David's contribution then created a new problem: Too much information.
What shall I now write about?
All bloggers love getting comments on their postings. I'm no exception. It proves that we're not just whistling in the dark.
Some of my favorites come from others who served in Vietnam and share their experiences. Recently I received one from a Vietnam Vet who responded to my posting about French Fort. It seems that the French built many forts in Vietnam that Americans universally named “French Fort”. Thus, my attempts to research the one in my experience returned information about all but that one. However, my complaint about the confusion elicited a response from David Hagen who was there and had photos to prove it. (David is the tall skinny lieutenant, front row, second from the right)
David's contribution then created a new problem: Too much information.
What shall I now write about?
MY TOUR OF DUTY in the rear echelons of the 9th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War began in May of 1967. I had spent a year in Infantry School, as told in my previously published memoir – Infantry School: A Soldier's Journal – preparing for combat. The Army chose then to commission me in the Adjutant Generals Corps. Although I have ranted against my fate, I must admit that it gave me a peculiar vantage point from which to observe the war. With the training of an infantry officer and the education of a lawyer as well as the vantage point of an infantry division headquarters, I am, I suppose, better qualified than most to comment on the histories that are being written of America's most unpopular war.
Vietnam wasn't an unpopular war when I enlisted on March 3rd, 1966. We were still riled up at the audacity of the communists. How dare they fire on American warships in international waters. Sure, they were spying on the North Vietnamese. However, backed by the Soviet Union and Communist China, they were invading a peaceful nation to the south. Well, that's what we believed then and, as it turns out, that is just what was happening.
I was motivated to write my memoir because of the nonsense that my children, nieces, and nephews were learning in school. Fed by the lies perpetrated by the anti-war activists of the Vietnam War era, now teaching in our colleges and universities, a perverted version of history has become the “official” story of the conflict. I decided that someone has to stand up for the truth.
My story is not politically correct, but it is all true. I hope that it will find its way into the hands of future scholars, and that it will at least inspire them to question the propaganda to which they are being exposed.
Have you ever listened to the words of Give Peace a Chance? Really Listened? Do they make sense to you?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 8 of 8
"(Let me tell you now)
Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Revolution, Evolution, Masturbation, Flagellation, Regulation,
Integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance"
– John Lennon/Paul McCartney, 1969
Give Peace a Chance became the anthem of the antiwar movement. Although this refrain had all the force and effect of children pulling the covers over their heads when they feared monsters lurking in the dark, flower children argued that conflicts had been won by peaceful resistance. The successes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King were ready historical examples.
When Nixon replaced Johnson as President, the United States made one more attempt at driving the North Vietnamese out of the south. He raised the restrictions on pursuing the communists into their sanctuaries. He even authorized the bombing of strategic targets in North Vietnam. Then, in an unexpected move, Nixon drove a wedge between North Vietnam’s communist sponsors. He opened relations with China thereby allowing old rifts between the two communist giants to re-emerge. Border disputes flared up between China and Russia. They had differing views of the conduct of the war between communism and capitalism. They even had differing views of their shared ideology. Thus, the harmony that provided North Vietnam with seemingly unlimited war material began to dry up as Russia and China began rearming themselves for a potential Sino-Soviet conflict. Ultimately, like any schoolyard bully, the North Vietnamese had to accept the fact that they had met their match on the battlefield. Peace was about to be given a chance.
However, the North Vietnamese knew that they still held a trump card: The American anti-war movement. They used the peace accord as a subterfuge to remove the Americans from the battlefield and make one last push to invade the south. It worked only because the anti-war movement prevailed in convincing Congress to suspend all support of South Vietnam. There was nothing left to resist communist aggression. The path of pacifism was trampled under the feet of communist aggression, and more than 2.5 million people died in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
What then is the path to peace? To answer this, you must first define peace. If we can’t agree on this, we can’t find a path to it. However, if we agree that it is the absence of war, the answer is easy. First, remain strong, strong enough to deter all who might conspire to disturb peace. Then, if any are foolish enough to attack, destroy them. Destroy their capacity to make war. Destroy their will to make war. Do it quickly and decisively as we did in World War II.
Think about it. Who are America’s greatest allies today? The French? The English? The Russians? These were our main allies during World War II, and yet, they are failing allies today. They are weak. They make themselves small to avoid appearing aggressive (as they did prior to World War II) and their behavior encourages attacks. The once mighty British navy now numbers less than twenty ships. The French army never regained its strength after surrendering to the Nazis. These nations are now attacked by terrorists far more often than the United States.
Now look to our former enemies, Japan and Germany, two of our greatest allies today despite the fact that we destroyed their cities, gutted their institutions of government, and even stripped them of their rights to self-determination. We built new ones for them. Now, we are at peace with them, and they are strong. How many terrorist attacks have occurred within their borders compared to our traditional allies? Interesting, isn’t it?
Why can’t peace be everlasting? Every time we let down our guard and exhibit weakness, we encourage a new enemy. Today, they attack us with terrorism, and they’re winning. You disagree? Look at how your lives have changed. The economy has tanked. We have surrendered freedom of movement and peaceful assembly to agents who frisk and observe us as though we are the enemy.
We pretend to be strong. We invade Iraq and Afghanistan while the agents of terrorism lurk in other places, some even our “allies.” And, when we take command of a place, we gather tribal leaders and allow them to reestablish the same institutions and customs that inspired them to attack us in the first place. Why don’t we do in Iraq and Afghanistan as MacArthur did in Japan, and teach them a new way of governing themselves and living as peaceful, civilized nations.
More astounding is the fact that there are some, even in those places that sponsor terrorism, who plead for our help. How easy it would be to lend them a hand, even a kind word of encouragement would be welcome. And yet our government denies they even exist. We continue to exhibit weakness despite the fact that history cries out to us to be strong.
It reminds me of a popular TV series Kung Fu (1972-75) wherein a Shaolin Monk played by David Carradine, exiled to America in the days of the early westward expansion, wanders into one misadventure after another. Even though he has the ability to stop bad people from committing crimes or otherwise perpetrating evil deeds, he refuses until someone is hurt. Then, and only then, he acts, and the problem is resolved. Is there something more noble in fixing a problem rather than preventing it?
Ultimately, we who served in Vietnam, won our battles there. Name just one that the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army won. We lost only when we returned to be vilified by the antiwar protesters. Is it possible that they were the real losers?
All that pacifists believed in and struggled for has proven illusory. The peace that they sought is always beyond their reach. They abandon tried and proven principles of what works, and replace them with what they believe ought to work. They are driven by the best of intentions only to discover that their path leads straight to the gates of war and hell.
Why won’t they learn?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 7 of 8
THERE WERE LIES. Everybody was telling them during the Vietnam War era. Politicians lied. The anti-war movement lied. The military lied. Everybody lied to win popular support for their position.
As a student of history I have to admit that these accusations amuse me. They put me in mind of the American Civil War when President Lincoln employed a detective, Allan Pinkerton, to build a civilian spy agency so that he would not be wholly dependent on his military commanders for battlefield intelligence. As it turns out, Pinkerton didn’t do much better than the generals. He often sent multiple agents to discover enemy strengths, then added together their individual reports, and arrived at grossly inflated estimates.
Today, we recognize that all battlefield intelligence, regardless of the source, is subject to the fog of war. Everybody is inclined to interpret facts in a way that suit their preconceived notions.
Misleading reports and conflicting interpretations left the American public confused and, without their support, the war effort in Vietnam was threatened.
“It is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve... Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission... Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination, and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor!” – General William C. Westmoreland in a speech to Congress, April 28th, 1967
General Westmoreland was correct; our lack of resolve was our Achilles heel, and the North Vietnamese communists exploited it with their own lies.
I met General Westmoreland briefly when he stopped at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii for a physical exam following his replacement by General Creighton Abrams as the Commanding General of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). I was the Special Services officer there at the time and provided facilities and equipment for recreational activities. Westmoreland was an avid tennis player.
Throughout his career, General Westmoreland earned a reputation as caring for his men and their welfare more than any other commanding officer. In Vietnam, he excelled by using mobility and a highly flexible logistics system to support rapid deployments to confront the enemy wherever they might pop up. As a former artillery officer, he also pioneered the use of mobile fire bases to provide fire power wherever a battle might develop. However, there was one problem he could not overcome. He could not find an effective means of communicating results. Body and weapons counts simply failed to impress the American people favorably.
The problem in Vietnam was that it was not like any previous war. There were no battle lines. Objectives were taken and surrendered, and then retaken repeatedly. Strategic targets were off limits, so Westmoreland had to content himself with engaging the enemy in small unit actions until enough had been killed to persuade them to abandon their invasion of the south. Thus, body counts seemed significant. However, body counts were gruesome reminders of the tragedy of war, and coupled with uncensored television images, repulsed the American public. Where Westmoreland saw a light at the end of the tunnel, Americans saw only the darkness of horror.
The truth appears to be that MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) was as guilty as the rest. It intentionally falsified estimates of enemy strengths at times to help justify additional resources. It may be that Westmoreland realized the trap he had stepped into using body counts to indicate progress in the war. Inasmuch as the Viet Cong refused to engage in decisive battles, subtracting a few hundred here and there from a total strength that may have exceeded half a million insurgents would blind the public to the fact that the Viet Cong could never defeat the Americans in the same manner that they had defeated the Chinese, Japanese, and French, and that the United States could hold the enemy at bay while South Vietnam crafted a representative government that was responsive to the citizenry and relatively free of corruption, if the American public would support the effort.
Westmoreland's house of cards was about to crash about his head when CIA, State Department, White House, and Army officials met in Saigon to clear up the conflicting assessments of enemy strength. Threats and recriminations were traded until, surprisingly, the Army relented and agreed to higher estimates than they had previously reported. Many have speculated on the reversal of the Army position. However, it is possible that Westmoreland learned of the Viet Cong's plans to mount a massive offensive during the lunar festival, Tet, and he would have the major battle he needed to deliver a decisive defeat without resorting to body counts.
Ultimately, when the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong agents staged the Tet Offensive of 1968, few cared that U.S. forces smashed the enemy in the first major battle the communists had attempted. They reacted only to the lies and grossly deflated estimates of enemy troop strengths. Inflamed by exaggerated reports from correspondents who hunkered down in terror in Saigon for several days, Americans believed that the Viet Cong had won the battle. Walter Cronkite sealed the fate of the counterinsurgency effort when he proclaimed that the war was lost. Indeed, I did not hear a shot fired in anger from the time of the Tet Offensive in January, 1968, until I left the country the following May 4th, the beginning of “mini-Tet,” when North Vietnamese Army regulars had infiltrated and took over the prosecution of the war against the south.
Until the Tet Offensive, the antiwar movement had castigated Cronkite and his network, CBS, for broadcasting the body count numbers without challenge. After the Tet Offensive, Cronkite, the most trusted voice in America, observed, “It is increasingly clear that the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to the pledge to defend democracy,” to which President Johnson responded, “If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.” Thus, Cronkite rose to mythical proportions among the antiwar movement.
Generally, Vietnam Veterans also hated the body counts. In a war of small unit engagements, small body counts were not impressive enough to sway anyone's opinion, and some commanders inflated them. Counting bodies also forced young soldiers to confront the consequences of their actions in ways soldiers in previous wars had avoided.
How else could the war be reported? The Army tried to use statistics gleaned from civic action programs. Patients treated. Latrines built. Tons of food stuffs delivered. However, no one believed that any war could be won with humane treatment of the enemy. You see, most Americans believed that we were fighting a popular insurgency when, in fact, we were battling an invading army. It ceased to matter that neither the Viet Cong nor the North Vietnamese Army ever won a significant battle. The myths contrived by the antiwar movement simply got in the way.
So, which were worse: The lies told by the politicians or the ones told by the antiwar movement?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 6 of 8
I ARRIVED IN Vietnam in 1967, as part of the build up of American forces that led to the escalation of the Vietnam War. (In Iraq it was called a "surge.") The last of the military leaders to preside over the country, Nguyen Van Thieu, who would be elected as a civilian president, was then in charge of the Vietnamese army. General William C. Westmoreland was in command of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), which would quickly grow to become a half-million man army. President Johnson was determined to put an end to what was, by then, a North Vietnamese/Soviet invasion of South Vietnam. Was this invasion precipitated by America blocking the free elections promised in the Geneva Convention that gave Vietnam its independence?
“I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held... possibly eighty percent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
There you have it – the anti-war argument damning the American government for its refusal to allow the Vietnamese to freely choose to reunify under the communists. Why were we sacrificing American lives and squandering its fortune if, as Eisenhower himself admitted, all Vietnamese preferred to be communist?
So, whatever happened to the provisions of the Geneva Convention that ended the French-Indochinese War and mandated free elections to reunify Vietnam? The truth is, that isn't exactly what Eisenhower said. The President was commenting on a hypothetical election between Ho Chi Minh and Bao Dai.
Bao Dai was the Chief of State of South Vietnam from 1949 to 1955. Previously, he had been the King of Annam (1926 – 1945), the portion of the French colony in Indochina that eventually became Vietnam. He was very unpopular as he was seen as a symbol of French occupation and abandoned the people during the Japanese occupation. Of course, he could not win an election in Vietnam against anyone. Bao Dai was replaced by Ngo Dinh Diem, the first President of South Vietnam, when the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu and the nation was partitioned between the communist north and free south.
Ngo Dinh Diem. Remember the protests – Buddhist priests burning themselves in the streets of Saigon – weren't they protesting to join North Vietnam? Hardly. They were Buddhists! Why would they want to submit to a government with an absolute stricture against religion – all religion? The truth is that the Buddhists constituted the majority of the population in the south. They were protesting the nepotism and corruption of the administration presided over by Diem – a Roman Catholic.
Catholicism was an irritant to the Vietnamese in and of itself. It was a vestige of French colonialism. The French had introduced it for much the same reason as the Roman Emperor Constantine purportedly created it: To help maintain the empire. It is far cheaper to enslave a people with religion than with an army.
Still, Eisenhower's statement being irrelevant, the Vietnam era anti-war activists argued – and college professors still argue today – that the United States reneged on its agreement to support reunification elections. Not true. The United States never agreed to such elections because the communists enjoyed an unfair advantage. Nearly eighty percent of the Vietnamese lived in the more industrialized north, while the remainder lived in the agrarian south. The results of any election would have been extremely lopsided.
Of course, none of this would have mattered if the people living in South Vietnam wanted to join their communist brethren in the north. After all, wasn't the Viet Cong a populist movement in the south? Prior to the Tet Offensive of 1968, there is no way of proving the argument one way or the other. It is clear that the Viet Cong were armed, supplied, and led by the communists in the north – under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap. However, there are no records proving whether or not the majority of the members of the Viet Cong were southern born or if the people in the south freely supported them. Following the Tet Offensive, there is no doubt that the Viet Cong ceased to exist as a viable organization. The prosecution of the war against South Vietnam and the Americans was openly prosecuted by North Vietnam Army regulars.
It is clear that, following the Tet Offensive of 1968, North Vietnam was invading South Vietnam. They coveted the fertile rice-growing region of the Mekong Delta just as the Chinese had for centuries. They were encouraged by the Soviets to further the cause of world domination by, not communism per se, but rather by Stalinism.
Ultimately, President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War failed because he hamstrung the military from pursuing the enemy into their sanctuaries and attacking their supply trains.
Following the Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) assumed the full weight of prosecuting the invasion of South Vietnam. They violated the sovereignty of neighboring nations, Laos and Cambodia, to move troops and supplies south to attack the flanks of South Vietnam. American and armies of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) were forbidden from pursuing them when they retreated into these sanctuaries to regroup, rearm, and resupply. To Americans watching the war on their televisions, it seemed that the NVA was unbeatable, and they were under those conditions.
It’s interesting that American diplomats and politicians didn’t learn the lesson. Their attempts to instill democracy in Iraq failed for much the same reasons and in much the same manner as Vietnam, and the results appear to be headed in the same direction. No, communism and Stalinism are not the motivating forces in Iraq, but the vision of world conquest by religious fanatics is equally as aggressive.
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 5 of 8
IN THE BEGINNING the communist incursion into the south was disorganized. Weapons and supplies, but little else, were contributed from the Soviets via North Vietnam. However, Ho Chi Minh was too busy consolidating his hold on the north to give much attention to the south. When he did, the United States took notice.
Some argue that the American intervention into Vietnam began long before it became independent of France. I cannot find any evidence of this. Indeed, France and America have long had a quarrelsome relationship. Although France aided the American colonies in their fight for independence from England, the rift was clearly evident as soon as that revolution ended. The Founding Fathers were fairly evenly split in their attitudes to France and adamant in their positions.
Truman certainly never evidenced any great love for the French. It is rumored that he directed the newly formed CIA to secretly assist the Viet Minh and the French were most upset when they discovered this. The resulting flap was but one more grievance that ultimately led De Gaulle to chase NATO out of his country.
There were many among the Viet Minh who fought for freedom from colonial rule, and who did not want to trade French masters for Soviet ones. They formed a government in the south of Vietnam led by Ngo Dinh Diem. It was an unfortunate choice.
Diem was culturally segregated from the majority of South Vietnamese in all but one critical measure. He was adamantly anti-communist like the majority of peasants, especially those who fled North Vietnam following the communist takeover there. However, he was a practicing Catholic whereas the majority of the population in the south were Buddhist. Also, Diem was descended from privileged classes whereas the majority in the south were agrarian peasants. These differences caused a rupture between Diem and his people that greatly interfered with the south’s ability to resist the communist incursion. Diem had to be replaced and, with alleged support from the American CIA, he was replaced by Duong Van Minh, the first of a succession of military leaders.
American diplomats worked feverishly though unsuccessfully, to establish a popular civilian rule in South Vietnam. The unrelenting pressures of a communist invasion from the north made this impossible.
The Americans began patrolling the South China Sea when it became evident that the Soviets were shipping vast supplies of war materials through Haiphong harbor in North Vietnam. It was obvious that the newly minted Viet Cong, led from North Vietnam, were preparing to mount a major offensive. It was clear that South Vietnam was going to be hard pressed to defend itself unless something was done. The American excuse to act was delivered by North Vietnamese naval vessels that attacked American warships in international waters.
Anti-war protesters long argued that the attack on one of the American warships, the destroyer Maddox, was a hoax. The problem for them is that such an attack legitimized American involvement.
Under international law, an attack on a vessel is an attack on the nation under which that vessel is flagged, and is a casus belli - a cause for war. In other words, an American warship is a floating extension of the nation. Attacking it is the same as attacking Cleveland.
The USS Maddox (DD-731) was an American destroyer attacked by high speed North Vietnamese torpedo boats while on an intelligence gathering mission in International Waters. The Maddox received air support from warplanes launched off the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, and suffered no significant damage while the North Vietnamese boats were severely damaged and repelled.
A second American destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, joined the Maddox and the patrol was continued. The jittery crews misread radar and sonar signals, and the two ships began maneuvering and firing on phantom attackers. These incidents, one real and one imagined, led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
“Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal [sic] any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” – Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, August 7, 1964
Yes, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was flawed – repealed should have been repelled. Beyond that, the antiwar movement argued, it should never have passed Congress.
Politicians recognize that popular support for a war is just as important as a nation's armed forces. Without it, they cannot sustain the strategic support needed to wage war. Fearing that the general population will not be able to grasp the complexities of diplomacy, they fashion slogans and sound bites that will inspire the public.
I was about to begin my last year of law school when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress and President Johnson ordered the mining of Haiphong harbor as well as strategic air strikes against North Vietnamese military installations. Our involvement escalated from that time and I was determined to enlist. As a sailor and Coast Guard certified operator of vessels, I endeavored to become an officer in the U.S. Navy, but they were slow in responding to my application. Thus, I entered the Army on March 3, 1966, approximately nine months after my graduation. I enlisted to fight the global communist threat. I did not march to war with “Remember the Maddox” on my lips. Indeed, I never heard those words uttered.
America has a long history of phantom attacks that led to war. “Remember the Maine” inspired Americans to go to war with Spain. The USS Maine, an American battleship anchored in Havana harbor, was purportedly sunk by the Spanish without provocation – in fact, it was destroyed by an explosion resulting from the accumulation of gases in its coal bunkers. Most recently, America invaded Iraq in search of phantom Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – though none were ever found. The vilification of President Bush for purportedly lying about WMD in Iraq to justify that war is reminiscent of the vilification of President Roosevelt for purportedly engineering the attack on Pearl Harbor as an excuse to drag the United States into World War II.
President Roosevelt had a problem. He had promised Americans that they would not be drawn into another European entanglement. They were sick of the costs in lives and treasures lost in the previous debacle – World War I. However, Roosevelt and his advisers saw the peril in allowing Nazi Germany to complete its conquest of Europe – America would certainly be next in Hitler's sights. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not sufficient reason for the United States to declare war on Germany, but it was a godsend to those who saw the dangers of American isolationism. It inspired the nation to war.
Ultimately, Roosevelt led us to war in Europe because he decided that the vital interests of America were threatened there. Johnson led us to war in Vietnam for the same reason. No, North Vietnam did not threaten us directly – rather, as a client state of the Soviet Union, it threatened to help spread communism and shrink the free world. Engaging the communists in southeast Asia was a logical extension of the Truman Doctrine of Containment of Communism.
Containment never worked. So long as Stalin's dreams of world domination were allowed to play out unopposed, it was able to seep across borders – thus, the foundation of the Domino Theory. Indeed, the war in Vietnam was America's last attempt at containment. President Nixon replaced it with Detente wherein the Soviets and the Free World would attempt to get along like any two sensible rattlesnakes stuck in the same burlap bag.
Containment failed in Vietnam for one reason only – lack of will. The American people gave up on the effort. The antiwar movement won the day and the communists won the territory even though they had lost the war. Thus, this loss may be directly attributable to the failure of Johnson to craft a better slogan to inspire the general populace. As I said, I never heard “Remember the Maddox,” and few in America heard the clarion call to battle. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution had a flaw that the antiwar movement picked at like a sore until it burst and the will to fight deflated.
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 4 of 8
WHAT WAS ALL THE FUSS about communism? Someone looking back who hadn’t lived through the Cold War Era might well wonder. It’s a defunct ideology practiced in a few backward and bankrupt countries.
Okay, China isn’t exactly backward and bankrupt, but it isn’t exactly a communist enclave anymore. Capitalism rules the streets while a few geriatric communists rule the government palaces.
“It's my fondest wish, that some day, every American will get down on their knees and pray to God that some day they will have the opportunity to live in a Communist Society.” - Jane Fonda Hayden, 1970
Face it. All other arguments aside, there were those anti-war activists who protested our involvement in Vietnam for the simple reason that we were denying the South Vietnamese the fruits of communism that their brethren in the north were already enjoying. They did not care what the South Vietnamese themselves wanted any more than they cared what we wanted for them. It's hard to debate against unless it can be demonstrated that communism would not only fail to provide any material advantage to the South Vietnamese, but also significantly harm them. Fortunately, we do not have to speculate on the possible outcome of a communist victory in South Vietnam. It is an accomplished fact and the results are readily apparent.
Let's be honest. Communism has its allure. In theory, it seems that it ought to work. No class distinctions. Deprivations borne equally. The fruits and benefits of the community be shared equally. Happiness and sadness shared equally. However, communism only exists primarily because, as Thomas Sowell so aptly states, intellectuals have a penchant to “…replace what works with what ought to work.” This is why educators still preach it and, even today, students can be found on any American campus passing out copies of the Daily Worker.
Unfortunately, communism in practice has never matched its theoretical possibilities. One of the problems with communism is that it requires a central authority to decide what the community will produce and how it will be shared. If this central authority is weak, the ideology fails because people are about as easy to herd as cats. This was well proven in one of the early communal experiments here in the United States.
The Pilgrims formed a commune long before anyone defined communism. The land was owned by all and the fruits of their labor were stored in a communal warehouse. Families drew from the communal supplies and all starved equally.
Many think that the Pilgrims were saved by the American natives who were their neighbors. In fact, the Pilgrim’s colony was on the verge of collapse even after the indigenous people taught them how to fertilize their crops with fish and hunt the forests. It was only after the Pilgrims abandoned their communal system and every family worked for themselves that the colony began to prosper. In all likelihood, it failed because the community was under the direction of a council of elders, a committee if you will. Their management was fragmented. Opportunities were missed and problems went unresolved for too long because committees are notoriously slow in responding to issues.
Fortunately, the Pilgrims chose to relinquish responsibility for making economic decisions to the individual members of the community, thus giving birth to capitalism in America and giving them the liberty to take care of themselves. Had they chosen instead to retain the reins of authority, they would have ultimately attracted a tyrant.
Tyrants always are drawn to the centers of power where they can grasp control. When people are free to exercise control over their lives as individuals, power is much too diluted to be grabbed by any one person. This is why history’s most iconic communist societies have all been ruled by tyrants, and they rule with a heavy hand. Stalin reputedly murdered at least 20 million of his own citizens. Mao murdered more than 80 million. Castro had a smaller population to work with and his death count only numbers in the tens of thousands.
When communism failed, some communist leaders, most notably Chairman Mao Zedung, concluded that failures in communism were rooted in flaws in their citizens. They reasoned that people simply weren't constituted to live in a Utopian society. Mao attempted to create “perfect communists” during the Cultural Revolution. Children were taken from homes where they learned traditional Chinese values and mores, and sent to re-education centers where they were taught the skills and attitudes needed to be successful communists. Young intellectuals in the cities were sent to the countryside to learn the rigors of hard work. Youth gangs known as the Red Guards scoured the countryside for counter-revolutionaries, setting up their own tribunals, and persecuting many. Children were returned home to denounce their parents as traitors of the People's Revolution. Another appealing idea, but now a proven failure. Indeed, not only have the Chinese abandoned Mao's Cultural Revolution, but also, those who would redeem it are branded criminals.
These communist leaders missed the point. The truth they refused to face was that their societies failed because of their own poor judgment. In a society where choices, especially economic choices, are left in the hands of individuals, their mistakes only harm themselves. However, in a centrally controlled society, the mistakes of leaders impact everyone. In Russia, for example, a committee had to set prices periodically on every one of the commodities and services sold there, from toothpaste to an oil change in a car (for those few who actually owned one). In a capitalistic society, these prices are set by agreement between buyers and sellers, and can vary greatly even within the same market region. Mistakes are borne only by the individuals who make them. As Thomas Sowell has observed so accurately, no one person, no matter how intelligent, can possess all the mundane information needed to know everything and make all decisions.
Poor decisions lead to unintended consequences. Even in America, economic control has become increasingly centralized, and a large segment of the population is more than happy to accept entitlements when they equal or exceed the rewards of marginal employment. The incidence of welfare families has grown steadily ever since the inception of President Johnson's Great Society programs.
Although the fate that waited the Vietnamese at the hands of the communists may have been a surprise to Ms. Fonda and company, it was no surprise to those who knew the Soviets or, as President Reagan called them, "The Evil Empire." The human toll was staggering. Stalin's disciples sent millions of South Vietnamese to re-education centers – prison camps – where more than 150,000 died (the toll may be exponentially greater). Hundreds of thousands were lost at sea attempting to flee communist deprivations. Three million refugees were forced to live in relocation centers – a few fortunate enough to integrate into other free societies.
Antiwar protesters argued that these were casualties of the United States intervention in Vietnam. The two halves of the country should have unified “peacefully” under the terms of the Geneva Convention that ended French Colonial Rule. But, there were those Vietnamese who didn’t want to live under communist rule. Shouldn’t they have been allowed to live the lives they chose in peace? Isn’t that what we were attempting to help them do?
Still, the protesters argued: What right did America have to intervene?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 3 of 8
HO CHI MINH was generally regarded by anti-war demonstrators as the George Washington of Vietnam leading the popular revolution that ultimately defeated French and then American occupiers, making way for a free and independent society. Furthermore, the myth-makers explain that America's support of the French drove Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese into the arms of the communists. In fact, that message seems to remain alive today in American schools and on American campuses where teachers and professors pass on the myth to their students.
It is hard to understand how men like Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara become popular icons, celebrities actually, in the United States. Only ignorance can account for this. Men such as these do not stand up well under close scrutiny. Looking at Ho Chi Minh, for example, he betrayed the Vietnamese nationalistic movement. He delivered the country into the hands of the communists after they fought so long and well to free themselves from the French colonialists.
No, Ho Chi Minh is nothing like George Washington. I should know. Washington and I share a birthdate, and I was reminded of this fact every year in the form of a cake embellished with cherries alluding to the myth of Washington cutting down his father's cherry tree and then owning up to it. As I studied history, I was fascinated to learn that Washington was far more complex and interesting as a real man. The myths fabricated to endear him to the citizenry and elevate him to giant proportions were distracting to me. I can imagine the same being true of any Vietnamese child learning about Bac Ho – Uncle Ho.
“Truth is what is beneficial to the Fatherland and to the people. What is detrimental to the interests of the Fatherland and people is not truth. To strive to serve the Fatherland and the people is to obey the truth.” - Volume IV of Ho Chi Minh's Selected Works, from a 1956 speech.
In fact, it’s difficult to find any parallels between the Father of America and the Father of Vietnam. For the Father of America to be compared to Ho, Washington would have had to have begun his career engineering the slaughter of American revolutionaries.
Ho Chi Minh was abroad during the Second World War. He studied in America, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. He returned to France to help form the Communist Party there, and then returned to Vietnam when the war ended. The Vietnamese Nationalists welcomed him as a hero until they learned that Ho had signed agreements with the French allowing them to return with armed forces to reclaim the colony Japan had driven them from. The Nationalists fled to the hills and formed a revolutionary army, the Viet Minh, to fight for independence. Ho followed with French and Vietnamese forces bent on annihilating them.
Ho's problem with the Nationalists was that they were not fighting for a communist state. Once he eradicated their leadership, he was able to transform the Viet Minh into a communist revolutionary army.
Ho's history is also out of step with Washington's in that he did not suffer the privations and dangers of the battlefield. I'm not claiming that he was a coward. Ho simply was not up to the rigors of the battlefield. He suffered from tuberculosis. Other Vietnamese heroes led the front-line fight against the French and later the Americans.
If anyone deserved the distinction as Vietnam's Father, it was Phan Boi Chau. He led the nationalist movement towards a free and democratic Vietnam which was antithetical to Ho's vision of a communist state. Chau might have succeeded but for the fact that Ho Chi Minh and his allies helped the French capture the leader of the Viet Minh in 1925 and execute him.
Ho then made his move to take command of the Viet Minh. Using his connections with the Soviets, he was able to offer them the promise of virtually unlimited funding and supplies. It was an offer they could not afford to reject. Once embedded as their new leader, Ho refashioned the Viet Minh (Free Vietnamese) into the Viet Cong (Red Vietnamese).
With the defeat of the French foreign legion at Diem Ben Phu, the opposing sides met in Geneva to fashion a peace treaty. Ho was clearly upset that non-communist leaders from the Viet Minh sent their own representatives to the meeting. After much dickering, an agreement was fashioned to divide Vietnam into a communist enclave in the north and an anti-communist enclave in the south.
The agreement crafted in Geneva also provided for free elections to unify the country at a later date. This provision of the treaty was seriously flawed inasmuch as the country was to be divided into two irreconcilable halves.
The parties also agreed to allow Vietnamese to choose which half they wanted to live in. Ho was confident that his cause would prevail. However, he was greatly disappointed when hundreds of thousands queued up to flee communism. Ho was forced to allow a token amount to make the trek so as to appear to honor the accord.
One must wonder: What caused so many to flee communism? Why can’t communism exist without the leadership of a strong tyrant and enforced loyalties?
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 2 of 8
“IT IS RIGHT to resist aggression…” - Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars. America, as well as every other nation has the right to defend itself but, Professor Walzer contends, there was no threat to America from the Vietnamese. And the anti-war movement held fast to this premise. However, there was a threat to America, and the rest of the Free World. It came from the Soviet Empire.
Everyone in Europe and America felt the threat. It became as pervasive and persistent as tinnitus. However, as the Cold War heated up in Vietnam, another emotion seemed to drown it out.
The war in Vietnam was a battlefield in the Cold War. The Soviet Union had usurped the victory of the Viet Minh over the French colonialists. The United States rushed in to “contain communism.” It’s as simple as that, but this is going to require a lot of explanation. Indeed, it sets the premise for all the remaining postings in this series. It raises the question: How did Vietnam become involved in the Cold War?
It is no secret that the Soviet Union was set on world domination. They proclaimed their intentions openly at every opportunity. They maintained armies along the Iron Curtain that separated Free Europe from the Soviet Bloc, armies far in excess of any reasonable defensive needs. They boasted at the United Nations that they would bury us (meaning the United States).
Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union prior to Khrushchev, crafted their strategy for world domination. It would first subjugate all of Asia, then Indochina. From there it would move on to bring Africa, then South America into its empire. Once these continents were firmly under the Soviet’s sphere of influence, Europe would fall and America would be isolated. Victory over the United States would be their crowning achievement. Again, none of this is speculation. Stalin was confident enough to speak openly of his plans.
Stalin’s strategy was to employ insurgencies to topple governments from within. World War II had demonstrated that the Soviet Union did not have the resources to confront the “free world” in open warfare. Thus, he lured disaffected elements in targeted societies to champion his communist ideology with promises of weapons as well as diplomatic recognition.
The Free World, led by America, adopted the Truman Doctrine of “containment.” Exhausted by World War II, no one wanted a direct confrontation. The Americans and allied Europeans chose instead to support whatever elements opposed Stalin’s communist insurgents regardless of their merit. Thus, they ended up supporting some very unsavory tyrants at times.
The two sides, the Free World and the Soviet Empire, maneuvered for advantage, one timid, the other aggressive. Occasionally, the two sides met in heated battles such as Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. In all three cases, the regular forces of one, the Americans or the Soviets, engaged the clients of the other. The two main belligerents, Russia and the United States, never engaged directly. They were precluded from main battle because both possessed weapons of mass destruction that would result in “Mutual Assured Destruction.” As Ray Bradbury famously said in that time, “We should worship at the altar of the atomic bomb.” It prevented World War III. However, that did not prevent people from dying, as in Vietnam.
Warfare is not for the faint of heart. But, if there is one lesson that was hammered home repeatedly during the Twenty-First Century, it was this: The faint of heart encouraged more wars than did anyone else.
Harold Wilson and his allies appeased Herr Hitler time and again. In the years leading up to World War II, Hitler dreamed of conquest but was forestalled by the simple fact that the combined might of the French army and the British navy outgunned and outmanned Germany. However, he began to doubt their resolve to employ these forces, and he opened his campaign with probing actions. Would they respond if he subjugated Czechoslovakia? He annexed the Sudetenland, and when no one objected, he invaded the rest of the country. France and England responded by making a treaty to defend Poland.
Next, Hitler annexed a portion of Poland. In failing to honor their treaty with Poland before the ink was even dry on the paper, France and England sent a clear message to Hitler that they had no resolve to defend others and, possibly, not even themselves. Thus, appeasement fed the fires of war.
In the case of Korea, Truman and his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, sent mixed signals about their willingness to defend South Korea. Although Stalin was reluctant to take advantage of the situation, a brash young Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, prevailed on him to support his attempt to unify the peninsula under his control, and the Korean War began.
The Soviets suspected John Kennedy lacked resolve. His tolerance of communism’s encroachment in the Western Hemisphere surprised the Soviets. They were astounded by his decision at the Bay of Pigs. That’s not to say that Kennedy erred in withdrawing support for the invasion of Cuba, but the Soviets perceived it as a lack of resolve. When Kennedy later backed down the Soviets over the installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba, they blamed the weakness of Khrushchev rather than questioning their judgment of Kennedy. Ultimately, their success in Cuba encouraged them to pursue their objectives elsewhere, thereby setting the stage for war in Vietnam.
Warfare may appear exciting when viewed on the History Channel but, in reality, the time between battles is filled with much longer periods of resting, regrouping, rearming, and maneuver. A battle is often more influenced by where it is fought than by how it is fought. Armies maneuver to choose the best terrain. If the other side arrives to find that their enemy is firmly entrenched in the most advantageous positions, they will retire to another location, threaten the enemy from another quarter, and attempt to draw them into battle where they have the advantage. However, on occasion, while maneuvering, the forces bump into each other, and a battle commences.
Much like the battle of Gettysburg, the opposing forces may be drawn together by people and circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Neither Lee nor the Yankee commanding general, McClellan, intended to join battle at Gettysburg. Two scouting parties ran into each other there and called for reinforcements. Soon, the main armies arrived and the battle lines were formed almost organically. Individual initiative on that first day, especially at Little Round Top, decided the outcome.
In like manner, the forces that came together in Vietnam met there by accident. The Soviets, emboldened by events in Cuba, opened the next stage of their campaign at world domination in Southeast Asia. They probed with insurgencies in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Fortunately, the communists succeeded only in Vietnam. However, their victory was costly. Forced to focus all their energy and resources in Vietnam, they lost on all other fronts and the greater war in Southeast Asia went to the Free World. Had the United States not abandoned the South Vietnamese, they would not have won on even that front.
The question that remains is this: Why did Vietnam become the focal point of the war in Southeast Asia? Simply, the opposing forces of the Free World and the Soviet Union came together in Vietnam when Stalin’s disciple, Ho Chi Minh, usurped control of the Viet Minh.
Vietnam: Retrospective Part 1 of 8
THIS IS THE FIRST of an eight-part series in which I will look into the Vietnam War, its causes, its conduct, and its result. I have already written extensively about my participation in it, and the perspective that experience provided. This series will expand on that knowledge to include more that was acquired through years of research.
These are not questions that can be answered with slogans or chants. They require a historical perspective as well as honest testimony. It's sad that with all this information available as well as hindsight, there are still those, especially on American campuses, who have little more to offer than the chants of the anti-war protesters who marched in the streets during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This is not an academician's tome. There won't be any footnotes or citations. I want to make it as readable as possible to the widest possible audience. Now you may think that it is the product of an amateur, and that it should not be taken seriously. However, inasmuch as none of the journalists, pundits, politicians, and academics who have guided the debate about the war in Vietnam to this point, have made any effort to authenticate their sources, I don't see why I should be held to a higher standard. If anyone wants to challenge me on a particular point, I will be glad to lay my cards on the table, but they will have to lay theirs down first. After all, they will be the ones calling me. [Note: Find yourself a poker player to explain that metaphor if you don't understand it.]
In this first installment, I will touch on what the war in Vietnam was not.
I will attempt to address each in detail. I say attempt because at least one, “Vietnam was a rich man's war” is indecipherable. It seems only to be a cry of class envy. Although novel in that time, it is one that resonates with many people today.
Before I continue, let me make it clear that I am not opposed to dissent. I have cited President Eisenhower frequently in my writings on this subject.
“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”
I have dissented to the policies and actions of our government on many occasions. Indeed, I am vigorously opposed to our current President and his allies in Congress, who have, in thought and in deed, pursued goals for our nation that I deem incredibly destructive and wholly at odds with constitutionally consistent institutions that I hold dear. I am vocal in my dissent. I encourage and support others who dissent at my side. However I may disagree with the current Administration and any citizens who support it, I respect their right to oppose me. I will defend their right to voice and act on their beliefs no matter how misguided I may believe them to be. I expect the same in return.
However, there is a difference between honest dissention and unlawful protest. For as much as I will defend anyone’s right to dissent, I will not support protests like those that included the harassment of servicemen and women. I will not only encourage the prosecution and punishment of those who participate in unlawful acts, but also help their victims defend themselves. In fact, this history is part of that effort.
Our schools and documentarians are promulgating the myths espoused by the Vietnam War dissenters and protesters to this day. They teach them to our children and their progeny. They repeat them among themselves and in public displays and discussions to the continuing detriment of American foreign policy. There are some who still attempt to inflict guilt on the veterans of that war. I know. I have been a target of those assaults. Unfortunately for them and their cause, I am not a willing victim. I believe I not only have the right to defend myself and other veterans, but also an obligation to do so.
“Imperialism” is frequently used as a four-letter word to condemn a nation or its leaders. Do you know what it really means? Simply put, it is one nation making another its subject. It’s the way that empires are created.
America frequently has been accused of imperialism, arguably true in the case of the conquest of the North American Continent including the wars with the native populations as well as Mexico and Spain. Although it later ceded its claims on Cuba and the Philippines, and granted sovereignty to some land to North American native tribes (albeit less desirable land than that which their ancestors held), it was still guilty of blatant imperialism in those times and, like Mark Twain, I am opposed to imperialism.
“I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” Mark Twain, A Pen Warmed-Up In Hell
Was America attempting to subjugate Vietnam? There is no evidence to support this claim. Ultimately, we left voluntarily without reserving any claim whatsoever, thereby belying any charge of imperialism. Anyone who cares to argue this point further must demonstrate that any such intent ever existed. They must satisfactorily explain what advantage there might have been in annexing South Vietnam.
Vietnam had no known natural resources that the United States coveted. I was once told that our fleet of B-52 bombers, one of the legs of the U.S. Triad of Strategic Defense in those days, could not land on synthetic rubber tires. We had to make sure that we had a ready supply of rubber to keep those bombers in the air. Well, I was never able to confirm this theory, even after contacting veterans who had serviced the big planes.
What else did Vietnam have to offer? Cheap labor? Their agrarian population wasn’t qualified at that time to man production lines. Rice? We produced more rice in America than was ever produced in the Mekong Delta. Oil? Yes, deposits of crude have been discovered off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea, but not then. Also, in those days, America had its own abundant oil reserves.
Finally, South Vietnam had no strategic assets, no port nor anything that would warrant the expenditure of lives and treasure to secure it from invasion from its Northern neighbor.
Of course, these days people charge the United States with subjugating other nations economically. It is true that there was a time when the United States could have more easily and cheaply bought many nations instead of bombing them into servitude. That may have been true during other times, but not during the period of the Vietnam War. The invaders of South Vietnam were being financed by the Soviet Empire and they were not to be bought off cheaply.
Anti-war protesters during the Vietnam period were quite adamant that it was immoral. However, veterans of that movement seem to have finally abandoned that argument. They now speak in terms of “just” versus “unjust” wars. I think that they’re on firmer ground there. Morality is, after all, a judgment to be applied to individual actions rather than society at large.
One of the intellectual leaders of the anti-war movement in that time was Michael Walzer, a prominent political philosopher and professor emeritus of Princeton University. I recommend his book, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. (Yes, believe it or not, I read those authors with whom I disagree. I recommend the practice highly.)
Generally, although Professor Walzer allows that a war may be just, he argues that America’s war in Vietnam was not. Basically, I agree with him in almost every detail save one: He declares that the war was unjust. Inasmuch as I will be addressing that in another installment in this series, I beg your indulgence until then. However, I recommend that you read Just and Unjust Wars to prepare yourself to debate if you disagree with me.
The concept that the United States should not engage in war unless its vital interests are at risk was first promulgated by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1984. Thus, that argument wasn’t heard in the ranks of the Vietnam war’s defenders or dissenters. In those days, the anti-war movement simply said that “it wasn’t our war.” But, it was.
Again, I’ll beg your indulgence to allow me to debate this point in a later posting wherein it will be more appropriate. I’ve already challenged my reader’s endurance with the length of this posting.
To be continued…
In the coming installments in this series I will address the following:
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