“. . . The 50th anniversary of the war’s escalation — and the premiere this week of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 18-hour documentary on PBS — is an appropriate time to honor the suffering and the sacrifice of all those who served, including the 58,000 American service members, the estimated 1.3 million North and South Vietnamese fighters and the two million civilians who were killed during the conflict. The effect of the war on those of us who were American children in the 1960s is negligible in comparison.
But the war touched us, too.”
Archive for Vietnam-American War
“There is a broad consensus among professional historians that the Vietnam War was effectively unwinnable. Even the revisionists admit their minority status, though some claim that it’s because of a deep-seated liberal bias within the academic history profession. But doubts about the war’s winnability are hardly limited to the halls of academe. One can readily find them in the published works of official Army historians like Dr. Jeffrey J. Clarke, whose book “Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1973” h
“As Menzies saw it, the risk in American policy was not strategic overreach but isolationism, and what an American withdrawal from Asia in the face of defeat would mean for Australia and its neighbors. As a young man of military age during World War I, and as a youthful prime minister at the outbreak of World War II, he knew how painful it was for Britain and its dominions to be at war without America. The crucial step, it seemed, was to ensure American commitment: Once that was achieved, victory would be certain. Australia’s “forward defense” strategy after 1945 was to make small, but effective, military commitments in order to keep both Britain and the United States, which Menzies called “our great and powerful friends,” committed to Southeast Asia.
Australians had good reason to believe in the domino theory. Since 1945 Southeast Asia had been a caldron of conflicts created by the complex combination of decolonization, the Cold War and longstanding local rivalries. By 1964 the region seemed to be at a tipping point. Malaysia was facing a confrontation with Indonesia, where the world’s third-largest Communist party was exerting increasing influence. Although not a Communist, Indonesia’s President Sukarno had received arms from the Soviet Union and boasted of his close ideological ties with China, North Korea and North Vietnam.”
“The rest of the squad returned fire as best they could, but they were trapped. And Don knew it. Maybe Jacque’s parting words rang in his ears; maybe it was sheer instinct. But Don acted to save his friends. Shouting, “You guys run like hell, and I’ll cover you,” Don waited an instant before springing to his feet and opening up on the enemy bunkers with his M-16 on full automatic. The men of the Second Squad who could still move started their dash to safety, but only a few seconds later bullets hit Don’s midsection. He yelled, “My chest! My chest!” and toppled back into the rice.
For the rest of the day, the Vietcong and the remainder of Charlie Company fought over, around and through the battered remnants of the Second Squad. Charlie Company had a total of 14 wounded and one dead that day, while dead Vietcong littered the landscape, perhaps 100 in all — the fearsome cost of standing against American firepower. By any measure it was a clear victory for the Americans.”
“Richard M. Nixon told an aide that they should find a way to secretly “monkey wrench” peace talks in Vietnam in the waning days of the 1968 campaign for fear that progress toward ending the war would hurt his chances for the presidency, according to newly discovered notes.
In a telephone conversation with H. R. Haldeman, who would go on to become White House chief of staff, Nixon gave instructions that a friendly intermediary should keep “working on” South Vietnamese leaders to persuade them not to agree to a deal before the election, according to the notes, taken by Mr. Haldeman.
The Nixon campaign’s clandestine effort to thwart President Lyndon B. Johnson’s peace initiative that fall has long been a source of controversy and scholarship. Ample evidence has emerged documenting the involvement of Nixon’s campaign. But Mr. Haldeman’s notes appear to confirm longstanding suspicions that Nixon himself was directly involved, despite his later denials.
“There’s really no doubt this was a step beyond the normal political jockeying, to interfere in an active peace negotiation given the stakes with all the lives,” said John A. Farrell, who discovered the notes at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library for his forthcoming biography, “Richard Nixon: The Life,” to be published in March by Doubleday. “Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate.” “
“In the early spring of 1967, I was in the middle of a heated 2 a.m. hallway discussion with fellow students at Yale about the Vietnam War. I was from a small town in Oregon, and I had already joined the Marine Corps Reserve. My friends were mostly from East Coast prep schools. One said that Lyndon B. Johnson was lying to us about the war. I blurted out, “But … but an American president wouldn’t lie to Americans!” They all burst out laughing.
When I told that story to my children, they all burst out laughing, too. Of course presidents lie. All politicians lie. God, Dad, what planet are you from?
Before the Vietnam War, most Americans were like me. After the Vietnam War, most Americans are like my children.America didn’t just lose the war, and the lives of 58,000 young men and women; Vietnam changed us as a country. In many ways, for the worse: It made us cynical and distrustful of our institutions, especially of government. For many people, it eroded the notion, once nearly universal, that part of being an American was serving your country.”
This op-ed was the first in the Vietnam ’67 series now running at the NYT.
“Five decades of reporting have taught me that whenever a president starts screeching about the media, it’s a sure sign he’s in hot water and fearing revelations about some policy disaster, damaging mendacity or political villainy. Even popular presidents with reputations for charming the press occasionally stoop to blaming the press for quagmires of their own making.
John F. Kennedy, for example.
In September 1963, with the Vietnam War escalating and the pro-American authoritarian regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem besieged by popular protests, President Kennedy used a private meeting with The New York Times’s publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and James Reston, the Washington bureau chief, to charge that David Halberstam, the Times correspondent in Saigon, was undermining the American war effort and to pressure the publisher to pull Mr. Halberstam out of Vietnam. President Kennedy was particularly angered by a stream of front-page articles by Mr. Halberstam graphically describing battlefield defeats and the self-immolations of Buddhist monks.
What the president did not know was that The Times was already planning to replace Mr. Halberstam because the editors feared that Vietnamese secret police had marked him for assassination. Because I covered Vietnam policy in Washington, I had been told to get ready to replace Mr. Halberstam.”
“I had come to Saigon thinking that we needed to make a stand against Russian and Chinese Communism as we had done in Korea. But in time I became less and less sure. I began to see that for the Vietnamese the long struggle against the French, and now the Americans, had blended into one, and that the anticolonial struggle was more important than Communism or anti-Communism. Of course Americans didn’t see themselves as colonialists, but from the Vietnamese perspective it was hard to tell the difference. Our Vietnamese allies could never shake the charge that they were lackeys of a foreign power, while our enemy, albeit equally dependent on foreigners for their arms and ammunition, were better able to cloak themselves in the heady smoke of nationalism.”
“But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the abrupt turn away from activism and idealism in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America amounts to one of the little-noticed tragedies of the Vietnam War.”
“Buddhists against Catholics. Northerners against southerners. Civilians against the military. Capital against periphery. Ethnic Vietnamese against ethnic minorities. In 1967, anti-Communist South Vietnam was a caldron of overlapping rivalries, precipitating and reinforcing the political chaos consuming the country after President Ngo Dinh Diem’s 1963 assassination during a military coup.”