Vietnam, Eisenhower negotiated the SEATO treaty that promised to protect Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) from communist aggression, and the US began sending military advisors to South Vietnam to assist them in resisting incursions from communist North Vietnam.
Q: Weren't the French in Vietnam first before the US?
A: Yes. The French conquered Vietnam in 1862 and made it a vassal state. They lost control of Vietnam during World War II and attempted to re-establish control after the war. In 1954, the French withdrew from Vietnam and signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam after being defeated at Dien Bien Phu.
Q: Of the eleven Southeast Asian countries, only two dominoes fell - Laos and Cambodia - yet you still believe in the domino theory. Why?
A: Some scholars scoff at the domino theory pointing, as this question does, to the many countries that did not fall to communism. But a question like this must be understood in the context of the times in which it was articulated. In 1954, when France left Vietnam, there were communist insurgencies in Malaysia, the Phillippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore as well as Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We address this in our Myths and Lies section. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore credits the US tying up the communists in Vietnam with allowing his country time to defeat the communist insurgency in Singapore and establish a stable society.
Q: With so many in academia being opposed to any non-orthodox views, do you see any way to turn this around?
A: Although academia is still solidly in the orthodox camp, there are cracks forming. Young scholars, particularly Vietnamese-American scholars, are mining documents that weren't available to earlier researchers. And we won't ever give up, because we owe it to our fallen brothers to continue to correct the record whenever possible.
Q: Is there any truth to the story that Dean Rusk sent our bombing targets to North Vietnam in advance through a neutral third country (like the Swiss)?
Q: Dean Rusk later admitted we sent notification of our airstrikes to the Swiss prior to the missions, supposedly to protect civilians. Why would the military not know and object to this? Is this not treason?
A: We combined these because they're really the same question. You can imagine that this story created quite a buzz at VVFH, so we investigated. We obtained the 26 episode set of the documentary with transcripts and viewed it from end to end. We also searched all of the transcripts. We found no such statement by Dean Rusk.
This story is sourced to a book written by Retired Air Force General Pete Piotrowski. The General claimed that he saw Dean Rusk admit to this in an interview with Peter Arnett. When we contacted Arnett, he said, "I do not recall the particular Rusk quote at issue, and do not recall being on CBS and commenting on it." He did state that he did interviews for the documentary and that he interviewed Dean Rusk for the documentary in 1978.
We then contacted the General and asked him for his source. He pointed to the documentary. When we told him we didn't find it in the documentary, he did not have an answer. So, we then contacted a White House official who participated in all the bombing planning sessions (which incredibly were directed by the White House, not by military personnel). The White House official, Tom Johnson, said no such thing ever happened and that the accusation was untrue.
"This is totally, absolutely UNTRUE. It is false, reprehensible, and spreading this lie is beyond belief. I was the notetaker in every major Vietnam meeting (each Tuesday lunch) with Rusk, McNamara, Helms, General Wheeler, NSC Adviser Walt Rostow, and press secretary George Christian. US forces did avoid certain civilian targets, but no advance warnings to NVM, Hanoi or Viet Cong on targets ever was provided. I will testify under oath to that. I also was an occasional link to Secretary McNamara, CIA Director Helms, and other intelligence departments about decisions made in those top secret meetings."
The source for this inaccurate quote may have come from here:
Episode 13 The Air War
:44 Dean Rusk: “At those Tuesday luncheon sessions where we considered bombing targets in the North, there were times when we would require our fliers to go in through the more heavily populated areas to deliver their bombs on military targets rather than easier targets, because of the difference in the possible threat to civilian neighborhoods and civilian populations.”
1:42 Senator William Fulbright: “Mr. Rostow.... I remember they had a theory, they called it surgical bombing, I heard him elaborate on this on various occasions. That if you would give the North Vietnamese notice that we would bomb plant A tomorrow and take it out, uh we don’t want to hurt you. We don’t want to kill any civilians, everybody get away, this is what we’re going to do. Now all you have to do is go to a peace conference. Let’s settle this matter. If you don’t, then after plant A, plant B.... We just give them notice, and surely at some point, you know, they would quit, because they would see we would utterly destroy the country.”
It's possible that General Piotrowski may have gotten the idea from this quote of Senator Fulbright. The reasoning certainly sounds like what the White House was thinking at the time, but there's no evidence that we could find that any such plan was actually implemented.
Q: The conventional history is that the US & SVN blocked elections in 1954 to reunite the North and South in violation of the Geneva Accords of 1954. Is this wrong? How did this idea get started?
A: Like most of the myths of the war, this has its roots in the propaganda promulgated by North Vietnam. That then infiltrated the antiwar movements in the US, and as some of those protestors moved into academia, they cemented the belief with their writings on the war's history.
Many people are unaware that scholars such as Marilyn Young, George Kahin, and Gareth Porter, all of whom wrote extensively about the war, were members of a communist front organization, the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, and pushed a pro-Hanoi version of the war throughout their careers.
Here are the facts. The Geneva Accords of 1954 were signed by two parties; France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (commonly known as North Vietnam). Neither South Vietnam nor the United States signed the agreement, although they both attended the conference. Article 14 mentioned elections but did not set a date.
(a) Pending the general elections which will bring about the unification of Viet-Nam, the conduct of civil administration in each regrouping zone shall be in the hands of the party whoseforces are to be regrouped there in virtue of the present Agreement;
An addendum to the Accords , titled Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference on the Problem of Restoring Peace in Indo-China, was added to them, which spoke of elections in 1954.
7. The Conference declares that, so far as Viet-Nam is concerned. the settlement of political problems, effected on the basis of respect for the principles of independence, unity and territorial integrity, shall permit the Viet-Namese people to enjoy the fundamental freedoms, guaranteed by democratic institutions established as a result of free general elections by secret ballot. In order to ensure that sufficient progress in the restoration of peace has been made, and that all the necessary conditions obtain for free expression of the national will, general elections shall be held in July 1956, under the supervision of an international commission composed of representatives of the Member States of the International Supervisory Commission, referred to in the agreement on the cessation of hostilities. Consultations will be held on this subject between the competent representative authorities of the two zones from 20 July 1955 onwards.
No one signed it. North Vietnam didn't sign it. South Vietnam didn't sign it. The US didn't sign it. So, the Addendum was not formally agreed to by any state. Therefore, 1956 elections was an aspiration, not a legal commitment. It isn't possible to block elections you never even agreed to. You can read more about this in our Myths and Lies article.
Q: The Tonkin Gulf incident is widely viewed as an incorrect and possibly fabricated pretext for US military intervention that started in 1965. Right or wrong?
A: Wrong. There are a number of issues with this claim. First, the US was involved militarily in Vietnam in 1955. As the years passed, the commitment of resources grew exponentially. By 1964, the US was conducting surveillance patrols in neutral waters off the coast of Vietnam. In 1965, the US committed combat troops for the first time when Marines landed at Da Nang.
On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol boats. There is no controversy about this attack. The Maddox was struck by machine-gun fire, and one of the patrol boats was sunk. Communist radio traffic confirmed the attack. After the war, the Vietnamese government admitted the attack. The second attack is more controversial, but there are sound reasons for believing that it took place. We have both the testimony of an eye witness and Adm. Vasey's report.
But the idea that a lie started the war is not supported by the facts. The US had already committed to South Vietnam's defense in 1955 with the SEATO treaty. An argument can be made that LBJ would have been justified to ask for the resolution after the first attack. Or when nine Americans were killed and 128 were wounded at Camp Holloway in February 1965. When thirteen Americans were wounded in terrorist bombings of the MAAG and USIS headquarters in October 1957, Eisenhower could have asked for a resolution. The communists provided plenty of unprovoked reasons for the US to go to war in Vietnam. You can find much more information in our Myths and Lies article.
Q: Are you familiar with the battles of Ngok Tavak and Kham Duc 10-11 May 68?
A: Not only are we familiar with them, but VVFH member James McLeroy also has a book about them coming out on December 3, 2019. The title of the book is Bait: The Battle of Kham Duc. Here's an excerpt:
NVA casualties at Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak are not recorded or are still a state secret of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, but a reasonable estimate of them can be made. In 1968, two full-strength NVA infantry regiments had 5,000 troops: 3,600 combat troops and 1,400 combatsupport and logistics troops. 24 Troop losses of 50 percent or more were common in all the NVA andVC human-wave infantry attacks. 25
Even if only half of the NVA troops at or near Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak were killed or mortally wounded from three days of air attacks and ground fire, plus two days of unrestrictedcarpet bombing, the two NVA regiments probably lost between 1,500 and 2,000 troops. TotalU.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine fatalities at, near, or as a direct result of Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak were forty-six men. 26
Many of the 112 wounded U.S. soldiers and Marines did not require hospitalization, and some of those who did soon recovered and returned to their units. Almost all seriously wounded U.S. troops were quickly evacuated to modern hospitals and almost all of them survived. Most seriously wounded NVA troops in that and all their other battles against U.S. combined-arms forces did not survive.
[End note] A former CG of the 2nd NVA Division stated that they had no organic hospital and few medically qualified doctors. -- PAVN LTG Nguyen Huy Chuong in Su Doan 2, Tap 1 [Second Division,Volume 1] (Da Nang,Socialist Republic of Viet Nam: Dang Uy va Chu Huy Su Doan 2 [2nd Division Party Committee and Division Headquarters], Da Nang Publishing House, 1989), p. 89; translated by Merle Pribbenow. Wounded troops had to be carried through jungle-covered mountains to crowded, unsanitary field hospitals, many of them underground, where medical equipment, supplies, and doctors were always scarce and often inadequate. In or on the way to such hospitals, most severely wounded men died from hypovolemic shock, septic shock, or disease. Dr Le Cao Dai in Appy, Christian. Patriots (NY: Viking, 2003), pp. 13–140. Dr Le also stated:“The most severely wounded people died at the front before they could be evacuated.” Zumwalt, James. Bare Feet, Iron Will (Jacksonville, FL: Fortis Publishing, 2020), p. 40. PAVN LTG Nguyen Xuan Hoang stated:“… our logistics forces, who were farther from the Americans, took greater losses than the combat units [due to B-52 carpet bombing].”Curry, Cecil. Victory At Any Cost (Washington, D.C., Brassey’s 1997), p. 257.
Q: Why didn't China participate in a combat role?
A: It is difficult to substantiate one way or the other what China might have done had we invaded North Vietnam and we must wait for access to the classified archives in China before we can provide you with a definitive answer to your question.
There are a number of factors that probably influenced China's decision not to send combat troops to Vietnam. If you think about the Korean War, China didn't commit combat troops until McCarthur approached the Yalu River. At that point, UN troops directly threatened China. It's likely that the same logic would have kept China out of a combat role in Vietnam unless the US approached the border of China, although some scholars believe if the US had taken Hanoi the Chinese would have become involved.
Another factor mitigating against China getting involved in a combat role was Mao's Great Cultural Revolution, which inhibited their ability to field troops for a large land war outside their borders. The topography of Vietnam, with its dense jungles and mountainous terrain, may have also entered into their thinking.
As it was, China supplied almost 325,000 troops serving in anti-aircraft batteries and other support roles such as engineers and construction experts and lost 1,446 KIA in North Vietnam. Some US Special Forces troops reported encountering "large men" among the dead that they assumed were Chinese. They may have been serving in an advisory role with NVA troops. Those reported sightings have never been confirmed.
Q: How would the Vietnam War have been different with modern technology?
A: This is an interesting question. The consensus of our members is that it wouldn't change a thing. The problems with the Vietnam War were not caused by a lack of technology. They were caused by poor decision-making by American political leaders who both pre-empted military leadership decision-making and foolishly refused to allow our military to enter Cambodia and Laos despite the NVA have major bases located in both countries, in violation of the treaties they had signed.
With today's technology, we may have been able to pinpoint concentrations of troops better and more carefully focus the kinetic power of our military, but the decisions made by political leadership hindered the war effort significantly enough that those technologies would not have altered the outcome.
It's important to note that the US and South Vietnam had won the war by 1972 despite the hindrances placed in their way. When North Vietnam invaded the South, they were soundly defeated by South Vietnamese troops with the assistance of US airpower, but US airpower also altered the outcomes of many battles that US troops engaged in. It was only after Congress decided to abandon South Vietnam by drastically reducing their aid, that North Vietnam was able to prevail, and that was done in clear violation of the peace treaty they signed in 1973.
Q: How effective and proper was the free-fire zone policy?
A: Since we're not certain what was asked, we will address both what were colloquially called free-fire zones and H&I (harassment and interdiction) artillery fire. Free-fire zones were areas where it was known that no friendly troops and no civilians were located. In those areas, maneuvering forces were not required to request clearance from headquarters before directing artillery fire at the enemy. In those cases, the maneuvering force would have located enemy forces and could then direct artillery fire to destroy them. That type of fire was usually effective at suppressing the enemy and destroying its capability to fight.
H&I fire was closely controlled by headquarters (both allied and ARVN) and was artillery fire directed at areas where the enemy was known to operate, such as known troop routes and consolidation points, without first having confirmed that troops were there. The idea was to keep the enemy off balance and deny him access to known locations and routes. Artillery would randomly fire a small number of rounds making it impossible to know when rounds might impact. It was ineffective both as an attrition technique and as a harassment technique unless there were friendly troops in the area to direct the fire. It was also controversial, since it had the potential to cause civilian casualties.
Both types of fire were legal under the laws of war.
Q: My interpreter used to say that the Vietnamese could not stand the Chinese people; culture was different, very jealous and not friendly to one another at all. Is this factual? And historical?
A: This type of question is outside the scope of our mission. We deal with facts regarding the war that we can document from primary sources. Opinions about people are as varied and unique as the people expressing them. In other words, the answer to this question is in the eye of the beholder.
Q: How do you see the effect of the incursion into Cambodia on - 1) ending the war 2) public opinion
A: First, some background for those who are unfamiliar with this. The Cambodian incursion was an operation that took place in May 1970. ARVN and US troops entered Cambodia to track down the NVA and destroy their bases of operation. You can read about the operation from an officer who participated: Battlefield Chronicles: Into Cambodia
The operation was very successful. Large numbers of NVA troops were killed. Large bases were discovered and their food, weapons, and ammunition caches were destroyed. After the operation, defections to the Chieu Hoi program skyrocketed, and morale among the NVA sank. Quoting our expert, Professor Robert F. Turner, speaking of the NVA defectors, "[they] said they were down to fewer than 10 rounds per AK—on AUTO the AK fires 600-rounds-per-minute--and were told to put away their AK’s and use the old Garands, M1 carbines, FALs, and other semi-auto rifles. Morale among Communist forces in the Delta never recovered."
The operation certainly contributed to ending the war. As for its impact on public opinion, the evidence is mixed. The media reported it as an "illegal" operation, which was completely false. Those reports caused massive protests on US college campuses. Media reporting seems to have had less of an effect on the average American. The evidence shows that the 40% who voted for Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire were hawks who were fed up with the incompetence of American leadership at the time. A Harris poll in May found that 60% supported the incursion into Cambodia, and in June Nixon's approval rating stood at 59%.
Q: Do you see any way to influence and change the teaching and texts that are currently utilized in schools?
Q: As Dr. Moyar stated - it is important for our young people to understand what really happened so they can feel good about the USA and understand how the war happened. Without schools teaching about the war, how are we learning this?
A: Education is a part of our mission. We publish books and magazines, write articles not only for our own websites but also for major media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Our members interact through comment sections with educators as well as the public, and we engage in academic symposiums and conferences to help in correcting the record. Some of our members also speak about the war in high schools, and we've had great success in engaging students in investigating the myths and lies about the war. And many of our members have published books about the war, some of them considered quite influential in academia.
But, as you point out, the educational system in America is predisposed to teach a distorted view of the war that portrays America and the American soldier in an excessively negative light. None of us will stop fighting until we breathe our last breath, and we invite all like-minded academics and veterans to join us in the effort.
Q: Why haven't Vietnam War publications like Vietnam Magazine and VVA Veteran come out against the Ken Burns bias fiasco that will be used as the definitive history of the Vietnam War?
A: We can't speak for other organizations, but I can assure you that VVFH has come out strongly against the documentary. We created an entire wiki to deal with the problems with the documentary, with copious documentation of the many errors and inaccurracies that were made. We demanded that PBS correct the inaccuracies in the documentary. We received a polite brushoff from PBS. But that didn't stop us from speaking out wherever and whenever we can. We have made additional attempts to interact with PBS, with both Burns and Novick to no avail. It seems rather than desiring to open up a conversation on the war, as they claimed, their real desire was to be the final arbiter of the war. Some of our members were interviewed for hours for the documentary, but the vast majority of their interviews ended up on the cutting floor.
Q: Should the draft dodgers who went to Canada have received amnesty?
A: That is not a question we can answer. We can say that Americans are remarkably forgiving people. Perhaps that was the spirit in which it was done.
Q: Bottom line: Should the US have been involved? Given the same circumstances today, would you advise a US President to do the same?
A: Yes. There is no question that the US should have been involved in Vietnam. After the French left Vietnam, two powers vied for supremacy; the communists and Vietnamese nationalists. Despite all the problems that South Vietnam had, which were not unusual for an infant country struggling to get on its feet, the people of South Vietnam wanted to be free. Since we signed a treaty promising to defend them against communism, we had an obligation to do so.
Furthermore, there were communist insurgencies in the Phillippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand. If we had not tied up communist troops and resources in Vietnam for ten years, those other insurgencies may well have succeeded, and all of southeast Asia would be communist today.
We would not, however, advise a US President to conduct the war that LBJ did. In 1954, North Vietnam signed a peace treaty that required them to remove their forces to their territory. They reneged on that treaty and left people behind, along with weapons caches, as a contingency. In 1962, North Vietnam signed a Neutrality Agreement with Laos. They agreed to remove their troops immediately. They failed to do so. Under international law, South Vietnam had a right to defend itself from Northern aggression, including entering Cambodia and Laos, if need be, to defend their territory. But LBJ refused to allow US troops to enter either country. We would have advised the President, as the military did, repeatedly, to cut off access to the Ho Chi Minh trail, by entering Laos and creating a blocking position on each trail with sufficient troops to ensure that traffic could not flow. We would have also advised him to mine Haiphong harbor and bomb vital military assets in North Vietnam, all things that LBJ refused to do but Nixon approved.
Later, when Nixon did send troops into Cambodia and the ARVN entered Laos, they found massive camps with hugh stockpiles of weapons, ammunition, and supplies. All of those camps were violations of international law, but the communists didn't care. If we had had better political leadership, the Vietnam War could have been won at a much lower cost in dollars and bloodshed.
Q: Why is there NO mention to US credit of the vast civic action we did? Such as outfitting a complete dental office in a leprosarium north of Saigon?
A: For those who might be unfamiliar with what the questioner is referring to, the US had a number of programs in Vietnam designed to help civilians.
U.S. civilian medical aid programs began in the early years of support in Vietnam. As the U.S. military commitment grew throughout the 1960's, new and expanded programs were developed. Through such efforts as PHAP (Provincial Health Assistance Program), MILPHAP (Military Provincial Health Assistance Program), MEDCAP (Medical Civic Action Program), and CWCP (Civilian War Casualty Program), medical aid in increasing amounts and effectiveness was given to the people of Vietnam.
The US also built twenty-two airfields, six ports, thousands of miles of roads, hundreds of bridges, many provincial hospitals and district health clinics, and built schools and supplied them with books and other supplies. None of this was covered by the media or promoted by the US government. It's a source of frustration for many vets that the thousands of MEDCAP and DENTCAP missions never got any publicity.
This video will give you a glimpse into the efforts that Americans made in Vietnam - Vietnam: A Television History; Eleanor Brunetto (It was cut out of the documentary.) There are also articles about it on the web, one written by a doctor relating his experiences, a book by a surgeon who served, artists' renderings in a Wikipedia article on civic action programs, and an excellent documentary on Youtube.
The "why" is harder to answer. Our members can tell you from personal experience that the journalists in Vietnam never had any interest in covering those missions. Why that was so is unknown.
Q: How did humanitarian acts by soldiers and pilots during the Vietnam War compare to previous US wars?
A: The Vietnam War was the first insurgency war that the US was involved in. So, the approach to dealing with the civilian population was noticeably different than it was in previous wars. The US military has always been involved in humanitarian efforts during wars, as any picture of a WWII soldier handing candy bars to children would attest, but the Vietnam War was the first war in which the US government made a concentrated effort to benefit the civilian population while fighting an enemy.
Q: Comment on the NVA losses in the battles of Ia Drang, Dak To, and Ripcord, and the Tet Offensive and the siege of Khe Sanh.
A: Like most battles in Vietnam, these battles resulted in disproportionate losses on the communist side. For example, during the Tet Offensive, the NVA lost more than 45,000 men. In the three phases, they lost more than 75,000 men. The allied forces total losses were about 9,000 men. In Ia Drang, confirmed American losses were 499 KIA, WIA and MIA. Confirmed NVA losses were 1037 (body count), and estimated losses were 1,735. A big problem for the NVA was the loss of wounded men. A large percentage died in transport or in the crude underground "hospitals" they had because they also lacked the needed medical supplies.
I read recently of a battle where a small SOG recon force with Vietnamese partners fought a division of NVA and the NVA suffered a 90% loss of personnel according to the NVA general who commanded those troops. The NVA were willing to take massive losses in order to extend the war long enough to turn Americans against the war. Obviously, our leadership's belief that attrition would end the war was mistaken, because the communists were willing to accept appalling losses, losses that would be wholly unacceptable to Americans, and continue fighting. As it turns out, US body counts, which have been roundly criticized and ridiculed by academics and others, underestimated NVA losses by about 35%.
Q: There is a theory that we taught our Vietnamese allies to fight our kind of war, but they didn't have the economic or technical resources to do so. I observed their inability. What do you think?
A: In the early years of the war, the South Vietnamese were ill-equipped and ill-trained to fight a war. This should not be surprising. They were a nascent nation only recently formed and struggling to establish stability internally.
As the years passed, more and more officers were trained by the US, and the leadership improved.
Ngo Dinh Diem disagreed with the US military's approach of fighting a conventional war and insisted that he was fighting an insurgency. He was half right. The Vietnam War was both an insurgency war and a conventional war, and it tended to become more conventional and less insurgency as the years passed. The US finally saw the value of counterinsurgency after Creighton Abrams became the commander of MACV.
By 1972, the South Vietnamese were so competent that they inflicted heavy losses on the NVA when they invaded South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive. Some will caveat that they needed American airpower to help them to victory, but American forces needed American airpower as well to prevail.
In the latter years, the RF and PF forces were finally supplied with modern weaponry, and they drove both the VC and the NVA out of the villages and defeated them soundly in battle
By 1973, when the US signed a peace treaty with North Vietnam, the South was relatively peaceful, and the communist forces were defeated. Unfortunately, the US Congress abandoned our allies, refusing to fund their efforts to stave off continued incursions from the communists, and, in April 1975, South Vietnam fell to the invaders. But their loss was not due to incompetence but a lack of supplies due to the restricted US funding.
Q: Does LBJ deserve the blame for damaging the credibility of the US military? Did Vietnamization of the war have any choice?
A: LBJ deserves some of the blame but not all. Robert McNamara's decisions deserve a great deal of opprobrium. Gen. Westmoreland's focus on body counts and attrition, and his statements that we were winning contributed as well, although some will argue he was fighting with his hands tied behind his back. Maj. Gen. Julian Ewell's extensive use of H&I fire in III Corps was roundly criticized, even by some of his own officers. The behavior of the Americal Division in the My Lai massacre and the subsequent covering up of that action were a factor as well.
Vietnamization was a necessity by the time Nixon articulated it. The public was turning against the war, and that opposition was being reflected in Congress as well. It was clear we were going to have to leave Vietnam, and so the US (belatedly) began to turn over the fighting to the South Vietnamese military.
Q: Bruce Herschensohn states the Congress forced the surrender of South Vietnam - Cambodia - Laos (April 10, 1973) - Can we find out who were the Congressmen that walked out of the meeting with President Ford?
A: The meeting referred to actually took place on April 10, 1975, when President Ford spoke to a joint session of Congress and asked for emergency military aid for South Vietnam and Cambodia. Cambodia fell to communism just seven days later. South Vietnam lasted just 20 days, falling on April 30, 1975.
According to the New York Times, in an article titled Reaction is Cool, dated April 11, 1975, "a few Democrats walked out". The Times identified one of them as Phillip Burton.
And Representative Phillip Burton, Democrat of California, one of the Representatives who walked out during the speech, termed the proposal for military aid an “outrage.”
Rep. Burton died in 1983.
The Arkansas City Traveler, in an AP article, titled Congress Due To Reject Military Aid For Viet, dated April 11, 1975 also named two other Congressmen.
Several longtime war foes, such as Bella S. Azug, D-NY, shook their heads in disapproval. Freshman Reps. Anthony Moffet, D-Conn, and George Miller, D-Calif, walked out.
The AP article also reported that about half the Senators and Congressmen didn't even bother to attend. Rep. Moffet was defeated by a Republican in 1983, and Rep. Miller retired from office in 2015.
Those were the only Congressmen whose names we were able to find in press reports. The Congressional Record does not mention anything about politicians who attended, didn't attend, or walked out.