Appendix IA--American “Peace Activist” Meetings with Enemy During War, 1962-1975 by Roger Canfield in Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy-America available http://americong.com
March, Hanoi, Ruth Gage-Colby, Women Strike for Peace, WSP
July, Moscow, Dagmar Wilson, Ruth Gage-Colby, WSP
July, Havana, Brad Lyttle, Fellowship for Reconciliation, FOR
July 29-August 6, Helsinki, Rabinowitz, Myer, Supriano, Frank, Coffin and 445 others, CPUSA etc.
Havana, Brad Lyttle, FOR
September, Moscow, Brad Lyttle, FOR
Hanoi, trade unions.
Hanoi, Ralph Schoenman, Russell War Crimes Commission
May, Havana, Dave Dellinger, FOR
June, Hanoi, Phillip Abbot Luce, PLP
June, Prague, Hassler, Jim Forest, Phil Berrigan
Sept, Moscow, Aptheker, Bloice, Goodlett, CPUSA
November, Hanoi, Robt Williams, Rittenberg, Coe, Worthy, Strong
March, Hanoi, Robert Williams
July, Helsinki, Aptheker, John Lewis, Myerson, Koch, Supriano, Ward, CPUSA
May-July, Moscow, Hanoi, Jakarta, Clarke, Gordon, Frances Herring, , Margaret Russell, Phyllis Schmidt Shirley Lens, Bergman, Nanci Gitlin, Bev Axelrod, Mary Lou Packard (Randal), Ruth Gage-Colby WSP
August, Hanoi, Myerson, Koch, Supriano, Ward, CPUSA
October, Toronto, Cora Weiss, Duckles, Taylor, Ayers and 225 others
Prague, Lightfoot, CPUSA
December, Prague, Hanoi, Peking, Moscow, Aptheker, Hayden, Lynd.
February 8, Cambodia,Robert Scheer.
April, Moscow, Morris Childs,
Spring, Hanoi, Ralph Schoenman,
Summer, Geneva Staughton Lynd,
June, July and August 1966, Japan, Howard Zinn, Cynthia Quenton Basset, Kay Boyle, David Dellinger, Donald Duncan, Israel Dresner, Russell Johnson, Donald Keyes, Murray Levin, Floyd McKissick, David Ernest McReynolds, Robert Morris Ockene.
July 27, Phnom Penh, Cambodia Dagmar Wilson, Donald Duncan, Floyd McKissick, Kay Boyle, Rabbi Israel Dresner and Russell Johnson.
October, Hanoi David Dellinger.
December and January, Hanoi, Harrison Salisbury.
December 22, Hanoi, Barbara Deming, Grace Mora Newman, Patricia Griffith and Diane Nash
Late December 1966, Hanoi, AJ Muste, Rabbi Abraham L. Feinberg, Ambrose Reeves, Pastor Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemoller.
April, Puerto Rico Tom Hayden.
May 2-10, Stockholm, Carl Oglesby, Courtland Cox.
Summer, Stockholm, Dave Dellinger, Oglesby, James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Gabriel Kolko.
April 19, Hanoi, Nick Egelson.
July 6-9, Stockholm, Spock, Herbert Aptheker, James Bevel, Amy Swerdlow, Simon Casady, Arlene Eisen Bergman, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Shero and 442 other Americans.
July 28 - August 5, Havana, SDS, SNCC.
August 29, Hanoi, Stokely Carmichael.
August 1967, Hanoi, David Schoenbrun and wife.
September 2-18, Hanoi, Wilfred Burchett, Dagmar Wilson, Ruth Krause and Mary, WSP.
September 6-13, 1967, BRATISLAVA, CZECHOSLOVAKIA, Hayden and David Dellinger, Robert Allen, Malcolm Boyd, Carol Brightman, John "Jock" Pairman Brown, Bronson Clark, Robert “Stoney” Cooks, Rennie Davis, Dave and Betty Dellinger, Thorne Webb Dreyer, Nicholas Egleson, red diaper baby Richard Flacks, Ross Flanagan, Norman David Fruchter, Tom Gardner, Carol Glassman, Steve Halliwell, Christopher Jencks, Russell Johnson, Carole King, Andrew David Kopkind, Robert Kramer, Carol Cohen McEldowney, Leon Moore, Linda Moore, Raymond Mungo, Douglas Craig Norberg, Vivian Emma LeBurg Rothstein, Steve Schwarzchild, Sol Stern, Dennis Sweeney, John Tillman, Barbara Webster, Eric Weinberger, Hank Werner, John Wilson, Willie Wright, Ron Wright.
September 30- Oct.18, Hanoi, Hayden entourage.
OCTOBER 28, NOVEMBER 4, Hanoi, Tom HAYDEN ON RADIO HANOI.
(November 4-11) Phnom Penh, Hayden.
January 23, Haiphong and Hanoi, Quaker Action Group, AQUAG.
February 28, Japan, deserters.
February 1968, Budapest, 67 Western Hemispheric Communist parties.
November, Stockholm, American Deserters Committee, ADC
February, Havana, Tom Hayden, Carl Davidson, Todd Gitlin, Gerry Long, Susan Sutheim, Ed Jennings, Joe Horton, Paul Hugh Shinoff, and Les Coleman and 40 other Americans.
Moscow, North Korea, two SNCC leaders.
February, Havana, Ted Gold, Mark Rudd and twenty other SDS.
February 9, Vientiane, Laos Daniel Berrigan, Professor Howard Zinn.
February 17, Hanoi,. Berrigan, Zinn.
March, Hanoi Mary McCarthy, Franz Schurmann, Harry Ashmore, William Baggs and Charles Collingwood.
March, Hanoi, Charles Collingwood, Harry Ashmore and William Baggs.
April, Hanoi, Steve Halliwell.
April, Sweden, Ken Cloke.
April 3-6, Paris WSP.
Paris, American contacts.
May 3-17, Hanoi, Robert Greenblatt, Susan Sontag and Andrew Kopkind.
May 15, Hanoi, Naomi Jaffe and three other SDS members.
June 16, July, Paris, Greenblatt and Dellinger.
July, Hanoi, Richard Barnet and Marcus Raskin of IPS.
Prague and to Budapest, Greenblatt.
July 3-6, Paris, Hayden, Stuart Meacham, Vernon Grizzard, and Anne Weills Scheer.
July 17-August 1, Hanoi Hayden, Stuart Meacham, Vernon Grizzard, and Anne Weills Scheer.
July 26, Havana, five SDS and 300 others.
June 16, Prague, Robert Greenblatt and Dellinger.
July, Grenoble William Standard, Carey McWilliams, Richard Falk, Hans Morganthal, and Quincy Wright.
July 28-August 6, Sofia, Bulgaria Howard Jeffrey Melish, Leslie Cagan and some fifty to seventy-one other Americans.
August 11-14, Kyoto, Japan, 23 Americans.
August 25-28, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, Bernadine Dohrn, Judi Bernsten, Larry Bloom, Jeff Blum, Ruth Chamberlain, Bernardine Dohrn, Bryan Flack, Ruth Glick, Martin Kinner, Ellen and Fred Lessinger, Miles Mogulescu, Paul Schollmen, Mollje Struerer, and Daniel Swinney.
August 26-27, Mexico, Havana, Douglas Bernhardt, Michelle Clark, Ross Danielson, Pam Enriques, Larry Erander, Nancy Figeroa, Nick Freudenberg, Daniel Friedlander, Thomas Good, George Greunthal, Fred Halper, Louise Halper, Mark Hershel, (illegible) Iglesias, Hilda Ignatin, Jim Kulk, Jim Mitchell, Holly Moore, Steve Moore, Thomas Mosher, Mary Nalcoln, Morris Older, Sue Orrin, Mark Shapiro, Helen Shiller, Russell Smith, Jeffrey Swanson, Cliff Taylor, Joseph Webb, Marilyn Webb, and Bill Yates.
summer Cuba, Barbara Stone.
July–October, Cuba, Carol “Kali” Grosberg.
August and September, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Germany and Sweden, Bernadine Dohrn.
September 3, Budapest, Hungary, twenty-eight Americans
September 10- September 23, Paris, John Davis.
Prague Stockholm, John Davis.
September 12-16, Frankfurt, West Germany, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.
Late September, Paris Howard Zinn, Jonathan Mirsky, George Kahin of Cornell, Marilyn Young and Douglas Dowd.
October 24-30, Paris and Stockholm Rabbi Balfour Brickner.
November 8, Japan Ernest P. Young,
November 28-December 1, Montreal, Douglas Dowd, Howard Zinn and 500 other Americans.
January 1-10 Havana, Carl Oglesby, Bruce Goldberg, Russ Neufeld and Dan Friedlander.
May 14-16, Stockholm World Peace Council’s Conference on Vietnam, 1969.
April Cuba, East Berlin, Hanoi, new left.
April Prague office of the SDS Bernardine Dohrn and Steve Halliwell.
May 16-18, Stockholm, George Carrano, Donald McDonough, Anatol Rapaport, Noam Chomsky and Gabriel Kolko, John Wilson, Sherman Adams, Amy Swerdlow, Serita Crown, Althea Alexander Noam Chomsky, Joseph Elder, Bob Eaton, Bronson Clark, Joseph Crown, Richard Falk, Stanley Swerdlow, Doris Roberson, Carlton Goodlett, John McAuliff.
June 10-17, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Joseph Elder
June 5-17, Moscow, Irving Sarnoff, , Barbara Bick, Arnold Samuel Johnson, Charles Fitzpatrick, Barbara Ruth Bick, Rennie Davis, David Tyre Dellinger, William Douthard, Douglas Fitzgerald Dowd, Carlton Benjamin Goodlett, Terrence Tyrone Hallinan, Gersho Phineas Horowitz, Arnold Johnson, Sylvia Kushner, Stewart Meacham, Sidney Peck and Irving Sarnoff
June 21-23, East Berlin, Dick Gregory; Stanley Faulkner, , Valeri Mitchell, Sonia Karose, Estelle Cypher, Susan Borenstein, Karen B. Ackerman, Herbert Aptheker, Barbara Bick, Mary Clarke, Martin Hall, Jarvis Tyner, Irving Sarnoff; Mary Angie Dickerson, Eleanor Ohman, Pauline Rosen and Carlton Goodlett.
July, Stockholm Irving Sarnoff.
July 9-15, July, Havana, Carlos Antonio Aponte, Robert Jay Barano, Christopher Kit Bakke, Thomas Wilson Bell, Edward “Corky” Benedict, Kathie Boudin, Cristina Bristol, Aubrey Brown, Robert Burlingham, George Cavalletto, Peter Clapp, Luis John Cuza, Lucas Daumont, Carl Alfred Davidson, Dianne Donghi, Bernardine Dohrn, Diane Westbrook Faber, Richard Rees Fagen, Ted Gold, Kenneth Alan Hechter, Frank Petras James, Nino Jeronimo, Gregory, Nina, Saul Irwin and Valerie Landau, Sandra Hale Levinson, Gerald “Jerry” William Long, Robert Schenk Love, Beth Susan Lyons, John “Shorty” Marquez, Albert Martinez, Howard Jeff Melish, David Millstone, Robert Edward Norton, Orlando Ortiz, Diana Oughton, Rose Paul, Verna Elinor Richey Pedrin, Jesus Maria Ramirez, Jose Ramirez, Eleanor Raskin, Patricia Ellen Shea, Jane Spielman, Jeronomi Ulpiano, Joanne Washington, Robert Wetzler, Myra Ann Wood, and Mary Woznich
August 4, Hanoi , SDS group
October 10-17, Paris, Rennie Davis and David Dellinger.
October 11-12, Stockholm, Irving Sarnoff and Ron Young.
October 15, Havana, George Cavalletto.
Late November, Havana, Julie Nichamin, Diana Oughton, John Butney (phonetic), Bruce Goldberg, Brian Murphy, Bill Thomas, Bill Drew, Phoebe Hirsch, Jerry Long. Arlene Bergman, Allen Young, Jerry Long; John McAuliff, Al Martinent. Weathermen: : Nichamin, Pierre Joseph Barthel, Neal Birnbaum, Marianne Camp, Sonia Helen Dettman, Linda Sue Evans, Laura Ann Obert, Nicholas Britt Riddle, Sheila Marie Ryan, Jeffrey David Sokolow, Mallorie N. Tolles, Robert Greg Wilfong, and Donna Jean Willmott, Willie Brand and Wendy Yoshimira, Bert Garskof, Sandy Pollack, Leslie Cagan.
December 1969 Hanoi, Cora Weiss, Ethel Taylor and Madeleine Duckles.
January 31, 1970 Quebec, Montreal, Sylvia Kushner Katherine Camp, Arnold Johnson, and Stewart Meacham Stanley Faulkner, Joseph Crown, Pauline Rosen, Rev. Richard Norford
February 7-8, Vancouver, British Columbia, Carlton Goodlett and Irving Sarnoff and 125 others.
March 24- June 10, Hanoi, Stockholm, Moscow, Nancy Kurshan Rubin, Anita Susan Kushner Hoffman, Judith Gumbo Genie Plamondon.
March 28-30, Stockholm Robert Greenblatt, Irving Sarnoff, William Davidon, Doug Dowd, Carlton Goodlett, Sylvia Kushner, Noam Chomsky, Richard Fernandez, Nancy Kurshan Rubin, Anita Hoffman Judith Clavir and 34 other Americans.
February 13-April 28, Havana, Venceremos: Second Contingent, Edith Crichton, David Ira Camp, John De Wind, Nancy Frappier, Vicki Gabriner, Joyce Greenways, Ann Hathaway, Robert Hackman, Marguarita Hope, Lenore Ruth Kalom, Jonathan Lerner, Jeffrey Melish, Jed Proujansky, Daniel Ross Slick, Marguerite “Mini” Smith, Carlie Tanner, “Daren” [Karen] B. Ackerman, David L. Berger, Carol Brightman, Angela Davis, Ellis Jay Goldberg, William Joseph Maher, Karen Beth Nussbaum, Stephen William Shriver, Shari Whitehead.
April 13, Hanoi Noam Chomsky, Douglas Dowd and Rev. Richard Fernandez
April 12-22, Hanoi 1970 Institute for Policy Studies—Charlotte Bunch-Weeks, Gerald Shin, Frank Joyce and Elisabeth Sutherland-Martinez.
late May, Paris, John Kerry and his new wife Julia Thorne.
May 22-24, Toronto, Joseph H. Crown, William Standard, Richard Falk and 97 other U.S. lawyers.
May, Prague, Czechoslovakia, Ann Hathaway, Eleanor Ruth Kalom, Jonathan David Lerner and Carlie Tanner
June 25-July 2, Paris, Adam Schesch and 31 Minnesotans.
July 27, Havana, third Venceremos Brigade, Jon Frederic Frappier, Eda Godell Hallinan, Richard Gutman and others.
August 27, Cuba Robert Greenblatt,, Nancy Kurshan (Rubin), and Judy Clavir, Judy Gumbo)
Continuous, Cuban intelligence, Bernardine Dohrn, Martin Kenner, Mark Rudd, Julie Nichamin, Karen Koonan, Kathy Boudin, Gerry Long, Karen Ashley, Jeff Jones and Jennifer Dohrn.
August 25-27, Helsinki, Dave Dellinger, Bernardine Dohrn and others.
August and early September 1970, USSR, North Korea, North Vietnam, Algeria, and China, Eldridge Cleaver, Robert Scheer, Regina Blumenfeld, Randy Rappaport, Alexander Hing, Janet Austin, Hideko Pat Sumi, Anne Froines Janet Kranzberg Elaine Brown, Judith Clavir Andrew Truskier.
September 18-23, Pyongyang, Eldridge Cleaver and Byron Booth.
September 23, Canada, Jane Fonda, Tommy Douglas
October 22-25, New Delhi, India, Moscow, three Americans.
November 9-23, Hanoi, Peter Weiss, William Standard and Morton Stavis.
November 28-30, Stockholm, David Dellinger, Rep. Ron Dellums, William Douthard, Sidney Peck, Jerrie M. Meadows, Willie Jenkins, Janey Hayes, Pauline Rosen, Bruce Beyer, Gerry Condon, Mike Powers, John Woods, Estelle Cypher, Eleanor Fowler, Carlton Goodlett, Gil Green Rev. Thomas Hayes, Stan Faulkner Ron Young Silvia Kushner and 15 other Americans.
December Moscow, Saigon, Paris, Hanoi, Mark Rasenick, Doug Hostetter, Keith Parker, David Ifshin and eight other NSA members. People’s Peace Treaty, Robert Greenblatt, Douglas Hostetter.
December 18-26, Hanoi, Anne M. Bennett, Ron Young, Trudi Young, Mary Luke Tobin
March 3-10, Paris, Gabriel Kolko Rev. William T. Gramley, Allan Brick, Mrs. Allides Christopher, Rev. Richard McCollum, Mrs. Jane Whitney, Elaine Schmitt Urbain, Bud Ogle, Rev. Bruce Pierce Harriet Price and 160 other Americans.
Paris. Jane Fonda, Mark Lane, and Michael Hunter.
April 1-6, Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, 600-1,000 American women.
May 10, Paris, Sidney and Louise Peck, Robert Greenblatt, Carol Kitchen and Jack Davis
May 12-16, Budapest, Hungary, Ruth Gage-Colby, John Rankin Davis, Pauline Rosen and 25 other Americans including VVAW.
June 5, 1971, Stockholm, Larry Levin, Tom Hayden and others
June 20-26, Moscow, Oslo and Paris. VVAW Larry Rottman, John Onda, John Randolph “Randy” Floyd or Ken Campbell
Late June, Paris Cora Weiss, Richard Falk, David Dellinger and Ethel Taylor.
September 11-12, Paris. George McGovern, Frank Mankiewicz, Pierre Salinger
On September 21, Stockholm American Deserters Committee, ADC.
Late October, Hanoi WSP’s Amy Swerdlow and two others.
December 21, Paris, Rev. Richard Fernandez, a COLIFAM courier.
August, Paris, John Kerry
Paris VVAW staff member Joe Urgo’s trip to along with a [redacted] member of the War Resisters League, WRL, and [redacted] of Women’s Strike for Peace, WSP.
Hanoi, David McReynold.
Paris, Al Hubbard.
February 5, Paris, Richard J. Barnet and Peter Weiss of IPS.
late February Hanoi, China, George Wald.
January-March, Paris, Budapest, Moscow, Hanoi, and Japan, Al Hubbard.
Mid-February-March, Hanoi, Al Hubbard, Seymour Hersh and Pete Seeger.
February 11-13, Versailles, France, John Gilman, Elizabeth Moos, Sidney Peck, Evelynne Perry, Pauline Rosen, Irving and Ruth Sarnoff, Abe Weisburd, Bernard Weller, Michael Zagarell, Deborah Bustin, Fred Halstead, Daniel Rosenshine, Rennie Davis, Jane Fonda; Al Hubbard, [Richard?] Joe Bangert, Edward Damato, Robert Greenblatt, Fred Branfman, Delia Alvarez, Ron Ridenour, Margery Tabankin, Howard Zinn.
End of March, Hanoi, David Livingston and other labor leaders.
April 6-8, Paris, Cora Weiss, Bob Levering Marcus Raskin, Sister Mary –Luc (sic, Luke) Tobin, Stoney Cookes and Maria Jolas. .
April 20 Paris, Rep. Bella Abzug, Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink and Amy] Swerdlow.
May 19-21, Canada, a VVAW member.
Mid-May? Paris, Rennie Davis
On May 25, Hanoi, Robert Lecky, Rev. Paul Mayer; Marge Tabankin, William Zimmerman
Late June Paris, Peter Mahoney, Rich Bangert, John Bochum, Stanley Michelson, Joseph Hirsch, Gary Steger, Forest Lindley, David Baily, John Turner, “Jack” Bronaugh, Willie Sykes, Ronald Sable, Thomas Zangrilli, Sean Newton, Toby Hollander, Paul Richards, Donald Ullrich all sixteen VVAW members
July 5, Cuba, Jean-Pierre Wendell, Leland Lubinsky, Fred Werner, Alan Morris, and Albert Morgafive members of VVAW in Venceremos Brigade.
June 6-10, Paris, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger and Rennie Davis
Most of July 1972 Hanoi, Moscow Jane Fonda.
August 4, Hanoi ,Dr. George Perera and John A. Sullivan.
July 29 to August 12, Hanoi, General Ramsey Clark.
End of August, Paris, David Dellinger and Cora Weiss.
September 11, Hanoi, Mrs. Charles, Mrs. Gartley, Elias, Weiss, Dellinger, Coffin, Mrs. Mary Anne Hamilton and Rev. Harry Bury.
October 4-17, Hanoi, 1972, Drs. Gardner, Simon and Wolf and one other.
In October 1972, Copenhagen, Denmark, CALC, and VVAW member assisting ADC.
During October Hanoi, Jane Hart (nee Senator Philip Hart), Mrs. D. Goodwin, Muriel Rukeyser and Denise Levertov COLIFAM sponsored.
End of October 25, Hanoi, Joseph Crown, Malcolm Monroe, Lawrence Velvel and John Wells.
Late October Paris, Cora Weiss and Richard Barnet.
November 12, Hanoi, Hayden, Howard Zinn, Rev. David Hunter, Fred Branfman, Susan Miller, Carolyn Mugar, Jan Austin.
December 11, Hanoi, Joan Baez; the Episcopal Rev. Michael Allen of Yale Divinity; Barry Romo , Gen. Telford Taylor.
Hayden and Fonda Paris. They marched off to the Vietnamese mission.
January 23-February 3, Hanoi Dorothy R. Steffens, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, and Marii Hasegawa all WILFP.
February 19-24, Rome, Sidney Peck, John David Musgrave
July 28-August 4, East Berlin, 1973, Robert Diaz, Maria Elena Gaitan, Tony Herman, Maggie Block, Tim Brick, Judy Simmons, Joe Rhodes, Mary Clemons, Jeanne Woods, Linda Weber, Beatrice Siskind Johnson, Karen Ackerman, and some 285 other Americans.
August 2-15, 1973, Tokyo, Gensuiko,
August 8-August 26, Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, and Odessa, many Americans.
October 20-27, Paris, Hayden, Jane Fonda and others re: Germantown strategy meeting.
October 25-November 2, 1973, Moscow, Brian Adams, Joan Elberg, Andre Souquire, Ann Bailey, John Naveau, Tim Butz, Pete Zastrow, Paul Mayer, Grace Paley, Noam Chomsky, David Dellinger, David McReynolds, Sidney Peck, Noam Chomsky, Father Dan Berrigan and 1805 other Americans.
November 1973, “liberated” South Vietnam, Cora Weiss, Don Luce and professor Sam Noumoff.
Sometime, Hanoi, Karen Nussbaum and six other IPC.
December 8-9, Paris, Barry Romo and Peter Zastrow.
December 1973 Hanoi, professor Gabriel Kolko.
March 29-31, Stockholm, Fred Branfman, Richard A. Falk, William Goodfellow, Gabriel Kolko.
April 1-24, North Vietnam "liberated South Vietnam, Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda.
March, Moscow, Jane Fonda.
March 1975, Hanoi, Professor Gabriel Kolko.
March 13, Cuba, 125-135 Americans in Eighth Venceremos Brigade.
April, Cuba, 200 Americans travel in 9th Venceremos Brigade.
On April 7 Paris, Cora Weiss and Gareth Porter.
April 16-27, Hanoi, Larry Levin
April 29, Hanoi, John McAuliff.
May 17, Vancouver, Arlene Eisen Bergman and 250 other Americans.
Amsterdam, American “peace” organizations.
June 20-22, Stockholm, Cora Weiss, Fred Branfman and Ira Arlook.
April and May, Hanoi, David Dellinger, George Wald, John McAuliff and two others celebrate the 10th anniversary of the conquest of South Vietnam. Invited ,Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, do not go.
 Does not include Radio Hanoi, correspondence, telephone contacts in FBIS broadcasts and NSA intercepts.
One of our members, Dr. Roger Canfield, has published a massive book detailing all of the associations and actions of the anti-war activists involved in the Vietnam War, demonstrating their close cooperation with worldwide communism. (The book is over 2,100 pages and more than 6,000 footnotes.) When I suggested, on an academic discussion list, that Dr. Canfield's book had merit and should be studied, the response I got was that no reputable scholar would read a book with that title.
So much for the spirit of inquiry.
Father Daniel Joseph Berrigan was a Jesuit priest who became actively involved in the Vietnam War's anti-war movement.
What you will not see in obituaries for Daniel Berrigan
Excerpts from Roger Canfield’s Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy—America. An e-book at http://americong.com
Catholic Peace Fellowship at Christian Peace Conference in Prague
Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Heidbrink invited Catholic Worker’s Jim Forest, Father Daniel Berrigan, Herman Evans and James Douglass to, very curiously, the Communist capitol of Prague to formalize the Catholic Peace Fellowship as an affiliate of FOR. Happy coincidence?
Christian Peace Conference, June 1964, Prague
At the end of June 1964 in Prague, Czechoslovakia the Christian Peace Conference, CFC, met. A U.S. based committee recruited Americans to attend the CPC. Alfred Hassler of Fellowship of Reconciliation, FOR, had tasked John Heidbrink to recruit American Catholics into FOR and the peace movement. Though formed in 1963 in the USA by Jim Forest, Marty Corbin and Philip Berrigan, FOR’s John Heidbrink invited Catholic Worker’s Jim Forest, Father Daniel Berrigan, Herman Evans and James Douglass to, very curiously, the Communist capitol of Prague to formalize the Catholic Peace Fellowship as an affiliate of FOR. Could members of the universal Catholic Church become recruits to international Communism? Unfortunately, yes.
Communist controlled East European leadership, (Joseph Hromadka, Alexander Karew, Archbishop Nikodim, Bishop Barta, and Prof. Schmauch) entirely dominated The Christian Peace conference, CPC. …
….As LBJ was signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, David Dellinger was leading a protest against the Vietnam War in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Joining Dellinger were A.J. Muste, Joan Baez, Rabbi and Democrat fundraiser Abraham Feinberg, and Catholic priests Daniel and Phillip Berrigan. The protest was to draw attention to a “Declaration of Conscience” against the draft. Meanwhile, Catholics faced the gentle touch of the Vietcong in South Vietnam. July 14, 1964, the Viet Cong executed Pham Thao, chairman of the Catholic Action Committee in Quang Ngai, …
…In 1967 Berrigan had had considerable conflict with superiors in his Jesuit order over his desire to go to Hanoi with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, FOR, to bring medical supplies. Thomas Merton, a Communist while at Columbia University and then a dupe of communist front groups, advised Berrigan to follow his conscience. …
…Writers and Editors Tax Protest against “Immoral” Vietnam War
During late 1967 and early 1968 Gerald Walker of the New York Times Sunday Magazine organized a protest against an LBJ proposed 10% tax on telephones and “many of us” opposed “23% of current income to …finance the (‘morally wrong’) Vietnam War. The ad was printed in Ramparts, New York Review of Books, and the New York Post in January and February 1968.
Many had far left, including Communist, credentials and engaged in pro-Hanoi activities. Out of 528 signers the most noteworthy were. M. S. Arnoni, Robert B. Avakian, James Baldwin, Irving Beinin, Daniel Berrigan, S. J., Philip Berrigan, …
…Declaration of Conscience
For some it was their last pretense of neutrality before going over to the other side.
The Catholic Worker, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), the Student Peace Union (SPU), and the War Resisters League (WRL) published the "Declaration of Conscience Against the War in Vietnam." Some 6,000 signed including Daniel and Phil Berrigan, ….The Declaration argued that opposing Communist would spread it further. “There is not one shred of credible evidence that the bulk of munitions used by the Vietcong originate in the north.”
… On February 16, 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan and Professor Howard Zinn traveled to Hanoi and met Pham Van Dong. According to Berrigan’s notes, Dong said, in part, “…We have a common front. We are in combat here and you there.” As comrades in arms, they were surely on the same side….
In March 1968, Mary McCarthy, self-described utopian socialist and member of the international literati arrived in Hanoi in the midst of the Tet Offensive and on the heels of the release of three American POWs to Father Daniel Berrigan and Professor Howard Zinn. …
…On tour [in Hanoi] Dellinger saw bombed hospitals. Thereafter the now Hanoi-credentialed Dellinger, like Tom Hayden before him, helped arrange trips to North Vietnam for others such as Diane Nash Bevel, Patricia Griffith, Daniel Berrigan, Howard Zinn and various women and clergy groups. Hayden and Dellinger, joined by Cora Weiss, the three became Hanoi’s major gatekeepers for fellow travelers to Hanoi and Paris.
…The most noteworthy and published American and western contributors to the Bulletin of Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars during the Vietnam War and its immediate aftermath, 1968-1977, were: Iqbal Ahmad, Doug Allen, Frank Baldwin, Dan Berrigan, Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, CCAS, for the expressed purpose to oppose The “brutal aggression of the United States in Vietnam” and to encourage “anti-imperialist research.” …
It was socialism of the peculiar communist kind. As uncritically Marxist the CCAS promoted Mao’s cultural revolution.
CCAS supported several generations of pro-Hanoi historians of the Vietnam War …
…Hanoi POW Releases—Berrigan and Zinn
After a telegrammed request from the Vietnamese Peace Committee citing “a repentant attitude” of several POWs on January 28, 1968 to David Dellinger, on February 17, 1968, Tom Hayden and David Dellinger coordinated a second POW release to Father Daniel Berrigan and professor and secret Communist Howard Zinn. …
Upon arrival in “the destroyed city” of Hanoi, Catholic priest and poet, Daniel Berrigan thought, “the loveliest fact of all was the most elusive and insignificant, we had been received with flowers” also sandals, and the poems of Ho Chi Minh. …
…“Feeling of victory in Hanoi during the Viet Cong Tet offensive.”
At the North Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane, Laos during Tet on February 9 Berrigan says the Hanoi Vietnamese “are too humane to rake over our losses [in Tet]. …Time has gone over to their side, in the night.” They are so courteous and gentle “during a week of humiliation of the Allies.” Zinn said, “there was a lot of feeling of victory in Hanoi during the Viet Cong Tet offensive. …the NLF is a force in its own right.”
… “We wanted badly to wander by ourselves, but the danger was explained to us.”
Instead of going to see what was going on, Zinn and Berrigan listened to a six-hour lecture from Col. Ha Van Lau followed by days filled with an orchestrated tour of bomb debris, damaged hospital, war museums, commune, folk art and a film on the life of Ho.
They were shown the damaged body parts (e.g. “brain and skull and heart and viscera”) in jars of victims of bombings. It all proved America was waging “a monstrous and intentionally genocidal war.” Berrigan believed black ghettos in the USA were also evidence of “genocidal intent.” Berrigan’s hate for America seemed to fuel his love for Hanoi.
Premier Pham Van Dong: “great intelligence…great reserves of compassion.”
On February 16, 1968 Berrigan and Zinn met Premier Pham Van Dong at his French villa and garden behind armored doors.
Berrigan saw in the “face of this man…complexity dwells…life and death…great intelligence, and yet also great reserves of compassion.” (Seven years later in 1975 Dong’s mother saw no such compassion and fled her son’s invasion [of South Vietnam]. …
“We are in combat here, and you there.”
According to Berrigan’s notes, Dong said, in part, “Your visit is of some importance… We ask…that you clarify the meaning of war for your fellow Americans.” Dong said, “public opinion in your country is of the essence.” Further “we have a common front. We are in combat here, and you there.” Comrades in arms, they were on the same side.
POWs: Correct Attitude
The Vietnamese explained to Berrigan and Zinn why they were releasing POW pilots. “We are trying to educate the pilots. …It is not easy to convince these men of a new way; long and patient explanation is requires. …. Is it possible, that (the pilots will)...do something for the antiwar movement in the United States?”
Bratislava comrade Ray Mungo of Liberation News Service, received a Telex, “doubtless written by some of the Vietnamese I'd met in Bratislava, and this from Zinn and Berrigan”:
RELEASE OF THREE AIRMEN IMMINENT.
NORTH VIETNAMESE OUTRAGED AT CONTINUING BOMBARDMENT BUT RETAIN COMPASSION FOR AIRMEN WHO ARE TRAPPED BY WASHINGTON DECISIONS.
HOPE RELEASED AIRMEN NEVER AGAIN BOMB YET AWARE POSSIBILITY THREE RELEASED PILOTS RETURN TO BOMB VIETNAM.
WE ARE MOVED BY NORTH VIETNAMESE STATEMENT "EVEN IF THIS HAPPENS WE RETAIN FAITH IN ULTIMATE DECENCY OF AMERICAN PEOPLE.
No Longer Hostages
There was one hitch in the propaganda driven release.
The prisoners were “escorted as far as Vientiane, where the [POW] officers elected to transfer to US military aircraft.” Instead of Father Berrigan and Professor Zinn, the POWs soon had official U.S. government escorts. …
…Berrigan wrote to POW families that the mental and physical condition of the men was good and so was their weight. Berrigan had every reason to believe that the Vietnamese acted “humanely toward prisoners.”
Berrigan believed the North Vietnamese. The POWs were reformed just like the French prisoners before them by “a process of inward change.” And so “without prompting,” the POWs readily told Berrigan how good their food and medical care was. …
…POW Escort Berrigan: Jesuit Napalms Draft Cards
Maj. Norris Overly’s escort Daniel Berrigan and eight others –Philip Berrigan, David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, Marjorie Melville, Thomas Melville, George Mische and Mary Moylan-- had earned considerable media notoriety as the Cantonsville Nine.
They staged the napalming of the draft files of 378 persons in wire trashcans before an assembled crowd of reporters at the Catonsville, Maryland draft board. FOR’s Allan Brick characterized it all as a nonviolent act of conscience.
“Their major accomplishment was scaring the hell out of the little old ladies at the office of the Catonsville draft board,” remembers Pat Joyce, an editor at the Baltimore Evening Sun and of several Catholic newspapers. Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, Berrigan went underground, was captured and served 18 months before being paroled in 1972. …
…Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice
In planning for Hollywood celebrations of May Day 1971 and other causes, Jane Fonda, Shirley and Donald Sutherland formed the Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice, EIPJ, in March 1971. …
Donald Sutherland introduced film excerpts of “Winter Soldier,” which had premiered at Cannes and at the Whitney Museum in New York, focusing on VVAW that war crimes were American policy in Vietnam. Lancaster read a statement from Daniel Berrigan and introduced Fonda who described EIPJ as part of a broad coalition for peace and justice. Only later would Jon Voight describe how he “was surrounded by people were heavily programed Marxist…very, very deep.” He concluded there was “Marxist propaganda underlying the so-called peace movement.” He told Glenn Beck, “I didn’t even realize it at the time…the communists were behind organizing all of these rallies and things.” 
CP World Assembly for Peace Versailles, France February 11-13, 1972
“A horde of Communist-controlled agitators”
Soviet controlled fronts, World Peace Council, WPC, and the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam joined by 48 French Communist Party and associated organizations sponsored a World Assembly for Peace in Versailles, France from February 11-13, 1972.
…The plenary session of the Assembly in Versailles then adopted a specific six week antiwar program, virtual instructions, for the U.S. antiwar movement for April and May: April 1 defense of Harrisburg defendants Berrigan et al, Angela Davis; April 15, Tax Resistance Day; and in early May, actions inside military bases.
Protests were to encourage “draft evasions, desertions, resistance, demonstrations which now effect even soldiers.”
…On March 20, 1972 New York Times man, Seymour Hersh, returned from Hanoi to hand off Hanoi’s POW mail to Daniel Berrigan who held a press conference at New York’s Main Post Office at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street announcing he was joining COLIFAM. Berrigan, escort to three POWS, was surely on Hanoi’s approved list since it had selected all of COLIFAM’s members.
Americans Begging to Dissent, Nicely…Please
…In Moscow, a group of Americans—Paul Mayer, Grace Paley, Noam Chomsky, David Dellinger, David McReynolds and Sidney Peck-- chose to send a tepid message of support for political dissenters in the Soviet Union. A stronger message was not sent because of differences with “Russian friends.” The American “friends” argued they had “earned a right” to a slight dissent because they were “outspoken critics” of the “monstrous …attacks on Indochina” and, like their friendly hosts, sought “social justice.”
They certainly were not seeking to make any invidious comparisons between the Soviet’s relatively bloodless Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia with the truly “hideous loss of life” in Chile. Solidarity with Allende’s Chile was a major program of the CPUSA and its fronts.
…Genuflections complete, the group simply announced, “We support the Soviet dissidents.” Grace Paley, Father Paul Mayer, Noam Chomsky, Dave Dellinger, David McReynolds, Sidney Peck, Father Dan Berrigan and unrecorded others signed the pathetic petition. The whole body of the World Congress of Peace Forces, including over 150 of the 200 American delegates, “disassociated itself from [the] statement.” The “dissent” message appears to have been meant for an American headline, perhaps in the New York Review of Books.
Vietnam: Fulfilling the Obligations of National Security With Restraint
…Acting with restraint unknown to government institutions elsewhere, the FBI, NSA, DIA, ONI, local police and CIA did attempt to discover collaboration with the enemy.
…The FBI was wiretapping the telephones of 17-30 individuals in 1970 out of over 220 million Americans.
…Of 2,370 COINTELPRO operations over 15 years 58% were against the Communist Party.
Again the list of alleged targets is long including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., AIM leader Leonard Peltier, Black Liberation Army (BLA) Sundiata Acoli, Assata Shakur, Dhoruba Al-Mujahid Bin Wahad (formerly Richard Moore), and the New York 3 (Herman Bell, Anthony "Jalil" Bottom, and Albert "Nuh" Washington), Cesar Chavez, Fathers Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, Rev. Jesse Jackson, David Dellinger.
…As we have seen above many of these individuals and groups were worthy of FBI attention.
…COINTEL operations against the New Left were 8.3% of the total. 91.7% had little or nothing to do with the New Left opposition to the war.
Joan Baez …Open Letter to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Co-Signers . Daniel Berrigan, serial supporter of Communist Party USA (CPUSA) fronts, the Socialist Workers party (SWP), traveled to Hanoi in 1968 with secret Communist Howard Zinn to take custody of American POWs, joined Hanoi front COLIFAM exploiting POWs, member of Cantonsville Nine which napalmed local draft files, attended Citizens Conference on Ending the War in Indochina in Paris meeting Vietnamese communists, in March 1971 joined Jane Fonda’s Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice, EIPJ, and later allied with the Workers World Party (WWP).
Baez remembered, "A campaign was launched to stop me.
…Previous Associates of Hayden-Fonda Left Joined Joan Baez
Despite such pressure, many friends of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda did sign the Joan Baez ad: Ed Asner, Daniel Berrigan, Pat Brown (not Jerry Brown), David Carliner (ACLU), Caesar Chavez, Benjamin Dreyfus, Douglas Fraser, Allen Ginsberg, Lee Grant, Terence Hallinan, Nat Nentoff, Norman Lear, Staughton Lynd, Mike Nichols, I.F. Stone, William Styron, Lily Tomlin, Peter Yarrow….
 Thomas C. Cornell, “Catholic Peace Fellowship Ten years Old,” The National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 1975; Christian Peace Conference 1964-66, correspondence of Jim Forest and John Heidbrick, Catholic Peace Fellowship, CCPF 2/12 Folder, Notre Dame Archives, CPF 002.
 United States Committee for the Christian Peace Conference, 1966-1967, Box 11, Records of the Church Peace Mission, 1950-1967, Collection: DG 177, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, PA.
 Relationship of FOR to CPF, Catholic Peace Fellowship Records, University of Notre Dame Archives, CCPF boxes 11-17.
 Thomas C. Cornell, “Catholic Peace Fellowship Ten years Old,” The National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 1975; Christian Peace Conference 1964-66, correspondence of Jim Forest and John Heidbrick, Catholic Peace Fellowship, CCPF 2/12 Folder, Notre Dame Archives, CPF 002.
 Radio Free Europe June 10, 1964, Open Society Archives, U.S.A.BOX-FOLDER-REPORT: 17-1-95. at http://files.osa.ceu.hu/holdings/300/8/3/text/17-1-95.shtml.
 8/25/1972, FBI, Information Digest, Special Report on VVAW, http://www.wintersoldier.com/staticpages/index.php?page=InfoDigestGuide
 Andrew E. Hunt, David Dellinger: The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Revolutionary, New York: NY University Press, 2006, 135 cites James Tracy, Direct Action: Radical Pacifism from the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven, Chicago; Chicago University Press, 1996, 128 and New York Times July 4, 1964; Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, Who Spoke Up: American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, 20.
 Paul Kengor, Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010, 86, n29 528.
 Berrigan, Daniel. Night Flight to Hanoi: War Diary with 11 Poems. New York: Macmillan, 1968.
 M.S. Arnoni was the publisher of Minority of One which printed many Soviet propaganda articles according to Oleg Kalugin, Arnoni’s control officer. Kalugin also had KGB-written and funded ads placed in the New York Times and the Nation.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 128.
 James W. Clinton interview of David Dellinger, January 23, 1991 and November 16, 1990 in James W. Clinton, The Loyal Opposition: Americans in North Vietnam, 1965-1972, Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1995, 47-51.
 Richard Baum, China and The American Dream: a Moral Inquiry, Seattle: University of Washington, 2010, 236-9.
 FBI, FOIA, Howard Zinn.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, 38, 134 cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 356.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, XIV, cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 371.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 31.
 FBI, FOIA, Howard Zinn, BS 100-35505
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 41.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 50-6.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 65.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 55; Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, 78-9, 86, 111 cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 201.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 128.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, New York: Macmillan, 1968, 42-3.
 Ray Mungo, Famous Long Ago: My Life And Hard Times With Liberation News Service, Citadel Press, 1970, 28. http://www.sunrisedancer.com/radicalreader/library/famouslongago.pdf
 CIA, FOIA, case number EO11978-00207, “International Connections of US Peace Groups—III,” 2-3.
 Tom Hayden, "Impasse ..." Ramparts, Aug. 24, 1968, 18.
 (Rev)Daniel Berrigan to Dear Friends, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, March 3, 1968.
 Daniel Berrigan, Night Flight to Hanoi, 78-9, 86, 111 cited in Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims,353.
 Allan Brick, Report on the Cantonsville Nine: What is Nonviolence Today? Pamphlet at Political Pamphlet Collection, University of Missouri Special Collection; Marion Mollin, Radical Pacifism in Modern America: Egalitarianism and Protest, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
 Joyce to author.
 Contemporary flyer announcing event in possession of author.
 Glenn Beck show, Fox News, June 11, 2009.
 Jon Voight, op ed. Washington Times, July 28, 2008, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/voight/
 FBI, Denver, Memo, “VVAW National Steering Committee Meeting, Denver, Colo, February 18-21, 1972, Internal Security-new Left,” March 17, 1972, 31-33.
 [Unsigned, likely John Dougherty and or Bernard Wells], Intelligence Evaluation Group Committee and Staff, “Foreign Support for Activities Planned to Disrupt or Harass the Republican National Convention,” 21 March, 1972, CIA, FOIA, Family Jewels,553-4.
 Daily World, March 21, 1972; FBI, SAC New York to Director, COLIFAM IS-New Left AIRTEL, March 21, 1972;
 Ray Ellis, “The World Congress of Peace Forces,” Political Affairs, Journal of Marxist Thought and Analysis, January. 1974, 14.
 e.g. National Conference in Solidarity with Chile, February 8-9, 1975 at Concordian Teachers College in River Forest outside of Chicago. CPUSA fronts as Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy, TUAD; the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, NAARPR, National Lawyers Guild, NLG; Emma Lazarus Clubs; Venceremos Brigade; CPUSA-controlled or influenced International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union — ILWU; Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers; United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers; Amalgamated Meatcutters; Marxist organizations Puerto Rican Socialist Party, People's Party, New American Movement, and Socialist Party.
 “American Dissent in Moscow,” The New York Review of Books, Volume 20, Number 20, December 13, 1973. nybooks.com/articles/9657.
 Thulani Davis, “Remembering Grace Paley (1922-2007),” Alternet.org, August 25, 2007. http://www.alternet.org/story/60693/; also Grace Paley 1922-2007: Acclaimed Poet and Writer Dies at 84, Democracy Now, August 24th, 2007 http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/08/24/1322211
 Much is made of CIA involvement in domestic affairs.
The CIA did assist the Washington Metropolitan Police Department during the 1969-1971 anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. It provided a radio receiver and several automobiles equipped with radios and manned by two Field Office Agents. See: CIA, FOIA, “CIA support to Washington metropolitan police department during anti-Vietnam War demonstrations 1969-1971 described,” reference: 1983-000131, 1.
 Ray Wannall, The Real J. Edgar Hoover: For the Record, Paducah: Turner Publishing Company, 2000,77.
 Daily World, March 21, 1972; FBI, SAC New York to Director, COLIFAM IS-New Left AIRTEL, March 21, 1972;
 FBI, Memo, “Travel of U.S. Citizens to Paris, France, sponsored by Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, American Friends Service Committee, and Fellowship of Reconciliation, March 3-10, 1971,” March 23, 1971 File No. 100-11392 at FBI, FOIA, A, AFSC.
 Contemporary flyer announcing event in possession of author.
This past week the University of Texas at Austin held the Vietnam War Summit. It was another disappointing attempt to analyze the war without the input of Vietnamese participants (other than the communist ambassador from Vietnam) and without views opposing the accepted wisdom of the anti-war scholars who dominate Vietnam War "scholarship".
Particularly irritating was a session that included the inputs of communist sympathizers Tom Hayden and Marilyn Young without so much as a single opposing view. Our own Dr. Robert Turner could have added much to the discussion, since he was personally involved in debating anti-war activists during the conflict.
The conference was discussed on Twitter under the hashtag #VietnamWarSummit, and that resurfaced some of the enduring myths of the war.
This is an old canard repeated by opponents of the Vietnam War to "prove" that Ngo Dinh Diem was never a popular leader. Here's the quote:
I am convinced that the French could not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam, weak and confused, badly weakened their military position. I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bao Dai was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for. As one Frenchman said to me, "What Vietnam needs is another Syngman Rhee, regardless of all the difficulties the presence of such a personality would entail."Those who use the quote often elide the fact that Eisenhower referred to Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and not South Vietnamese Premier Ngo Dinh Diem. They also ignore the fact that the quote dates to 1954 before the Geneva Accords were signed and referred to "the time of the fighting" rather than the brief peace that followed.
The claim is often tied to a related one.
The elections referred to are the ones recorded in a supplement to the Geneva Accords that was not signed by any state and would have taken place in 1956. Neither the US nor South Vietnam were signatories to the accords and therefore neither agreed nor disagreed regarding elections at that time (although South Vietnam protested the talks since they were excluded).
While it is true that the US opposed the 1956 elections (as did Diem), the reason for doing so had nothing to do with Ho winning an election. The objection was due to the Russian refusal to allow elections monitored by the UN. By 1956 Ho was struggling with the disastrous results of his land reform program that killed tens of thousands of North Vietnamese landowners for the "crime" of being landowners. At the same time Diem was being hailed as a "miracle worker" by the New York Times.
Rather than oppose elections, the US supported them until they realized that Diem was adamantly opposed unless they could be made free.
The U.S. did not--as is often alleged--connive with Diem to ignore the elections. U.S. State Department records indicate that Diem's refusal to be bound by the Geneva Accords and his opposition to pre-election consultations were at his own initiative. However, the U.S., which had expected elections to be held, and up until May 1955 had fully supported them, shifted its position in the face of Diem's opposition, and of the evidence then accumulated about the oppressive nature of the regime in North Vietnam.In the US Secretary Dulles explained the US position and indicated that there was no fear of a Ho election victory if free elections were held:
Neither the United States Government nor the Government of Viet-Nam is, of course, a party to the Geneva armistice agreements. We did not sign them, and the Government of Viet-Nam did not sign them and, indeed, protested against them. On the other hand, the United States believes, broadly speaking, in the unification of countries which have a historic unity, where the people are akin. We also believe that, if there are conditions of really free elections, there is no serious risk that the Communists would win.....However, opponents of the war continue to insist that not only was Eisenhower admitting that Ho would have defeated Diem in an election but that the US actively worked to prevent the elections from occurring. Neither claim is even remotely supportable by the evidence.
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.So much untruth packed into such a short space!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Fr. Gheddo further elaborated on this revelation in the following: “The same Buddhist bonze, Tri Quang, who was the principal architect of his downfall, no longer takes responsibility today for having overthrown him. In a long interview granted to me, he asserted that it was not his intention to have Diem fall; all he wanted was for him to concede greater democratic freedoms and not to patronize the Catholics openly. But, Tri Quang went on, Diem was overthrown by a coup d’etat of the military, supported by the Americans and not by the Buddhists (which in fact is true).The fact they contributed to Diem’s downfall is regretted by the Americans as an unpardonable error. Actually, the dictator was a convinced nationalist and did not want the Americans to gain a footing in the country. This is our war – he said frequently to the American ambassador – not yours; give us arms and military advisers, but not soldiers. In fact in November 1963, when Diem was killed, there were only 16,000 Americans in South Vietnam, principally diplomats and advisers of various kinds (military men, advisers for aid programs and agricultural development, etc.), while today there are more than half a million.” Fr. Piero Gheddo; THE CROSS AND THE BO-TREE: Catholics & Buddhists in Vietnam; New York: Sheed & Ward, 1970; pages: 134 – 135.]
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. Howard Jones; DEATH OF A GENERATION: How The Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War; Oxford University Press, 2003; page: 436.] 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. Monique Brinson Demery; FINDING THE DRAGON LADY: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu; New York, Public Affairs, 2013; page: 210.] 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. Ibid. page: 214.] 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. Howard Jones; DEATH OF A GENERATION: How The Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War; Oxford University Press, 2003; page: 436.] 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. Hoang Ngoc Thanh & Than Thi Nhan Duc; WHY THE VIETNAM WAR? President Ngo Dinh Diem and the US, His Overthrow and Assassination; Tuan – Yen & Quan –Viet Mai-Nam Publishers, 2001 [ISBN: 09675058-0-1]; 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. Nolting, “Kennedy, NATO, and Southeast Asia,” Diplomacy, Administration, and Policy, Thompson, ed., 25.]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. Paul D. Harkins, “Letter to Fritz Nolting,” March 27, 1964, pp. 1 – 2 in R621/102.921, Box No.: 12, Selected Correspondence: Harkins, Paul D., The Nolting Papers.] 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. Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., “Letter to General Paul D. Harkins - COMUSMACV,” April 7, 1964, p. 1 of 2 in R621/102.921, Box No.: 12, Selected Correspondence: Harkins, Paul D., The Nolting Papers. Nolting’s suspicions about the Country Team being undermined were founded on reality as would later be proved in the contents of the secret annex to the Hilsman-Forrestal Report.]
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. Paul D. Harkins, “Hand-Written Letter to Fritz Nolting,” July 22, 1971, pp. 1–2 in R621/102.921, Box No.: 12, Selected Correspondence: Harkins, Paul D., The Nolting Papers.] 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. The Editor, “Review & Outlook: The First Lesson of Vietnam,” The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 1983, 1, in R621/102.921, Box Number: 23, Professional Papers, Newsclippings 2 of 2, The Nolting Papers.]
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. Frederick E. Nolting, “Ex-Ambassador Nolting Speaks: Refusal to Admit Blunder Trapped LBJ in Vietnam,” The Wheeling Register, March 1967, 1, in R621/102.921, Box Number: 23, Professional Papers, News clippings 1 of 2, The Nolting Papers.] 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. Ibid.]
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. Ibid., 2.] 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. “Nolting Finally Speaks Out,” The Danville Register, Danville, VA, April 4, 1968, 1, in R621/102.921, Box Number: 23, Professional Papers, Newsclippings 2 of 2, The Nolting Papers]
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:
- That he had been unwilling to go along with the State Department’s policy while serving as US Ambassador in Viet Nam.
- That he had refused Rusk’s personal request to extend his tour of duty in Saigon beyond two years.
- 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. [17. Correspondence to Dean Rusk, p. 1 of 2 in R621/102.921; Box Number: 13; Selected correspondence, The Nolting Papers.]
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.” [18. Letter from the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, to The Honorable Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., April 9, 1964, p. 1 of 1 in R621/102.92; Box Number: 13; Selected Correspondence - Dean Rusk, The Nolting Papers.] 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. [19. “On the second point, I am quite sure that I never received a personal request from you to stay on in Saigon. If I had, I would have stayed. After our initial exchange of letters on this subject (December 2, 1962, and January 17, 1963), I had a further exchange with Averell Harriman, who approved our plans for home leave in May, 1963, and added that, due to the time required to find a replacement, it would be necessary for me to return to Viet Nam after home leave. This I agreed to do, and so notified Diem, on instructions. The next word from Washington on this subject was the public announcement of Lodge’s appointment, while we were en route home on leave and consultation.” Letter From Frederick Nolting to The Honorable Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, April 14, 1963, p. 1 of 2 in R621/102.92; Box Number: 13; Selected Correspondence - Dean Rusk, The Nolting Papers.]
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. [20. Draft of Letter to The Honorable Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, from Frederick Nolting, September 24, 1963, p. 1 of 5 in R621/102.92; Box Number: 13; Selected Correspondence to Dean Rusk, The Nolting Papers.] 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. [21. “This is the third time I have heard reports of remarks attributed to you to which I take strong exception. Your reply to my letter several months ago was not conclusive or satisfactory from my point of view, and I was frankly disappointed that, after our long association, you did not respond to my suggestion that we should clear up any misunderstanding by face-to-face talk.” Ibid.]
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. [22. “On the substance of the matter, the facts as I know them are these. Correspondence on the duration of my tour of duty in Viet Nam began with my letter to you from Saigon in December 1962, at a time when things were going well in Viet Nam, requesting you to bear in mind my desire, for family reasons, to be relieved after about two years - the period of time you and I had discussed before my departure to Viet Nam. Following your interim reply in January 1963, there was a series of correspondence with others in the State Department, the upshot of which was an understanding that I should come home on leave and consultation at the end of May 1963 and then return to Saigon for an indefinite period, pending the selection of a successor and an orderly transfer of responsibility. I was instructed to tell the Vietnamese government that I would return to my post after six weeks of leave and consultation, and I did so inform President Diem. On State Department orders my family and I left Saigon on May 23 for leave in Europe and consultation in Washington. While we were on vacation, the so-called Buddhist crisis broke out in Viet Nam, in June last year. I was not informed of this dangerous development, although my clear travel instructions had been left with my deputy in Saigon to notify me of any change in the situation. The sudden adverse development in Viet Nam clearly warranted my being notified. Yet neither the State Department nor Embassy Saigon did so.” Ibid. 1-2 of 5.] 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. [23. “I have my own views as to why this matter was handled the way it was. The reason, I think, lies in the uncontrolled plotting going on in Washington at that time. When I arrived in Washington for consultation in early July 1963, I reported first to Averell Harriman. He opened the conversation by saying that if he had had his way, I would have been relieved of my post in May, at the expiration of a two-year tour of duty. I said that, however that might be, I could not understand the State Department’s failure to let me know about the troubles that had broken out in Viet Nam when I was on vacation, which threatened the whole basis of our policy there. He replied that he did not think that my presence in Viet Nam would have helped the situation in any way. The implication was clear - he wanted to see a revolution there. It is noteworthy in this connection that it was Harriman who controlled the correspondence respecting the duration of my tour of duty, the timing of my home leave and, I suspect, the decision not to notify me when things began to get out of hand in Saigon.” Ibid., 3-4 of 5.]
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. [24. “To me it is clear that the divided counsels in the Department of State on this critical issue, our government’s susceptibility to press pressures, the lack of co-ordination in Washington and plain bad judgement contributed greatly to the deplorable coup d’etat in Viet Nam last November 1 and the subsequent events which underlie our country’s grave predicament now.” Ibid., 5 of 5.] 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. [25. “The first American Ambassador to Vietnam really worthy of being addressed by this title is being recalled from Vietnam…The Nolting era in Vietnam has been marked by the kind of friendship capable of sustaining differences of opinion and direct attack of the Viet Cong propaganda machine, but apparently the criticism and ridicule of the American press was too much…For the past eight months the American press has apparently been out to get Nolting. Their antipathy for President Ngo Dinh Diem, his family and his government is nothing new and it has rubbed off heavily on Ambassador Nolting. He has been attacked and offended consistently by the American press...The why is not a pretty story. The Ambassador has exhibited the courage to do his job without pandering to any press. In return they discredit his considered evaluations of the situation in Vietnam. They scorn him because he does not try to run the show as a good imperialist should…And now the Buddhist leaders are profiting from the image of Nolting projected abroad by the press to attack him for an honest, reasoned, intelligent statement, attacking him with an insidious and not so subtle appeal for ‘good’ Americans to identify themselves in opposition to Nolting. This would, of course, serve well the interests of those toting neutralism as the ‘solution to the Vietnam problem,’ which is exactly what the Viet Cong want…But in Free Vietnam Nolting will be remembered as the symbol of an era when, nation to nation, the United States and Viet Nam found the basis of understanding which resulted in a workable collaboration for the national interests of both countries and the interests of the Free World. Ambassador Nolting somehow seemed intuitively to know how to represent in its Sunday best the greatest power of the Free World in this newly independent nation while always showing the respect for Vietnam’s national integrity.... Henry Cabot Lodge is to represent the United States in Vietnam, but he will have mighty big shoes to fill.” The Editors, ”Big Shoes To Fill,” The Times of Viet-Nam: A Chronicle of the Nation’s Progress, August 12, 1963, p. 4 in R621/102.92; Box Number: 23; Professional Papers: Newsclippings 1 of 2, The Nolting Papers.]
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. [26. “Interview With President Johnson,” p. 10 of 10 in R621/102.92; Box Number: 28; Professional Papers: Historical Background Records, The Nolting Papers.]
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.” [27. David Halberstam, “Some U.S. Officials In Saigon Dubious About Diem Regime,” The New York Times, July 3, 1963, 1.]
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. [28. William E. Colby, “Foreword,” in Frederick Nolting’s, From Trust To Tragedy: The Political Memoirs of Frederick Nolting, Kennedy’s Ambassador to Diem’s Vietnam (New York: Praeger, 1988), xi-xii.]
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. [29. Special to The New York Times, “Courageous Envoy: Frederick Ernest Nolting, Jr.” (January 13, 1962), p. 1 in R621/102.92; Box Number: 23, Folder Dates and Heading: Professional Papers, News Clippings 1 of 2, The Nolting Papers.]
PostscriptFrederick 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. [30. Nolting, From Trust to Tragedy, 134-35] 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. [31. Mrs. Nolting informed this writer that her husband had no special contacts within Morgan Guaranty Trust and that he secured the position through a combination of luck, experience in the family banking business, and his manifest intellectual capabilities. Telephone interview conducted with Mrs. Nolting, February 4, 1999.] 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. [32. Ibid., 2.] His wife, Mrs. Lindsay Nolting, and four daughters -- Mary, Lindsay, Jane, and Francis -- survived him (although Francis died in 1995). [33. Telephone interview with Mrs. Nolting, February 4, 1999.]
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. [34. Transcript of tape-recorded conversation with General Nguyen Khanh (Premier of South Vietnam, CinC ARVN) and Geoffrey DT Shaw; Recorded on June 16th, 1994 at the USAF Special Operations School, Hurlburt Field, Florida; transcript is available at the Indochina Archives @ Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Center in Lubbock, Texas; transcript page: 62.] 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. [35. Monique Brinson Demery; FINDING THE DRAGON LADY: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu; New York, Public Affairs, 2013; pages: 216 – 217.]
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.” [36. The Sunday Examiner; Hong Kong, July 30th, 1965; page: 12.] 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. [37. Fr. Piero Gheddo; THE CROSS AND THE BO-TREE: Catholics & Buddhists in Vietnam; New York: Sheed & Ward, 1970; page: 136.] 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.
Adopted from Roger Canfield’s Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam Against the Common Enemy—America.
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. Robert Sam Anson, War News, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, 26, 40, 69]
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. Robert Sam Anson, War News, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989, 280-1, 283-5.]
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. “Antiwar Delegation Visits Northern Region of DRV,” Hanoi Domestic Service, 0430 GMT, November 4, 1972, 10, TTU Archive cited in Rothrock 172n32, 472.] He authored “Air War the New Totalitarians.”[4. FBI, Denver, Memo, “VVAW National Steering Committee Meeting, Denver, Colorado, February 18-21, Internal Security-new Left,” March 17, 1972, 58-59.]
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. Fred Branfman, “What would it be like to hide in a cave day after day for five years?” Christian G. Appy, Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides, New York: Penguin Books, 2003, 219.]
Rennie Davis, planner of the disruption of democratic convention[6. Davis-Hayden Paper: Plans for the Protest in Chicago, http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod05_1968/pdfs/25.pdf], 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. FBI, Washington Field to Acting Director, VVAW-IS, TELETYPE, June 27, 1972.] 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. FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground, p. 28 or 361 C]
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. National Veterans Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam, Washington D.C., Congressional Record, March 1, 1971, 4238.] On October 18, 1971, Radio Hanoi lauded Dellums and others for protests “condemning the Vietnam war as immoral.”[10. “Commentary Applauds U.S. Antiwar Fall Offensive: The American People Warn the Nixon Administration,” Hanoi Domestic service in Vietnamese 1430 18 Oct 71, cited in Rothrock, Divided… 292-3n75]
“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. Bernardine Dohrn, notes, captured at a Chicago bomb factory cited in FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 106; See also: AP, “Chicago Officials Drop Charge in ‘Bomb Factory,” New York Times, June 17, 1970.] Havana 1969
At Kent State on April 28, 1969, Dohrn told Kent students to arm for revolution.[12. Alan Stang, “Kent State,” American Opinion, June 1974, 2,4,10.]
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. Kathy Boudin, Bernardine Dohrn, Terry Robbins, “Bringing the War Back Home,” cited in FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 111-113.]
Travels with Bernardine. In 1967 Bernardine Dohrn[14. Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, 357] attended a celebration in Moscow of the fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.[15. New Left Notes, July 10, 1967: 8; Sale, SDS, 348-9.] 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. Sale, SDS, 316; Swinney talk at University of Wisconsin, Madison, October 29, 1968; cited in FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 93.] 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. Carl Oglesby, Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1970s Antiwar Movement, New York: Scribner, 2008, 215.] 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. “US War Foes Meet with Hanoi Group,” Washington Post, September 21, 1968 cited in FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 269; “Declassified U.S. Government intelligence information regarding the communist and foreign connections of the Weather Underground. Presented as evidence, on the agreement of the prosecution and defense counsel, in the trial of W. Mark Felt and Edward S, Miller,” 2 at www.usasurvival.org.] A German SDS conference Dohrn and comrades were demonstrating international solidarity not only on Vietnam, but also anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism.[19. Martin Klimke, The Other Alliance: Student Protest in West Germany & the United States in the Global Sixties, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, 3-5, 8.]
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. Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, The Weather Underground, Committee Print, January 1975, 145-146.] 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. “Weatherman Goes for Weapons,” Combat: a National Review inc. publication, Vol. 2, No. 3, February 1, 1970 Lawrence V. Cott, editor.] Mark Rudd who was there says a four-finger fork salute became a Weather trademark.[22. Mark Rudd, Underground: My Life With the SDS and the Weathermen, New York: Harper Collins, 2009, 189.] 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. Liberation News Service cited in “The Weather Underground Organization,” Information Digest, Vol. XIV, #22, November 13, 1981, 340.]
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. Peter Jamison, “Time Bomb: Weather Underground leaders claimed their bombings were devised to avoid bloodshed. But FBI agents suspect the radical ‘70s group killed a S.F. cop in the name of revolution,” SF Weekly, September 16, 2009.]
“We weren't on the wrong side. We are the wrong side.”[25. Daniel Ellsberg, Hearts and Minds (1974), a documentary of the Vietnam War.]
RICHARD FALKAdopting 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. Richard Falk to Dear friends, COLIFAM, January 17, 1972. ] Ending US air and naval power and stopping all aid to Saigon.[27. Richard Falk, “Mr. Nixon and the Prisoner Smoke screen, New York Times, June 29, 1971.] 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. 'Richard Falk, “The Vietnam Syndrome,” The Nation, July 9, 2001.]
JANE FONDA—one quote out of hundreds.
We have a common enemy---U.S. imperialism. JANE FONDA, July 1972
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. Studies on the Left, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 1965.]
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. Todd Gitlin, "SDS Aid to North Vietnam? A Proposal for a Mission to North Vietnam." SDS Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2-4. (August 1965).]
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. Patsy Truxaw, “House Committee Staffer Sees ‘Tiger Cages’ at Con Son, Quits When Committee Produces Whitewash Report,” Liberation News Service, July 22, 1970, 5.]
Tom Harkin, claiming falsely, to having been a combat fighter pilot in Vietnam, was elected to Congress (1974) and the US Senate (1984). [32. Tom Harkin, Congressional Record, May 23, 2007, S6560; “Senator returns to South Vietnam’s ‘tiger cages,” Knight-Ridder, July 5, 1995.] 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. “Senator returns to South Vietnam’s ‘tiger cages,” Knight-Ridder, July 5, 1995.]
After the 1969 SDS convention Weathermen—Mark Rudd, Jeff Jones, and Bill Ayers—sent a letter to Mao’s sycophant Anna Louise Strong.[34. FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 65.] “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. FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 144-45.]
“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. Georgie Anne Geyer and Keyes Beech, “Cuba: School for US Radicals,” Chicago Sun Times, October 1970 cited in FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 42.]
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. Tom Wells, The War Within]
On June 5, 1971, Larry Levin, Tom Hayden and others attended the Soviet funded, CP-USSR and KGB, Stockholm Conference on Vietnam.[38. Photo on Levin Website; On the conference see Papers of Jack Askins, Anti-Vietnam War Movement, Ref. Code MSS.189/V/1/12/6 cited at http://dscalm.warwick.ac.uk/DServe/dserve.exe?dsqIni=Dserve.ini&dsqApp=Archive&dsqCmd=NaviTree.tcl&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqItem=ASV/1/12&dsqField=RefNo, email@example.com
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. Xuan Thuy Interview With (Larry) Levin (IPC), Hanoi VNA in English 1544 GMT 16 Apr 75 BK]
The Viet Cong’s official South Vietnam in Struggle, published letters of Don Luce and women prisoners [40. “A letter from Don Luce,” South Vietnam in Struggle, No 77, October 20, 1970.] 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. Luce to Shirley Bordenkircher; McPhee to Berkeley, “Transfer of Female Prisoners to Con Son, December 28, 1969; Berkeley to Colby, “Transfer of Female Prisoners to Con Son,” November 28, 1969 cited in D.E, Bordenkircher, S.A. Bordenkircher, Tiger Cage: Untold Story, Abby Publishing, 1998, 107-113.]
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. “The Cages of Con Son island,” Time, Jul. 20, 1970;] During 1972-4 Luce’s Mobile Education Project[43. Indochina Mobile Education Project, 1973, Catholic Peace Fellowship Records, University of Notre Dame Archives, CCPF 3/24 Folder.] 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 used word for word English translations[44. Hoang Van Chi answers to questions of Daniel Teoduro, National Student Coordinating Committee, December 20, 1972, printed as Appendix III, a supplement to Testimony of Daniel E. Teodoru, U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Judiciary, The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam-II, Washington; U.S. Government Printing Office, January 5, 1973, 41-42.] of North Vietnamese propaganda tracts.[45. Testimony of Daniel E. Teodoru, U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Judiciary, The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam, Washington; U.S. Government Printing Office, January 5, 1973, 6-7.] He dismissed Hanoi’s slaughter of no less than 50,000 or more during their 1954 “land reforms” as a myth.[46. D. Gareth Porter, “The Myth of the Bloodbath: North Vietnam’s Land Reform Reconsidered,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 5, 1973; Testimony of Daniel E. Teodoru, U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Judiciary, The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam-II, Washington; U.S. Government Printing Office, January 5, 1973. ] The slaughter at Hue of perhaps 5,800 during Tet 1968 was a fabrication.[47. D. Gareth Porter, “The 1968 ‘Hue Massacre,” Indochina Chronicle, No. 33, June 24, 1974, 2-13.] 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. Edward Herman and D. Gareth Porter, “The Myth of the Hue Massacre,” Ramparts, 13:8 (May-June 1975), 10.] Also a myth was Pol Pot’s “killing fields” genocide in Cambodia.[49. D. Gareth Porter, “The Myth of the Bloodbath: North Vietnam’s Land Reform Reconsidered,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 5, 1973; Gareth Porter, “The 1968 ‘Hue Massacre’ Indochina Chronicle, Issue 33, June 24, 1974.] In several articles and his 1976 book Cambodia. Starvation and Revolution, Porter denied the Khmer Rouge holocaust.[50. Stephen Morris, National Review, Oct 31, 2004]
In 1975 Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi, Cora Weiss, Gareth Porter opposing the evacuation of people and evacuating orphans from South Vietnam.”[51. “Dinh Ba Thi Receives Antiwar Activists Delegation 7 Apr,” Liberation Radio (Clandestine] 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. “To the American People, the Carter Administration and the Congress, “Vietnam: A Time for Healing and Compassion,” The New York Times, January 30, 1977; James Finn, “Fighting Among the Doves,” Worldview, April 1977.] Porter "spent days campaigning against the [Baez] letter. He spent literally hours on the phone haranguing Daniel Ellsberg…” [53. James L. Tyson, Target America: The Influence of Communist Propaganda on U.S. Media, 115.]
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. Dave Curry and Barry Romo, “VIETNAM VETERANS SAY TORTURE POLICY NOT AN ABERATION-DATES BACK TO VIETNAM WAR,” News Release of VVAW, May 26, 2004; Robert Dunn, “Veteran at Urbana High School: Soldier No More,” The Veteran (VVAW), Spring/Summer 1999, Volume 29, Number 1.] 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. Vietnam Vets, “John Kerry and VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War)”, Bella Ciao, Sunday August 29, 2004 - 22:36, http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article3093]
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. FBI, Legat Rome to Acting Director, VVAW, IS-RA, Hilev, TELETYPE 4:30 PM January 30, 1973.]
Mark Rudd remembers a February 6, 1968, Cuba paid[57. “Declassified U.S. Government intelligence information regarding the communist and foreign connections of the Weather Underground. Presented as evidence, on the agreement of the prosecution and defense counsel, in the trial of W. Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller,” 12 at www.usasurvival.org.; Mark Rudd remembers paying his way by selling “opiated hashish” brought back from Vietnam. Mark Rudd, Underground: My Life With the SDS and the Weathermen, New York: Harper Collins, 2009, 38-9] and Soviet KGB subsidized[58. Frank J. Rafalko, MH/CHAOS: The CIA’s Campaign Against the Radical Left and the Black Panthers, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011, 134.] 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. Mark Rudd, Underground: My Life With the SDS and the Weathermen, New York: Harper Collins, 2009, 40.] 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. Mark Rudd, Underground: My Life With the SDS and the Weathermen, New York: Harper Collins, 2009, 55-77; “Declassified U.S. Government intelligence information regarding the communist and foreign connections of the Weather Underground. Presented as evidence, on the agreement of the prosecution and defense counsel, in the trial of W. Mark Felt and Edward S, Miller,” 2 at www.usasurvival.org; Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, The Weather Underground, Committee Print, January 1975.]
In 1969 Weathermen—Mark Rudd, Jeff Jones, and Bill Ayers-- sent a letter to Mao’s sycophant Anna Louise Strong.[61. FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 65.] “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. FBI, FOIA, Weather Underground. The primary source is Acting SAC Chicago to Director, memo, “Foreign Influence-Weather Underground Organization,” August 20, 1976, 144-45.]
About the burning of Cam Ne, a fortified and bunkered Vietcong[63. Peter Brush, “What Really Happened at Cam Ne, Vietnam magazine, June 12, 2006; Andrew Finlayson to Roger Canfield June 26, 2014.] 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. From Reporting America at War: An Oral History, compiled by Michelle Ferrari, with commentary by James Tobin, published by Hyperion, 2003. Copyright ©, 2003 Goodhue Pictures.]
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 war[65. Peter Collier, “Life Along the ‘Ramparts,” New Criterion, January 2010 comments on Scheer’s How the U.S. Got Involved in Vietnam, Santa Barbara: Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 196x.] 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. “Antiwar Rally Speeches by [Donald] 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. August 8, 1970, The Black Panther cited in David Horowitz, FrontpageMagazine.com on May 6, 2003.]
Robert Scheer made a broadcast on Radio Hanoi on September 5, 1970.[68. Hanoi in English to American Servicemen in S. Vietnam 0830 GMT 5 Sep 70. Robert Scheer talks about his visit to both zones of Vietnam.] Robert Scheer said, “The US government is a criminal government that got those pilots [to] perform the highest war crimes…”
Pham Van Dong, General Giap[69. Photo with General Giap is at “U.S. Anti-imperialism Delegation,” Journeys Toward Peace: Internationalism and Radical Orientalism During the U.S. War in Vietnam, http://digitalunion.osu.edu/r2/summer09/caldwell/Pages/eldridgecleaver.html] 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. Collier and Horowitz, Destructive Generation, 226; Armstrong, Trumpet, 165, 188.]
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. Bill Laurie, review of Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam lcounterparts.net/message3_NEW.cfm?threaded=120&messages=6]
“In some countries a Communist government may be the best government. …“Anticommunism [is] as destructive as Stalinism.”[72. Alice Widener, “The Coo of the Doves: From Waldorf to Hilton, 1949-1969,” U.S.A. Vol. XV, No. 26,March 14, 1969.] 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. Thomas B. Morgan, “Reporters of the Lost War,” Esquire, July 1984, 52 cited in Berman, The Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter & Vietnamese Communist Agent, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, 146.]
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. Larry Berman, A Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter & Vietnamese Communist Agent, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, 10.] In late 1974 Neil Sheehan would tell his audience at the Army War College “The idea of fairness and objectivity is specious.”[75. Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, New York: Harcourt, 1999, 427-8n8.]
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. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/o/oliver_stone.html#2f51ruCxtQ4PJrqY.99]
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. Cathy Wilkerson, Flying Close to the Sun, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007,162, 295.]
Dagmar Wilson, on a tour of North Vietnam for Women's Strike for Peace, said, “We knew the Vietnamese were going to win.”[78. Wells interview of Dagmar Wilson, Wells, The War Within, 163]
Dagmar Wilson, Women Strike for Peace, was a member of “The Wilfred Burchett 60th Birthday Committee,”[79. Guardian, February 27, 1971, 9.] 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. Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, We Were Soldiers once...and young, New York; Harper Torch, 1994, 438.]
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. Laurence Feinberg, “Dissent Called 2nd War Front,” Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1967, 1 Texas Tech.]
“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. Jon Voight, op ed. Washington Times, July 28, 2008, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/voight/; Scott Holleran, “Interview: Actor Jon Voight,” boxofficemojo.com.]
“[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, “Reflections on the Anti-war Movement, Then and Now,” 31 March 2003.]
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. Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990 (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991, 217-19.]
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. (Preface, xi) Marilyn Young. Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004. Pp. 329]
By 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.
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.
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.
Recently I've been studying the Pentagon Papers and the events surrounding their release. In that regard I read a New York Times op-ed written by Daniel Ellsberg that purports to tell the story of what compelled him to release national secrets to the media. More than any other single event in American history, Ellsberg's perfidy opened the floodgates of government distrust and the media's lack of respect for national secrets. He is the progenitor of Wikileaks and especially of Edward Snowden.
Ellsberg's op-ed is an obvious example of self-serving justification for an act he knew was wrong. In point of fact, he himself decided he was willing to risk a life in prison to expose what he believed were lies being told to the American people. But were they? There were certainly things documented in the Pentagon Papers that could be viewed as lies by an unsophisticated or biased observer. What Ellsberg characterizes as lies are decisions made by Presidents against the advice of some of their advisors. Ellsberg agreed with the dissenting advisors and so believed they were right and the Presidents were wrong.
A generation of presidents, believing that the course they were following was in the best interests of the country, nevertheless chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was, what alternatives were being pressed on them from within the government, and the pessimistic predictions they were receiving about the prospects of their chosen course.Here Ellsberg casts those who disagreed with the President in the role of being correct in their (and, of course, his own) opinions and naively suggests that open government means airing every disagreement inside an administration publicly. Good leadership means considering advice from advisors who will often disagree among themselves over a particular course of action. It also means making decisions based on that advice and your own best judgment. It is inevitable that some of those advisors will be upset because their preferred course of action was not taken. It's equally inevitable that, given the egos involved, some of them will look for opportunities to "prove" that they were right and that the President followed the wrong advice.
That is the reason we consistently see "tell-all" books after advisors whose advice was not taken leave office as well as hagiographies by those with whom a President agreed.
Although Ellsberg himself admits that "a generation of Presidents" believed that the course of action that they chose was "in the best interests of the country", he nevertheless characterizes them as lying simply because they chose a course with which he disagreed. One can only surmise that if Ellsberg would have agreed with their decisions, he never would have characterized the process of decision-making as lying. Yet despite the fact that five consecutive Presidents followed the same general policy, because Ellsberg disagreed with that policy he felt that it was necessary for him to commit a traitorous act to expose them.
Throughout the campaign of 1964, President Johnson indicated to the voters -- contrary to his opponent Barry Goldwater -- that no escalation was needed in South Vietnam. He sometimes added, almost inaudibly, ''at this time.''While Ellsberg is certainly entitled to his opinion, his opinion did not justify revealing government secrets to the public. As he points out and history confirms, had Johnson revealed to the public what his advisors were telling him, the public would have demanded escalation in Vietnam. Since Ellsberg "thought" that escalation would not have won the war, one would assume that he would be happy that the President "lied" to the public. The irony of this contradiction seems to escape him completely.
As the Pentagon Papers later showed, that was contradicted as early as May 1964 by the estimates and recommendations of virtually all of Johnson's own civilian and military advisers. I believe he worried, not only in 1964 but over the next four years, that if he laid out candidly just how difficult, costly and unpromising the conflict was expected to be, the public would overwhelmingly want escalation on a scale that promised to win the war.
To this end, Congress and the voters might compel him to adopt the course secretly being pressed on him by his own Joint Chiefs of Staff. From 1964 through 1968, the Joint Chiefs continuously urged a litany of secret recommendations, including mining Haiphong; hitting the dikes; bombing near the Chinese border; closing all transportation routes from China; sending ground troops to Laos, Cambodia and the southern part of North Vietnam; possibly full-scale invasion of North Vietnam.
I think that this escalation would not have won the war.
Setting aside Ellsberg's concerns for a moment, what kind of President would conceal his true desires because he believed they were out of sync with the desires of the American people? We have previously discussed the incompetence of American leadership with regard to the war. Certainly that would have been grounds for going public with what he knew but without revealing state secrets.
Both Kennedy and Johnson handled the war ineptly, not only ignoring the advice of the military experts but moving in a direction that they were repeatedly warned would not achieve the desired result. But this is not lying. It's incompetence. Johnson in particular behaved despicably toward the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ignored their advice completely and placed his trust in McNamara, a man who had no military knowledge at all. This too is not lying but incompetence.
Remarkably, Ellsberg himself recognized that the ongoing disagreements within administrations were debates, but because of his personal beliefs he characterized them as lies rather than normal disagreement within advisory groups.
I first learned of these debates in 1964 and 1965, when I was special assistant to John McNaughton, the assistant defense secretary. I read all the documents of that period that were later included in the Pentagon Papers, and I heard from McNaughton of his discussions with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Johnson. I strongly regret that at that time, I did not see it as my duty to disclose that information to the Senate.Because he spent time in Vietnam, Ellsberg apparently became convinced that his limited view of the conflict was an accurate one and decided that he knew better than five Presidents what the correct course of action was. So, desperate to gain what he viewed as a fair hearing for his beliefs, which he believed were superior to those of five Presidents, he decided to violate his oath and reveal state secrets to the world. For this traitorous act he is celebrated as a hero by many of the misguided fools that believe themselves to be wiser than the men chosen to lead the nation.
But then I was in Vietnam for two years from 1965 to 1967. I saw that our ground effort in South Vietnam was hopelessly stalemated, and I did not believe that increased bombing of the north would ever cause our adversaries to give up. Therefore I came to the belief in 1967 that we should negotiate our way out.
So my concern in releasing the Pentagon Papers was not simply, or even primarily, to get out the truth. I thought I would probably go to prison for the rest of my life. I wouldn't have done that just to set the record straight. I released the papers because I foresaw prolonged war and eventual escalation, including incursions into Laos and Cambodia, the mining of Haiphong and the bombing of Hanoi. I wanted to avert these events, but they all occurred.Ellsberg's ego wouldn't allow him to accept the fact that he was not the President. He felt he knew better than the men who had a much broader knowledge of Vietnam, of secret negotiations, of plans he knew nothing about, of issues with which he was completely unaware. All that mattered was that his views be aired, even if he had to go to prison. Even what he perceived as the truth didn't matter! This is a man with a massive ego. This is a man for whom no other view than his own is valid. it's not surprising then that his oath meant nothing to him when weighed against his superior opinions.
The greatest irony of all is that the Pentagon Papers reveal that basic US policy toward Vietnam was consistent across five Presidencies and that all of the claims of the antiwar movement were false.
Counterpunch is a leftist, communist commentary site. It's sometimes worthwhile to visit the site to see what the enemies of America are thinking. This article is a perfect example of the muddled thinking that passes for "logic" among communists. Of course their goal isn't truth, so anything can be made to seem logical if one doesn't think too hard.
Source: Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Begin with the title. The US was not defeated in Vietnam. South Vietnam was. The US military left Vietnam in 1973. South Vietnam fell in 1975, two years later. When an article begins with a lie in its title, it's a good bet that the writer is pushing an agenda rather than exposing the truth.
The article closes with this
We could also learn the lesson of the war — and not treat it as a disease called “the Vietnam syndrome” — the lesson that war is immoral and even on its own terms counter-productive. Recognizing that would be the beginning of health..One has to wonder what the writer thinks about WWII. Was it immoral to defeat Germany, which was exterminating millions of people through starvation and murder and had invaded numerous countries? If that's your standard of morality, one has to ask. How many people would have to die before you would be willing to go to war? Would you even fight for your own life? Or would you simply lay down and die rather than fight evil?
One thing is certain. A LOT of good Americans were willing to give their lives to put a stop to Hitler's rampage. A LOT of others were as well, many of whose countries had not (yet!) been invaded. When it comes to moral bearings, those people seem a great deal more honorable than those who argue that war is always immoral.
Of course the communists have never shied away from killing. They've killed millions in countries they've conquered, including Russia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. The killing doesn't stop when they take over, however. That's just the beginning of the slaughter. Doesn't it seem odd that they always accuse their enemies of committing the crimes that they themselves commit routinely as a matter of policy?
This is not to say that America or its leaders are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I recently pointed out some of the gross malfeasance of our leaders during the Vietnam War. But the idea that America is evil and engages in wars to hurt other people is a recent claim that originated with the North Vietnamese propaganda machine and was repeated faithfully by their fellow travelers, the core of the antiwar movement in the US.
Now they're angry because (they claim) the history of the war is being somehow covered up or hidden by the Pentagon's 50th Anniversary Commemoration.
Remember, this was the bad war in contrast to which World War II acquired the ridiculous label “good war.” But the Pentagon is intent on undoing any accurate memory of Vietnam.On the contrary, the antiwar crowd has held the stage almost exclusively for the past 50 years. They have beaten the drums of "America is evil" and "communism is good" for so long that they actually believe the nonsense. While we can't depend on the Pentagon to tell the truth about Vietnam, we certainly can't depend on proven liars to tell it.
Leaders of the US antiwar movement traveled to Vietnam, Cuba, Russia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and numerous other places to get their marching orders and to assist the communists in fine tuning their propaganda.[1. https://www.vvfh.org/research/research-files.html - open the antiwar folder and download or view Peace Protest Leader Says He Met Vietcong - Activists.pdf] Now it's all unraveling as archives all over the world get opened up and researched. For example, the fiction that the Viet Cong was an indigenous revolutionary movement has been completely obliterated by the North Vietnamese records proving control of the southern forces from the beginning.
It's time for Americans to learn what really happened in Vietnam rather than the grossly distorted version promulgated by agenda-driven communists and their sympathizers. That's why we exist, and that's what we intend to do.
If you're interested in all things Vietnam, you may already be familiar with the Saigon Arts, Culture and Education Institute. If you're not, you may want to pay them a visit. I'll bet you end up bookmarking the site. Filled with interesting articles about Vietnam, many of them concerning the view of the 2nd Indochina War and its aftermath from the perspective of the Vietnamese, the site provides a unique, South Vietnamese perspective of that fateful time in history.
The South Vietnamese, more than anyone else, are painfully aware of what being "liberated" by communists means. They suffered the loss of many loved ones, the lengthy imprisonment of others and the tragic loss of their freedom under the iron hand of their rulers. Many have died, and continue to die, in their struggle to free their country from the yoke of tyranny.
Their mission is "1. to collect songs, tapes, books, artworks and memorabilia related to the diasporic society, 2. to promote Vietnamese arts and culture through workshops, discussions, exhibitions and shows, 3. and to research, publish articles and books about the diaspora." They do it quite well. There is a cornucopia of arts and culture at the site, and the interested visitor can spend days wandering through the site enjoying what it has to offer.
The site also offers newsletters, the most recent one being #81, and a forum which is their official journal, published quarterly. Some of our members have been honored as Man of the Year.
Visiting the site will fill you with pride and a sense of melancholy for what was lost in Vietnam.
By Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher
Millions of words have been written about the Vietnam War, or as we prefer to call it, the 2nd Indochina War. Many thousands of those words have been about why the war was lost. There are as many opinions about why the 2nd Indochina War was lost as there are writers to express them. A search on Amazon.com for “Vietnam War History” returns 5,315 results
Some say it’s because we never should have been there in the first place, or because it was a civil war. Others say it’s because a bunch of peasants in sandals beat the greatest military in the world with determination and grit. Still others say it’s because it was a war for independence and any outsider would have been thrown out just as the French were.
Many of them want to teach us the lessons they think we should learn from the war yet few of them recognize or accept the facts when they are presented to them. Or they want to ignore them or interpret them to fit their preconceived notions about the war.
Many brave men and women have served this country. More than a few have given their lives in those efforts. Most of them served with honor and courage. Too many of our politicians, on the other hand, have no principles and stand for nothing. At the first sign of trouble, rather than making their case for why we need to stand and fight, these cowards will turn and run and abandon the battlefield.
Dr. William Lloyd Stearman, Founding VVFH Member
A poll taken on this 40th anniversary would no doubt reveal that most Americans believe we should not have fought in this small obscure country half a world away, and do believe that the war there was unwinnable and that our huge expenditure of blood and treasure there was totally in vain. Most people are nonplussed at hearing that we got into World War II because of what is now Vietnam. In the 1930s, we somewhat tolerated Japan’s rampaging all though China. However, when Japan invaded what is now Vietnam, we saw this as a threat to Southeast Asia and took the strong measure of promoting a boycott of critical oil, scrap iron and rubber deliveries to Japan. Japan, then realizing a now hostile US would try to prevent its planned invasion of Southeast Asia, sought to disable our fleet at Pearl Harbor as a preventative measure. Japan then proceeded to use its new-found base to invade and conquer most of Southeast Asia. President Eisenhower must have had this mind when he was asked, at April 7, 1954 press conference, about “the strategic importance of Indochina [Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia] for the free world.” He then described the “falling domino” principle whereby “the beginning of a disintegration [in Vietnam] would have the most profound influences” leading to “ the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the [Malay] peninsula and Indonesia.” He added that Japan, Formosa [Taiwan], the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand “would also be threatened.” (He could also have added India.)
Eisenhower’s “domino theory” was pooh-poohed by a number of people in the U.S., but, given the parlous unstable conditions in Southeast Asia, it was taken seriously by leaders there as well as in Australia and India and by leaders in Hanoi and (then) Peking. For example, China’s famed Marshal Lin Piao stated in September 1965 that the defeat of “U.S. imperialism” in Vietnam would show the people of the world “that what the Vietnamese people can do, they can do too.” In the late 1960s, Indonesian leaders Suharto and Malik (not great friends of the U.S.) told U.S. officials that our first introduction of U.S. combat troops (Marines) in Vietnam in March 1965 helped embolden them to resist the October 1, 1965 Communist coup supported by China, which came very close to succeeding. (The two later told columnist Robert Novak the same thing.) Had this coup succeeded, the Philippines would have soon been threatened which could well have triggered our intervention under a 1954 treaty. Then we would have been facing a far more threatening adversary than in Vietnam. The 1965 introduction of US Marines apparently had a generally bracing effect in Southeast Asia. For example it also encouraged the British defense of Malaysia against a Communist invasion from Indonesia. By the end of the Vietnam War, even the victorious Communist side that lost over two million dead was too weakened to pose a threat to any country save nearby Laos and Cambodia. The war also bought precious time to enable the countries of Southeast Asia to strengthen their positions. In essence, we basically got into the war to prevent the toppling of dominoes in Southeast Asia and we succeeded. One could say that this was a strategic victory while the loss in Vietnam was a tactical defeat.
Was the war in Vietnam truly unwinnable? After “Vietnamization” had removed all U.S. combat troops from Vietnam, Hanoi, on March 30, 1972, launched its “Easter Offensive” with largest conventional attack of the war consisting of the equivalent of 23 divisions equipped with hundreds of Soviet tanks, long-range artillery, rockets and surface to air missiles. The brunt of the fighting fell on the South Vietnamese ground forces with massive U.S. air support as well as naval and logistical support. The only American ground forces left were advisors and forward air controllers. South Vietnam forces eventually moved from the defensive to counter offensives and by mid-September 1972 were clearly winning. The Communist forces had lost about 100,000 killed in action, twice as many as the U.S. had lost in the entire war. Sometime after Hanoi’s final 1975 victory, a former top commander in the South, General Tran Van Tra stated in the Party organ Nhan Dan that his troops had eventually reached the verge of defeat. Had the war continued some months further, the South could have emerged victorious by evicting all enemy forces from Vietnam. Facing defeat, Hanoi saved the day by offering substantial concessions sought by Henry Kissinger in previous negotiations. With the best of intentions, Kissinger took this bait and the resulting negotiations process brought South Vietnamese military operations to a halt. The 1973 Peace Accords broke down. The U.S. drastically reduced aid, and then Congress banned all U.S. military operations in Indochina sealing Vietnam’s doom.
William Lloyd Stearman, PhD, Senior U.S. Foreign Service officer (Ret.)National Security Council staff under four presidents, director NSC Indochina staff, Jan. ’73 to Jan. ’76, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs Georgetown University (1977 to 1993), author of memoir An American Adventure, From Early Aviation Through Three Wars to the White House (Naval Institute Press, 2012)
by Col. Andrew Finlayson, VVFH Founding Member
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, there were seven ongoing communist insurgencies in SE Asia - Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all had active communist insurgencies. Three of those insurgencies were successful in 1975 (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). When one considers the question of whether or not the successful communist insurgencies lived up to the promises they made to their respective populations to provide peace, social justice and economic well-being, it is instructive to look at the records of those seven countries with communist insurgencies and see how they fared over the past 40 years.
Many in the West thought that once the communists came to power and all of the US and allied forces left Vietnam, a new era of peace and harmony would exist. At least that is what the communists promised. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The communist government of the united Vietnam fought two wars with their neighbors, China and Cambodia, and tensions still persist with China over the East China Sea. A little known fact that is often overlooked by some in the West is more SE Asians died in war and the results of war in the 14 years after the last American left Vietnam than during the years when US forces were in South Vietnam. Although exact figures for the number of SE Asians who died after the communist victories in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia vary, even the conservative estimates are mind-boggling. There were 65,000 executions in Vietnam between 1975 and 1982 (Desbarats and Jackson, “The Cruel Peace,” Washington Quarterly, Fall 1985: also US Dept. of State Bulletin, Sept. 1985). The UN High Commissioner on Refugees estimated that 250,000 people fleeing Vietnam by boat died at sea. Another 165,000 died in Vietnam’s infamous “re-education camps” (Desbarats, Jacqueline. “Repression in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: Executions and Population Relocation,” The Vietnam Debate, 1990).
According to Lt. Gen. Le Kha Phieu, the commander of Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, the Vietnamese military suffered 55,000 deaths between 1978 and when the Vietnamese ended their occupation of Cambodia (Reaves, Joseph. “Vietnam Reveals Cambodian Death Toll,” Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1988). There are no accurate figures for the number of Cambodian deaths suffered in the war, but it is safe to assume they suffered heavier casualties than the Vietnamese.
Although the claims of the Vietnamese and Chinese differ widely on the casualties produced by their 1979 war, a conservative estimate provides a range of Chinese military deaths at 7,000 to 26,000 and approximately 30,000 Vietnamese military deaths, with an additional 100,000 Vietnamese civilian deaths (Zhang Xiaoming, “China’s 1979 War with Vietnam,” China Quarterly, No. 184, December 2005, pp. 851-874). The Communist Lao government continues to this day to inflict casualties on the Hmong minority in that country with the figure of 100,000 killed since 1975 (Rummel, Rudolph. Statistics of Democide, University of Hawaii; also, “Forced and Forgotten” Lawyers’ Committee on Human Rights, 1989, p. 8). And, according to the Yale Genocide Program, the communist party in Cambodia killed approximately 1.7 million of that country’s citizens when it came to power, one of the most horrific genocidal crimes ever committed.
Paper presented by Col. Andrew R. Finlayson, USMC (Ret.)*
“Amateurs talk about tactics; professionals talk about logistics.”
An old military proverb
One day in the spring of 1985, fifteen years after I had left South Vietnam for the last time, I was having lunch with my faculty advisor at the Naval War College, Professor Robert Megagee, when another faculty member joined us and asked what we were talking about. Professor Megagee, who had taught me diplomatic history at the U.S. Naval Academy as an undergraduate, told this distinguished academic that we were discussing the Vietnam War. Professor Megagee’s colleague immediately blurted out, “There is no practical use in such a discussion because there was nothing we could have done to win that war.” This comment caused me to challenge our table mate. I told him that wars are not deterministic or ordained by some immutable truth—they are won or lost based on many factors that can be modified and adjusted to affect an outcome. The historian, who was on leave from Harvard University to the Naval War College, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I challenge you to prove that. Tell me how the U.S. could have won the Vietnam War, given the constraints imposed on it and the superior will and strategy of the North Vietnamese.”
This challenge led me to begin a life-long study of the war and why the U.S. lost it. An intermediate analysis three years later resulted in the publication of an article for the Marine Corps Gazette in which I laid out the basic reason for out failure to win the war (Finlayson, Andrew R. “Vietnam Strategies,” Marine Corps Gazette (August 1988), pp. 90-94). Additional study and the publication of new materials, especially those from North Vietnamese sources, have served to reinforce my original conclusion.
For any person who has participated in a war, the experience is unique and they see the war through the eyes of their own experience. This often makes it exceedingly difficult to be objective about the general conduct and outcome of any war. Each veteran of a war tends to analyze the overall reasons for success or failure in that war through a very narrow range of vision, one that is often clouded by emotion and trauma. I realize I am not immune to this constraint on objectivity and any analysis I might offer should be viewed with skepticism since there can be little doubt that the Vietnam War had a deep and lasting effect on me. Because I was so affected by the war, I spent many years studying it, primarily with the hope that I might find a cogent answer to the central question that plagued me: Why did the U.S. lose the war? I have examined every reason put forth by a host of writers, carefully examining their arguments, discussing them with other military analysts and veterans, and revising my findings in the light of my own experience in South Vietnam. From North Vietnamese officers, former VC politicians, and international journalists to military historians and U. S. and ARVN veterans of the war, I have attempted to find the root cause for the defeat of my country.
One may question the utility of even attempting to ascertain why the U.S. lost the Vietnam War; after all, it is over and done with and the strategic balance of power in the world has been little affected by its outcome. Although historians continue to this day to argue about why the U.S. lost this war, few other people give it any thought. I would count myself among the latter, if the war had not had such a profound effect on me and I thought the U.S. would never again make the same mistakes it made in South Vietnam. However, after over four decades of study, I am concerned about the “lessons learned” that many historians and other analysts have drawn from the Vietnam War. I see many of these “lessons learned” as false and dangerous, especially when applied to many of the challenges facing my country today. I have seen some of these “lessons learned” applied with disastrous results by well-meaning and intelligent men and women serving my country today. For this reason, I offer my personal assessment of the primary reason why we lost the war in South Vietnam in the hope that future political and military leaders will not pursue a path that leads to defeat.
To be as succinct as possible, the U.S. lost the war because its national leadership pursued a fatally flawed strategy based upon wishful thinking, hubris, and incorrect assumptions. They did not do so because they were fools or lacked the necessary information needed to formulate a winning strategy. No, the requisite information for the proper strategic analysis was available as early as the end of the First Indo-China War in 1954, but a combination of factors caused our strategic planners to overlook or dismiss the analysis. Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese had a far greater appreciation for these factors than our own leaders, which resulted in the communists forging a far more effective strategy for the achievement of their goals—and to do so despite some extremely burdensome and potentially lethal constraints.
I will not address the reasons for our intervention in South Vietnam or why we continued to remain there long after it became apparent our strategy was seriously flawed. I think the historians have drawn the correct conclusions for the rationale our leaders used in both cases. Whether those reasons were correct or necessary, I leave to the historians to settle. What I will do is identify the objectives of the major protagonists, their respective strategies, the root cause for failure of the American strategy, and finally an alternative American strategy that would have been far more effective than the one pursued.
For the North Vietnamese, or more accurately for the Lao Dong Party, the goal they set for themselves and one they never abandoned or modified was the complete unification of Vietnam and the domination of the Indo-China peninsula, to include Laos and Cambodia (Turner, Robert F, Vietnamese Communism: Its Origins and Development, Stanford: Hoover Institution Press 1974, pp. 18-19, 78-79). This goal, which was clearly and openly pronounced by the Lao Dong Party during the First Indo-China War, became feasible when the Chinese Nationalists were defeated by the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in 1949, giving the Lao Dong Party’s Viet Minh a secure border with China, bases and sanctuaries on that border, and massive amounts of captured Kuomintang weapons and ammunition, to include the artillery used with such effectiveness at the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Using doctrine developed by the Chinese communists, secure bases in southern China, and fire power that could match the French, the Lao Dong Party led the Viet Minh forces to victory, expelling the French from the Red River Delta and all of the northern part of Vietnam.
However, their goal of unifying all of Vietnam under their control was thwarted by the 1954 Geneva Accords which the Soviet Union and the PRC imposed upon them. These accords, which the U.S. was not a signatory to, called for elections in 1956 to determine the political future of a united Vietnam. The Lao Dong Party was confident that it could win a nationwide election in 1956 and most observers agree with that assumption. However, it is highly unlikely that a truly fair election could have been carried out in either North or South Vietnam at that time, even if proper monitoring had been available and approved by either country. The U.S. decided that any election held in 1956 would result in a unified country dominated by the communists, a situation that threatened to destabilize their allies in Southeast Asia and lead to communist regimes in most, if not all, of the countries in the region. Given that there were active communist insurgencies in eight Southeast Asian countries in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was correct to assume many of these countries might succumb to these insurgencies if the U.S. allowed South Vietnam to fall to the communists.
At this time, the U.S. grand strategy was one articulated by George Kennan in his famous “long telegram” which called for the containment of the Soviet Union and later the PRC. This grand strategy called for the U.S. to resist any further expansion of communism, a strategy that led to the Marshall Plan for Europe, the Korean War, numerous other conflicts on the periphery of the Eurasian land mass, and the Vietnam War. While Mr. Kennan would later dispute that his grand strategy for the containment of the Soviet Union should have been applied to the U.S. decision to intervene in South Vietnam, U.S. policy makers in the early 1960s were definitely thinking in terms of containment when the policy discussions concerning South Vietnam were being conducted. Therefore, the U.S. objective was to prevent South Vietnam from falling under the control of a communist government allied with the Soviet Union and the PRC. For domestic and international political reasons, the U.S. articulated several other goals, most of which were irrelevant or impractical, such as fostering liberal democracy and protecting human rights.
For the South Vietnamese Government, their goal was to avoid defeat by both the internal and external threat posed by the Lao Dong Party and to remain in power. From time to time, the GVN would also echo the goals of the U.S., but the GVN endorsement of these goals was always tepid at best and done more to mollify the Americans than to be taken seriously. For the GVN, their paramount interest was survival in the face of aggression from North Vietnam. Unlike the Americans, the GVN had a more realistic appreciation of the threat and often rejected the advice given by the Americans who they knew were proposing actions that were either irrelevant or infeasible, given the cultural, political and strategic realities in their country. While the GVN had many weaknesses, their military leadership understood the strategic dynamics better than their American allies, who persistently clung to the mistaken belief that tactical brilliance and technological superiority could compensate for strategic incompetence.
The strategy employed by the North Vietnamese to achieve their goal of unification of all of Vietnam and control of Laos and Cambodia was no mystery to the U.S. Lao Dong Party documents obtained by the French in the early 1950s laid out the communist strategy clearly. The North Vietnamese knew by 1956 that any hope of achieving their goal through elections in South Vietnam was impossible given the decision of President Diem and the Americans not to hold elections in South Vietnam. They recognized they must resort to violent means to achieve their goal and they - quite logically - adopted a strategy that was based upon their successful experience in the First Indo-China War. Initially, this strategy called for the Lao Dong Party to build a modern military force capable of defending North Vietnam using equipment and munitions provided by the Soviet Union and the PRC, while at the same time using southern Lao Dong cadres to organize the rural population of South Vietnam and lay the groundwork for future military actions. The Lao Dong Party understood that they could not rely alone on a southern insurgency to achieve their goal, although they hoped the insurgency would so weaken the GVN that a coalition government that included the communist front organization, the National Liberation Front, would come to power and set the stage for eventual control of the entire south. The Lao Dong Party planned to use their southern main force and guerrilla units to weaken and distract the GVN while it built up a modern, mobile army in North Vietnam, an army that could intervene at the decisive moment when the situation in South Vietnam made it possible to use this modern army to achieve a decisive result (Pribbenow, Merle L (Trans.), Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975, pp. 20-48). While the North Vietnamese model included the three types of military forces —local, regional and main force units— one modeled on the system used by the Chinese communists in their successful campaigns against the Japanese and the Kuomintang in China, they placed a greater emphasis on conventional forces for striking a decisive blow. This model was not endorsed by the PRC, and it often led to theoretical conflicts with the Chinese during the Second Indo-China War (Jian, Chen, “China’s Involvement in the Vietnam War, 1964-69,” The China Quarterly, No. 142 (June 1995), pp. 380-387).
The North Vietnamese were always concerned about military intervention by the U.S. and so they developed a strategy that would take into account that intervention. They realized that the U.S. possessed a huge material advantage over their forces, especially in terms of naval and air power, but they had fought a modern army during the First Indo-China War and they knew that they could defeat such an army if they employed a strategy similar to the one they used against the French. Although there were some variations to their strategy to take into account changing events in South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese strategy was remarkably similar to the one they used to drive the French out of North Vietnam during their campaigns from 1950 to 1954. Fortunately for the North Vietnamese, few Americans understood how the Viet Minh strategy worked or why it was successful; and those who did were either ignored or dismissed as pessimists. I was an operations analyst at the Marine Headquarters from 1970 to 1972 and I was an action officer for several national-level war plans at that time. At meetings in the Pentagon, I listened to many frustrated senior officers with extensive war-planning experience express their concerns about how the strategy in South Vietnam was not working because the use of airpower and unconventional means in Laos were not producing the expected results for limiting the infiltration of men and supplies from North Vietnam. These same officers told me that they had sent numerous recommendations to change the US strategy to their civilian leaders but their recommendations were either ignored or dismissed. (For just one example of this problem, see McMaster, H. R., Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam, New York: Harper Collins, 1997, p. 86). When I asked one of them, a US Army general officer with experience in both World War II and Korea, why the views of his war-planners were not being acted upon, he told me there were various “lobbies” in the US government who were opposed to them. When I asked him to explain what he meant by “lobbies,” he said the “lobbies” were, “the counterinsurgency and airpower proponents in the Department of Defense, and the civilian analysts in the State Department and the CIA.” According to him, “they thwarted every recommendation based upon military logic.”
During the First Indo-China War, the Viet Minh had few successes until the Chinese communists came to power in late 1949, giving them the sanctuaries and the equipment they needed to achieve success. The Viet Minh had been using the Chinese communist model of revolutionary war with its three stages as their theoretical model ever since Ho Chi Minh returned from China to lead the communist revolution in Vietnam. These three stages of revolutionary war are: Stage One, which entails “organization, consolidation and preservation”; Stage Two, which calls for “progressive expansion”; and Stage Three, the “decisive engagement and destruction of the enemy.” (Mao Tse-Tung, On Protracted War, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1967, pp. 34-46). Since this three stage model for revolutionary warfare had worked so well for the Chinese communists, it was logical that it be adopted by the Viet Minh.
From 1945 to 1950, the Viet Minh were unable to progress from Stage One to Stage Two, and, in fact, had suffered several severe losses when they attempted to expand their military operations into the Red River Delta of North Vietnam. This all changed when southern China fell to the communist forces of Mao Tse-tung in late 1949. This development spelled disaster for the French because it created all of southern China as a sanctuary and a base for training and logistical support for the Viet Minh. It also meant that the French now had a hostile border with China that was 1,306 kilometers long, a border that they did not have the forces to defend. Since such a long border was impossible for them to defend, they were forced to give up much of the territory north and west of the Red River Delta. The French knew they could not attack the PRC, so the Viet Minh bases in southern China were beyond their reach. The Viet Minh were quick to take advantage of this strategic windfall and began developing a system of supply routes that led from southern China into North Vietnam. The strategic initiative passed from the French to the Viet Minh once the PRC provided the Viet Minh with safe havens for their forces and provided them with an abundant source of military equipment and supplies, which enabled the Viet Minh to conduct sustained operations against the French inside North Vietnam. Compounding the French dilemma, the Korean War reached a negotiated stalemate in 1953, freeing up vast quantities of military weapons and equipment from the PRC, which the Viet Minh put to good use immediately and to telling effect at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
Some prescient American strategists, like Generals Eisenhower and Marshall, understood the situation clearly and cautioned against involving U.S. forces in the war between the French and the Viet Minh. They understood that the French were doomed in Indo-China as long as the Viet Minh had sanctuaries in China and an unlimited supply of weapons and ammunition from their Chinese comrades to carry on their war against the French. Despite local victories by the French, it was inevitable that the balance of forces would always favor the Viet Minh as long as they had access to secure bases in China and the material support of the PRC. It is for this reason President Eisenhower rejected the French request for U.S. air support at Dien Bien Phu, the decisive battle in the First Indo-China War. He knew that even if U.S. air power saved the French at Dien Bien Phu, the French would never overcome the problem of the Viet Minh sanctuaries in China and the almost inexhaustible supply of manpower the Viet Minh could devote to the war. As a result, the U.S. attempted to limit the Viet Minh gains to North Vietnam by using diplomacy while it built up an anti-communist regime in the southern part of Vietnam.
With the defeat of the French at Bien Dien Phu, the diplomats took over from the generals. A conference was convened in Geneva, Switzerland to end the hostilities and the Vietnamese communists expected they would achieve their goals of removing all foreign troops from Indo-China and establishing themselves as the masters of a united Vietnam. Unfortunately for them, the diplomats did not give them the victory they thought they had won on the battlefield. Instead, the Chinese and the Soviet delegates forced them to accept an agreement that left the southern half of Vietnam outside of their political control with the understanding that free elections would be held in 1956 throughout Vietnam to determine what kind of Government a united Vietnam would have. The U.S. and the South Vietnamese did not sign the Geneva accords and, therefore, they were not obligated to hold elections in 1956. The U.S. realized that any election held in 1956 would most likely result in a unified and communist-dominated government in Vietnam and would eventually lead to communist dominated governments in Laos and Cambodia. This expansion of communism ran counter to the U. S. national strategy of containment and threatened several other countries in the region who were dealing with communist insurgencies, such as Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The U.S. had just finished fighting a costly war on the Korean peninsula against the communist regimes of China and North Korea, so it was not about to let three more countries fall under communist domination and possibly fuel a series of additional “wars of national liberation” in other countries in the region, some of which were strong allies of the U.S.
So the stage was set for a confrontation between North Vietnam and the U.S. which could only be resolved by force. In sum, the North Vietnamese communists wanted to expand their control over South Vietnam and their influence, if not outright control, over Laos and Cambodia; while the U.S. was committed to a policy that called for resisting any further communist expansion anywhere in the world. Neither side was willing to compromise. These two conflicting goals would collide with catastrophic results for both countries.
When elections were not held in 1956, the Lao Dong Party leadership decided to use military force to achieve their goal of national unification. Like most strategies their plan was simple, but difficult to execute and based upon many assumptions, some of which proved to be false. It called for the organization of a mass-based party infrastructure in South Vietnam whose purpose was to provide three things: intelligence, manpower, and logistical support for mobile military forces. In effect, it called for the Lao Dong Party to establish itself in every village and hamlet of South Vietnam so the rural peasantry could be mobilized and controlled in support of the revolutionary military forces. The Lao Dong Party knew from its experience during the First Indo-China War that guerrilla forces alone were incapable of achieving a decisive result against a well-armed and technologically advanced military force like the one the Americans had. To achieve victory over a foe as strong as the U.S., they knew they would have to avoid decisive engagement while at the same time inflict heavy casualties on the Americans and their GVN allies in order to erode the national will of both governments and their respective populations. In essence, they embarked on a protracted war of attrition, but one that allowed them to modulate the level of violence so as not to risk defeat. To achieve this, they first needed to make sure they maintained the support of the three elements identified by Carl von Clausewitz in his classic of military strategy, On War, which are essential if a country decides to wage war. Those three essential elements of support are: the people, the government, and the military. The North Vietnamese clearly understood this dictum for the foundation of a successful strategy, and took the necessary steps to ensure this support was secure.
Since the Lao Dong Party ruled unopposed in North Vietnam, had complete control over the sources of information their population received, had a system of government that made internal security tight and comprehensive, had a military that was under the complete control of the Party, and had a recent tradition of victory over a superior foreign military force, these three pillars of support were firmly in place. Their next step in the formulation of their strategy was to take into account every possible action their opposition might take and to develop a strategy that could successfully counter these actions. During the initial stages of the development of their strategy, they hoped that the U.S. would not intervene militarily in South Vietnam, but they planned for that eventuality from the beginning. As early as 1959 they decided that it was highly likely the U.S. would use military force to thwart their plans; so they developed a strategy that was highly flexible and could be changed rapidly to adjust to any level of U.S. military intervention (Victory in Vietnam, pp. 73-77).
This Lao Dong strategy was based on their experience in their war against the French, but adapted to the reality that the Americans possessed far more economic and military power than the French had. The specifics of their strategy of attrition involved a combination of political and military actions that would erode the will of their adversaries and cause their opponents’ governments, militaries, and populations to accede to the goals of the Lao Dong Party. It was a strategy that was not dependent upon time tables or assumptions about the motivations of their opponents; instead, it was a carefully crafted strategy that capitalized upon their opponents’ weaknesses and minimized their own vulnerabilities with an open ended commitment to persevere no matter how long it took.
What then was the strategy the Lao Dong Party employed against the GVN and the Americans? In its broadest terms, their strategy consisted of several actions that had the aggregated effect of neutralizing their adversaries’ advantages and preventing them from taking the steps needed to defeat them. These were:
First, the primary concern of the Lao Dong Party was to secure North Vietnam from invasion. This was done by aligning themselves with the Soviet Union and the PRC, making any attack on the territory of North Vietnam by GVN or American ground forces a potential cause for war between the U.S. and these two countries. It also ensured that these two communist allies would provide the military equipment and economic aid needed to withstand any attack on its soil and to sustain its attack against South Vietnam. In addition, the Lao Dong Party embarked on a sustained program to build a modern military defense force capable of withstanding a conventional attack on their homeland. This effort included the acquisition of modern aircraft, sophisticated armored vehicles, mobile artillery, and technologically advanced air defense and communications systems, almost all provided at no cost by their communist allies.
Second, they appealed through the extensive worldwide propaganda system of communist, socialist, and other leftist organizations to influence public opinion against the GVN and the U.S. The formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and other front groups to hide the actual identity of the leadership of the insurgency in South Vietnam and provide a patina of non-communist participation in the leadership of the insurgency was an example of how the Lao Dong Party attempted to influence external observers. This was part of their “dau tranh” campaign on a worldwide scale to promote the Lao Dong Party’s position and gain support for their cause outside of Vietnam (Hanoi’s War, p. 52). They found a ready audience for their propaganda among leftist groups throughout Western Europe and the U.S. As with most of their strategy, this implementing action was based upon the success of the Viet Minh to influence French public opinion during the First Indo-China War and erode support for the war, which lead to the election of the a Socialist Government in France that ran on a platform calling for an end of that war.
Third, they built a modern military capable of regional power projection, using extensive support from the Soviet Union and the PRC. Certain units were designated for special training in mobile warfare and supplied with equipment that would enable these units to operate far from North Vietnam in Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. This military buildup was begun shortly after the end of the First Indo-China War and was largely completed by 1964 (Victory in Vietnam, pp. 1-123).
Fourth, the Lao Dong Party began to build an extensive political infrastructure in South Vietnam with its primary focus on organizing the rural areas of that country. Using cadres from the First Indo-China War, the Lao Dong Party created the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) in these rural areas using the same organizational techniques they had employed against the French. This model had a long history beginning with the system perfected by Chinese communist cadres who spent several decades building their powerful rural political base in their war with the Kuomintang. The Lao Dong Party adapted the Chinese communist model of political organization to Vietnam but strengthened this system by integrating the lessons they had learned from their experience during the First Indo-China War. The purpose of the VCI was to mobilize the peasants of South Vietnam to create a mass-based political organization that paralleled the Government of the GVN but extended down into the village and hamlet levels. The primary objective for this mass-based political organization was the provision of three basic requirements for mobile military warfare: intelligence, recruits, and logistical support. The strategy of the Lao Dong Party was highly dependent on the VCI in South Vietnam for these three requirements, especially the logistical support needed by North Vietnamese military units. The Lao Dong Party realized that without the logistical support of the VCI in South Vietnam, their ability to conduct large-scale, sustained, mobile military operations was severely curtailed, if not eliminated. While not the only reason for their concern about any successful GVN pacification program, it was their primary concern because the degradation of the VCI, especially the finance-economy cadres, threatened their ability to conduct mobile warfare.
Fifth, the Lao Dong Party needed a secure logistical system to support mobile warfare in South Vietnam. Phase III of their doctrine of revolutionary war called for the defeat of the conventional forces of their enemy using modern, conventionally armed, mobile main force units. To do this, they needed a means of supplying such units. This entailed maintaining the VCI in every strategically important part of South Vietnam and establishing a system of resupply and reinforcement external to South Vietnam. This logistical system was managed by Unit 559, which received its designation from the date of its inception, May 1959 (Victory in Vietnam, pp. 50-54). Unit 559 was given the mission of establishing an extensive and sophisticated system of transportation routes, supply depots, training areas, and medical facilities running for over 3,500 miles in length from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to Saigon. This system was known to the Americans as the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to the North Vietnamese as the Troung Son Strategic Supply Route. The system was truly massive; in Laos alone it covered 1,700 square miles. All along the Ho Chi Minh Trail system were multiple roads and trails, some of them all weather and hard-surfaced. Along these trails and roads were numerous staging areas, truck parks, petroleum pipelines, bivouac sites, hospitals, farms, supply depots and command and control hubs, all carefully camouflaged to prevent detection by U.S. aircraft and CIA and U.S. Special Forces reconnaissance teams. Providing maintenance and protection for this huge and long logistical system were over 100,000 North Vietnamese troops in Laos and Cambodia and an additional 15,000 Chinese in Laos (For a very detailed and rigorous analysis of the use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and its impact on military operations in South Vietnam, see Hunt, Ira A, Jr. Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2013, pp. 12-20, 29, 32, 75-76, 113, 124, 146, 168-169; also see Victory in Vietnam, pp. 52, 89, 114-115, 127, 138, 144, 168-171,175, 182, 208-209, 211, 215, 227, 243, 264, 285-286, 301, 321-322, 338-339, 350, 363, 398, and 401-402).
This supply system was in complete violation of the 1962 Geneva Accords which called for the neutrality of Laos and Cambodia, but the North Vietnamese were left with no viable choice for an alternative means of supplying their military forces fighting in South Vietnam. Their early attempts to infiltrate men and supplies through the DMZ were largely unsuccessful and costly after 1965. Besides, the North Vietnamese military strategy called for cutting South Vietnam in two in the Central Highlands of Military Region II and this plan necessitated a secure infiltration route to base areas in eastern Cambodia. They also realized that any final push against the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, necessitated secure supply bases farther south in eastern Cambodia. Given their military strategy, it was only logical for the North Vietnamese to use the eastern regions of both Laos and Cambodia to build the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Since the trail was essential to their strategy, they viewed any attempt to successfully cut it as an existential threat to their overall strategy for the conquest of South Vietnam. Many Western historians have tended to ignore or play down the vital importance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but the North Vietnamese communists do not share these views (Victory in Vietnam, pp. 261-265). In fact, some among the victors of the war have openly admitted that the failure of the Americans to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos was the biggest mistake the Americans made during the war. For the North Vietnamese, the Ho Chi Minh Trail was both their biggest advantage and their most significant vulnerability—and they knew it. They considered the Ho Chi Minh Trail their “linchpin” for their ability to wage war in South Vietnam (Hanoi’s War, p. 201)
Finally, once the Lao Dong Party had accomplished the steps mentioned above, they were ready to embark on the final phase of their strategy to defeat the Americans and to overthrow the GVN. I will not go into the specifics of their strategy inside South Vietnam, but only broadly explain that it entailed the conduct of an attrition intensive campaign designed to inflict casualties on American and South Vietnamese forces, disrupt the GVN’s pacification programs, and protect their infiltration routes and bases inside South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. As long as the North Vietnamese had secure sanctuaries, a secure supply route from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, and a secure rural political infrastructure capable of providing intelligence, recruits, and logistical support, their success was assured. Even with over 500,000 American troops, it was impossible for the U.S. to secure the 1400 mile border that ran from East China Sea west along the DMZ and then south through Laos and Cambodia. The Americans surrendered the initiative to the North Vietnamese when they steadfastly refused to invade Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. All the North Vietnamese had to do was maintain pressure on the Americans and the GVN by waging a war of attrition and avoiding a decisive engagement. They knew they could bleed the Americans and South Vietnamese indefinitely and simply withdrawal to their sanctuaries to avoid decisive engagement or intolerable casualties. They felt confident that the U.S. would weary of the endless list of casualties and withdrawal, allowing the regular NVA conventional divisions to quickly attack a weakened and demoralized South Vietnam. With their carefully crafted strategy, they were assured of eventual victory; but only as long as they protected their supporting political infrastructure inside South Vietnam, their bases and supply depots in Laos and Cambodia, and their means of moving men and supplied south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
If the above was the North Vietnamese strategy, what was the American strategy? Sadly, it was a fatally flawed one, doomed from the very beginning once the U.S. rejected the idea of invading the panhandle of Laos and cutting the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Despite warnings from the South Vietnamese military and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff as early as 1956 and a very direct and prescient warning from Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to President Kenney in 1961, this key strategic decision not to deal with the North Vietnamese use of the trail and road system in eastern Laos did not appear to deter President Kennedy from confronting the North Vietnamese militarily or President Johnson from escalating the war after he took office (Memorandum for the President, November 11, 1961 Pentagon Papers, p. 110).
The Rusk-McNamara memorandum, in particular, should have given pause to the framers of the U.S. strategy for engaging the North Vietnamese. One can only assume that President Kennedy’s advisors, many of whom also served President Johnson, thought the danger of not dealing with the road system developed by the French in Laos was minimal or the North Vietnamese would abide by the 1962 Geneva Accords on Laos and not use Laotian territory to move troops and supplies to South Vietnam. In the joint memorandum to President Kennedy, Rusk and McNamara wrote, “It will probably not be possible for the Government of (South) Vietnam to win the war as long as the flow of men and supplies from North Vietnam remains unchecked and the guerrillas enjoy a safe sanctuary in neighboring territory” (Memorandum for the President, November 11, 1961, Pentagon Papers, Vol. II, p. 110). At the time, there were advisors in the Kennedy Administration who recognized the strategic importance of the road and trail system in eastern Laos, but their advice was largely dismissed. Advocates for adhering to the 1962 Geneva Accords on Laos, primarily Averill Harriman and Roger Hilsman in the State Department, convinced President Kennedy that it was imperative for the U.S. to keep U.S. ground troops out of Laos. Their advice was based upon the importance of the U.S. keeping its international agreements and the fear that any U.S. military presence in Laos would have an adverse effect on U.S.-Soviet relations. They also feared a military incursion into Laos might even result in China taking military action against the U.S. in Laos and, possibly, South Korea. While there was no firm intelligence that military action by the U.S. in southern Laos or Cambodia would trigger a military reaction from either the Soviet Union or China, President Kennedy’s advisors assumed the worse and decided to attempt to solve the problem of South Vietnam by treating it as a problem solely restricted to that country and North Vietnam. Many of the President’s advisors were rightly worried about the nuclear threat posed by both the Soviet Union and the PRC and they did not want to precipitate armed conflict with either of these countries, fearing such an escalation could necessitate the use of strategic nuclear weapons. Because of this well-founded fear, they had developed the concept of the “graduated response” to any aggression launched by either of these adversaries. Ironically, one of the principle architects of gradually escalating military action against North Vietnam, primarily through the use of bombing, was Walt Rostow who recognized the importance of eastern Laos to the North Vietnamese strategy. This strategic concept, often referred to as the “Rostow Thesis,” called for a gradual escalation of violence against North Vietnam until the leadership of the Lao Dong Party in Hanoi decided their continued aggression in South Vietnam was not worth the punishment inflicted upon them. It assumed a “rational player” would desist once they saw the continued escalation of the violence was not worth the price. While not abandoning the U.S. strategy of containment of communism, the U.S. adopted a strategy of “graduated response” to any communist expansion on the periphery of the Eurasian landmass in order to reduce the likelihood of either Soviet or the PRC use of nuclear weapons. Despite some very sound advice from Walt Rostow that warned of the problem of North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, President Johnson continued to adhere to the flawed strategy of “graduated response” developed by President Kennedy’s national security staff.
Unfortunately for South Vietnam, the idea of “graduated response” caused the U.S. to employ a strategy in Southeast Asia that was not based upon any hard intelligence that it would have the desired effect on the leadership of the Lao Dong Party in North Vietnam. The U.S. national security advisors simply assumed that the North Vietnamese were “rational players” and they would abandon their goal of unifying Vietnam once they saw that U.S. will was firm and that the U.S. could ratchet up the level of violence to a degree that would break their will to resist. It all made very good sense to the President’s advisors who assumed the North Vietnamese thought as “rational players.” In their minds it made perfectly good sense that if the U.S. showed resolve and escalated the violence in a gradual and sustained manner, the North Vietnamese would come to their senses and reach a settlement that allowed the pro-Western GVN to remain in power in South Vietnam. By telling the world that the U.S. had no interest in overthrowing the regime in North Vietnam, had no interest in territorial acquisition in Southeast Asia, or had no intention of “expanding” the war into Laos and Cambodia, the U.S. national security advisors believed this benign and reasonable approach would be accepted by America’s allies and the American people. As for the North Vietnamese and their allies, such a statement of U.S. goals only served to convince them that U.S. interests were limited to South Vietnam alone and; therefore, there would be no serious threat to their strategy of using the Ho Chi Minh Trail and their bases in Laos and Cambodia.
Many commentators have offered a wide variety of reasons for our failure to win the Vietnam War. There are those who say we should have mined the harbor of Haiphong, we should have unleashed the full might of our air power against North Vietnam, we should have pursued a more enlightened or more aggressive pacification program inside South Vietnam, or we should have tried to turn South Vietnam into a Jeffersonian democracy by a combination of political, social, and economic reforms. While we will never know if any of these proposals would have brought victory, none of them address the central reason for our failure to win the war—our inability to prevent North Vietnam from moving troops and equipment to South Vietnam using the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our political and military leaders failed to ask the most critical question effecting their strategy—What if the enemy’s will is stronger than ours and, if so, what can we do that will thwart their ability to carry on the war in South Vietnam, regardless of their will to do so?
The only plausible answer to the question above is the one that General Westmoreland and his staff came to in 1967 when they began to plan for the occupation of the Panhandle of Laos. Instead of relying on air power and indigenous special operations teams, which failed to stem the flow of troops and equipment to South Vietnam through Laos, General Westmoreland planned to use U.S. ground troops to block and hold the terrain between Dong Ha in South Vietnam and Savannakhet on the Mekong River in Laos. This obvious plan, which was studied as early as 1964, was delayed initially by the U.S. State Department which did not want to threaten the neutrality of Laos or give up their primary role for management of American affairs in that country. Later the implementation of the plan was thwarted by the CIA which did not want to give up its mission of conducting the “Secret War” in Laos, or to diminish the importance of the Agency’s responsibility for pacification programs in South Vietnam. Even the U.S. military was not uniformly in favor of the plan, citing that it was logistically risky or the North Vietnamese would simply go farther west to get around it (Collins, John M., “Going to Tchepone: Oplan El Paso,” Joint Forces Quarterly, Autumn/Winter 1997-98, pp.128-129). A leading opponent of the plan was the U.S. Marine Corps which did not like the idea of any barrier defense inside South Vietnam, let alone stretching to the Mekong River. In fact, the U.S. Marine Corps did everything possible to prevent their forces in I Corps from being used for any form of static defense, a position that often put them at odds with General Westmoreland and the MACV headquarters. The Marine Corps’s insistence on the primacy of mobile defense and their attachment to an “ink spot” counter-insurgency strategy, along with their dislike for any form of warfare that involved occupying static positions, delayed the implementation of the attack into Laos until the TET offensive of 1968 made such an attack by U.S. ground forces politically impossible.
An Alternate Strategy
Of all the possible strategies proposed for an American victory in Vietnam, the strategy of cutting the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos offered the best chance for success, for the following reasons:
First, the use of U.S. ground troops along the Dong Ha-Savannakhet axis would physically cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, making it impossible for North Vietnamese troops and equipment to move into South Vietnam. Geography favored the US since the Ho Chi Minh Trail had to pass through two “choke points” in Laos that were easily defended. All of the trails and roads built by the North Vietnamese in Laos came together within a ten mile corridor at Tchepone and again farther south in the “Four Corners” area near the village of Muong Nong. By choking off the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, U.S. and ARVN forces would no longer need to protect a border with North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that stretched for nearly 1400 miles. They would be able to concentrate their forces along a frontage of only 225 miles, the distance from the East China Sea to the Mekong River. In order for North Vietnamese supply columns to move south, the North Vietnamese would need to breach this barrier using large numbers of conventional forces fighting in terrain that heavily favors the defense. Even if they broke free, they would have to maintain the breach continuously or face isolation of their forces moving south through mountainous terrain. If, as some unsophisticated commentators have asserted, the North Vietnamese were able redirect the Ho Chi Minh Trail further west into Thailand to avoid the barrier, they would be forced to extend the trail across the Mekong River, a significant physical obstacle easily covered by U.S. air and riverine forces and screened by a force like the US First Air Cavalry Division using bases on the Thai side of the river. Since the bulk of supplies sent south by Unit 559 came by truck, the Mekong River posed an almost impossible logistical obstacle for them since they would not be able to bridge it or move their trucks across it using boats without being easily detected. Also, moving the trail across the Mekong River would mean they would be transiting the sovereign country of Thailand, a SEATO ally of the United States. Such a move into Thailand, which was not a “neutral” country like Laos, would certainly destroy any claim by the North Vietnamese that they were not sending troops to South Vietnam. What’s more, if the North Vietnamese were able to move their troops and supplies across the Mekong River into Thailand, they would be confronted with a hostile population in a country that did not have the communist infrastructure needed to create a system of bases and sanctuaries, not to mention adding nearly 500 more miles to any trip south. A further complication for the North Vietnamese would be the the terrain in Thailand. Unlike the terrain in eastern Laos, which is mountainous and jungle clad, the terrain the North Vietnamese would have to transit in Thailand is flat and open, making it relatively easy to detect their movement and attack them. Furthermore, any North Vietnamese units that were able to get to the Mekong River would have to abandon their vehicles on the Laos side, and they would not be able to maintain any petroleum pipelines once they were in Thailand. It is hard to imagine that the North Vietnamese would be able to maintain their infiltration figure of 8,000 men per month and 5,000 tons of equipment and ammunition per month just to make up for their losses in South Vietnam if U.S. forces were occupying defensive positions from Dong Ha to Savannakhet.
To gain some perspective on the logistical challenge to the North Vietnamese, consider the statistics provided by them in their official history of the war. They were using 5,372 trucks on over 3,959 kilometers of vehicle-capable roads in Laos in 1967 to send a total of 61,000 tons of supplies to South Vietnam that year (Victory in Vietnam, p. 208). By 1969, the North Vietnamese were sending 170,000 tons to South Vietnam per year via truck along the Ho Chi Minh Trail road system (Victory in Vietnam, page 243). In 1970, the Group 559 reported that the US Air Force had destroyed 2,432 of their trucks on the trail during the dry season in Laos (Victory in Vietnam, p 262). In 1974, the second year of the Paris peace accords and the year before the final communist offensive, the North Vietnamese had built over 400 miles of new hard surface roads in Laos and installed two petroleum pipelines, which allowed them to move a substantial numbers of tank, artillery, and mobile air defense systems into South Vietnam (Losing Vietnam, p. 168). It is simply inconceivable that infiltration levels like those reported by the North Vietnamese for the years 1966 to 1974 could have been maintained if the road systems in Laos were physically blocked.
Second, the force levels needed to defend the Dong Ha-Savannakhet axis would have been less than those that were employed by the U.S. pursuing their attrition-based strategy in South Vietnam. By 1969 the U.S. employed eleven division equivalents in South Vietnam with over 500,000 troops. The plan to establish the Dong Ha-Savannakhet defensive barrier would require only two U.S. Marine divisions in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, and four U.S. Army divisions in southern Laos, with an additional U.S. Army division positioned in the vicinity of either Paksane, Laos or Nakhon Phanom, Thailand where it could screen the Mekong River north of Savannakhet and threaten the right flank of any North Vietnamese force moving against the barrier to the south. As a SEATO ally, Thailand could be called upon to employ their military and border police units along the Mekong River and in depth along any potential infiltration routes the North Vietnamese might try to establish in Thailand. The large brown water fleet of the US Navy could also be employed to screen the Mekong River north of Savannakhet and provide security for allied logistical use of the river. South Vietnamese units such as the Rangers and the elite 1st ARVN Division could serve as a second line of defense for the barrier and used to hunt down any NVA units that penetrated the barrier. Such an alignment of forces would require the North Vietnamese to fight a conventional battle against an American, South Vietnamese, and Thai force that enjoyed a considerable advantage in terms of fire power, mobility, logistics, and terrain.
Third, by concentrating the U.S. military in only one province of South Vietnam and southern Laos, the bulk of the South Vietnamese forces could be devoted to dealing with the VC military units and the VCI in the remaining 43 provinces of South Vietnam, thus allowing them to concentrate on pacification and nation building, two tasks better suited to indigenous forces. In addition to using both the U.S. and ARVN forces in a more appropriate manner, it would effectively remove the presence of American forces from the South Vietnamese countryside where their presence often took on the appearance of an occupying army. It would also end the sometimes profligate use of American supporting arms in the populated areas of South Vietnam and concentrate that immense destructive firepower against the North Vietnamese Army inside North Vietnam and southern Laos. By reducing South Vietnamese civilian casualties from American supporting arms and employing American military forces in the largely sparsely inhabited regions of southern Laos and the DMZ of South Vietnam, a far more humane and moral military strategy would be employed.
Fourth, while logistically challenging, the Dong Ha-Savannakhet defensive barrier was far easier to establish and maintain than its detractors claimed at the time, and still claim today. The port of Danang in northern I Corps could easily support two U.S. Marine divisions while the ports of Thailand and the road system running from those ports to Savannakhet along the Thai side of the Mekong River are adequate to support five U.S. divisions, with only modest improvements. U.S. Air Force bases already existed in eastern Thailand and would only need some expansion to support the U.S. forces in Laos, and the C-130 capable Laotian airfields at Ban Houei Sane and Tchepone and a C-23 capable airfield at Muong Nong could be made operational by military engineers in two weeks’ time (Collins, p123). The argument made by military planners on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the need to activate the US reserves to support the engineering requirements for the barrier does not stand up to scrutiny. Private U.S. and other Western engineering contractors, already active in both Thailand and South Vietnam using local labor, could have handled this requirement easily without the political cost in the U.S. incurred by calling up reserve military engineer units. If the North Vietnamese could build and maintain roads under the pressure of constant bombing by U.S. aircraft using coolie labor, it is safe to assume that South Vietnamese and Thai laborers could do it under the threat of North Vietnamese attack. Using local labor to build roads and defensive positions would be cheaper than using U.S. military engineers and would help the local rural economies by providing a large number of local people with better wages than they would have received tilling the land. Such road building and maintenance jobs would also reduce the demand for farmland redistribution, a key communist propaganda theme.
Finally, with the U.S. strategy of fighting the North Vietnamese along the DMZ in South Vietnam and in the Panhandle of southern Laos, U.S. aircraft and U.S. airfields would no longer be spread throughout South Vietnam and vulnerable to attack. Instead, U.S. air power could be concentrated at just a few airfields in South Vietnam, such as the ones at Danang, Chu Lai and Phu Bai, with the bulk of US aircraft stationed in eastern Thailand or at sea on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, thus obviating the need for so many US infantry units protecting airfields in South Vietnam.
Some Western critics of the “barrier defense” explained above, point to the failure of the “McNamara Line” electronic surveillance system in southern Laos to stem the flow of men and supplies from North Vietnam. These critics point out, quite correctly, that the North Vietnamese were able to adapt to the system of electronic intrusion devices used to monitor foot and vehicle traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and still move sufficient men and tonnage to support the insurgency in South Vietnam. While the electronic intrusion devices made the North Vietnamese pay a high price for their continued use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, they did not pose a significant enough obstacle to them, and they overcame this technological system through ingenuity and perseverance. The barrier system explained above is entirely different from the electronic one devised by the Whiz Kids in the Pentagon since that system relied on technology to stem the flow of North Vietnamese troops and equipment moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The barrier system proposed in this paper would be significantly different since it would be permanently manned by U.S. troops occupying strong defensive positions similar to those found along the DMZ in Korea and defended in depth with mobile forces. It would not rely on technology and air power alone to attack traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but instead would use a system of strong points manned by infantry, backed up by artillery in hardened fire support bases with mobile reaction forces and on-call, concentrated air power. It would also entail ground and aerial reconnaissance units prowling the terrain north of the barrier, providing advance warning of any enemy movement towards it and using air strikes and artillery to harass and attrite North Vietnamese formations before they reached the barrier. The efficacy of such an arrangement could be found in the defensive system that was used along the DMZ in South Vietnam from Dong Ha to Khe Sanh near the Lao border. This barrier system effectively stopped the North Vietnamese from moving men and supplies into South Vietnam through the DMZ after 1965 and forced them to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail system in eastern Laos to infiltrate into South Vietnam. Unlike the reconnaissance in force operations, such as Lam Son 719 or the Oplan El Paso raid, where the choke points along the Ho Chi Minh Trail would only be temporarily occupied by American or SRVN forces during a few months, this barrier would be permanently occupied.
Some critics accept the fact that a barrier from Dong Ha to Savannakhet would have prevented North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam using a land route, and argue the North Vietnamese would only increase seaborne infiltration using the East China Sea and the port of Sihanoukville in Cambodia. The U.S. and South Vietnamese navies were able to prevent the use of the South Vietnamese coast for infiltration after 1965 and the North Vietnamese never considered this avenue a serious means of moving the quantities of men and supplies needed to sustain their military operations in South Vietnam. Most of their seaborne attempts at infiltration were quite small and met with disaster since the movement of their infiltration vessels could be easily observed using U.S. surveillance means. Bad weather often disrupted or delayed seaborne infiltration and the distances from likely landing places to the North Vietnamese bases in western South Vietnam were great and covered areas that were populated and controlled by GVN forces. For these reasons, the North Vietnamese never used any seaborne route to infiltrate their units, relying exclusively on the Ho Chi Minh Trail for that purpose. Even if they were forced to use seaborne infiltration because the Ho Chi Minh Trail was blocked, they would constantly have to change their offload sites, storage sites, and transport system to take into account the American and GVN sea control and surveillance superiority, thus complicating their logistics system to the point of absurdity. Proof of the North Vietnamese rejection of the feasibility of seaborne infiltration can be found in the paucity of material devoted to it in their official history of the war, and then only to point out its difficulties and miniscule tonnage of supplies provided (Victory in Vietnam, pp. 97). As for the use of Sihanoukville, they did use third country shipping to deliver supplies to that port and their Hak Lee Transportation Company in Cambodia to move those supplies to their divisions in eastern Cambodia, but this route was only viable as long as Prince Sihanouk agreed to its use and it would never be capable of covertly introducing the 8,000 or more North Vietnamese troops needed each month to maintain their force levels inside South Vietnam. It was out of the question to bring over 90,000 NVA troops each year through Sihanoukville since it would be easy to verify and thus make a mockery of Prince Sihanouk’s contention that his country was truly neutral. He was sensitive to the issue of sovereignty and he had to maintain the fiction of neutrality for both international and internal political reasons. He knew the use of Sihanoukville for the infiltration of North Vietnamese troops would be an open and easily verifiable violation of his country’s neutrality and would give the U.S. and South Vietnam ample justification to blockade Sihanoukville or to invade his country (The author saw several classified reports from a CIA spy inside the Hak Lee Transportation Company who provided all of the company’s invoices for the transportation of supplies from North Vietnam and China to eastern Cambodia). In any event, his regime was overthrown in 1970, putting paid to any idea of using a seaborne infiltration route in Cambodia.
Perhaps the best response to the critics of the Dong Ha—Savannakhet defensive barrier can be found in the statement of Colonel Bui Tin, the North Vietnamese officer who accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese Government in 1975 and later filled several high level positions in the new communist Government. He was interviewed in Paris in 1995 and asked several questions about how the North Vietnamese viewed the conduct of the Vietnam War. The following statement by Bui Tin should put to rest any lingering doubts as to the efficacy of the Dong Ha—Savannakhet barrier plan:
Question: “How could the Americans have won the war?”
Bui Tin’s answer: “Cut the Ho Chi Minh trail inside Laos. If Johnson had granted Westmoreland’s requests to enter Laos and block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hanoi could not win the war.” (Young, Stephen, “How North Vietnam Won the War,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 1995, p. A8.)
From the very beginning of the U.S. involvement in South Vietnam, the evidence was readily available to justify an invasion and occupation of the panhandle of Laos. The U.S. had the experience, engineering expertise, construction assets, logistical competence, and military forces needed to conduct such an invasion, but the U.S. Government decided against it until it was too late. Because the Americans failed to deal with this essential and vulnerable aspect of the North Vietnamese strategy, they allowed the North Vietnamese to continue to send men and supplies south and to maintain sanctuaries inside Laos and Cambodia, thus allowing the North Vietnamese to modulate the level of violence inside South Vietnam while minimizing their own losses. Without the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese would never have been able to execute the third phase of their revolutionary war strategy, that of mobile warfare using conventional units and tactics. In sum, the American failure to permanently cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the ground was the key to their failure to win the war.
*Col. Finlayson spent 32 months in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1967-70), working entirely in combat billets (long-range reconnaissance, infantry, and special operations) in four provinces and two different geographic areas of that country (I Corps and III Corps). He was also a national-level war planner during two subsequent tours of duty. As an operations analyst at US Marine Corps Headquarters (1970-72) and as an operations specialist with the Combined Forces Command in South Korea (1981-83), he worked on many of America’s war plans. He possesses three master’s degrees: MS Management Engineering, MA Asian Studies (Chinese), and MS National Strategy and Defense Economics. He is also the author of two books on the Vietnam War and several articles, studies and monographs dealing with the war.
Paul Schmehl, Independent ResearcherApr 19, 2015
The Domino Theory got its name from President Eisenhower, but he was not the inventor of the concept. When World War II ended, the Soviet Union began to extend its influence over Asia and Eastern Europe. This development prompted Winston Churchill to remark in 1946, in a speech at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri, that
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.” Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech, http://history1900s.about.com/od/churchillwinston/a/Iron-Curtain.htm, accessed 4/16/15The British Empire reached its zenith at the start of World War I. Subsequent to that war its influence began to wane. After World War II, Britain was devastated economically and on the verge of bankruptcy. Therefore, Britain granted many of its colonies independence and its influence as a world power subsided. The United States, which had become increasingly more important in world affairs due to its role in World War II, assumed the mantle of a world power.
Beginning in 1919, with the founding of the Soviet Comintern, first Lenin and then Stalin advocated for a worldwide revolution to promote communism. It was Stalin’s belief that the revolution would proceed through Asia and eventually become worldwide. By the end of World War II, there was great deal of instability worldwide, especially in third world countries. The Russians saw that instability as an opportunity to spread communism far and wide.
As the leader of a rising world power, the Truman administration felt the need to articulate a policy to address what Churchill called “the iron curtain”, the disturbing rise of Soviet communism and influence in the world. The Truman administration believed that the growth of communism was a threat to international peace as well as the security of the United States.
Paul Schmehl, Independent Researcher
Feb 1, 2015
In academics it’s considered bad form to be directly critical of a fellow academe. Rather than criticize the scholar, criticism should be confined to his or her work. This convention works well when scholars have honest disagreements or differ over the meaning of the evidence.
However, when a scholar chooses deliberately to lie to further an agenda, the convention should no longer apply. Unless scholarship is based on evidence that is made freely available to other scholars, it’s impossible for an independent observer to know the truth. That’s why a scholar’s reputation for open and impartial handling of data is so crucial. The public depends upon it.
When a scholar is dishonest, the consequences can be far-reaching. In the case of the Hue Massacre, D. Gareth Porter successfully hid a major massacre from the American public and by doing so may have changed the course of the war. Had the news of the massacre, in its full depth, been made common public knowledge, the American people may have rallied behind the effort to maintain a free South Vietnam rather than becoming disheartened and willing to abandon our ally. (Had the media accurately reported the massacre with fervor akin to that with which they reported on My Lai - that occurred two months after the Hue massacre, the same might be true. Porter gave them the out they needed to ignore it.)
There are some hints that point to the reasons for Porter’s deceit. While attending college pursuing graduate work, Porter joined a group named The Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars. He eventually became its Chairman. The Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars was a communist front group that was formed for the express purpose of opposing the “brutal aggression of the United States in Vietnam” and to encourage “anti-imperialist research.”[1. Roger B. Canfield, Ph.D., Comrades in Arms: How the Americong Won the War in Vietnam War Against the Common Enemy--America, Fair Oaks, California 2015, an e-book at http://americong.com/ p. 868ff] It’s successor organization, Critical Asian Studies has made plain its admiration for socialism - “the historical tradition of socialist thought remains a source of inspiration for some of us…”[2. Comrades in Arms p. 868]
By 1972 Porter was the Chairman of CCAS[3. “800 Attend Indochina Teach-In” Cornell Daily Sun 14 Apr 72 p. 9] and had been actively involved in its anti-war activities for four years. His admiration and advocacy for communism would eventually lead to his embarrassment when he was forced to admit that he was wrong about the Cambodian holocaust.[4. Brinkley, Joel (2011). Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land. PublicAffairs. p. 49] He still adamantly insists that he was right about Vietnam, however, despite manifest evidence that he was wrong.[5. Schmehl, Paul “The Hue Massacre: A Study of Communist Policy and Tactics” VVFH 26 Jan 2015. Web 27 Jan 2015. https://blog.vvfh.org/2015/01/the-hue-massacre-a-study-of-communist-policies-and-tactics-in-vietnam/] (This article will focus on his “errors” regarding the Hue Massacre. A future article will deal with his handling of the North Vietnam land reform.)
In 1972 a problem confronted the communists. American officials, in order to promote support for South Vietnam (after America began withdrawing its combat troops), began pointing out the disastrous consequences that would befall South Vietnam if the communists won. A bloodbath was predicted. It was said that millions of lives would be lost. The administration cited the North Vietnam land reform and the Hue massacre as evidence of an impending bloodbath if the communists won. (In the end, that’s exactly what happened, but that was irrelevant to the communists. They had to win the propaganda war in order to further weaken the already dissolving American support for South Vietnam.)
To combat the warnings of a bloodbath, the communists needed an American champion to grant them plausible deniability. D. Gareth Porter rose to the occasion, penning articles and letters to the editor and testifying before Congress. It wasn’t long before he was being widely quoted[6. “Bloodbath? That’s what we’re causing now.” New York Times 15 Oct 72 p. 39] by the American media and some members of Congress. The fact that he was an anti-war activist and pro-communist was conveniently left out of his bio. (To be sure, Porter was not the only tool of the communists.[7. “Fear of a Bloodbath” The New Republic 6 Dec 69 pp.12-14] Marilyn Young and Noam Chomsky were two of the more notable ones.)
Some of Porter’s writings dealt with the North Vietnamese land reform, a program that was hotly debated. Some claimed deaths in the millions. Others claimed as few as 5000. Porter stated that “800 to 2500 executions” would be a “reasonable estimate”.
To understand the depth of Porter’s deceptions, it is necessary to understand what happened in Hue during Tet in 1968. An in depth examination has already been done[8. The Hue Massacre: A Study in Communist Policy and Tactics], so a summary here should suffice.
The Tet offensive in Hue began January 30, 1968 and ended February 26, 1968. During the offensive the communists maintained complete control of some areas of Hue. Within hours of the attack’s beginning, communists began executing civilians. By the time they were driven out the death toll of executions surpassed 5000.
Porter first wrote (to my knowledge) about Hue in a Christian Century article co-authored with Len Ackland entitled “Vietnam: The Bloodbath Argument”.[9. “Vietnam: The Bloodbath Argument” The Christian Century 5 Nov 69 pp.1414-1417 The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 27 Jan. 2015. http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=14511250015.] In the article, Porter relied on Ackland’s firsthand knowledge of the situation in Hue. Ackland traveled to Hue and interviewed Vietnamese there. However, his account departs dramatically from the known facts.
The story of Gia Hoi's occupation reveals that the mass executions perpetrated there were not the result of a policy on the part of a victorious government but rather the revenge of an army in retreat.Note how Porter admits here that there were mass executions, a claim he would later state was false. In fact, he later called the Hue massacre a “myth”. His lies about what happened in Hue developed over time as his arguments became more accepted by the media.
In contrast to this account, Buddhist priests who were in Gia Hoi during the siege reported hearing pistol and automatic weapon fire and the screams of victims every day and every night.[10. Communist Massacre of Civilians At Hue, 26 January 1971, Folder 09, Box 11, Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 02 - Military Operations, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 27 Jan. 2015. http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2131109003.] The reporter’s account also includes details that refute Ackland’s claim.
Many of the victims whose bound and mutilated bodies this writer saw exhumed from the field and from the nearby school yard had been sentenced to death by communists people’s courts because they worked for the local government.Extensive documentation of the deliberate nature of the communist executions is also provided in my previous article, The Hue Massacre: A Study of Communist Policy and Tactics. Suffice it to say that Len Ackland’s account and the evidence do not agree at all. Whether Porter was inclined to believe Ackland because of his bias or was well aware of Ackland’s inaccuracy but found it useful is an unanswered question.
Others received the death penalty because the communists consider them “social negatives” – their influence and standing in the community regarded as a potential threat to communist domination.
Still others were picked at random and sentenced to death on flimsy charges. The Hue city files are filled with the names of people “convicted” of such crimes as having a brother or son in the South Vietnamese Army, refusing to surrender a radio, hiding away to avoid impressment into the liberation forces, failure to attend a political re-education meeting, protesting when a family member or friend was arrested or simply showing a bad attitude.
Porter’s next article on Hue was a monograph entitled “The Administration’s Bloodbath Argument”. Co-authored with Porter’s academic advisor, George Kahin, the monograph was published in July, 1970.[11. The Administration's Bloodbath Argument, July 1970, Folder 09, Box 13, Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 08 - Biography, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 27 Jan. 2015. http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2361309012.] Here Porter began to attack Douglas Pike’s account of the massacre in Hue.[12. Study of the Hue Massacre, March 1968, Folder 14, Box 13, Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 05 – National Liberation Front, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 15 Apr. 2014. http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=2311314001.] He began as he often did, by insinuating that Pike’s account was biased because he was a US government employee. (Denigration of his opponents is a common theme in Porter’s work.)
He then referred to Ackland’s account to claim that nothing Pike had reported could possibly be true. Having recounted the basics of Ackland’s account, he went on the offensive against Pike.
The U.S.I.A. "hypothesis" betrays ignorance of the military and political situation which existed in Hue at that time.Accusing the foremost scholar on Vietnam of ignorance reveals an aspect of Porter’s personality. As he himself later admitted, he suffers from, “intellectual arrogance”.[13. Cambodia’s Curse p.49] Once Porter sinks his teeth into an opponent, he continues to savage them.
The assertion that the Front wished to "eliminate" religious and intellectual leaders in order to "reconstruct the social order" is absurd.Never mind that Pike documented this absurdity in detail from captured communist documents. In Porter’s mind, it’s an absurdity. This is another aspect of Porter’s work – ridicule the opponent’s evidence as if it’s not even worthy to be addressed.
Porter summarized his argument with this.
United States officials have recently publicized a statement by Tran Van Dac, a former Colonel in the People's Liberation Army, who defected to the Saigon Government in 1968, to the effect that there are "three million South vietnamese on the Communist blood debt list." But while Dac made this vague and sweeping statement in a Saigon-sponsored press conference in 1969, in an earlier private interview with U.S. officials the previous year, he had given a very different account of the Communist plan for dealing with former enemies. Asked what would happen to officials of the Saigon government if the Communists succeeded in South Vietnam, Dac's answer in May 1968 was, "They would imprison them, send them to concentration camps under this or that pretext .... to reeducate them...so that they can adapt themselves better to the new social order .... former high Officers, educated people, land- lords, or property owners ... are carefully watched." He made no suggestion that there would be a "bloodbath."* If "reeducation" seems harsh as a postwar policy, it should be borne in mind that it represents an effort to consolidate power without a liquidation of former enemies.No definitive study has ever been done regarding deaths of South Vietnamese after the communist takeover. Estimates have ranged from a few thousand to several hundred thousand. The words of Col Dac, however, came true; many were imprisoned or sent to re-education camps, some for twenty years or more and many are still “carefully watched” even now, forty years later. Porter’s minimizing of the impact on human lives from this sort of totalitarian treatment is disgusting.
It is also part and parcel of his articles. Those things he can’t wave away with the sweep of his hand he deals with by minimizing their impact and claiming inconsistencies that do not exist.
There is no conflict between Dac’s “blood debt list” and his earlier statements regarding the details of what would happen to those on the list. Porter seeks to imply a difference with his “very different account” statement, another of his favorite tactics. At this point, Porter was just getting warmed up.
His next article “The 1968 ‘Hue Massacre’” was published in the June 24, 1974 edition of the Indochina Chronicle. In this article Porter begins by calling the massacre a myth.
Six years after the stunning communist Tet Offensive of 1968, one of the enduring myths of the Second Indochina War remains essentially unchallenged: the communist "massacre" at Hue.By this time Porter had assembled what appeared to be hard evidence of the “myth”.
“The elusiveness of Saigon's figures is significant in the view of the testimony of Alje Vennema, a doctor working for a Canadian medical team at Quang Ngai hospital, who happened to be in the Hue province hospital during the Tet Offensive and who made his own investigation of the grave sites.12 (Note 12 reads Alje Vennema, "The Tragedy of Hue," unpublished manuscript, 1968, pp. 19-23. )The falsity of Porter’s statements is breathtaking. He departs completely from reality and makes up numbers and draws conclusions from those falsehoods that have no relation to what took place in Hue. (Since he is citing Vennema’s unpublished manuscript, perhaps he thought it would never be published and therefore his lies would never be uncovered.)
Vennema agreed that there were 14 graves at Gia Hoi High School but said there was a total of only 20 bodies in those graves. Vennema also stated that the other two sites in Gia Hoi district of Hue held only 19 bodies rather than the 77 claimed by the government, and that those in the area of the imperial tombs southwest of Hue contained only 29 bodies rather than 201 as claimed in the official report.
According to Vennema, therefore, the total number of bodies at the four major sites discovered immediately after Tet was 68, instead of the officially claimed total of 477. Then, too, while he did not claim that none of these bodies was the victim of NLF execution, he said that the evidence indicated most of them were victims of fighting in the area, rather than of political killings. In the case of the sites in the imperial tombs area, he stated that most of the bodies were clothed in the threads of uniforms. He reported having talked with nearby villagers who said that from February 21 to 26 there had been heavy bombing, shelling and strafing in the immediate area. And, in contrast to the government claims that many victims had been buried alive there, Vennema said all the bodies showed wounds.
The circumstances of the official version -- its political warfare origins, the refusal to allow confirmation by the press from first-hand observation, the questionable statistics -- and the conflicting testimony of a medical doctor who was present at the time all point to misrepresentation of the truth by the Saigon government in its April 1968 report. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Political Warfare Battalion may have inflated the number of actual executions by the NLF by a factor of ten or more.”
On page 129 of his book, The Vietcong Massacre at Hue,[14. Vennema, Alje The Viet Cong Massacre at Hue (New York:Vantage Press 1976)] Vennema wrote, “At the front of the school there were fourteen trenches containing 101 bodies.” (Not 20!) However, Vennema also wrote of bodies in graves beside and behind the school. Although he does not state how many graves there were, he places the total bodies (front and back) at 203, more than ten times the number Porter claims he wrote! Apparently what Porter did was take Vennema’s numbers and divide them by ten.
The first site to be discovered was in the city district of Gia Hoi at the Gia Hoi Secondary School, located on the edge of the populous district. The people who lived near here were aware of its existence for they had heard shots, and had known of the existence of the tribunal's holding court. Some had even managed to hide after their first appearance at the tribunal and subsequently survived. Others had escaped across the river. At the front of the school there were fourteen trenches containing 101 bodies. During the ensuing three days, however, other bodies were found in front, to the side, and behind the school. The whole school site eventually yielded 203 bodies of young men, older men, and women. Among the younger men were eighteen students, a number of whom had joined the Front after the anti-government struggle and had retreated to the mountains. This time they had returned and were joined by other students forced to participate by the Front. When the Front prepared to leave, the students were given the choice of returning with the Front to the mountains or staying behind. Those who chose to stay behind were shot and buried in the yard. Other students from Gia Hoi, not associated with the Front suffered a similar fate. Some graves were two, some three weeks old; others were fresh. It fell to South Vietnamese marines to uncover the first bodies on February 26, 1968.In toto Vennema accounts for 2397 bodies, well over a number that would bespeak of a myth. In fact, Vennema’s account essentially agrees with Pike’s, a man Porter excoriates as “ignorant” and a “media manipulator par excellence”. In the first three of the four phases of discovery, Pike lists 2152 bodies, but he inexplicably “loses” 285 bodies in the first phase. If those were added to his 2152, his total would be 2437, just 40 more than Vennema’s.
Vennema left Vietnam before the fourth phase of discoveries, which took place in November of 1969. Porter, writing of these later finds (like Da Mai Creek), dismissed them as battle deaths.
An eyewitness told a different story.[15. Nguyen Ly Tuong Witness of the Massacre at Hue, 1968 08 Mar 2009 Web 16 Apr 2014 http://www.vlink.com/mauthan/index.php?subaction=showfull&id=1236530105&archive=&start_from=&ucat=1&]
A repulsive odor in the sea breeze could be smelled miles away. The group walks towards the mass grave, at a distance of 500 meters, a horrific view appeared. It was visibly an evil painting found in fiction stories. Along the shore were the dead people. They were dead standing, where bamboo stick pierced from the butt through the throat. Around 40 groups, each group comprises 5 to 10 cadaves. Beneath them were other's bodies. The head chopped off, their legs hacked, and their tummy slashed, ..These could hardly be described as battle deaths. Nor could the 500 who died at Dai Mai Creek. Eventually 428 were identified, yet Porter claims there were 250 and that they were killed by American bombs. The eyewitnesses who escaped disagree with him.[16. Witness of the Massacre at Hue]
Underneath the sand dunes, sipping wet (it was raining for the whole month), were those buried alive. Both hands tied tightly at their back, their faces faced to each other just like they were chatting. Some still had their hat on. Another with a cigarette butt stuck to the cap. All bodies turned dark purple, dripping and oozing with yellowish, horrendously smelt. Lastly found shallow graves, all shallowly covered with sand. Legs and hands sticking out. There were 4 to 5 dead people in each grave. Their hands were pierced with barbed wire. Victims seemed being bludgeoned to death. The faces were smashed; all decomposing badly, it's hard to identify.
They tied our hands at the back with telephone lines, one by one. Then 20 persons were chained up together to make a group. There were more than 25 groups, I counted. One local went around looking at each of us then said to them (VCs): "Can't find Trong He and Phu Ro". Trong, Mr. He's son, and Phu were 2 young men at Phu Cam, well trained in martial art and being looked-up by the bad guys (trouble makers) around Hue. Trong and Phu followed the popular soldiers retreated when the cathedral was invaded by these VC forces.The eighth day of Tet would be February 6th. The communists fought in Hue for three more weeks after that. Claiming, as Ackland did, that these deaths occurred at the end by retreating Viet Cong exacting revenge defies logic.
All the detainees were innocent civilians.
They ordered us to go through the road, left of Dan Nam Giao, round Thien An monastery, to Khai Dinh's tomb, around the back of Nam Hoa district office, out to the river Ta Trach, the up stream of Perfume river. When reaching the river bank, VC asked us to cut down the bamboos making rafts to cross the river, to gather again near by King Gia Long's tomb, in the Dinh Mon and Kim Ngoc range. From there, we started to get deep into the jungle. Night falls. It' s very cold, ... climbing up, going down hill, wading across creeks, ... Taking us were about 30 VC cadres, they used torches to lead the way, we walked through thick and dense jungle of bamboo and old trees.
By mid night, the communist soldiers made us stop, for a rest. Each of us was given a handful of rice. We guessed that we had traveled for over 10 kms. Coiled up, head down, under the rain, we tried to get some sleep to have energy to continue. Suddenly, I overheard two VC cadres talking to each other: "In 15, 20 minutes, we'll kill them all"
I was trembling. Reaching close to my friend sitting right in front of me: "Try to get loose and escape! In 15 minutes we'll all be shot dead! It rains. The wire was slippery, after a while, we managed to free ourselves but stayed still, scared of being found out. I whispered: "When I tap gently on your back, let's run!"
The VC woke us up, in a loud voice to make all of us heard, one of them said: "We are arriving to the reform camp. Those who have jewellery, money, watches, cigarette lighters, ... give them all to us, you are not allowed to keep them. You will have them back once you have been reformed and completed the learning."
So they robbed us of everything and put all into the knapsacks. The one who stood close to me had on him a dozen of radios taken from those in the city (down town). The rifle on one hand, things taken on the other, he slowed down, walked behind the others by a distance. When we started going down hill, hearing the running water, I tapped gently on the shoulder of my friend. Both of us, pulled out our hands, threw ourselves out of the line. I gave the communist cadre (carrying the radios) a hell kick. He tumbled over! We hurled into the jungle ...
It was dark, in the middle of the jungle; the VC did not chase us.
Once the group had gone away for a while, we crawled out, walked back to the other direction. In about 15 to 20 minutes, we heard from the creek down below the resounding of AK gun fire, explosions of grenades, which were thundering, flaring up a corner of the jungle. Crying, screaming and howling voice were heard from far away ... horrible!
It was around midnight or half past 12, on the 8th day of Tet.
One could quibble over the numbers. The extant records are imprecise and lacking in detail. But one cannot quibble that mass executions at the hands of the communists took place, that those executions were planned in advance or that they included many people whose only crime was being a southerner.
Porter did not quibble. He doubled down. He next wrote The Myth of the Hue Massacre.[17. Porter, D. Gareth and Herman, Edward The Myth of the Hue Massacre Ramparts Magazine Vol. 13, No. 8, May-June 1975] Porter began by calling the story of the Hue massacre the “triumph of propaganda over journalistic professionalism”. He had turned the story on its head. Truth was now propaganda and propaganda was now journalism.
Porter then attacks what he claims is the evidence.
The basic documentation supporting the myth consists of a report issued by the Saigon government in April 1968, a captured document made public by the U.S. Mission in November 1969, and a long analysis published in 1970 by USIS employee Douglas Pike.Like Porter’s other claims, this one doesn’t withstand scrutiny either. In addition to the documents Porter cites, there are the following:
- A 3500-page document issued on Jan 26th, 1968 by the Tri-Thien-Hue Political Directorate (cited in Pike’s study).
- A directive issued by the provincial administration on 2/1/68 (cited by Vennema)
- A liberation radio announcement released the same day (cited by Vennema)
- A Radio Hanoi announcement released the same day (cited in Pike’s study)
- The testimony of a VC commander in June 1969 about the Da Mai Creek massacre (cited in Pike’s study)
- A statement by the Thua Thien-Hue People’s Revolutionary Committee issued on Feb 14th (cited by Vennema)
- A captured communist document dated Feb 22nd (cited by Pike)
- A captured communist document dated Feb 25th (cited by Pike)
- A report written by a political officer of the People’s Revolutionary Party immediately after the battle (cited by Pike)
- A document written by a senior political officer and marked “ABSOLUTE SECRET” (cited by Pike)
- A March 68 book released by the official Hanoi press (cited by Vennema)
- A captured communist document dated Mar 13th (cited by Pike)
- A report written by the commander of the 6th Regiment on March 30 (cited by Stephen Hosmer in a Rand report)
- An Apr 68 liberation radio broadcast (cited by Vennema)
- A Dec 68 report issued by the Hue City People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee (cited by Pike)
- An April 69 Radio Hanoi broadcast (cited by Vennema)
- A communist diary captured by US Army troops (cited by Hosmer)
Porter also cites Vennema again, making the following claim:
according to Vennema most of the bodies were clothed in military uniforms and had wounds suggesting that they were victims of the fighting.Vennema says nothing of the kind. For example:
Her body was found with legs and hands tied, a rag stuffed into her mouth; she had no obvious wounds. (p.129)This brief exposition of the many vivid descriptions in Vennema’s book should prove conclusively that Porter lied about what Vennema wrote. A cynical person might ask Porter how a victim of warfare would end up with their hands and feet tied or with a rag stuffed in their mouth and no visible wounds. I’m certain Porter would explain it as an anomaly and ignore the fact that over 5000 people dead this way is no anomaly.
His body was found, arms tied, shot through the head, in a trench with seven others at the pagoda. (p. 131)
Some of the corpses had wounds, some had their arms tied behind their backs with barbed wire, and some had their mouths stuffed with rags. (p. 132)
All had their hands tied. (p. 133)
It contained 25 bodies; all had been shot in the head, hands tied behind the back, and were noted when a hand was sticking halfway out of the ground. (p. 133)
His hands were tied, as stated by South Vietnamese villagers who uncovered the corpse, there were no wounds to his body, hence it was supposed that he had been buried alive. (p. 134)
The fact that no graves of women and children were found in the area would substantiate the allegation that the victims were killed in cold blood and not during military activity. If they had been caught during a shelling, strafing, or bombing raid some would have been wounded and had survived; others would have been dismembered. (p. 135)
His body showed no sign of injury; his hands were tied behind his back. (p. 135)
Some of the bodies were of uniformed men, but four were definitely civilians, one of whom was a student. (p. 136)
His body was found on March 1st; his hands were tied, and he had a bullet wound through his neck which had come out through the mouth. Of the many others, most had been shot and tied; there were several women among them, but no children. (p. 136)
Here lay the bodies of their loved ones; their hands had been tied behind the back, and they had been shot through the head with the bullet having exited at the mouth. (p. 136)
At this site 110 bodies were uncovered; again most had their hands tied and rags stuffed into their mouths. All were men, among them fifteen students, several military men, and civil servants, young and old. (p. 137)
Among them were civil servants and uniformed personnel with bullet wounds of head and neck. Most bodies were of the male sex. There were a few women and children, and a few exhibited more than one type of wound. Others included were those of Vietnamese Catholic priests, brothers, and novices of the surrounding villages missing for over twenty months since the events of February, 1968. (p. 138)
Over seventy bodies were found, most of them beyond recognition, mostly males with some women and children. Identification showed that they came from the surrounding villages and that some had died presumably during warfare as they had various types of wounds and dismemberments; others exhibited a single wound to the head and neck, the victims of execution. (p. 139)
As Porter is closing his argument, he writes this:
Not only the warmakers, but many other leaders and intellectuals want the Communists to be nefarious,This smacks of the childish complaints of a youngster who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. No one wants the communists to be nefarious. They just are. It’s incredible that a man as educated as Porter can dismiss, with a wave of his hand, the deaths of 1.7 million in Cambodia, 20 million in the Soviet Union and 40 million in China as if they were of little consequence. Is it any wonder he can dismiss a mere 5000 in Hue?
Download a Word 2011 copy of this article.