Small Wars Journal

The Documentary “The Vietnam War”: Artistic License as History

The Documentary “The Vietnam War”: Artistic License as History

W.R. Baker

As time creeps or races by, those who experienced the Vietnam War are fading from the scene and it’s becoming increasingly important to record a history of that war that is truthful.  Increasingly, the written word is being tossed aside in favor of film and the “documentary” – both allow for “artistic license” instead of facts.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick took $30 million and ten years and used only 80 interviews that, like some others have said, tell how America was wrong, while the communist bloc with the American protestors and politicians were right all along.

Was the American soldier (using this as an all-encompassing term) always right, always moral, always politically correct (especially by today’s standards)? Of course not. Among the many things missing from the documentary were the answers to these same questions of the VC, NVA and the North Vietnamese Government who habitually violated all their agreements, including the Geneva Conventions.

The documentary cherry-picked American actions during the war – just as many predecessors have in books and films. But this was, unfortunately, predictable and expected.

Even before the first show aired, some in the press claimed the documentary to be a masterpiece, blah, blah. Now that they may have seen it, they won’t change their evaluations, egg on their faces are not something they know how to handle.

Too bad the documentary will be pushed as history – accuracy used to be something the press strove for, “but that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone.” A major problem will be in our schools, however, where accuracy will be presumed.

Just ask the 1-2.5 million persons who entered in re-education camps and listen hard for the whispers of the 165,000 who died as a result of the North’s inhumane treatment, though in the Paris treaty, they promised no retribution.

Months ago, Burns and Novick were interviewed with the last question asking if the war could have turned out differently? In reply, everything was the fault of the U.S., of course. When you set out to prove a point and you use only highly selective items to show how balanced on the subject you have been, then guess at the result.

Vietnam remains a communist country today because the military was not allowed to fight and win because the politicians knew best. Then, they sealed the fate of the Vietnamese by letting South Vietnam die on the vine, with nary a word by the press.

Figures.

Comments

Bill M.

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 9:01pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Bob,

Like Azor, I have no desire to refight the war, but I also tire of people conflating their opinion with fact. What you assert is opinion disguised as fact. Your opinion on the topic is the popular one, so you have that going for you. Yet self-determination is mostly a myth in its purest sense.

The communists quite simply were better at mobilizing the population than we were. In my opinion there were two reasons for this. First, they opposed corrupt and inept governments with simple propaganda that at times resonated with the uneducated peasants, and second when that didn't work terrorism did. At the end of the day both the French and communism were illegitimate.

Furthermore, your arguments are often void of context, for example Ho and his merry band of patriots would never have defeated South Vietnam without substantial support from the USSR. The point is a myriad of factors determined the war's outcome, it was never predestined based on the magic power of self-determination.

Finally, since the Vietnamese people are currently rejecting communism while the communist party struggles to maintain power indicates what we always suspected, communism is a road to nowhere. In my opinion, we were right to oppose it. We were wrong in supporting a corrupt government that only supported a minority Catholic population. We certainly need a new approach that doesn't default to supporting governments that are antithetical to our values because it is simply convenient. This always undermines our interests in the long run.

Perhaps we exaggerated our fears and let our honor encourage us to cling to hope, but I think political greed for power kept us clinging to a failing strategy. Presidents wouldn't make the hard right decisions due to self interests. Bush created the same mindset when he started the don't be weak on terror narrative. Backing off CT operations anywhere became politically untenable, which in turn limited the freedom of politicians to back out missions that proved to be ill advised.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 11:49pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill, there was no “the North” until we created it. People from across the three provinces of Vietnam joined together by an ideology we feared unified the nation in their defeat of the French.

Self determination. A simple concept that the founding of America is premised in, and that many revolutionary movements seeking support have turned to America, only to be denied because we valued some perceived interest of the day over their inalienable right. Don’t twist history to appease our conscience. We made a mistake in Vietnam. We exaggerated our Fears; we let our Honor fix us to our mistakes; and we created false Interests to validate our decisions. Admitting this does not dishonor those who served our nation in that tragic conflict; But ignoring it dishonors those who are sent in their footsteps...

Bill M.

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 10:48pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

All nation-states are created by men, so according to your logic, all nation-states are fiction. It really doesn't matter if they were created by the East or the West. As for legitimacy, your facile explanation that government/ance legitimacy explains all, in reality explains little. Of course, like all good lies and propaganda, there is "some" truth to this argument, but it fails to provide a meaningful understanding of the complex factors that more accurately describe historical events.

On a related note, the government in the North was no more legitimate than the one in South. If you perhaps measure legitimacy by the degree of force needed to sustain control, with less force equating to more legitimacy, then the government in the South was more legitimate by a significant measure.

A lot of naïve views of predetermined history emerged in our leftist campuses in the 1960s that continue to stunt our ability to view the world through unbiased eyes. Simplistic explanations, propaganda perceived as fact by a gullible population, far right reactions based on their own simplistic interpretations, and the ultimate victim in this contest of views was the truth. Facts were omitted or selectively by both sides to push their views. I do tend to think that we never recovered from the political divides this war generated. We always had them, starting with our own Revolution, but they have taken on a new character. The stated purpose of the PBS series was to start an overdue dialogue on the war that has been grossly misrepresented by both sides of our political divide, yet instead of an honest conversation people continue to default to simplistic explanations that don't stand up to any rigor if examined under the light of facts.

Today, we are wrestling with similar overly simplistic arguments in regards to trade, immigration, etc., which are driving overly nationalistic reactions and stressing the international order to a degree that another world war not only seems possible, but likely if these views are challenged and mitigated by reason. Maybe we can't undue the enduring condition of man, and our destiny is predetermined, but centuries after the Age of Enlightenment you would think we could do better.

Azor

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:12am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Communist Vietnam was a fiction until decades of terror, displacement and mass-murder.

Do tell about Westphalia...

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 1:48am

In reply to by Azor

South Vietnam was a fiction created by the West to deny the VietMinh the full measure of their victory over the French. And my understanding of how the peace of Westphalia altered the concept of legitimacy is solid. You are entitled to your positions but I stand by mine.

Azor

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:34pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Bob,

Perhaps a bit more reading on the Thirty Years War, prior royal-papal disputes and medieval concepts of ‘auctoritas’ and ‘potestas’ is in order, no?

I recall South Vietnam being an independent and sovereign state, until its invasion by North Vietnam. I also fail to see how depending upon foreign backing (Sino-Soviet) and relying upon Red Terror – including mass-murdering 4% of the North Vietnamese population and expelling 10% of the South Vietnamese one – makes Ho “legitimate”. He was more legitimate than Kim in North Korea, but far more brutal than any South Vietnamese leader.

Azor

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 7:58pm

In reply to by Bill M.

The peace of Westphalia established that legitimacy came from power, rather than from God. And of course Mao noted that power comes from the barrel of a gun. Yes, many wanted independence without communism, but it was communism that was able to bring independence in the face of French and American efforts to the contrary. Ho was legitimate, validated by his success.

RantCorp

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 2:29am

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike,
It's a pity you haven't returned as you have a somewhat rare informed and nuanced understanding of the societal elements that shaped the conflict. I would be intrigued as to what extent the current peace was accepted and if so, to what extent the post-war generation were influenced by that consequence.

I was amazed how different the young Japanese were to the war-time generation. The difference was so profound; in my mind's eye at least, that I can't help believe it was the war-time generation who were the aberration.

Having said that, even if I could go back, I doubt if I would.

Happy Thanksgiving,

RC

Mike in Hilo

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 12:40am

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

You may be surprised to learn that I never went back, so can't answer your question.... If the steamroller of the Communist regime has been successful in leveling out the ethnic animus, more power to 'em. However, as long as there's a lid on the situation, we can't know if the apparent harmony is lasting or ephemeral.....

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving,
Mike.

RantCorp

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 12:01am

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike,
I spent a lot of time moving among native populations who were either at war with one another or a some point in the past been at war with one another. What my experience taught me is that some of the differences that you have listed are never settled and ethnic hatreds simmer below the surface and flare up on a regular basis - punctuated by regular bouts of death and destruction

If a genuine political grievance is not settled there will always be violence. Inevitably genocide/ethnic cleansing/mass relocation or partition finally solves the matter. I assume you have returned to Vietnam since the end of the American War and I ask an innocent question - have any of the legitimate differences you highlighted in your comment caused the Vietnamese to start killing each other again?

With respect,

RC

Mike in Hilo

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 10:23pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

Re: Vietnamese aspirations: The Vietnamese peasants were not free agents with any prospect of determining their destiny. They were compelled to adopt the views of whatever factional leader under whose roof they sought protection or to whose intimidation they were exposed. That said, one ought still to ask in regard to the aspirations of the Vietnamese, "Which Vietnamese?" The Vietnamese themselves (not talking about the ethnic minorities) have always insisted that their nationality was comprised of three distinct ethnicities, Northern, Central and Southern. Some differences of physical phenotype distinguish them from one another, as do cultural differences, the most obvious being which dialect of Vietnamese they spoke. Native speakers of the Southern dialect are the natives of what we came to call III and IV Corps Tactical Zones (the old Cochin China), the most densely populated part of the RVN and hence the majority of the population. In this, the South proper, where nationalism was patently less virulent, in both the French and American Wars, Communist cadres attempting to recruit combatants for the Viet Minh and VC did not find it productive to use as a pitch anti colonialism/ anti-imperialism, but rather focused on class struggle issues. Only subsequent to recruitment were their charges indoctrinated in anti-imperialism as a necessary adjunct to anti-feudalism. In the American War, NLF propaganda went so far as to hide in ambiguity the NLF raison d' etre, which was reunification, simply because traditional Southern separatism, a very real sentiment despite its having been used to French advantage, was a more strongly felt aspiration than what we would call nationalism. By the way, by the time of my tenure in country 1971-75, reunification as well as land tenure and other original arguments for struggle had slipped into irrelevance, and the grievance and heartfelt yearning that the Communists promised to redress was simply war weariness: "We will never give up, so, if you want peace, support us so that the war will reach its conclusion sooner. " Nevertheless, traditional, regionalist ethnic animosity reinforced wide Southern rejection of the prospect of being overrun by what the Southern people saw as Northern irredentism.

Cheers,
Mike.

Mike in Hilo

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 9:52pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

Short answer re : anti-French, anti-Chinese bias: You are right, media and "conventional wisdom" wrong. Again, depends "which Vietnamese." The Southern people (native speakers of the Southern dialect) were remarkably free of the chauvinism that conventional wisdom came to see as stereotypically Vietnamese. Re: French: Neutral and Francophile sentiment crossed class lines among Southerners. [My determinations are anecdotally-derived, although there is confirmation in the literature.] I can't speak for DRV, of course. However, my AO included the heaviest concentration of Northern Catholics in RVN and I worked closely with these people. They (yes, the Catholics---Vietnamese Catholicism was nativist) were virulently anti-French, anti-Chinese, and outspokenly resentful of Americans--though for the most part anti-Communist....It is worth noting that in depicting the French War, Burns's series showed interviews of former ARVN officers who stated that they had always seen the French as the enemy; in every case these people were of Northern origin (speaking the Northern dialect).

GVN, though, could not have appealed to the Southern people's innate anti-Northern sentiment as a lever to generate mass support because of overrepresentation (on a percent of population basis) of Northerners (Catholics) in its own officer corps and civil service. An illustrative anecdote with some irony: In early 1974, a perennial land dispute again flared up between local peasants and Northern Catholics who had been resettled under the Diem regime in an "agroville" in Long Thanh District of Bien Hoa Province. Communist cadre, who were locals, astutely told the local peasants, "When the war is over and we are in charge, we'll get rid of these lousy Northerners for you, and these lands will be reserved for local people only."

Cheers,
Mike.

RantCorp

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 3:35am

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike

I have to admit it never occurred to me that the refugees were profiled on their ethnicity. I understand the Catholicism as that represented a remnant of French colonialism but the Chinese angle was a surprise.

Unlike yourself I have had rely on historical accounts and Veteran insight. Whilst the lack of animosity towards Americans who now visit VN does not surprise me, I was wondering whether the hostility towards Chinese and French hegemony was as virulent as it was oft depicted in the war-time era.

The reason I ask is that of the historical accounts and interpretations pertaining to the Soviet War in Afghanistan and some years after that I personally experienced, I can honestly say that those accounts / interpretations are 90% without a factual basis.

I don’t mean the PRAVADA and other state-funded mouth-piece media but the entire gambit of the world’s free Press - with no exceptions - regurgitated false-hoods. The result being much of the accepted wisdom is everything but.

Regards,

RC.

Mike in Hilo

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:40pm

In reply to by RantCorp

R C,

Re: Chinese boat people: No surprise there, since boat people traffic rose to a crescendo in 1979 when many--perhaps most--were Chinese, as this exodus followed a DRV wartime expulsion edict issued in reaction to Chinese invasion of DRV border areas at Cao Bang, etc., to punish DRV for its invasion of KR Cambodia. However, the systematic, spanning the decades, program of Communist violence--selectively targeted as well as indiscriminate--aimed at civilians as a matter of policy and in order to teach an object lesson, including village level denunciation campaigns fomented by the cadre, was definitely not targeted against Chinese as such. Unlike elsewhere in SE Asia, the Chinese in VN, especially in III and IV Corps where most lived (10% of the population of RVN) were well integrated into society (and some were VC.... On the other hand, ARVN had many well placed Chinese officers including some in powerful province chief slots). The Chinese influence on Vietnamese culture is pervasive.. Azor is correct in pointing out the heavy Catholic component of refugees. Assigned to State's Refugee Program after evacuation from VN, I saw the records, and at least 90% of the initial US refugee intake were of Northern Catholic origins. Their flight was in anticipation of being singled out for punishment by the Communists....Also, many had been resettled by RVN in coastal communities and had the small boats with which to access the US fleet offshore in April/May 1975.

Cheers,
Mike.

Azor

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 1:04pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC wrote: “There is no way you could possibly know the number of murders nor the irrefutable evidence proving them to be a fact. If you genuinely believe in upholding truthfulness I suggest you qualify mere speculation…Without doubt the PAVN/NLF murdered considerably more but I have no proof making it fact.”

Well then how do you know “without doubt” then? For sources, I generally rely upon R.J. Rummel’s (1997) middle and high estimates. The Vietnamese government (1995) and Obermeyer, Murray & Gakidou (2008) tend to concur with Rummel’s high estimates within ~200,000, but there is a tendency to attribute post-war deaths (refugees in-transit and concentration camps) to the war, especially by Hanoi, which refuses to estimate South Vietnamese combatant deaths or to distinguish between North and South Vietnamese non-combatants.

The Communists’ crimes only worsen if I include the deaths of post-war refugees in-transit but outside of Vietnam e.g. by drowning.

I was very careful to parse those civilian deaths attributable to Communist rule strictly in North Vietnam (~4%) as well as the number of South Vietnamese who fled the country post-war (~10%).

The Vietnamese Communists certainly racked up a much lower bodycount than their co-ideologues in North Korea, China (Mao) and the Soviet Union (Stalin), but this was probably more due to the exodus of dissidents and potential dissidents than any particular aversion to non-violence. Similarly, at least 10% of the Cuban population fled after Castro seized power. I have adjusted the share of population percentages by year so as not to exaggerate the figures, but it seems that Red Terror is effective when 10% of the population is simply gone.

RC wrote: “In other words the victorious PAVN were ethnically cleansing VN of Chinese influence. Like I said I have no way of establishing the veracity of his assessment but it would make sense and reflected anti-Chinese bias I most definitely encountered in many Pacific Rim nationalities.”

That was certainly an aspect. Minorities accounted for 25% to 30% of refugees from the South, despite comprising only ~10% of the population. Nevertheless, the majority of refugees were ethnic Vietnamese, albeit this is where anti-Catholic policies come into play.

RC wrote: “I personally do know that murder was commonplace in fact but it was carried out by men I hold in the highest regard. Those men weren't proud of the fact but it was considered a necessary evil.”

Which men are you referring to here?

Azor

RantCorp

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 3:19am

In reply to by Azor

Azor wrote -

'You ignore the fact that the PAVN and NLF murdered two Vietnamese civilians for every ARVN, U.S. or allied soldier they killed.'

There is no way you could possibly know the number of murders nor the irrefutable evidence proving them to be a fact. If you genuinely believe in upholding truthfulness I suggest you qualify mere speculation.

I personally do know that murder was commonplace in fact but it was carried out by men I hold in the highest regard. Those men weren't proud of the fact but it was considered a necessary evil. Without doubt the PAVN/NLF murdered considerably more but I have no proof making it fact.

I despise the media and I generally ignore any information presented pertaining to be from remote areas for the same reason - but it goes without saying a fact is a fact.

One observation by an old China / VN hand who was stationed in the region in the 1940s, 50s and 60s was his take on the ethnic make-up of the 'boat-people'.

His assessment of the refugees he encountered fleeing communist VN was that a significant proportion had an element of Chinese ethnicity. I have no way to vouch for the accuracy of his judgement but in my experience he was without peer when matters as complex as societal prejudice in that part of the world was concerned.

In other words the victorious PAVN were ethnically cleansing VN of Chinese influence. Like I said I have no way of establishing the veracity of his assessment but it would make sense and reflected anti-Chinese bias I most definitely encountered in many Pacific Rim nationalities.

Mike in Hilo might be able to shed more light on the veracity of the matter.

Azor

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 2:59pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC wrote: “No I wouldn't.”

The Soviets and Chinese did consider Vietnam “backward”. To compare, the Western democracies, Germany and Russia all considered Poland to be “backward” as well, and yet their relations with and policies toward Poland were all markedly different. Vietnamese Communists understood that respect from foreigners was a matter of degree, and were prepared to partner with anyone and everyone to advance their cause.

You did touch on an important point that I have made at SWJ before: the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam was the first since World War II, in which the U.S. never intended a permanent presence in the target country from the outset, or to fully integrate that country into Western political and economic structures. During the period of North Korean violations of the Armistice, when the Vietnam War was raging, the U.S. government made an effort to convince Americans that South Koreans were “just like” them; yet what of the South Vietnamese? In Germany, Italy and Japan, the U.S. continues to “win the peace” generations after the war has ended.

RC wrote: “If the PLA had entered VN in 1950 the Vietnamese would still be fighting them today. The Chinese understood this even if we didn't. You continue to embrace a line of reasoning that suggests the Vietnamese are subservient to whoever beats the loudest war drum. You appear to ignore the fact they buried 3 million (by your reckoning) war dead proving nobody can tell them what they can or cannot do in their own country.”

Had the Chinese truly believed that, they never would have backed Cambodian incursions into Vietnam, provoking a Vietnamese invasion and the collapse of their client; nor would they have later invaded Vietnam themselves or massacred dozens of Vietnamese sailors as recently as 1988. Vietnam’s ability to secure advanced Russian weaponry and potentially even a Russian tripwire (Cam Ranh Base), its singular challenging of China’s excessive maritime claims (among all claimants) and its courting of the U.S., all while growing as a major source of Chinese FDI, does not suggest an especially deep Chinese understanding of Vietnam across five successive administrations (Mao to Xi).

You ignore the fact that the PAVN and NLF murdered two Vietnamese civilians for every ARVN, U.S. or allied soldier they killed. That is worse than the Red Army’s record during World War II, even including the NKVD’s atrocities. The war in Vietnam was never only a war of liberation against Japanese and/or French rule, or only a civil war between Communists and anti-Communists or only a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviets/Chinese. The vast majority of the horror was meted out and suffered by Vietnamese from 1946 to 1989, but the popular Western conception of the war is almost entirely U.S.-centric, for a variety reasons. I suppose that the millions of Vietnamese who fled Communist rule would agree that this rule was the expression of popular Vietnamese self-determination, no?

RC wrote: “Move on, we lost.”

I am aware. I am not out to refight the war and blame politicians or the “counterculture” or the military. The failing was collective, and even the best American national effort may not have been enough. What I will do is challenge misinformation and disinformation about the war, particularly given that people (both for and against the war) prefer(red) to experience it through the tiny amount that was captured on camera, again proving McLuhan correct.

RC wrote: “More importantly, the Vietnamese themselves are the least surprised that the US is their main ally in thwarting Chinese expansionism in the region.”

That is not necessarily true either. If the U.S. was capable of driving a wedge between the Soviet Union and China after witnessing their schism, it was capable of partnering with Vietnam after witnessing Sino-Vietnamese relations collapse. Analysts and commentators have suggested Vietnam as a probable partner in a conflict with China twenty years ago, but such developments are driven by necessity not prescience, and China’s expansion has been rather glacial. Thus far, the Vietnamese continue their balancing act from many decades ago, and do not appear ready to commit to the U.S.-led alliance on a long-term basis of principle, yet.

RC wrote: “I think it was Giap who said long after the end of the war, the worst thing that ever happened to the prosperity of the average Vietnamese citizen was they inflicted the first military defeat on the US.”

It took millions of dead and displaced, as well as terrible hardship (on others, of course), before Giap saw the error in the Communist experiment in Vietnam. China inflicted a stalemate on the U.S. in Korea, its support for North Korea and North Vietnam was decisive, and it was downing U.S. aircraft near Hainan Island even as Nixon was preparing his visit. As Deng was reforming China and opening it up to trade with the U.S., Vietnamese Communists were driving their economy and society into the ground. They then finally reversed course.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours as well.

Azor

RantCorp

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 9:51am

In reply to by Azor

Azor wrote -

'You might as well say that the Soviets and Chinese considered the Vietnamese to be “backward...'

No I wouldn't.

Azor wrote -

'The Chinese threat was not “non-existent”'

If the PLA had entered VN in 1950 the Vietnamese would still be fighting them today. The Chinese understood this even if we didn't. You continue to embrace a line of reasoning that suggests the Vietnamese are subservient to whoever beats the loudest war drum. You appear to ignore the fact they buried 3 million (by your reckoning) war dead proving nobody can tell them what they can or cannot do in their own country.

Move on, we lost.

More importantly,the Vietnamese themselves are the least surprised that the US is their main ally in thwarting Chinese expansionism in the region.

I think it was Giap who said long after the end of the war, the worst thing that ever happened to the prosperity of the average Vietnamese citizen was they inflicted the first military defeat on the US.

That was then, now is now.

Happy Thanksgiving,

RC

Azor

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:20pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

You might as well say that the Soviets and Chinese considered the Vietnamese to be “backward” and that they “needed to know their place in the grand scheme of things”. The Chinese threat was not “non-existent” given Sino-Soviet, particularly given developments in Cambodia, Sino-Soviet competition for influence in the developing world, and an eleven-year Sino-Vietnamese conflict. Hindsight is always accurate, but after the Soviet subjugation of East-Central Europe and Central Asia, the Chinese subjugation of Tibet, and Ho’s dependence upon Soviet and Chinese support, it was not unreasonable to expect a unified and Communist Vietnam to become a client state. Arguably, Chinese initiatives in Vietnam and Cambodia backfired as well, no?

Azor

RantCorp

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 1:54pm

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike,

At the end of WW2 many Realpolitik certanies that had existed for centuries were dissolving. Vietnam had many foreign players who were weighing up their own vested interests with little or no regard for the political aspirations of the natives.

As you pointed out between 1945 and 1950 events in Japan, China, Korea ,France, America and Britain were all considered important as to how Vietnam was to be governed.

Unfortunately for everyone - but especially the Vietnamese - none of these players bothered to ask the first, the foremost and the most critical question in Vietnam.

Convinced of their own magnificence none of these outsiders thought to ask the Vietnamese Clausewitz's primary question as to the political nature of the war that appeared inevitable.

The Vietnamese wanted to rule their own affairs without any foreign input/interference. If the Vietnamese chose Communism, Feudalism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Paganism, Flower-power whatever, they were infuriated that a bunch of foreigners were convinced it was somehow anyone else's goddam business.

The West choose to ignore this fundamental principle and convinced itself the Vietnamese were backward orientals and needed to know their place in the grand scheme of things.

They compounded their folly on an non-existent threat of Chinese hegemony threatening a fictitious country - as if deluded state of mind or illusory nation-state would make the slightest bit of difference to the inevitable outcome.

The West spent 30 years in Vietnam applying a military strategy that was completely at odds to the nature of political aspirations of the only peoples that mattered - the Vietnamese themselves.

As far as every Vietnamese was concerned it was never about anyone else but them, and if any foreigner wanted to fight about it - see what happens.

RC

Mike in Hilo

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:54am

In reply to by RantCorp

Rant,

The deux ex machina of the Japanese surrender was a tremendously potent gift to the Communists. In a calculated move to stick it to the Allies, the Japanese, rather than wait to be disarmed by the designated Allied forces, turned their weapons over to the Communists. Shortly thereafter, when the Allied power designated to occupy the North (nominally Chiang's China, but in the event, the Warlord of Yunnan) did so, the latter became an enthusiastic purveyor of all the weapons the nascent Communist forces could use--for the money. By the way, Ho's North had ingratiated itself with the Allies by engaging in the rescue of downed airmen, while the Communist Party's Committee of the South, headed by veteran Stalinist Tran van Giau--a native son of My Tho in the Delta--had collaborated closely with the Kempeitai. [An Aside: I contend that Ho's 1946 replacement of Giau with Nguyen Binh, a Northerner, constituted a conscious assertion of Northern control over the South within the Party, with an eye on the Southerners' traditional (predating colonialism)separatist proclivity. There was operational logic as well, insofar as the South's rubber plantation laborers were all from North or impoverished northern Central Vietnam (the South had no excess labor) and these were organized as the first Vietminh mass cannon fodder in the South.]

Truman Admin. assistance to the French struggle for Indochina didn't begin until 1950, when (1) it was unclear to policymakers that the PLA, flush with victory, would be content to stop its advance within the extant borders of China, and (2) of course, there was Korea...(3) The pretext was creation by the French of the State of Vietnam. The pound of flesh the US exacted in return was an accelerated rate of Vietnamization of both, the military and the State's civilian governance.

We might do well to recall that thousands of Vietnamese served on the anticommunist side in the First Indochina War. Historian Martin Windrow chronicles their valor in The Last Valley, as exemplified, inter alia, by the incredible, dogged heroism of Company Commander Phu, who had risen to Corps Commander by 1975--and who, rather than bug out as others did, shot himself when the South surrendered...

Cheers,
Mike.

Azor

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:11pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

On the contrary, Operation Enduring Freedom was began as an unconventional war and transformed from 2002-on into low-end COIN/FID. RMA was, of course, intended for high-end conventional and nuclear warfare, despite changing all aspects of American warfighting.

Afghanistan is troublesome, and is only less salient than Vietnam in popular American discourse because the overall casualties and destruction is far lower in absolute terms. In relative terms, the ANA/ANP is much less capable than the ARVN was, the Taliban are far more competent than the NLF, and the KIA ratios are much less favorable than in Vietnam, especially for the ANA/ANP.

The NLF could make parts of South Vietnam anarchic, but had no ability to overrun the country as the Taliban had Afghanistan during 1992-1996. Popular civilian misconceptions aside, North Vietnam depended upon conventional warfare to conquer the South.

Lastly, none of America's peer or near-peer adversaries, especially Russia and China, have scoffed at RMA.

Azor

RantCorp

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:13am

In reply to by Azor

Azor wrote -
' I also take a dim view of “anti-RMA sentiment”, as had the technology of 1991 been available a generation earlier....'

The Taliban mustn't have got the memo.

I think it’s best to agree to disagree.

Regards,
RC

Azor

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:03am

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

Well, the First Indochina War began in 1946. Note that the UN forces fighting concurrently in Korea did so with World War II weaponry on the ground, and many veterans of World War II and Korea complained that they were worse-equipped during the latter. Fall asserts that the Viet Minh secured a lead over the French at the outset of the conflict. The Viet Minh began receiving significant Chinese materiel starting in 1949-1950, but Fall seems to blame French failures for the course that the war took.

In 1946, both sides were killing rather indiscriminately, and most civilian casualties from 1946 to 1975 can be attributed to the Communists. You are pursuing a false dichotomy: objectively there was bad (French) and worse (Communists).

Merely uttering or writing the word “attrition” does not convey a proper understanding of it. When I speak of losses, I refer to “irrecoverable losses” in the Soviet parlance, which includes KIAs, MIAs, WIAs (major wounds) and POWs. It is preferable to capture rather than kill enemy combatants, as the Germans experienced in 1917-1918, the Western Allies experienced in 1944-1945, and the U.S. experienced in 1991 and 2003. This is not to say that a fighting force cannot kill its way to victory, even with unfavorable loss ratios such as experienced by the Union in 1862-1865 and the Soviets in 1941-1945. The U.S. had no strategy to attrite North Vietnamese combatants at either the rate or rapidity required, and airpower was used against North Vietnam indecisively.

Azor

RantCorp

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:08am

In reply to by Azor

Azor,

Fall's quote refers to American and Japanese weapons. This indicates to me OSS supplied weaponry and captured WW2 Japanese weapons - 10 years prior to Dien Bien Phu and well before the avalanche of Chincom weapons that were neither Japanese nor American. The timing is important as the scale of the politically inspired killing at PAVN's infancy in 1946 was dwarfed by the wholesale slaughter the West participated in once we and the French decided to re-impose colonialism.

Azor wrote-

"There is a “time value of attrition” to paraphrase financial mathematics, whereby the compression of grossly disproportionate casualty ratios causes a fighting force to collapse."

Westmoreland and MacNamara believed exactly the same thing.

Azor

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 10:44pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

Unfortunately, my response to you disappeared before I could submit it. Perhaps I do misunderstand you.

With regard to Fall, he was referring to the French losing the first two “rounds” of the conflict with the Viet Minh due to their own folly, which led to the division of Vietnam. He never claimed that the Communists “carried” the country in a mere ten months. Nor do I see how he was a “colonialist”, although he was anti-Communist at a time when Communism appeared to be a monolithic force gobbling up Central Europe, swathes of China and making inroads everywhere else.

As regards proper jungle warfare footwear, I was countering the trope that the mighty U.S. military was defeated by a poor band of peasants. I also take a dim view of “anti-RMA sentiment”, as had the technology of 1991 been available a generation earlier, the PAVN and NLF would have suffered unbearable and rapid losses such that continuing the war would have been a futile waste. There is a “time value of attrition” to paraphrase financial mathematics, whereby the compression of grossly disproportionate casualty ratios causes a fighting force to collapse.

As for War Communism, it was Communist planners directing all resources to a war effort, and came into vogue during the Russian Civil War, when Lenin had to delay the promised “bread” until after the land and peace elements of the triad were secured.

RantCorp

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 4:00pm

In reply to by Azor

Azor,

You have a bad habit of telling people what they believe. I can accept my written explanations can be confusing but I'm rather doubtful a complete stranger knows what I actually believe.

Fall's quote that framed my comment -

'“But the Viet-Minh had had about ten months in which to establish their administration, train their forces with Japanese and American weapons (and Japanese and Chinese instructors), and kill or terrorize into submission the genuine Vietnamese nationalists who wanted a Viet-Nam independent from France but equally free of Communist rule. The first round of the war for Indochina already had been lost for the West before it had even begun.”

-- Bernard B. Fall, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina'

Like I said this was an observation around the time of the Deer Team - 1945-6. The SA 2 gig you refer to is a generation away.

You wrote:

'Firstly, your comment “sandal-wearing” remark was an attempt at portraying the Communists as a David confronting the anti-Communist Goliath. '

I'm afraid you are mistaken. 'Sandal-wearing' in my mind's eye has no biblical connotations whatsoever. I would concede an anti-RMA sentiment lurking in the background somewhere but a super-natural analogy it was not. In all truth-fullness the wearing of sandals related to my own extensive experience in the jungle and indicated to me that the folks wearing sandals understood a basic fundamental as to what fighting jungle-warfare was all about.

'War Communism?' I'm sorry, I have no idea what that means.

RC

'

Azor

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 1:43pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC,

Firstly, your comment “sandal-wearing” remark was an attempt at portraying the Communists as a David confronting the anti-Communist Goliath. Yet there was nothing inferior about the Soviet-built integrated air defense system in North Vietnam or the Soviet-built tanks that crashed through the gates of the Independence Palace in 1975. Therefore, my riposte can hardly be unexpected and there is nothing “racist” about it. I am well aware of the Allied campaigns in Southeast Asia and various Pacific islands against the Japanese, and the very different conditions they faced compared to their compatriots in Europe.

Secondly, what quote of Fall’s are you referring to?

Thirdly, your claim that “3 or 4 millions [sic] would have been spared” had the French given Vietnam independence, is laughable. The Communists still would have had to kill or drive out 1 to 3 million Vietnamese in order to suppress dissent and collectivize the country.

Fourth, you also misunderstand War Communism. Its role in the Russian and Chinese Civil Wars – in which the Communists fought corrupt and disunited opponents – aside, the North Vietnamese won in spite of Communism, not because of it. As for the Eastern Front of World War II, Stalin inflicted as many casualties on the Red Army and Soviet citizenry as Hitler did. Ideological fervor, social cohesion and centralized authority are all important in wartime, however, this has nought to do with Marxism. Indeed, demoralized fighting forces that are aware that victory is impossible are still quite capable of inflicting hideous damage on their adversaries.

Azor

RantCorp

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 9:22am

In reply to by Azor

Azor,

First up - if you are in the jungle in a Denied Area one of the most important pieces of equipment you must maintain are your sandals. You literally live or die on your feet. In a DA there is no medivac - you march or you die and if you get 'jungle-rot' on your feet you are kaput.

The only way to avoid trench-foot in a steaming jungle is to air-out your feet as often as you can and sandals are the best way to do this.

So rather than the racist assertion you aimed at me, my comment regards 'sandal-wearing' was anything but. If you actually understood the OE you would have understood my remark highlighted my respect for their soldiering skills.

Google ' Ho and the OSS'. You will note some of the US military personnel(who are most definitely war-fighting on the ground) are also 'sandal-wearing'. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery -probably late 1944.

Can we agree 1945 is somewhat prior to the period you highlighted US involvement.

Fall's remarks quoted above refer to the period in 1945-6 wherein the Japanese occupation was ending and French colonialism was being re-imposed - unfortunately with considerable assistance from us at the behest of Truman.

Millions of people died unnecessarily. The significant point being if the French colonialists had stayed away and PAVN had remained in power after Ho's Declaration of Independence in 1945, those 3 or 4 millions would have been spared.

You suggested I believed the Vietnamese were by nature communistic - I can't see why you've interpreted the very opposite of what I was hoping to say. Marxist doctrine in times of war provides a simple, unforgiving and dogmatic chain of command that appeals to poor as much as the affluent when a society believes it is opposing an existential threat.

A form of Mission Command without the tactical initiative aspects - if you will. A means to an end.

Its utility in times of wide-spread violence is reciprocated in scale by its ruinous folly in times of peace. As it has proved for Russia, China, Eastern Europe , Vietnam, Afghanistan, North Korea ad nauseam.

I can't see why Fall's sentiment towards the Vietnamese surprised you but I have to confess to a bias.I don't have any time for journalists but in my experience I have never met a Frenchman who didn't believe French culture was superior to all cultures - as superior to the Vietnamese as they believe it superior to American. But that's just my opinion.

RC

Azor

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 2:13pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RantCorp,

It is not only "all conjecture", but ad hominem as well. Where is the evidence for your claims about Fall?

In addition, your remark about the North Vietnamese leadership being "sandal-wearing" smacks of the popular and ignorant Western civilian conception of the North Vietnamese alluded to by McLuhan.

Please explain to me how Communism, a European ideology intended originally for industrialized Europe, was "native" to Vietnam? If Communism fit so perfectly to Vietnamese society, why were ~4% of North Vietnamese murdered to establish it and ~10% of South Vietnamese later expelled? Why did Hanoi do orders of magnitude more killing to suppress dissent than Saigon did?

Nor are your metrics on the Vietnam War of any use:

-More than a decade passed between the French withdrawal and the U.S. ground campaign, which actually only lasted 7 years (1965-1972).

-The U.S. dropped more tons of bombs on North Korea than it used during the entire Pacific War, so does that mean that the U.S. made more of an effort to defeat North Korea compared to defeating Japan?

-Most of the dead were locals killed by their co-ethnics, and most civilian deaths were at the hands of the Communists, including various Red Terror and Collectivization campaigns. The total is closer to 3 million than 4, by the way.

I wonder if the North Vietnamese would have "taught everyone in the developed world a lesson" had:

-The developed Soviet Union not fully supported North Vietnam, incl. providing it with the latest equipment and establishing the densest IADS in the world?

-The Chinese not based hundreds of thousands of advisors and soldiers in North Vietnam as a trip-wire and to free up North Vietnamese for recruitment?

-Had the Soviet Union and China not competed to out-supply North Vietnam, and done so unhindered by the U.S.?

-Had Johnson not hamstrung the air campaign out of fear of conflict with China and/or the Soviet Union?

-Had Congress not cut-off aid to South Vietnam?

Azor

RantCorp

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 1:31pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Fall was a colonialist. Like many of his generation he was convinced European culture was not only superior but the Vietnamese wanted to be Francophiles/Coca-Cola as well.

However that is all conjecture - what I want to know is what was it that a sandal-wearing Ho and Giap bought to the fight that they could carry the country in a mere ten months that the French, the US and all their allies after 30 years of war, 7 million ton of bombs and 4 million dead not only failed to reverse but suffered an ignominious defeat.

The Vietnamese taught everyone in th developed world a lesson. Communism was merely a characteristic - the nature of the conflict was much deeper in the psych of the natives and that was what carried the day.

RC

From SWJ quotes today, a worthwhile reminder to those who continue to try to sell the false argument of Ho's legitimacy with the Vietnamese people. Ousting the French was a nationalistic and legitimate, imposing the foreign ideology of communism was not.

Quote.

“But the Viet-Minh had had about ten months in which to establish their administration, train their forces with Japanese and American weapons (and Japanese and Chinese instructors), and kill or terrorize into submission the genuine Vietnamese nationalists who wanted a Viet-Nam independent from France but equally free of Communist rule. The first round of the war for Indochina already had been lost for the West before it had even begun.”

-- Bernard B. Fall, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina

jbedollamd

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 8:59pm

The war in Viet Nam was never worth winning, strategically. That being said, we didn't need to loose it the way we did: by a journalist (WC) declaring defeat. But for him, we could have negotiated a much better deal.

Azor

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 5:10pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Bob,

The United States faces and has faced the following threats: hostile state actors and hostile non-state actors (HNSAs).

HNSAs can operate in most environments and in a variety of configurations, but typically are major threats within the borders of weak or failed states.

The HNSAs that the US has directly fought with post-1945 were at war multiple participants, of which the US was one. There are a number of ways to deal with HNSAs without direct US participation, however, this may result in: (1) the HNSAs winning and transforming into more threatening hostile state actors; (2) other participants winning and creating adverse consequences; and (3) ongoing conflict and humanitarian crises that undermines the US reputationally or in other ways. Suffice it to say: if you want to do something properly, you do it yourself.

The US has been phenomenally successful at seeing off these threats where it made a national, full-spectrum and inter-generational commitment, combining threat-reduction and promotion of liberal democracy:

-Western Europe (14 countries initially, now roughly double)

-Taiwan

-Japan

-South Korea

What of the failures?

-Confederate States: the war was won, but white supremacism continued for nearly a century as the peace was lost

-South Vietnam: the commitment was less-than-full, but the expense might as well have been

-Afghanistan (OEF-A/ISAF): the initial war was won and the peace has been slowly lost due to lack of commitment, despite a greater spend than the Marshall Plan.

-Iraq (OIF/MNF-I): a "light footprint" operation, with a 3-year hiatus.

The American leadership needs to be honest. Either the US intends to play whack-a-mole "over there" on a more-or-less permanent basis, with UAVs, SOFs and spies, or the American people should be convinced of the need to partner with the Afghans and Iraqis, also on a permanent basis.

When the Vietnam War was going badly, the US government put out corny films about how important winning the Korean War was, and depicting South Koreans as being "just like us". Of course, the US ended up absorbing millions of Vietnamese refugees, which made Communist rule easier for Hanoi. Again, suffice it to say, you get what you pay for.

As for Korea, the US military has been there for over seventy years now. More importantly, the people-to-people ties have been ongoing for the same period.

It is not enough to merely collapse hostile state actors, for these may devolve into HNSAs. And it takes time and energy to develop friendly or at least neutral strong states.

J Harlan

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 12:09pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Neither war helped lead to victory in the Cold War. The Cold War was won because of the inefficiency of the Soviet economy combined with the ill advised attempts by Gorbachev to boost production through "openness". The Chinese have not made that mistake.

Bill M.

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 1:59pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Well put, the Prime Minister of Singapore said the same, and asserted our campaign in Vietnam bought time for other countries like Thailand to build their strength holistically to reduce the threat of communist insurgency in their countries. This doesn't excuse our significant missteps, but there was a larger strategic context that needs to be considered.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 7:57am

In reply to by Azor

The US involvement in Korea and Vietnam should not be thought of as wars unto themselves to be won, lost or tied. Both were campaigns, the first a tie, the second a loss - but both contributing in some way toward an ultimate victory in the Cold War.

This is the real challenge with what we are doing in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. What is the grand campaign today? What do these modern efforts contribute toward so that we can realize that it is ok to walk away with a "tie" or a "loss" in some single place and still be "winning" in our larger endeavors? We can't. We are adrift as a nation, playing a game we cannot define. Not playing to win, but playing not to lose. We spread the court and pass the ball, and see any opponent with a better sense of who they are as a "threat" to our vague goal of simply sustaining a status quo of power and sovereignty in a time of unprecedented change. And we all know deep down, the surest way to not win, is to play not to lose.

Azor

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 4:29pm

In reply to by J Harlan

MacArthur did try to override civilian (UN and US) control of the war, but I believe he would have been overridden out of deference to Soviet and Chinese "equities" in North Korea.

J Harlan

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 12:04pm

In reply to by Azor

I'm at a loss to see how forcing the North's unconditional surrender and driving to the Yalu is not evidence that the US intended to unify Korea. Are we to imagine that if the North said "sorry, we won't do it again" MacArthur would have ordered a withdrawal to the 38th Parallel while the N. Korean government reestablished itself?

Azor

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 1:08pm

In reply to by J Harlan

You will recall that U.S. forces fought under an international mandate, specifically UNSCRs 82-84, which called upon North Korean forces to withdraw north of the 38th Parallel. MacArthur did attempt to force the North's unconditional surrender to prevent further hostilities against the South, but I do not see any evidence that the U.S. intended to unify the peninsula under ROK leadership. Imagine the consequences for Europe...

J Harlan

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 6:59pm

In reply to by Azor

The win in Korea? I thought the US aim before the N. Koreans crossed the border was to overthrow the communist regime. At some point before Chosin wasn't the US (or at least Douglas MacArthur's) aim to take all of the north?

I think a "tie" is the most you can argue for.

J Harlan

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 6:58pm

In reply to by Azor

The win in Korea? I thought the US aim before the N. Koreans crossed the border was to overthrow the communist regime. At some point before Chosin wasn't the US (or at least Douglas MacArthur's) aim to take all of the north?

I think a "tie" is the most you can argue for.

Azor

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 12:50pm

In reply to by J Harlan

To J Harlan,

Germany and Japan lost in World War II, and yet amateur and professional historians alike are fascinated by the intricate dynamics of the war, its alternate possibilities, and its decisive turning points.

The Vietnam War receives a great deal of attention because the loss is felt more keenly than the win in say Korea or even in Iraq (First Gulf War).

You are correct that most people try to make an emotionally-acceptable narrative of the war.

J Harlan

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 8:35pm

The idea that the "US won militarily but...." is nonsensical. If they aim was to unite all of Vietnam under a pro US government that obviously was not even close to being achieved. If the aim was to destroy the NVA- again not even close. Destroy the VC- closer but still not achieved. Build up the ARVN so it could defeat the NVA- no.

The US lost. Period. How many communists it killed or the bravery or skill of US soldiers is irrelevant. It seems that some people- particularly veterans of the war- are looking for some sort of moral victory to make the cost of the war somehow palatable.

From Bill M.'s October 4, 2017 - 1:58 am comment below:

"Where I agree with you to a point is that communism and Islamism are effective ideologies for organizing a resistance and providing governance to gain control of the populace, compared to our approach of running questionable elections, and then trying to make a weak, democratic government effective. That normally fails quickly, and the next thing you know the CIA is delivering bags of money to our proxy, which undermines our efforts from the tactical to the strategic level. If we're going to compete successfully in the competitive control realm, the lesson we need to learn is how to establish control in way that is moral, but not chaotic. Once the resistance is defeated or sufficiently suppressed, we can assist that government gradually transition to a democracy. This is the lesson we failed to learn in my view. Whether we should get involved in conflicts to begin with we will have little influence over, how we conduct ourselves and our strategies we can influence."

Might we agree then that while:

a. We (the U.S./the West) may definitely be against something -- for example, communism and/or Islamism --

b. What we offer the populations -- as an alternative -- this may be even less appealing to them?

This, given that while:

a. What our enemies are offering the population includes, shall we say, "freedom" -- from Western domination and from alien and profane Western ways of life, ways of governance, values, etc. --

b. What the U.S./the West is offering the populations clearly does not? (And, indeed, includes only the promise of greater integration into, greater dependence upon and greater defiling by the modern western world?)

This begs the question: If (in the context of their common colonial experience?) "freedom" from Western domination, power, influence and control is what the populations actually desire -- and "freedom" (at least initially) from alien and profane Western ways of life, ways of governance, values, etc. -- then how can we overcome the populations such overwhelming desire?

In this regard, is it likely that, as per Bill M. above, a well-understood Western strategy of, shall we say, thinly veiled "deceptive democratization" ("establish control in way that is moral but not chaotic and, once the resistance is defeated or sufficiently suppressed, assist the government in a gradual transition to democracy") will do the job?

Or will the populations concerned understand, from the get-go, that their desired end-state (i.e., the idea of "freedom from the West" expressed above); that this desired end-state of the populations will only be more easily thwarted by this such "less in-your-face"/more clandestine "Westernization" approach?

Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

Does the PBS documentary "The Vietnam War" adequately address this nature (continuing -- as evidenced most recently by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?) of our conflicts; a nature which -- yesterday as today -- appears to include:

a. An "escape from Western transformation and incorporation" effort by the populations? (In this light to see [a] as COL Jones notes below, the value to the populations of communism and Islamism and [b] the lack of similar appeal of such things as "democracy" and "capitalism?") This, in opposition to:

b. A (continuing -- note Bill M.'s thought above?) Western "transform" (more along modern western lines) and "incorporate" (more into the western sphere of power, influence and control) agenda? (Which the populations actually appear to be fighting against/actually appear to be attempting to get free from?)

Is this "nature of the conflict" -- yesterday as today -- adequately addressed in the subject documentary?

This is a general reply to some of the points brought up by Outlaw, Bill M. and RantCorp, among others:

1. In the country-specific and regional contexts, allowing France to re-establish control over Vietnam was a grave error. Yet there were broader and global contexts which led the U.S. to indulge Europe’s imperial powers in reacquiring the possessions they lost to Japan or otherwise as a result of World War II. The fact was that France was the most powerful U.S. ally on the European continent and situated closest to the potential conflict area of highest importance.

2. France was and remains an unreliably ally, although it is certainly not alone today. In addition to the economic, diplomatic and military support, France has received Anglo-American cultural support as well, and by that I am referring to the glossing over of a rather shameful and sordid episode in French history from July 1940 to September 1944. Yet the failure of French arms, its obvious dependence upon allies, and the clear and present threat of the Red Army raising the Red Flag over Paris, did not prevent France from quickly undertaking nasty adventures in Africa and Indochina as soon as it was able.

3. As for Ho, he was no George Washington. His death toll was less than other Stalinists such as Mao and Kim, but he still required some 4% of the North Vietnamese people to die in order to impose Communist rule, and this was prior to invading South Vietnam to “liberate” it. Indeed, murdering some 200,000 South Vietnamese and expelling 10% of South Vietnam’s population hardly qualifies as liberation, to say nothing of reconciliation. Those that would accuse the U.S. of “destroying the village to save it” in Vietnam, seem to have forgotten that this was exactly what the North Vietnamese did. I doubt that Ho would have made a reliable partner, and an earlier hypothetical Sino-Vietnamese conflict in the 1960s may well have brought in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union against China.

Consider that earlier Mao had appeared to be a willing partner of the U.S. during the Sino-Japanese War, and that the OSS had a strong relationship with him from 1944 to 1947. Was China “lost” due to a lack of support for the KMT or due to anti-Communist hostility toward the CPC?

The reason that the U.S. regarded Mao and Ho as friendly or friendlier than say Stalin, was because Stalin was always an apex predator for Communists and anti-Communists alike. The only corollary to what a relationship between the U.S. and Ho may have resembled was that between the West and Yugoslavia’s Tito. Note that Tito had no problem taking Allied aid in part to settle scores at home rather than with the Germans, fueling a civil war in Greece despite the combined opposition of the Soviet Union and Western Allies, imposing Stalinism brutally on Yugoslavia but then rejecting Soviet leadership, and finally killing Westerners and Yugoslav refugees in the West whilst receiving Western aid. At no point did Yugoslavia’s “non-alignment” strategically alter the balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in any appreciable way.

4. I completely agree that advice from experienced from subject matter experts tends to be ignored. Why? Because their advice is often specialized or focused narrowly and tends toward long-term strategy thought, when decision-makers elected to public office have a scattered or wider focus and predicate their decisions on short-term issues. Moreover, the decision-makers are accountable to electorates that are mostly uninterested and unknowledgeable about the issues in question until there is the sudden appearance of a problem. As my earlier comment to Robert C. Jones indicated, the U.S. has never been prepared for any of its military campaigns, and this includes Operation Desert Storm, where it was actually over-prepared.

5. There is no question, however, that taking up the baton from France was perceived as wholly different than defending an independent South Korea from Soviet client North Korea. Yet few Americans ask why the Korean War was almost lost or whether “strategic bombing” of North Korea was a war crime, etc. Why? Because it was considered a victory, whereas Vietnam is considered a defeat. As sports psychologists point out losing is far more impactful than winning.

RantCorp

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 3:09pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Needless to say attempting to restrict the expansion of communism was the correct moral ambition but being forced into a humiliating retreat, and abandoning an ally to a vengeful communist army, had the opposite effect. Across the globe the PAVN victory in 1975 heralded communism as the triumphant ideology and capitalism as decadent, imperialistic and weak.

You could argue our defeat in VN extended the life of communism as a system of of governance in dozens of countries wherein centralized planned economies held sway. The market-based economies that eventually liberated billions of people in Russia, China and India may have happened earlier if our defeat in tiny VN had never occurred.

To illustrate a point on a different scale, McCarthyism had a similar net effect on the KGB's penetration of the Pentagon - something I personally suffered from and had friends killed by. The "Red under the bed" mockery in the wake of McCarthyism's discrediting meant any subsequent suspicion expressed toward real or possible KGB activity within the ranks of the CIA/DIA could be successful deflected/dismissed if greeted with rolled eyes and ridicule inspired by the derisory attitude McCarthyism had created towards attempts to identify communist espionage.

In other words in order to have the best chance of success we had an moral obligation to answer the first and foremost question as to what was the nature of the war we were embarking on in VN. If it was our moral quest to contain any communist expansionism emulating from China, then we owed it to our own people, the Vietnamese and other peoples across the globe currently suffering under communist tyranny to understand who was it and what was it opposing us on the ground in VN.

Numerous distinguished war-hero Generals such as Ridgway, Shroup, Gavin etc., down to lowly OSS operatives - who knew Ho and Giap personally - made a very powerful argument that Vietnamese nationalism offered the greatest strategic bulwark to a spread of communist Chinese influence across SE Asia. Members of the OSS team vouched for Ho as a Vietnamese nationalist first and foremost. Ho was quoted as saying 'I would prefer to endure French abuse for a few more years rather than eat Chinese shit for the rest of my life'. A reflection on that sentiment and the veracity of the Domino Effect asks many painful 'what if's ' and 'if only's '.

More to matters of the present day, I personally believe our inability to understand what drives the enemy in the current GWOT suggests we haven't learned the first thing from our experience in VN. We appear obsessed in regurgitating Fruitcake propaganda that their fight is inspired by a belief in a supernatural being when even a cursory examination of the combatant's motive tool-set suggests otherwise.

Even on a more obvious level we fail to reflect on the veracity of the fire and brimstone exultation publicly offered up by Fruitcake leadership. Their conspicuous absence from the sharp end suggests - to me at least - that all of the enemy's leadership do not appear as keen (as their proclamations would have us believe) to embrace the supernatural afterlife that they forever atone they are constantly seeking out - whilst their hapless minnows, lemming-like, do in fact pay the ultimate price.

But that's another argument.

Bill M.

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 6:25pm

In reply to by RantCorp

Your argument that Vietnam was always united can be disputed, but your larger point about us helping the French attempt to hold onto their colony cannot. I believe fighting the spread of communism was righteous, but we can't resolve our break from the moral high ground by supporting France. We were wrong in doing so, yet right in fighting communism. I can't reconcile this, and I don't think we as a nation can reconcile this.

RantCorp

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 9:20am

In reply to by SWJED

As an Army brat during the VN War I will never get over the dreaded pitiful faces bringing news of the fate of a big brother or father serving in VN. As such I have an especially cold place in my heart for those folks who abused Vietnam Vets, that I still bear to this very day.

However, I believe it is important to acknowledge 'South' Vietnam was a fictitious country created by the vanquished French after the humiliation/capitulation following Dien Bien Phu.

The Vietnamese have been a race/nation for more than a thousand years. Lines drawn on a map by vanquished Europeans in 1954 strikes me as vain-glorious delusion.

Furthermore,going into the north would have meant war with China. They already had 300 thousand PLA personnel stationed in the north of VN. An attrition strategy that was already failing against tiny VN had scant hope against the massed ranks of a nuclear-armed China.

By 1970 all the career soldiers I knew were exhausted and could see no point continuing what was considered by them as a lost cause. Any suggestion taking on China would have been seen as insanity.

With the greatest respect ,

RC.

Azor

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 3:20pm

In reply to by SWJED

To the author:

I agree with your concerns. I would say that the issue is less one of the Western media "assassinating" the U.S. national character, and more one of: what doesn't get reported on doesn't exist. North Vietnam was a secretive tyrannical state, that avoided the media spotlight when it came to its crimes against the Vietnamese people.

A dry report on estimates of executions and deaths due to starvation or overwork in North Vietnam during Ho's collectivization initiatives is incomparable to the sight on television of even a handful of corpses who had been killed by Americans, whether or not they were enemy combatants or innocent civilians.

To test McLuhan's premise, let's consider the "Highway of Death" in the Gulf War. Everyone can recount the sight of burned-out and abandoned vehicles, but what of the dead? We only have verbal and written recollections from witnesses and written estimates to go by, despite that probably 10,000 Iraqi soldiers were burned alive and blown up, with body parts strewn around the highway and desert. It is hard to view the "sanitized" imagery of the "Highway of Death" and have the same emotional response as if we had seen the real version.