Monday, July 19, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 19)

Vietnam: A Television History - Part 7 - Vietnamizing the War (1968-1973)

  • You’ve lost that loving feeling playing in helicopters while they attack (like Apocalypse Now almost)
  • Each week 2000 ARVN deserted, 400 killed (out of 1 million)
  • The Saigon government had survived for 15 years with 100 billion dollars from the US
  • In 1969, 1/3 of Southern forces were American (= 500,000)
  • Different soldiers had different experiences. I was amused when one pilot said sincerely, "We won." And then, "I don’t know what we won though." He actually had to call for permission to engage.
  • The peace talks hadn’t stopped bombing, which was happening 6x more in the south than north.
  • American forces spending money created a new economy of sorts, black markets and a new commercial class. Additionally, it was creating social problems (and VD for the Americans visiting prostitutes).
  • There was rampant drug use and abuse, one could get anything they wanted cheaply. It was stated that there were 30000 US heroin addicts in Vietnam.
  • Fragging was introduced as a word - in 1970, more than 200 attempts were made to wound or kill superior officers.
  • Racial polarization even in Vietnam with separate places for blacks and whites; anti-war literature was available in Vietnam, especially among the blacks. King's words of them not free back home resonated.
  • In 1968, CIA started Phoenix program (Colby was director). People weren't supposed to get hurt, but many were killed and prisoners were held without trial in internment camps and likely tortured. An old woman was electrified so much she was paralyzed.
  • Propaganda didn't stop. Some days planes dropped 1 million leaflets.
  • A US soldier tells a story of training 29 ARVN...who a month later joined the NLF and how disheartening it was.
  • In 1972, the North changes tactics and begins a large offensive. Along Route 1 Americans had to blow up their headquarters. This surprised and confused the ARVN that were left behind. It was one of the hardest years.
  • The documentary presents Kissenger indicating a ceasefire had been reached, but Thieu wouldn’t have the concession of northern troops in the south and Thieu went on TV and said to keep fighting (but this is misleading because Nixon might have sabotaged Johnson's peace talks before he was elected).
  • Americans pulling out hurt many local economies, but the South Vietnamese spent more on cosmetics and beauty aids than all exports (whatever those numbers means). They would get eye surgery. What a wonderful thing to bring to a people - low self-esteem.
  • Vietnam was a "crusade, challenge, then burden."
  • Vietnamese couldn’t understand, and therefore couldn’t have predicated, that the US would leave after putting in so many resources.
I don't know why the peace talks didn't get more coverage. Same thought with Nixon being elected. Also, after reading the Vietnam Wars, it seems the doc completely left out the My Lai massacre. If so, what a poor documentary.

The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 12 (1968-1971)
The chapter is mainly about how bloody many of the battles became, how intense bombing was and Nixon's circumvention of congress to wage war in Cambodia and Laos.
Apparently, there was intense lobbying by Nixon's campaign manager to sabotage the peace talks (as this would help his chances of election). Nixon had some very limited and absurd notions of freedom of speech and assembly... but then spent time talking directly to some protesters in the early morning.
Kissinger said "I refuse to believe that a little fourth-rate power like North Vietnam does not have a breaking point." This is very interesting given what McNamara said a few years before this about underestimating the Vietnamese people. I guess Kissinger thought they just didn't bomb enough.
We also read of the thousand upon thousands of protesters in 1969 and around the fall at the Arlington National Cemetery and the Washington Monument
My Lai occurred in 1968 but was only read about in 1969 mainly due to reporting by Seymour Hersh. Though his reports "it became clear that not only had a platoon of soldiers cold-bloodedly killed virtually the entire population of a village (raping many of the women before murdering them), and a village from which not a single shot had been fired, but that the Army had systematically covered the whole thing up. This certainly didn't fit with the narrative most Americans have about themselves and their country.
On pg. 244 there is a great anecdote of a Harvard law student (Levine) who addressed an audience of parents and alumni when saying that the streets of our country are in turmoil, that universities are becoming radicalized, that Communists and Russia are threatening us and that there is danger so we need law an order in turmoil and there needed to be more law and order. After the applause from the audience died down, he informed them that the words he just spoke were first spoken by Adolf Hitler in 1932. (zing!)
On p. 247 there is an interesting statement from one of Kissenger's aides, that resigned because the thought the invasion of Cambodia but wrong, who, retrospectively wishes he had been more public about his resignation because it was too important. Roger Morris later said that "in truth, there were no limits" to the ruthlessness of Henry Kissenger.
The US administration also realizes that the ARVN couldn't be trusted and they weren't as successful as they had hoped with their tangential military excursions.
Currently, the bombing of Laos and Cambodia really seemed like the actions of (inadvertent?) war criminals.

Vietnam: A Television History - Part 8 - Cambodia and Laos
-In 1961-62 there were already US advisers and CIA helping the anti-communist forces.
-For 8 years, Laos was the most bombed country in the world.
-I hadn't realized the prevelance of child soldiers in these wars at this time.
-US spending was 10x the national budget of Laos(!)
- The US was taking military action in Laos (against the Vietnamese) without Laos knowing it. (another great example of something that could be used in arguments for consistency. That is, if the US thought this appropriate, then they would have no problem if another country did it to them).
-Unlike Laos, Cambodia was mostly peaceful and food was pleantiful with 90% of the peasants owning their own land. Norodom Sihanouk was their leader (and I just read on Wikipedia that "Sihanouk has held so many positions since 1941 that the Guinness Book of World Records identifies him as the politician who has served the world's greatest variety of political offices")
-Once Cambodia started to get dragged into the Vietnam conflict, Sihanouk tried to reach out, with Jacqueline Kennedy visiting in 1967.
-Sihanouk was concerned about Communist build up (Khmer Rouge), but he denounced the US action in Vietnam, and more so on his own land.
- The US embassador wasn't even briefed on the bombing of Cambodia.
- In 1970 Sianook went to France and Russia to get help to fight the communists and his government was overthrown. The new regime was able to get 60 000 military recruits in 3 weeks and they were convinced the US would help drive teh Vietnamese communists out of Cambodia. The problem was that it was mainly "Vietnamese" civilians who had been living in Cambodia for generations were the ones who were attacked.
Once again, old feuds and resentment build until someone throws a switch and massacre results.
-The Nixon decision to invade Cambodia was not one he consulted on congress with; even those in the military weren't aware of prior action. A General tells a story about trying to get arial photos to plan their operations and it was very difficult to get these photos. Once he saw them, he thought he understand why: the photos showed numerous crators (indicating bombing had already begun).
-Americans (troops) were in and out, but their actions had plunged the country into a larger war. -North Vietnamese supported the Khner Rouge
-Americans there to support, air power, but not actual combat troops
-1/4 of Cambodian troops non-existent, but a scam for their paychecks by corrupt Cambodian leaders. (geez!)
-Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge revolution were somewhat enemies of each other, but engaged in a temporary alliance. the Khmer Rouge plan to remake the country into a peasant utopia
- Khmer Rouge troops increased to 60,000 so they were now less dependent on Vietnamese troops.
-In 6 months, in 1973, 250,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia
-Congress only discovered the extent of Nixon's bombing in 1973 (four years after it satert
- US mistakend bombs a village killing one hundred and wounding a couple hundred, and the US was forced to stop (somewhat internally)
- In 1975, Rouge launched large attack, fired rockets into the city every day (Phnom Penn); government troops were desparate, even resorting to cannibalism in one town.
-There was now famine and disease and Americans evacuated many Cambodians to Thailand. What followed were mass executions.
- Khmer said Americans were going to bomb the city... everyone left because of the fear.
-This chapter ends by saying starvation and slaughter lay ahead, skulls and child walking alone in a city... but no details!


Post a Comment

<< Home