Someone said in a recent comment that we should thrash it out about Vietnam. OK. Start here.
Re myth “2” on the domino theory: bit of a counterfactual argument, that.
Re myth “8” on whether or not the US lost the war: American military performance on the battlefield is not the issue; the issue is whether or not we lost the war.
OK, I’ll start. Didn’t serve in Vietnam but was assigned to Germany during part of that period (’65 to ’69). Would have probably stayed in if it weren’t for Vietnam as I loved the work I was doing (CI special agent). Thought before, during and after (I trained as an historian and studied in Europe) that it was the most ill-advised, senseless waste of resources that we had ever been duped into. The only good thing that I thought had come out of it was that our country had learned a lesson and would not do anything as foolish for at least another hundred years or so….and this reflects no dishonor on the men and women who served there. I lost friends with whom I went through intel and language training.
Boy was I ever wrong about the lesson learned part….
You know, every time I write or think about what this crew has done I’m always reminded of that HL Mencken quote:
“As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents more and more closely the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
P.S. Should’ve added in my previous post that I’m from Massachusetts and had vet friends who were involved with VVAW. I was living in Europe during this time and was luckily reading about US news on the back pages of the local papers. They were sincere in wanting to stop this war (and I agreed with them), but many thought even then that John Kerry was a bit of a phony and a self-promoter, for what that’s worth….
I should also add that I later had some professional contact with Kerry when he was a prosecutor and I worked as an investigator on cases involving the Middlesex DA’s Office. His reputation there was sterling. A very good and thorough-going attorney.
Don’t mean to make this about John Kerry but thought I’d add what I knew as I suspect his name will pop up somewhere in this thread….
My my! Col. Lang you are trolling a little today!
Here is one “myth” I can explode.
“The domino theory was proved false.”
Yes it is false.
The statement is made:”The Indonesians threw the Soviets out in 1966 because of America’s commitment in Vietnam.”
No they didn’t. The Indonesian Communist party staged a coup against Sokarno’s government. The Indonesian army then stepped in and staged its own counter coup. They then proceeded to kill about one million Indonesians suspected of being communist sympathisers.
I found out about a year later that the Australian Army (including me) were within a week of being mobilised, and we would have been if the Communistst had won.
As for Malaysia being a domino, I’m afraid not. Australia and Britain had cleaned out the communists already.
As for Singapore falling to Communism, are you kidding?
As for Vietnam itself, they hate the Chinese more than the Americans and fought a border war with China after we left. They just want to be left alone, not be a domino.
“The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.”
Probably true, with types like Bush and Cheney and other college kids excluded.
“The United States lost the war in Vietnam.”
True, or we could simply say “we didn’t lose, we just came second”.
We left, the North took over the South. That looks like an NV victory to me.
Then there is this howler
“Most Vietnam veterans were drafted.
2/3 of the men who served in Vietnam were volunteers. 2/3 of the men who served in World War II were drafted. Approximately 70% of those killed were volunteers. ”
Notice how the writer skillfully conflates two different categories; “volunteers” and “drafted”.
Australians who were drafted AND volunteered for Vietnam were many because commanders didn’t want anyone under them who didn’t want to be there.
1) Two problems with that list:
1) Where are the sources for their conclusions? I am not inclinced to belive them just because they say so;
2) The second entry isn’t even logical; you can’t prove a negative. The failure of Communism to spread to the mentioned countries may or may not have anything to do with the Vietnam War, but the website provides no proof other than unsupported statements.
Please excuse the multiple posts: I didn’t see the blurb about comments not appearing until checked, and I thought my browser was malfunctioning.
“The American military was not defeated in Vietnam”
I’m afraid I have to respectfully disagree. As the man said War is politics by other means, and the NVA understood that. By standing up to, and surviving, almost everything the US threw at them they prevailed. They had the political will to keep up the war past the point the US had.
I was born well after the Vietnam war was over, but consider myself a decent student of history. The big lesson not learned: opposing forces may not agree on what they are fighting over. When we try to impose our vision of motives and ideology we’ll often lose on the battlefield. Seems to me its pretty clear that the Vietnam War was simply a continuation of the First Indochina War, a colonial war. We (U.S.) had its cold war blinders on and saw nothing else. Communism was simply the form the Vietnamese struggle came in. Considering their other option was Ngo Dinh Diem, I think they probably made the right choice.
The site you linked to declares that we were in fact successful as “Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism.” I’m not sure I’d consider those success stories. They may not have become communist, but they certainly didn’t become liberal democracies.
Cold War mistakes are innumerable. Castro wasn’t a member of the communist party, he requested american assistance and was rebuffed. Soviets decided to return his call. Replacing Allende, a socialist (also not a member of the communist party) with dictator and executioner Pinochet was another huge mistake brought about by shoehorning reality into one’s ideology.
And then there’s Africa where the superpowers got played by a bunch of two-bit warlords, changing communist berets for capitalist top hats depending on who they were meeting that day; e.g. “Maoist” UNITA in Angola.
Attempts to fit reality into a system of bipolar relations makes for a bloody mess, in Vietnam or the Middle East. You end up confusing Iraq with al Qaeda with Iran with North Korea. I have lowly B.A.s in computer science and poli. science, but I’m smart enough to know that binary thinking is good for the former and lousy for the latter.
OK, I agree with all of the points about “myths,” except for the assertion that the well-to-do died in proportion to the poor and working class. That is nonsense; college deferments and other subterfuges allowed the better-off to mostly escape service in Vietnam. There were exceptions of course, but this is the rule:
[T]hose who fought and died in Vietnam were overwhelmingly drawn from the bottom half of the American social structure. . . The three affluent towns of Milton, Lexington and Wellesley [MA] had a combined wartime population of about 100,000, roughly equal to that of Dorchester [a blue collar neighorhood of Boston]. However, while those suburbs suffered a total of eleven war deaths, Dorchester lost 42. . . An extensive study of wartime casualties from Illinois reached a similar conclusion.
from Working Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam, by C.G. Appy
The idea that the Soviets were taking over Indonesia is grotesque.
a. The Soviet-China split was so intense then that in 1969 they came close to a border war.
b. The Indonesian Communist Party was heavily backed by ethnic Chinese who felt racial solidarity with Mao – not Moscow.
c. Many of those Chinese were merchants. Welcome to the complexity of Asian views of ideology.
d. The mass murder carried out by the pro-US Suharto dictatorship afterwards was also largely a race war, Moslem Malays against those Chinese.
e. Given that the final score of the coup and counter-coup was about 500,000 to zero, maybe the Communists saw the Army coming and reacted too late, like the similarly-coldcocked German Communists in 1933.
I’ve got plenty to say about the other contentions but so do many others. Just had to clear up Indonesia.
My second point:
Yes, black casualties were 12% of the total. But if this man were anywhere near the war in 1966 he knows the truth. Black casualties were very heavy in the first couple of years; this caused a scandal embarassing to LBJ and potentially dangerous to civil order at home. Blacks were shifted to non-combat positions as much as possible, so that in the latter years their casualties were below the average. That pulled the wartime total down to 12 %. Your deceptive (and frightened) government in action. Watch the sequel when Hispanic casualties in Iraq start getting too much publicity.
One of the things I find interesting is the way noone really wants to talk much about the North Vietnamese much when analysing the war. How did they organize, how did they fight and keep fighting, in the teeth of air mobile american forces and a massive strategic bobming campaign? Smarter people than me have pointed this out, but it seems as if everyone’s trying to turn defeat into victory by changing definitions.
Pop-culture about the war is bad for this. There seems to be a desire to reduce the war to a psychodrama about the Americans fighting it. Wether it’s “Full Metal Jacket”, “Apocalypse Now” or “Born On The Forth Of July”, the war is allways presented in terms of conflicts between Americans. The Vietnamese, where they appear, are either innocent victims, or shadows firing out of the jungle.
Its not just popular culture either. Political groups play the same games. The political left turns defeat into victory by saying involvement was illigitmate in the first place, and ending the war was a victory for their political movement. They don’t mention that (as Kurt Vonnegut wonderfully put it) the anti war movement proved “to have the power of a banana-cream pie three feet in diameter when dropped from a stepladder five-feet high.”.
Political opposition to the war in Vietnam was fringe at best untill the public at large turned against the war. And the public at large didn’t turn after years of anti-war demonstraions, but because the North Vietnamese were able to keep fighting long enough to put the lie to official statements about the war. In fact you could argue that the anti-war movement did alot to keep public opinion from shifting, by associating oppostion to the war with a grab bag of fringe leftist causes.
The right does the same trick, allthough in the opposite direction. They define victory soley in terms of the outcomes when U.S. forces met Vietcong on the battlefied, competely ignore the fact that America was unable to accomplish strategic objectives with their battlefiled victories, and procedes to blame domestic political opponents for forcing the US to pack up and go home.
People who cling to this myth make several errors. First they pretend that there there was some magic ‘If we had just done X’ that would have delivered victory. Second they pretend that even if there was, that it counts for anything at all and finally they pretend there was ever a time and a place when there was significant political opposition to a foriegn war that was being won.
The biggest problem I see with these myths is that they’ve prevented any kind of learning from the experience. It seems like what the millitary got out of Vietnam was a firm belief that it had to run a constant media campaign for it’s domestic audience, rather than any clear ideas on how to actually fight the next insurgency.
It comes down to this: the Vietnamese absolutely had to win, and did win their objective of self-determination. Ho Chi Minh’s leadership fended off China, Japan, France, and the greatest military power on earth. I’m no devotee but I’d say that’s a pretty good record, and he’s been underexamined. If anyone here knows a good (i.e., objective, accurate) English-language book about him, I’d appreciate a recommend.
On our side, we made wrong moves at the outset. DeGaulle hoodwinked Eisenhower; Diem was a very bad choice to run the franchise. Basic assumptions made at the top throughout about the strategic threat we faced were simplistic and false, which probably hurt us worse than anything else. Russia and China were not a united bloc, not before, not during, nor after the war, and it took an endlessly pragmatic man to finally exploit gaps which could’ve been pried into before. China even tested the NVA (as I recall in ’78-79) with division-level PRC incursions, the nasty outcomes of which quickly convinced them to abandon any short-term designs on Vietnam.
For the US, the costs of losing in Vietnam weren’t obvious then, and they aren’t obvious now. They may have been pretty bad, though, since Nixon had to go off the gold standard right when the war ended, the Saudis felt comfortable kicking off an oil embargo, and officers didn’t feel safe going into certain barracks on many of our bases in Germany on into the early 1980s. I know the last was still the case in Bamberg in 1982, when the Army’s task #1 was to clean out the rot left over from Vietnam. Some of the barracks’ floors still had their windows painted black, and it was deemed foolhardy to stand within throwing distance of them if you were an officer, or were wearing a suit and tie. Losing has consequences much like these.
Good Evening Col Lang and all,
For years I took it as a given that the United States had lost the war in Viet Nam. I’d seen the footage on television of the last desperate few clinging to the struts on helicopters. It looked like we had left in a rout and panic.
I assumed that the US had lost, although I wasn’t sure what they had lost.
About 10 years ago, I was reading an article about the ‘new Viet Nam”. Saigon resembled Havana in the ability to keep antiquated American machines and vehicles running. The sorta commies from Hanoi were fishing around for a little recognition and some Yankee dollars. A new Viet Nameese president was interviewed, extoling the idea of co-operation with the US.
I got hit with a few nagging questions that caused me to re-evaluate and decide that the US achieved a good number of her objectives and didn’t lose that much, except a bit of face.
What’s the name of the president of the winning nation? And,the losing Nation? If the victory wasn’t big enough to make later leaders important, what did they win?
What did we really lose? We lost physical possession of South Viet Nam, which isn’t all that valuable and wasn’t even a colony. French Indo-China was vital to France, but we had replaced raw rubber and latex with petroleum products.
What did they really win? Well, they achieved their great objective, reunification, but this nationalist theme did nothing for their new communist economy. The North VietNamese won the rest of Viet Nam, a war with China and the burden of a domino that had collapsed on her border, Cambodia.
When does a war start and when does it end? That helicopter photo of fleeing Americans has cost Viet Nam a huge amount since their victory. The United States keeps the winning nation at the far edge of world events, although we losers seem to be softening our stance in recent years. Maybe they won’t have to find every single bone of every single American who ever died or disappeared in their country.
The main achievement of the United States in Viet Nam was the quelling of peasant revolutions and their middle class support. Peasant armies and achademic leftist movements were flourishing in Africa, South America and a number of other locations worldwide.
The war in Viet Nam exhausted options for foreign peasant militaries. When you start looking for the canopied jungle, dedicated front line peasant volunteers, lines of supply to a communist country through territory too difficult to interdict, etc. you start realizing how unique Viet Nam is?
It also sapped the revolutionary zeel of the proto-communist radical movements.
The Left was facinated by the tenacity of the Viet Cong peasant army and the skill of the North VietNamese Army, manned by a proud with a warrior heritage.
It became almost axiomatic on the Left that if you wanted to oppose American Capitalism, you should be prepared to endure what the Viet Namese endured. Peasant war, as presented for the first time on television, scared the hell out of the Western Left.
During the period of the war, as leftist anti-war shouts got louder, leftist support for all warfare including peasant war faded.
South America quieted down, except for the ever nuts Shining Path. Drug gangs soon became more powerful that political movements.
African peasant movements became nationalist movements which have devolved in many areas into tribal and ethnic movements. The intellectual and financial support for far Left political action in Africa was stripped away by the knowedge that the no African country could field a force that could withstand an American assault. The Americans were proving that they were tenatious enough to destroy the vast majority of communist movements and were willing to take casualties to do it. Mobutu flipped to capitalist dictator of the Congo. Zimbabwe has the last goofie old commie going in Africa.
Most peasant and Leftist movements shifted right and aligned themselves as laborist, nationalist and socialist opponents of communism, especially Russian model Communism.
It was like watching a little man pick a fight with the biggest bully in town right in the tavern with everyone watching. The big guy keps knocking him down, but the little guy keeps dragging his beatup body off the floor. After a few years, the little guys friends are realizing that the big guy is willing to hand out a worse thrashing than they are willing to take.
Pretty soon they all want the little guy to stay down.
The French purpose in Viet Nam was to retain control of their colony, or leave with grace. They failed.
The American cause was the defeat of a communist peasant army, in a way that would convince other leftist movements to avoid armed conflict.
Clearly there were other events and issues that weakened the communist movement, but I’m convinced that the War in Viet Nam helped. I think that it was at least as great a factor as the incompetence of the Russian model and the tyrany of Mao.
After Viet Nam, the Left, the supposed winners, had no interest in another Viet Nam? If it was a successful way of making war on the US, why not use it to defeat capitalism?
Because the war was Viet Nam specific, the US lost locally. Because the war was closely observed globally, the US achieved a good number of its global objectives.
I don’t know if anyone else agrees, but that’s how it looked from the Left, where I was watching from at the time.
Thanks for listening, Hal Carpenter
The movie “fog of war” has an unbelievable moment when Macnamara goes to vietnam, 20 years after the war, and is apparently suprised when one of the old NV generals informs him that Vietnam never would have been a chinese client state because of a millenia long history of enmity. Imagine that: send 1/2 million soldiers and more bombs than all of WWII 20,000 miles away for a full scale war and you don’t even bother to learn the first facts of the history of the people you are blowing up. Sounds depressingly familiar.
A fascinating discussion. But I’ll pose some alternate thoughts to the flow of the commenters:
1. domino theory myth: most all commenters dispute the idea. I’ll take a “leap” here and guess most commenters are American? As am I. But how are these events seen thru the eyes of learned academics, historians native to Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.? Do the native academics of these countries accept or reject the idea that US presence in Vietnam helped counter communist influence in their own land? I’d like to know.
2. casualties/enlistments of poor v. the wealthy: I’ve come across numbers that skew all over the place on these issues. I suppose you’d have to agree on the “start date” of Vietnam, and then agree on what income level makes you poor, middle class, etc. As to the draft…many did take a deferral. But many also just “joined up” from sense of duty. I go back and forth on these issues. I cannot resolve them.
3. we won the war vs. no we didn’t: most of the good commenters point to the ultimate result-we left and they didn’t. In the end, the NVA “owned the ground” and we didn’t. (shades of Hizb. vs Israel?) But did the “military” lose this one?
A. A few times the WH permitted massive bombing of the North. These would also seem to be the times when N. Vietnam negotiators would suddenly start talking earnestly in peace talks. Did they feel the heat? The politicians then made the decision to halt the bombing.
B. DMZ: the politicians made a decision to forbid crossing the line. Our military was fully capable of invading north. But politicians so forbade.
Other such examples exist. My point is…is it fair to even ask the question “did the US MILITARY lose the war?” Perhaps it might be “did the US politicians lose the war?”
I find the comments I’ve read to be most interesting. A good read.
The real tragedy about Vietnam is that Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a Vietnamese nationalist although he was also a communist. In WW2 he worked for the OSS assisting downed airmen and sending intelligence and weather reports. At the end of that war, he tried to declare Vietnam independent with a constitution based on the American one. But the Americans and British had decided that the French must be allowed to reoccupy Vietnam. The British forces that were allocated to “liberate” Vietnam from the Japanese re-armed the Japanese to maintain control of Hanoi and Saigon so that they could be passed back to the French. At this point, Ho Chi Minh launched a guerilla war to liberate his country and turned to the Russians to obtain weapons. So Truman could have prevented Vietnam from falling into the Soviet sphere but he would have had to accept that it would most likely have been a non-aligned communist country like Yugoslavia after WW2.
BTW, one reason that the British found it easier to defeat the communist insurgents in Malaya was that they had been trained and armed by the British to fight the Japanese and as a result of the British operating alongside them most of the leaders were well known to the British.
Myth: The domino theory was proved false.
The domino theory is not a theory in the scientific sense, it would be better to call it the domino hunch. The trouble is that some in the American government continue to believe that the domino “theory” still applies, only this time it is to the Middle East.
Myth: The fighting in Vietnam was not as intense as in World War II.
Tell that to anyone who fought on the Eastern front or in Burma, for example. The fighting in the South Pacific might feature predominantly in American’s war mythology but it was atypical of the fighting in WW2.
The helicopter provided unprecedented mobility. Without the helicopter it would have taken three times as many troops to secure the 800 mile border with Cambodia and Laos (the politicians thought the Geneva Conventions of 1954 and the Geneva Accords or 1962 would secure the border)
If American soldiers really did secure the borders with Cambodia and Laos, just how did the North Vietnamese get all their soldiers with weapons, ammunition and other supplies into South Vietnam?
Myth: Most Vietnam veterans were drafted.
I’m sorry but for me this just reaffirms my view that it is stupid to volunteer to fight an unnecessary war and that all-volunteer armies are more likely to be sent to war than conscript-based ones.
Myth: The media have reported that suicides among Vietnam veterans range from 50,000 to 100,000 – 6 to 11 times the non-Vietnam veteran population.
Mortality studies show that 9,000 is a better estimate. “The CDC Vietnam Experience Study Mortality Assessment showed that during the first 5 years after discharge, deaths from suicide were 1.7 times more likely among Vietnam veterans than non-Vietnam veterans. After that initial post-service period, Vietnam veterans were no more likely to die from suicide than non-Vietnam veterans. In fact, after the 5-year post-service period, the rate of suicides is less in the Vietnam veterans’ group.”
The rate would drop after five years because all those likely to commit suicide would have already committed suicide. Still, more Americans committed suicide than would have done if America hadn’t fought an unnecessary war. From the way the statistics are presented it is impossible to establish just how many extra people that involved so the argument doesn’t disprove the myth.
Myth: The war was fought largely by the poor and uneducated.
Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers.
Non-sequiter. Just because pilots and infantry officers who were drawn predominantly from the affluent and educated middle-classes had a greater risk of dying, it doesn’t mean that the fighting wasn’t largely done by the poor and uneducated. BTW, if you look at the casualty rates for WW1, you will see the same. Junior officers had the highest casualty rate but the fighting was still done by the poor and uneducated.
Myth: The United States lost the war in Vietnam.
I quite agree that the American military was not defeated in Vietnam in any major battles but that is irrelevant. (There was an American officer who claimed that a Vietnamese officer who made this point but I can’t find a reference.)
Myth: Kim Phuc, the little nine year old Vietnamese girl running naked from the napalm strike near Trang Bang on 8 June 1972, was burned by Americans bombing Trang Bang.
It was American-supplied Napalm dropped from an American-supplied plane.
Several family members are Secret War veterans and I have also met many Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Korean South East Asia veterans, and all feel the war against communism in SEA was justified. Hopefully the historians will start to separate the wheat from the chaff and the BS can be put to rest.
Excellent website Col. Lang. I’ve always enjoyed your appearances in the media, though I was afraid your days on television were numbered when you mentioned the Iraqi insurgents would try to manipulate the media during a PBS Newshour interview a few years ago. I guess there are reasons to be glad the press has a short memory.
Oh yeah, SOG seemed to have some good ideas.
There’s this “myth”, reported in the Chicago Sun Times, Feb. 6, 2005:
John Staresinich is a Purple Heart veteran who has slept in cracks in highway overpasses and abandoned cars, camped out in thin tents next to railroad tracks and fought off rats and bugs in Chinatown flophouses.
In December, he was diagnosed with severe combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder — 32 years after returning from Vietnam — and is now getting help from the federal Veterans Affairs in Chicago. He says it took more than a year of begging that agency.
Still, the VA officially maintains there’s no connection between military combat and homelessness. But people who work with veterans believe otherwise.
“Many people will tell you that military service is not a significant contributing factor to homelessness. But it clearly is a factor,” said Pete Dougherty, national director of the VA’s homeless veterans programs. “There are more veterans who have shown up in the ranks of the homeless than their average age cohort.”
There are 93,000 homeless Vietnam veterans, VA officials say. Illinois has the nation’s third-largest population of homeless vets — about 20,000.
Feeding a digression —
No, the demise of the communist party in Indonesia had nothing to do with dominoes or the war in vietnam. Keeping it simple, the communist-leaning Sukarno had driven Indonesia into the toilet, power-struggle ensued and the western leaning, CIA-backed and rapidly anti-communist Suharto won.
No, Suharto’s purge was not a “race war.” The vast majority of the 500,000+ killed (no one really knows how many) were ethnic-Malays. Chinese also suffered heavily (seen as disloyal, “pro-china” and also resented for their relatively greater wealth), but in nothing approaching ethnic-Malay numbers. Most of those killed were Malay villagers seen as communist-leaning, though there was also a lot of nasty score-settling of a very local variety under cover of Suharto’s purge.
lived in and studied Indonesia from 1993-2003.
That’s a great post. My view on ‘Nam is that the single most telling story is one told by Col. Summers, the military theorist-historian. At a meeting postwar, he told a North Vietnamese general that the U.S. Army had never been beaten on the battlefield. The North Vietnamese responded, “While that is true, it is also irrelevant.”
Add me to the list disputing the site’s account of “Myth” no. 2 for the same reasons expressed by the other commenters.
As for No. 8. If the aim of the war in Vietnam was to keep the South from falling to the communist North, how can we say we didn’t lose when they’re now in charge? It is possible to win all the battles and still lose the war, especially for occupying armies in wars of national liberation.
The U.S. was fighting a war containment, unfortuneately the enemy was fighting a war of national liberation. Know your enemy.
We got doisoriented in Vietnam because we forced that country into the misleading framework of a binary, global struggle against monolithic communism. (Neocons doing the same with GWOT.) The linked website reflects this distortion.
Regarding Vietnam myths, I would start with WWII when we were allied with the USSR and promised good things to the colonized peoples if they stuck with us against the Axis. Even Ho’s Viet Minh got a trickle of aid from the U.S. The Viet Minh held fast against the Japanese appeals to Asian solidarity and after the war Ho sent a pathetic letter to Truman requesting assistance in their drive for independence. Ho got no response. Well, he did get a response in the form of U.S. bankrolling French re-conquest of Indochina. Apparently restoring the French empire was good for morale in shatterred postwar Europe.
Similarly, Churchill and his ilk duped the U.S. into doing their dirty work in Iran by using the anti-communist smokescreen. In that case, Truman had rightly resisted British requests for assistance. With Ike’s victory, the Dulles brothers got busy and rest is history. (We’re still paying for that one and may yet pay more.)
A better post war strategy would have been to stick to our anti-colonial heritage and tell the French and British colonialists to f*** off. This is what Ike did during the Suez Crisis…greatly benefiting the U.S. in the Arab world.
If the U.S. had backed Ho and Mossadegh against European imperialism, then think of the opportunities for U.S. business!
Col. Lang, when we get this Vietnam thing settled, let’s turn our gaze to the Korean war, excuse me, police action. No one even bothered making up any myths about that one, we just flushed the whole thing down Orwell’s Memory Hole.
So far this thread is just a re-run of mythology driven denials of fact, assertions of evil intent, and a lot of drivel about VN vets as “victimized children.” Disappointing. can’t people come up with something more interesting than this? How about a juicy massacre somewhere? something… Anything but this.
John Howley – Send me soething interesting about Korea to start one of these cathartic threads. pl
The lady in Boston wrote me off line when I told her that I do not tolerate ad hominen attacks (whining, etc.)
She responded that there have been many ad hominem, attacks on Bush supporters on this blog.
I think that is a fair criticism and caution us all not to pick on people who are merely voters and our fellows.
Stick to policy and public figures. pl
I’m sorry, but I think that the link you have provided misses the real point of the Vietnam experience.
The real point is that the Vietnam War stands as one of a series of wars in which third world guerilla armies from agrarian societies effectively countered modernized conventional armies from industrialized powers.
The implications are enormous. For a long time, dating back to Peter the Great, agrarian societies struggled to develop an effective response. The first response was to copy the West.
Only Russia and Japan succeeded – and they succeeded only by forceful and contrived measures. The other agrarian socieities succumbed to imperialist aggression from Western industrialized powers.
Ultimately, the pressures on Russia grew so severe that it had to reject altogether the Western economy – hence Communism.
But in China – and also Yugoslavia – a more radical response developed. Guerilla tactics allowed agrarian societies to repel Western agression without becoming industrialized themselves.
Many commentators discuss “What Went Wrong” with Islam without considering that many – if not most – Muslims think nothing went wrong. They like their civilization and do not want to be Westernized, thank you. Members of other traditional societies likewise do not want to be Westernized.
Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the current “Global War on Terror” manifest a continuation of this pushback.
Most Americans, however, appear to be in profound denial about this. Hence the widespread discussions about the role of women in various foreign societies or the popularity of rock music.
Discussions of Vietnam should consider its role in this greater historical trend.
The US lost the Viet Nam war where it counts: at home.
Now, I was born in 1975, and of course the war had ended by then. And let me say first that until just now, when I read Hal Carpenter’s (very good) comment, I have always taken for granted that we lost Viet Nam. I still do. But I would also argue that in many ways we are still fighting Viet Nam.
I would offer two major fronts that are unresolved: popular culture and foriegn policy.
A few thoughts on each:
Any consideration of anti-war politics is, in the beginning and end, shaped by images of Viet Nam era protesters. What is represented by these fragmented and amalgamated memories of social upheaval and bohemian excess remains a terror to the powers that be. And who can blame them? By all accounts, we were a society careening out of control. However, the chasing of this ghost out of the room has severely limited domestic political debate on matters of war, and also on matters of liberal society. People are still afraid today of the changes that seem-to-have-seemed so close back then. By my lights, that’s why there’s so much “Christian” paternalist-fundamentalist backlash happening.
See also: Digby on the “irrational fear of hippies.”
Regardless, the very question of foriegn intervention has always in my lifetime had undertones of a question. After Panama and after Gulf War I media commentators were quick to decry that we had vanquished Viet Nam from our National Psyche. But if this is so, why do we keep projecting force willy nilly?
This is an especially relevant question inthe case of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. They were there at the end last time, and felt the sting of defeat. Now they seem to have set out to prove that we could’ve won if we would’ve stayed. In order to do so they have (arguably inadvertantly) re-created the horrible conditions of quagmire (can’t win, can’t leave) that dogged their predecessors.
We won’t achieve anything even resembling victory in Iraq, just as we didn’t in Viet Nam. And 5-10 years after we leave Iraq there will be another “Rambo” going back and blowing things up with a bow and arrow.
Here’s one for you all. Late in 1968 I was living in the Vietnamese provincial town of Song Be in Phuoc Long province, RVN.
The town was about 20 kilometers from cambodia north of Saigon (HCMC). The Song Be river looped around a long hill on which the town of several thousand people lived. There were terrain “fingers” projecting off the central hill mass. Some of these were outside the government defended perimeter. The town was completely surrounded by thinly populated but dominant VC and sometimes NVA forces. The only way in and out of this place for Gringos and locals alike was by air unless you wanted to visit the VC.
On one of the terrain fingers to the north of the main part of the town there was a Montagnard re-settlement village. There were perhaps 200 Stiengan people living there by choice. Correction. they would have preferred to live inside the perimeter but the Vietnamese despised the Montagnards and would not let them do so. The detestation was mutual. It still is.
One night in late ’68 or early ’69, a combat engineer (sapper)unit of the NVA acting in support of the VC shadow government of VC MR-10 came into this village and after shooting everyone they could catch flamed the huts and the bodies with Chinese made flamethrowers. the village had been anti-communist and such a deed was considered to be “propaganda of the deed.”
When the shooting had died down the next morning I decided to investigate and took several of my people and went to see for myself.
It was a scene from Goya. The smell of that much cooked meat, crusty swollen bodies and the lamentations of the returning survivors was affecting.
While we were looking to make sure the dinks (non-racial term of affection)had all left, an Air America Huey showed up and landed uphill between us and Song Be blowing the detritus all over us.
Out stepped a US Senator who was on a visit to VN. He asked what had happened and since I am a cruel man, I led him literally by the hand to look down at a crisped, blackened mother and child. She was still holding the child in death.
He threw up, a natural reaction. He left shortly thereafter in his shiny bird with the Air America crew all decked out in their airline uniforms.
Shortly after that our little “friends” started shooting at us from a ridgeline across the river and I decided we should leave aftre one man was hit.
So. Who was the senator?
What alernative excplanatin will be offered for this tale of woe?
Anyone want to say I am a liar?
Maybe the Americans did it to make the VC look bad?
A few years ago the Koreans were accused in the Asian media of having comitted atrocities during the Vietnam War. The Korean veterans groups admitted they had been fighting a war and had likely been involved in what would be described as atrocities, but asked why the press never held the communists to the same moral standards. Why the double standard?
>So. Who was the senator?
Col. Lang, I don’t have much military intelligence. But you’re sly, and I hope commentators here take up the challenge to answer the question.
My guess is that it was Senator Ralph Yarborough. I suspect him, a Texas liberal, as a way for you to show how current ideas of liberal and conservative don’t really fit in the Vietnam era narrative.
Point #1: War is hell. I think everyone commenting here agrees on that, and many have personal experience regarding the validity of that statement.
Point #2: Wars should be avoided at all costs, and only fought when our country is truly endangered and all other options have been completely exhausted. I think we can all agree on this too.
Point #3: Why should wars of choice be avoided at all costs? See Point #1….which is what your most recent post brought back so eloquently.
As an illustration of what I think would be a far more useful framework of discussion about Vietnam, I would like to direct people’s attention to Mao in Mufti?: Insurgency Theory and the Islamic World,
by Dr. John W. Jandora.
In his article, Jandora examines the Communist insurgents of the Cold War era and compares them to the Islamic insurgents of the present day.
According to Jandora, the Communists and the Islamists have different world views, which gives a fundamentally different character to their respective insurrections. “In conclusion, the defeat of Communist insurgency offers no analogous lessons from this comparative worldview analysis. Nor does it do so from the practical perspective of insurgent/counter-insurgent methods. America is not dealing with the same kind of enemy,” he states.
As my prior post on this thread indicates, I personally disagree with Jandora’s conclusions and, instead, believe we are indeed dealing with the same kind of enemy.
But my objections are secondary, because Jandora is raising the right questions – even if his answers are debatable.
His is the approach toward Vietnam that we should be having.
Myth: The United States lost the war in Vietnam.
Oh puleeze. THIS is “trashing it out”? Give us a break, Col. Lang.
“The real tragedy about Vietnam is that Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a Vietnamese nationalist although he was also a communist.” – Ghostman
I have been waiting before wading into this discussion, however, a question I had relates more to the political aspect and Ghostman has addressed it.
Were the North Vietnamese engaged from their perspective primarily in a nationalist conflict or were they waging a war of ideology for the “proletariat”? In my mind that would provide a good frame to understand the strategic results.
Given Vietnam’s war with China and invasion of Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge, fanning the flames of international socialism did not appear to be Vietnam’s primary goal.
What is interesting about the Vietnam experience is that, according to reports, Hizbullah has studied the war, and have been applying its lessons to the sorrow of the IDF.
Most disheartening is that the US military has only recently rediscovered the utility of the lessons learned in Vietnam on conducting a counterinsurgency.
“The horror… the horror.”
We are not talking about a graduate seminar or one fo those wretched games at RAND.
I never saw the like. Burned and smoking, the skin cracked like on a roast pig. pl
Colonel and all,
“Crispy Critters,” as was their nom de guerre (whether Viet or American). The American youth of the era grew up on them. Not in their wildest dream did Post think their marketing efforts would stick to the brain thusly.
1. zanzibar: thank you for the reference…but you got the wrong guy! I didn’t make the comments you cite, just didn’t want to take credit where credit wasn’t due.
2. So, the Colonel, at 10:09 is just not impressed by us! Well, I view this as something of an Advanced Class of some sort. Our “Professor” is not happy on this learning session. Hmmm. I don’t know what the good Colonel is looking for. I think I’ll do more comment-reading on this subject, than commenting. A man can usually learn more by listening, than by talking! (what IS our good Colonel up to??)
3. Song Be: as if on cue, the Colonel takes us deeper into mystery. Misc. thoughts:
A. the Senator: I could only guess, but it’d be only a guess. No real point for me to.
B. CHINESE flamethrowers? Hmmm. The Chinese, I think, have had flamethrowers of a sort since long before our own Revolution. Well….ok. I just wasn’t aware that such weapon was an integral part of NVA.
C. Montagnards: Hmmm. The “yards” as I’ve called them were also what I’d call “people of the hills.” A fierce fighter, very brave, and a very high “native” IQ. They knew the land. Their eyes saw the land, but they could also smell it, and hear it. (or so I’ve thought)
And one night, a small unit of NVA “got the drop” on the Yards, and basically slaughtered them? Managed to move close to, and then INTO their village and cut the Yards down like a bunch of 4 year olds? Hmmm. Anything’s possible, and anyone can get caught flat-footed. Perhaps it’s just that the Colonel left out many details of this event, as not being germane to the story.
Oh but the good Colonel wasn’t finished with us, was he? He just HAD to throw us a sinker over the outside corner with reference to CIA possibilities. Again….hmmmm. I’ll not call the Colonel a liar, but I’ll darn sure keep my eyes open as this discussion evolves!
Col Lang : ” So far this thread is just a re-run of mythology driven denials of fact, assertions of evil intent, and a lot of drivel about VN vets as “victimized children.” ”
That’s what those soldiers have to be in American myths. Basic storytelling rule, if you’re going to make up a myth you need good guys, bad guys, and innocent victims.
You can’t make a half a million young men, many of them conscripts, from your own contry into ‘bad guys’ without alienating everyone but a few marxist diehards.
They can’t be the good guys, for a number of reasons. For the left the good guys are the NVA. For the right there are too many anti-war vets for them to be the ‘good guys’ and besides which, the good guys win.
So all that’s left for them is to be victims. Either innocents turned into killers by a brutal machine or they’re noble heroes betrayed by cowards at home.
I think this discussion is showing how hard it is to get away from myths of all sorts. For all my carefully studied distinerest in poplular myths, I’m operating without firsthand knowledge here or even much in-depth secondhand knowledge. I have no dobut I’m buying into some stories that have no basis in reality.
Ghostman: I have to wonder how much the DMZ was because the politicians remembered Korea. In that “Police Action” driving to the Yalu brought China into the war, and managed to prolong a war that had been won, at least according to the initial objectives of protecting South Korean soverienty, for three more years.
Actually, that’s another myth, the idea that the U.S. could have done whatever they pleased in south asia without an escalating responce from the Soviet Union or China. Suppose the U.S. had sent it’s armies officialy into Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam, does China just shrug and say “Oh well?” or do they send another million men into the area like they did in 1950?
Hal: I think you’re reaching. First of all by conflating Communists, Socialists, Liberals, Nationalists, Anti-Colonialists in North America, South America, Africa, South Asia and Europe with the single term ‘Left’. I’ve used the term as well, so let me state clearly, when I use the term ‘left’ or ‘right’ I’m refering to American domestic politics.
While I’m sure some groups were frightened off by the violence of the American responce, remember what Che had to say about it “Create two, three, many Vietnams”. Alot of groups saw that sort of protracted guerilla war as the best way to defeat the U.S. in a war of attrition.
Second, you’re being very very generous with your definition of America’s goals. No mention of keeping the South Vietnamese government intact, no mention of the domino theory, no mention of the cold war framework this war was being viewed as.
Even so, the U.S. failed at the first part of the goal you’ve described. As for winning “in a way that would convince other leftist movements to avoid armed conflict”. I’m sorry, those are weasel words. Show me a specific example where the possibility of a Vietnam style intervention from the U.S. made a guerilla group decide not to fight. This post is running long, so I’ll wrap it up there.
Can’t begin to imagine what living through the slaughter at that Montagnard village must have been like for you. Or how one lives with or ever gets past something like that – probably never do. I spent a few years researching Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau in the German State Archives, but twenty years after the fact and physically and temporally distanced from the atrocities. And it was impossible to make any rational sense of those horrors or to even begin to get my head around them (and probably a hundred times harder for Germans who were also doing research work there).
As always, thank you very much for sharing with us….
Did we win in Vietnam? I am sure that anyone who likes to stand at the Olympics and yell USA, USA will not like my answer.
Let us first look at what the definition of winning is according to Webster.
Winning – (1) To get possession of by effort or fortune, (2) To make friendly or favorable to oneself or ones cause, (3) VICTORY
Let us look at what Sun Tzu said about victory.
A true victory can be won only with a strategy of tactical positioning so that the moment of triumph is effortless and destructive conflict is averted.
Well it is quite obvious that according to Sun Tzu we did not win a true victory in Vietnam – our actions there were every thing but effortless and destructive conflict was far from averted.
To those that say we won in Vietnam, I would say what did we win? Ok let us agree with the statement Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism because of the U.S. commitment to Vietnam (however I am not conceding that this is true). I say who cares! None of these countries are strategic assets as far as I am concerned. Also, let us say they traveled the path that Vietnam has. I find it hard to believe that these countries would be much different that they are now.
Accordingly, in my opinion the United States suffered a major strategic loss in Vietnam and has suffered significant Strategic losses there after including in Iraq and if we move forward with a conflict in Iran that will also be major Strategic loss.
Why do I say this. Well, first I can not see that we won or gained anything in Vietnam; however, we suffered a number of losses. Over 50,000 men and women were killed in Vietnam and a multiple of this number was wounded. In addition, the country was significant divided over the war for a number of years there after. Also, the United States suffered a significant division with a number of its western allies which took 20 years to heal only to have the wounds reopened by Iraq. An enormous amount of financial assets were wasted in Vietnam. In dollars adjusted for inflation I am sure the amount would run into a trillion or two. Probably even more once you consider veterans benefits. In addition, there was a damage to the American psyche which another writer addressed. Cheney and Rumsfeld seem to be walking around with sever insecurity complexes due to what happened in Vietnam.
The largest loss which includes the loss of financial losses above is the loss of Strategic focus. Coming out of World War 2 the United States had half of the manufacturing capabilities of the world. Now it is hard to find any manufacturing outside of the car companies and the military industry complex and both Ford and General Motors will probably be in bankruptcy within the next few years. Currently, the United States has to import over $2 billion and 17 million barrels of oil a day to keep the economy operating.
All of this is due to a continual loss of Strategic focus. Who cared if Vietnam was fought. Who cares if Malaysia was loss. The Strategic focus should have been on making the United States the strongest economic country in the world. Instead of throwing assets away in Vietnam and the continued waste of assets in the Military Industrial complex we should performed a Strategic review of what the country needed to be strong. Full court presses should have be performed in making sure the country was energy sufficient. Also, just think where the United States would currently be in technology and health care if some of the assets spent on Vietnam and weapons had been used as seed money.
Accordingly, if we were energy self sufficient we probably would not be tied down in a useless conflict in Iraq. I say probably only because the Christian Fundamentalist might still have pushed us into the Middle East (another Strategic error is allowing a bunch of luddites to have this much political strength). If we had developed new technologies and made this technology to the rest of the country then everyone would want to be our alley. Just think if we were energy sufficient we would not be involved in over throwing elected regimes to access their resources cheaply.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a need for a military, but the military needs to be structured and focused in a more Strategic manner. It was the United States production of consumer products combined with furnishing weapons to Afghanistan which ultimately caused the down fall of the Soviet Union. The United States has a very singular method of thinking and approaching problems. I would propose a more enlightened and Strategic method of approaching its problems.
Basically this is a long way of agreeing with what John Shreffler indicated a North Vietnamese officer said. All of these matters were tactical and had nothing to do with the ultimate Strategic objective. This is also in agreement with what John Howley said.
Thank you and God bless you Col. Lang for all that you’ve done and continue to do.
For this topic to have any relevance to the modern political and cultural landscape, I would focus on # 4 and #7.
Who was protesting? Who volunteered and why? What, if any, were the differences between draftees and volunteers socio-economically?
At bottom, who served, who didn’t, and what were their motivations?
SAC Brat…like Strategic Air Command as opposed to Sacramento, right? My dad was SAC in the old days, started as a tail gunner on the B-52 – we were stationed at Fairchild at the time. ( Early mid fifties )
The only perpective I can offer is that of a dependent. When we lived off base in Oki, we lived next to a captain in the SF. He was black and his son was my pal and his daughter was my sister’s friend. Sharp guy. Apparently he noticed my love of history and he offered me a crossbow from VN, ( I was a packrat for collecting artifacts from WW II, they were everywhere in Okinawa. I really got in trouble when I was caught collecting unexploded ordinance, mortar shells, 20 mils and .50 cal and keeping it on our roof for safekeeping)being half Japanese, (and Irish – yes my dad married a “war bride.”) I refused the gift twice, and was going to accept it after he had insisted the third time. I wish I had taken it. The third offer never came. I do recall later that day i hoped he didn’t think it was racially motivated, I’ll never know. You probably know this is a Japanese custom called endyo. I remember him looking hurt and abrubtly ending the conversation.
Btw – what was your take on the M 14? Any truth to problems with early M 16’s? I noticed the picture on the VN myths page. One last comment, sir. On our flight back to stateside, the plane was full of military personnel returning from VN. When we arrived at Travis, many of the men kissed the ground after getting off the plane. I looked at my father and he said they were glad to be home and alive – I’ll never forget it.
I still believe there are senior North Vietnamese officials that are smacking themselves in the forehead and saying “What are you folks, nuts or something? Fight the U.S., negotiate a peace and let them rebuild the country like they did for Germany and Japan. Didn’t you get the memo? No-o-o… you had to run them into the sea, chase them completely out and humiliate them. Claim a total victory. Look at us now. We make sports shoes. We could be making cars.”
I just want to put in a single good word about Air America, a well-known “contractor” (or “mercenary”) front company for the CIA and American military interests generally in Southeast Asia back in the day.
In early January of 1972 on my last day at Nam Can — or “Solid Anchor” as we called our little river outpost base two kilometers from the southern tip of the country — I waited with a lone radio operator out at the end of a corrugated iron runway for the weekly Air Force plane that supposedly would take me up to Saigon where I could process out of Vietnam in four days and return home after my eighteen months of undistinguished duty in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent. I couldn’t see the approaching plane because of the low cloud cover that day, but I could hear the sound of the engines getting louder; then I could hear them circling overhead; and then I heard them grow fainter as the plane simply went away without landing to pick me up. When I asked the radio operator what had happened, he said: “They won’t come down because of the low ceiling. They say they’ll come back next week if the weather clears.”
I can’t repeat here all the profane things I said then about the U. S. Air Force, but as luck would have it, a single-engine Air America crop-duster suddenly dropped down out of the clouds and skidded to a stop near me. The pilot tossed down a sack of mail, leaned out his window and asked: “Anyone need a lift anywhere?” So I threw my seabag in through the side door of the little aircraft, sat down on the plane’s plywood deck (the pilot had the only chair), buckled myself with a seatbelt to the inside skin of the fuselage and only picked up a few wooden splinters in my butt as the plane fishtailed back down the runway and took off.
Air America: 1. U.S. Air Force: 0.
Of course, certain vivid images — like what B-52 carpet-bombing runs, massive crop defoliation, and nightly random “free-fire-zone” artillery “H&I” (Harrassment and Interdiction) do to the surrounding countryside and its peasant population — have never left my memory. Certainly, Air America helped take me out of Vietnam, and I will always feel grateful for that. For better or worse, though, nothing has ever taken Vietnam out of me.
Finally, since this thread deals with exploding myths, I’d like to clear up my all-time favorite: General William Westmoreland’s infamous dictum that “Asians don’t value life like we [non-Asians] do.” I think I can accurately translate the typical Asian’s response to that. “No, general. We Asians simply do not value your Western lives as much, or our own as little, as you do.”
I think the point here is the “strategic” loss of 50,000 Americans and countless more local allies.
Smelling the charred flesh from the distance of my safe perch…
I agree with Happy Jack that the most significant points of discussion right now are who served and who didn’t. This continues to resonate in US politics.
The question of whether the US was “defeated” or not is semantic. Vietnam itself seems to have psychically recovered from the war, given the welcomes that US veterans receive when they visit there.
Saying that the economically better-off did not serve is not the same as saying those who did serve are victims. The idea of Vietnam veteran as victim has been promoted from both ends of the ideological spectrum, though. Opponents of the war promoted the idea of the Vietnam veteran as damaged homeless man, or psychopath. Supporters of the war promoted the idea of the veteran betrayed by pusillamimous Washington elites or by protesters who undermined their efforts at home and spat on them when they returned. For the record, I was called a “baby killer” in my mosquito-winged Army khakis by a long-haired guy in DFW in 1975, and have been the recipient of some condescending comment from people about my military service since then.
The “Rambo” movies, at least the first two, express both of these ideas of veterans – the deranged veteran and the “stab-in-the-back” idea.
Oddly enough, the people who best exploited the “stab-in-the-back” idea in American politics did not serve themselves, at least in the case of the current Administration.
Resentment of elites in Washington and elites who protested the war among those groups which did serve was one big element in the fracturing of working-class whites from the New Deal coalition which elected Democrats. Many became “Reagan Democrats” who have often remained Republican voters.
The pattern of service is being replicated in the Iraq war. As an exercise, go to any website listing US Iraq War fatalities by state and note the hometowns listed. You will not find your wealthy suburbs proportionally represented.
The questions now are whether the these ideas of victimization will be cynically used again during and after the current war, and whether they will work again.
A puppet government, American companies exploiting resources and US bases to project power. That’s victory! It didn’t happen in Vietnam and it won’t happen in Iraq.
It’s largely forgotten that Vietnam was once a very popular war in the US. Then came Giap’s Tet offensive. Militarily a grand blunder but only a fool would have continued to believe the light was at the end of the tunnel after Tet. A deceived public slowly lost confidence in victory.
What is very strange is the apparent confusion even in the US military over motives for the war. Moshe Dayan had to get nearly to the top of the Pentagon before he got a plausible answer about what DC was up to and that was opposing the power of Mao’s China. Perhaps a better cause au fond than a neo-colonial crusade to spread freedom and democracy but if you believe McNamara the war does seem to have been undertaken by very clever men with a fundamentally mistaken idea of what was happening on the ground.
The biggest myth about Vietnam is its importance. Put in context Vietnam had been at war decades before Americans made it their cause. More than one historian has called it a civil war in which the US was for a few years a major player.
It’s a war the US undoubtedly failed to win but without sustaining significant damage. This wasn’t a disaster like the loss of their Algerian Department for the French or even Afghanistan for the USSR. The US acceptance of defeat in Vietnam led to recognition of China and ultimately to a much stronger US position. It still looms large in the American psyche not because of the butcher’s bill but because of the domestic battle lines it drew. The whining has been deafening; it’s time to stop.
We’ve seen similarities with Iraq. A war that was ultimately about asserting US hegemony in the Persian Gulf that a majority of Americans thought was somehow connected with 9-11. Long wars can’t be sustained on such flimsy spin.
Sadly the myth of Vietnam has obscured how costly a real defeat in Iraq can be. We’ve already seen US prestige shrink from the uni-polar vanities of the late 20th Century to the status of big fish in a pool of savage piranhas; there is worse to come than helicopters departing from roofs.
Vietnam, IMO, is similar to Afghanistan in that they represent Cold War jockeying. Essentially fights between the US and the Soviets. Proxy wars that were seen in Angola, Mozambique, Chile and in many other countries in Africa and Latin America. This shadow boxing was a central theme to our and the Soviets world view during that period. But Vietnam and Afghanistan were the two countries were the leaders of the two blocs directly intervened in a massive way. And in both instances a native force based on nationalism and an ideology and materially supported by a great power forced the vastly superior military force of the other great power to leave the direct fight and the territory. And in terms of the domestic view in each of the great powers and in terms of world opinion the great power military intervention was deemed a failure.
I am not competent to debate the merits of our performance and military tactics in Vietnam and cannot relate to the angst of that period as I was too young to notice. But what is apparent to me is that we no longer can fight long wars with many casualties in foreign lands unless we can justify that price either through existential defense or a strategic purpose that we deem has existential implications. Our society tires of casualties of our fellow citizens when the purpose does not impinge on our existence. We are unwilling to take large human losses for moral, economic or imperialistic purposes.
Vietnam clearly was divisive and the wounds have yet to heal, although the military personnel who served and fought are now considered heroic for having sacrificed and taken mortal risk.
But I don’t believe we have really learned the lessons of our intervention in Vietnam. Have we articulated a consensus of the objective criteria to militarily intervene in another country? Have we agreed on what our national interests are with respect to the rest of the world? Do we have a common understanding of the sacrifices expected on the home front during a time of war? Do we recognize that we owe gratitude and rehabilitation to the maimed soldiers returning and support the families that will forever struggle with loss?
Vietnam for some reason has had a deep impact on our psyche. We still have not come to grips with it. I suppose it will take another couple generations before it gets relegated to historians and myths. In the mean time we fight another war with no consensus at home and now a distinct majority wanting out. What will we be writing about this war couple decades hence?
Interesting thread. The war was over before I was born, but I thought I’d weigh in anyway.
I’m sure it’s true that the US won every military engagement against the VC. But I wonder what anyone thinks the US could have accomplished by staying longer than it did? The Colonel’s story illustrates to me the strength of the VC’s conviction (monstrous as it was). Does anyone believe that if the US had stayed five, ten more years that the VC would have packed it in? People willing to burn the bodies of women and children for the “propaganda of the deed”?
If the US stayed in Vietnam until the “job was done”, you’d probably still be there now, probably still winning every military engagement, probably still predicting the light at the end of the tunnel.
How long could the American economy have supported such an action? A Vietnam war until, say, the late-eighties or early-nineties would have sucked you dry, just like Iraq is sucking you dry right now. It might have been the US that Balkanized instead of the USSR. You might have won the battle, but lost the Cold War.
So, did the US win in Vietnam? Unequivocally, yes, it did. You won because you were smart enough to know when to cut your losses. Yes, it sucks you had to leave the South Vietnamese to the mercy of the North. Yes, it handed your enemies a propaganda victory. But a propaganda victory is better than an actual victory. There’s a McDonald’s in Red Square and a souvenir piece of the Berlin Wall sitting in my desk drawer. Would anyone seriously risk it all for another shot at the VC?
my husbad told me stories about the soldiers being forced to take medicine for diseases in vietam,some died on the expermental drugs and also the soldiers who had incurable diseases were sent to an island and basily were forgotten . any vietnam veteran comments o this? also they were sprayed with agent orange and a lot of them have died or lived to be messed up the rest of their lives and the genes were passed on to their children which caused problems. the goverment told them the boils,tumors ect were just simple skin disease of the young. any comments from any veterans?
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