Vietnam: An Independent Study
Generally, if you’d asked me what the whole thing was about, I would have said that the Americans helped the French fight the Vietnamese and then got involved in a protracted war which they weren’t winning, the Tet offensive being a major loss, and there seemed to be unnecessary (and morally questionable) bombing of the Vietnamese as well as Cambodians. America’s involvement was to gain control or influence in the region and they left in disgrace after too many losses.
I also know that some Vietnamese are still suffering from the chemical weapons that were used (e.g., Agent Orange, that was manufactured in Ontario) and that Vietnam is often seen as a black mark on US military intervention.
I’ve decided this is no longer enough. Previously I have thought I should know more about Vietnam, but lately I feel as if I need to know more. I realize that my life and world view will likely not change dramatically (one can never be sure though), but I’ve decided to ride my feelings of compulsion and anxiety to accomplish something I wanted to do anyway but have had less enthusiasm in the past.
How shall I go about this? Well, I’ve already began (see timeline below) but the plan will be to watch reputable documentaries/re-enactments on the subject, read various essays, finish 1-2 memoirs, finish 1-2 nonfiction histories, (re)watch Hollywood movies about Vietnam and also try to learn more about its basic geography, populations and other country factors. (I also hope to learn more about US domestic and foreign policy issues like Watergate and other Indochina issues and war resistance and…)
Which sources to trust? This is always a tricky one, so I’ll try to go with what I can trust from past experience (Chomsky et al) as well as read Amazon and professional reviews of the potential media that I might select to determine how biased the content might be, in which way, and what that particular piece can offer me.
Below will be a record of the day I finished or made progress on a particular work, what I learned from it and various other thoughts about it and how it fits into my project. The date of the first entry of a day is in bold, while all content/media is in bold (as well as some excerpts bolded for emphasis).
End of June
Martin Lurther King, Jr. Massey lectures
I listened to some speeches by Martin Luther King (reviewed here) and in one of them he described his opposition to the war (that it was unjust and that America was sending poor people to kill other poor people). As part of these lectures there was a debate between two academics on King’s statements and Canada’s position on Vietnam.
This was very useful to get the ball rolling on my interest. I heard interesting talk about various actions being unjust but I didn’t really know why the US was involved and what Canada had stated publicly about its refusal to join the war.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
I was looking forward to this because it was on a short list for the Oscar last year and I had often heard about the pentagon papers but didn’t know much about them. After seeing this great documentary I now know that Ellsberg was a senior defence analyst in RAND (within the structure, but not geography of the Pentagon); that his boss was Robert McNamara; that McNamara ordered an internal research paper on America’s involvement in Vietnam and that once Ellsberg read it, he felt compelled to leak its contents to the press. This leaking occurred in 1971 and created a huge controversy as it indicated four American presidents had lied about aspects of the war in Vietnam.
There was an excellent statement by Ellsberg about what he said to Kissinger when Kissinger arrived. Paraphrasing, "Due to your classified status, you will have access to information that others do not. When experts give you advice you will think about how they do not have the same information you have. Consequently, you will be tempted not to listen to any expert advice."
What was saddening was that despite all this treachery, Nixon was re-elected and it still took years for the Americans to leave Vietnam.
It was interesting to learn Kissinger seemed to be against increased bombing of Vietnam, but Nixon wanted it. I remembered from Fog of War that McNamara was also against increased bombing but Johnson wanted it. Such situations raise the interesting question about how things might be (worse?) if someone else was in the position of secretary of defence. It was very interesting to watch Ellsberg’s transformation from someone who objected but did the work to support the war to someone who saw this as immoral and had to do something. The documentary did a decent job of creating some suspense with the story, too.
The film stated that US had 59,000 dead (150 wounded) and the Vietnamese had 2,000,000 dead. What a disparate amount! For a ratio you end up with 5.9 Americans for every 1000 Vietnamese.
Finally, the doc implied that Nixon was spying on Ellsberg and this was a precursor to Watergate, so that is another piece of the puzzle that I’ll have to learn more about.
Great doc, but it wasn’t much about Vietnam as a military operation so I still don’t know about how it started. That said, the doc did describe the Gulf of Tonkin incident indicating that there were reports of attacks on US vessels but soon after these reports were known to be unsupported. Regardless, the US used this issue as a provocation and a pretext for war.
Of course, it is still useful to know more about some of the reasons it ended.
The Responsibility of Intellectuals by Noam Chomsky
While in Toronto recently I almost bought Chomsky’s American Power and the New Mandarins but I thought I have The Essential Chomsky on my shelf and likely some the former book is in the latter (and I was right). Additionally, I’ve wanted to read this piece for awhile now anyway.
This was a good piece but not a lot of context is provided so one has to infer a lot. The main point was am examination of American Exceptionalism – that when America does something it always has pure motives for doing so and other countries are not afforded this leeway. Consequently, if America creates a horrific situation, like in Vietnam, it is trying to do the right thing and may have made some mistakes. It is not because America has acted improperly to begin with and continues on an (immoral?) path. Chomsky argues that this perspective is not just offered by those in government but also limits what is acceptable among the intellectual class. “Responsible criticism” is only that that follows the line of America the pure. He presents examples of comments from leaders in military related fields to illustrate such circumstances.
"This consensus among the responsible scholar-experts is the domestic analogue to that proposed, internationally, by those who justify the application of American power in Asia, whatever the human cost, on the grounds that it is necessary to contain the "expansion of China" (an "expansion" which is, to be sure, hypothetical for the time being) —that is, to translate from State Department Newspeak, on the grounds that it is essential to reverse the Asian nationalist revolutions or, at least, to prevent them from spreading.
For a translation of Churchill's biblical rhetoric into the jargon of contemporary social science, one may turn to the testimony of Charles Wolf, Senior Economist of the Rand Corporation, at the Congressional Committee Hearings cited earlier:
I am dubious that China's fears of encirclement are going to be abated, eased, relaxed in the long-term future. But I would hope that what we do in Southeast Asia would help to develop within the Chinese body politic more of a realism and willingness to live with this fear than to indulge it by support for liberation movements, which admittedly depend on a great deal more than external support…the operational question for American foreign policy is not whether that fear can be eliminated or substantially alleviated, but whether China can be faced with a structure of incentives, of penalties and rewards, of inducements that will make it willing to live with this fear.The point is further clarified by Thomas Schelling: "There is growing experience, which the Chinese can profit from, that although the United States may be interested in encircling them, may be interested in defending nearby areas from them, it is, nevertheless, prepared to behave peaceably if they are."
The work is a call to intellectuals, to have them increase their honesty with themselves and their country. I’ve heard this before and agree with most it. What was useful was to see more examples of it happening as well as the reason (they told themselves) why the US was in Vietnam was to contain an expanding China. This combines with my vague knowledge of the domino theory: if one country becomes X, then all the others in a region will. Here the X is communist but for Iraq it was (supposedly) about democracy.
How Vietnam was Lost (BBC)
From the website: "Based on David Maraniss' book, They Marched into Sunlight, the film tells the story of two seemingly unconnected events in October 1967 that changed the course of the Vietnam War. In one weekend in 1967, two occurrences at opposite ends of the world began the process whereby Americans convinced themselves that the Vietnam War was not worth fighting. One of these was the ambush of an American battalion by the Vietcong, resulting in 61 casualties. The other was at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where state police ejected students who were campaigning against the presence on campus of recruiting agents for napalm manufacturers Dow Chemical. "
This was a great little documentary as it was informative about both foreign and domestic issues, but a little harder (in a useful way) to watch than the Ellsberg doc due to some graphic imagery and personal interviews where the speaker displays their suffering and regret.
What I learned was that the US military/government wouldn’t accept that they were ambushed in an attack and spun the story completely the other way; that some commanders felt personally responsible for every life that was lost while others were paralyzed with indecision or severely underestimated the enemy. Additionally, I had exposure to the arbitrariness of certain conflicts. The only reason the Vietnamese force was there to ambush the Americans is because they had come to region because they heard there was rice (there wasn’t any, so they hadn’t eaten for days). More absurd is that one of the reasons they left the ambush (and didn’t keep killing Americans) is that they were late for another battle (this was from an interview with the Vietnamese leader).
One of the commanding officers of a platoon was actually shot four times during the battle because he was running around giving directions and trying to inspire his troops. He told the story of waking up in the operating room and asking the nurse "Where is my Delta?" (his unit)
She replied, "They are all gone." It was very powerful because it seemed like the safety of his soldiers was the only thing he cared about.
Another veteran said that all the protesters should be lined up and shot.
A Vietnamese who fought against the US, and whose family and wife’s family were all killed in the war said, "I still don’t know why the Americans were here, maybe they thought we were a rich country." Fascinating.
When police and the group they are to 'manage' are separated along class and political lines, it brings trouble. When the doc interviewed them you could tell there was still antagonism in the people who were cops and apparently there was still regret (when he was 90 years old) of the man who called them in.
An interesting statement from Professor Maurice Zeitlin:
"I have only respect for the men who fought in that war, because they didn't make the war, they didn't choose to fight in that war, but they accepted a responsibility that they thought was theirs as an American citizen. They carried the burden of being an American citizen. When they were sent to war, they fought. And I carried the burden, not at all comparable, of being an American citizen by opposing that war. And I had the choice, and they didn't. And for that I was privileged and they weren't, but we were both doing our duty."
It might have been a bit much to say that these were the two major turning points, because one could argue Tet was, but perhaps domestically it was the first time student protesters were harmed and these protests were precursors to larger ones in the months to follow.
Frost/Nixon (2008) Directed by Ron Howard
Obvious lefty dramatization of events with various inaccuracies, but useful to imagine how Nixon might have felt about Cambodia and his abuses of power. Also useful to try to get the order of presidents and their connections (Nixon being VP to Eisenhower and then losing to Kennedy and then winning after Johnson).
Vietnam: A Matter of Perspective by Howard Zinn
This is basically the first chapter of Zinn’s book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. It is short and makes several informative points as well as presents important perspectives.
It’s all worth reading as you'll see from the numerous excerpts below Zinn introduces a list by saying the war has become absurd:
1. By late 1966, the United States was spending for the Vietnam war at an annual rate of twenty billion dollars, enough to give every family in South Vietnam (whose normal annual income is not more than several hundred dollars) about $5,000 for the year.
5. A Chicago newspaper, asked by a reader if it were true that for every enemy soldier it killed in Vietnam the United States was killing six civilians, replied that this was not true; we were killing only four civilians for every soldier.
Zinn later make the following points:
"The most powerful nation in the world, producing 60 percent of the world's wealth, using the most advanced weapons known to military science short of atomic bombs, has been unable to defeat an army of peasants, at first armed with homemade and captured weapons, then with modern firearms supplied from outside, but still without an air force, navy, or heavy artillery.
Again and again President Johnson has insisted that American forces are in Vietnam to repel "aggression" and that "if they'll go home tomorrow, we'll go home." Our
actions in South Vietnam have been conducted against a force of which 80 percent
to 90 percent are already home (that is, in South Vietnam, where they are from) with the rest from North Vietnam, which is not very far from home. Indeed, if the Geneva Accords are to be taken as a basis (as the United States itself agrees), it is all one country, and all our opponents are home.
Government officials have declared that we are at war in Vietnam to stop Chinese "expansion." Available evidence is that there are no Chinese troops in Vietnam, nor anywhere else outside of China. China is, indeed, half encircled by American military bases in Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Formosa, Okinawa, and Thailand-with about 250,000 United States soldiers, sailors, and airmen at those bases.
...making moral judgments-as on the war in Vietnam- does not depend mainly on the volume of our knowledge. We find, indeed, that the experts in each field disagree sharply on the most fundamental questions. This is because ethical decisions depend on the relationships in which we place the facts we know.
Therefore what we bring to the common body of evidence in Vietnam-the perspective we have-is crucial. It determines what we choose to see or not to
see. It determines how we relate the things we see. This perspective varies from
one person to another. I think we get closer to wisdom, and also to democracy,
when we add the perspectives of other people to our own.
It was not that there was not much that was wrong in Communist China; it was that American policy-makers acted as if there was not much that was wrong with the United States. Scholars, who pride themselves on speaking their minds, often engage in a form of self-censorship which is called "realism." To be "realistic" in dealing with a problem is to work only among the alternatives which the most powerful in society put forth. It is as if we are all confined to a, b, c, or d in the multiple choice test, when we know there is another possible answer. American society, although it has more freedom of expression than most societies in the world, thus sets limits beyond which respectable people are not supposed to think or speak. So far, too much of the debate on Vietnam has observed these limits.
To me this is a surrender of the role of the citizen in a democracy. The citizen's job, I
believe, is to declare firmly what he thinks is right. To compromise with politicians from the very start is to end with a compromise of a compromise. This weakens the moral force of a citizenry which has little enough strength in the shaping of governmental policy. Machiavelli cautioned the prince not to adopt the ethics of the citizen. It is appropriate now to suggest to the Citizen that he cannot, without sacrificing both integrity and power, adopt the ethics of the Prince."
I think Zinn's perspective and what I've chosen to excerpt indicates what he and I thought important and what I gained from reading this work ,but I want to emphasize that I highly appreciate the psychological analysis of people's perspectives and how they think about an issue.
On Resistance by Noam Chomsky
An piece exploring resistance to government actions and his own experience being inadvertently more directly involved in a resistance demonstration in Washington in 1967 (maybe the big one?) Although overall useful but once again there is a lack of context (which I only need because I’m not reading it when it came out in 1967 having followed the news for that week)
Vietnam 1945 to 1975: time-line (BBC)
¾ page time-line that was useful to provide the very basics of what happened when. From this I can deduce (and cautiously currently believe) that the powers fought over whether Vietnam should be independent and that the French were pretty much out in the 1950s before the US came in (although not until full force in the 60s)
Aggressive Liberalism by Howard Zinn
Not about Vietnam but about American exceptionalism and historical expansionism. It really is surprising to read about countries/states taking whatever they can.
Again there are many excerpts but they are all worth reading. I've bolded the parts that I think especially important:
"The concept of paradox is useful to our innocence. We keep it as a last defense, first erecting two other barriers. The first is not to look for, or not to see, those facts that challenge our deepest beliefs. The second is (when the world will not tolerate our ignorance) to keep separate in our consciousness those elements which, brought together, would explode the myths of our culture. When both those restraining walls collapse, we fall back, as an emergency measure, on the explanation: It's one of those paradoxes-an incredible but true combination.
The peace that followed the Revolutionary War was a nervous one, accompanied by the first waves of post-independence nationalist passion. The British were holding on to their military and trading posts on the northern frontier, the Spanish were in the Floridas to the south, the French soon in possession of New Orleans and the vast Louisiana territory to the north, and the Indians everywhere. War fever rose and fell in those years, against the British under Washington, against the French under Adams (intensified by the French Revolution), against also (ironically-but irony is normal in international affairs) those Irish revolutionaries who came to this country with the same fierce anti-British feeling that we held in our Revolution.
As we look into it, the Monroe Doctrine begins to look like the common tendency of all new nations to build a cordon sanitaire around themselves, and indeed to stretch
that far beyond the needs of self-defense. Russia in Eastern Europe, China in South Asia, Egypt in the Middle East, have all showed the same behavior. And in August of 1960, the prime Minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, told his National Assembly that he "would not be so presumptuous as to put forward a Monroe Doctrine for Africa" but that he thought African problems should be settled by African states. His statement had just the tone of righteousness and just the tone of paternal supervision that marked the United States in 1823, when James Monroe's presidential message to Congress promised that the United States would not interfere in the internal concerns of European countries, but also warned that "we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."
Expansionism was neither liberal nor conservative, Southern or Northern. It was a trait of the American nation, as of other nations, as of any unit bursting with power and privilege in a competitive, lawless world. The sentiment of the New York Post was not much different from that of Jefferson Davis, the Senator from Mississippi, who wrote just before the Civil War:
"We may expand so as to include the whole world. Mexico, Central America, South America, Cuba, the West India Islands, and even England and France we might annex without inconvenience...allowing them with their local legislatures to regulate their local affairs in their own way. And this sir, is the mission of this Republic and its ultimate destiny."
For instance, Frederick Merk, in Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History, a Reinterpretation, is unhappy with the idea that manifest destiny and imperialism represent the actual American spirit. He finds they are exceptions, and that the true American mood was that of "mission," of liberating other peoples, that the United States has been, in the main, "idealistic, self-denying, hopeful of divine favor for national aspirations, though not sure of it."
I would suggest another way of looking at the facts: that there is a similar principle, operating in domestic affairs and foreign affairs-for presumably liberal states as for other kinds of states: that in a world which has not yet developed either the mind or the mechanism for humane cooperation, power and privilege tend to be as rapacious as the degree of resistance by the victims will permit.
All this suggests that we need to stop looking with special fondness on that group of
Western states which represent, in those millions of textbooks distributed in high schools and colleges "Western civilization." Their external behavior is not an unfortunate departure from character. It is what their internal behavior would be if undeterred by a population whose greater literacy and greater activity (a necessity of modern industrial development) enabled them to at least partially resist."
It's great to read such a perspective and contrast with others.
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason (10% completed)
From Wikipedia: "Chickenhawk is Robert Mason's narrative of his experiences as a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. The book chronicles his enlistment, flight training, deployment to and experiences in Vietnam, and his experiences after returning from the war." Period is the early 1960s.
So far, it's great. As it is a narrative it is easier to listen to (I'm doing the audiobook) and it is engaging even though at this stage he has only talked about flight training and hasn't been in Vietnam. The prologue opened with him stating that he wanted to fly helicopters and he did this in Vietnam but the didn’t know at the time that:
-The French took Vietnam, after 20 years of fighting, in 1887
-US supported Ho Chi Minh in WWII against Japan
-After WWII, France wanted Vietnam back and the Americans consented to this.
-The free elections that were to be held in Vietnam in 1956 (as indicated in the Geneva accords) were blocked because Ho Chi Minh would have won them.
-The US supported Diem, and then had a hand in his overthrow and death in 1963
Whatta start! As you can see, this provides some of the information I was seeking (although at this point, I’ll treat it an opinion, although half the points seem more like facts)
I purchased Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, Marilyn Young’s The Vietnam Wars (as well as On Killing by Grossman, as I’d heard very good things and it was cheap second hand) As well, I have, but haven’t watched, a 11 part series which I have subsequently learned is based on Karnow's book and is called Vietnam: A Televised History (it is not based on the book the 10,000 days war like I thought). The first two parts which deal with the early history in the 40s and 50s will be very useful. As Karnow indicated, books can’t capture the visuals of TV, but TV can’t capture the complexity of books, so I’m happy to have both (but less so regarding the reduction of diversity).
Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow (Preface, Chapter 1)
I am trying to be properly critical and I realize that I already have a few notes on the first couple pages of Karnow’s work about how he has framed an issue (is he subtly not being hard enough on the US?), which will make this whole project too complicated. The book is over 700 pages, so even several lines of notes per page will be far more than I’m willing to type out. Consequently, I think I’ll go for broader brush statements.
I started to think of parallels between an individual’s tendency to not want to see their own moral failings and a country’s unwillingness to confront its own failings. The logic works something like this: Most of us have to see ourselves as good people, we see our countries as part of ourselves, so we must see our country as a good country. Negative situations are not due to immoral behaviour, just good intentions gone wrong. I’m not saying this is a valid analogy, but I believe there are useful parallels (or just the notion of expanding identity and then ‘typical’ human behaviour).
In chapter 1, Karnow provided a useful summary of Vietnam post 1975, the internal conflict, communist retractions and movements towards more open markets. It seems things did not go smoothly for Vietnam after the US left (not to say things were worse). Additionally, there were extras like knowing Bush had 500,000 troops for the first Gulf conflict and other actions of US foreign policy.
The Vietnam Wars by Marilyn Young (Preface)
I read the preface which was only two pages but it laid out some theories in a few more words of detail and her stance is quite apparent:
Vietnam: A History (Chapter 2)
This was about the efforts of other countries to influence/control Vietnam through missionary work and colonization in the 18th and 19th century. People with power seem to always want more power.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989) Directed by Oliver Stone, starring Tom Cruise (some spoilers)
This 1989 film based on the life of Ron Kovic, explored Kovic’s teenage patriotism and life before Vietnam and some horrors he experienced while there, but it is mostly the fallout from getting wounded and his subsequent reversal on the validity of the Vietnam war. Basically, Kovic goes from being an outspoken supported to being an outspoken opponent. I thought it was probably the best acting Cruise has ever done (and it was really odd to see him so powerless as he is often the reverse in his movies). The film was useful to highlight the various feelings of Americans about the war, the poor reception veterans received, and the trauma associated with someone who has become paralyzed and felt betrayed by their country.
It was also interesting to see a movie so old (on VHS) where the quality is so different from that in the present. I had managed to know almost nothing about the movie, so it was interesting to see where the plot went. I did think it wasn’t going to be as disheartening as it was (but it wasn’t as bad as Deer Hunter). This has been on my list for awhile so I’m pleased to have finally seen it, and it fits nicely into the current project.
(Yet, still not knowing too much about the early years 1945-1960; I hope to read about that soon).
Vietnam: A History (Chapter 3 - The Heritage of Vietnamese Nationalism)
Useful overview of nationalistic inclinations of the Vietnamese as they battled against China for over 1500 years until about 1425 where Vietnam had less intrusion from outside forces but still wasn’t stable internally due to power struggles. Additionally, there was brief coverage of the French’s involvement in the 1800s and a short tour through Ho Chi Minh’s fascinating life until the age of 50 or so.
The complexity of events is once again what stands out, as well as that Vietnam was also expansionist, that not all groups are unified, and that people and countries are inconsistent (what the French want at home is not what their dominated territories receive). I had no idea that Ho Chi Minh was so well-traveled (from across Asia, to Manhattan and London and Paris and back again) and that he spoke 5-6 languages. Additionally, as he was born in 1890, he was already getting to be an old man when fighting intensified in the 1950s.
Sort of finally getting to 1945.
Platoon (1986) Directed by Oliver Stone, starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe and many others
Far more about the war itself than Born on the Fourth, Platoon follows the life of a grunt on his one year tour of duty. There aren’t many political messages but the film shows the horrors of war, both when things go as they should as well as when they do not (i.e., soldiers hating each other and their leaders, shooting of innocents/villagers). The film gave a decent visual to the absurdity of fighting in a jungle, in the dark and/or in the rain. It certainly didn’t glamorize Vietnam, nor should it have (and it also made me think of whether any movie should glorify violence... I’m getting old). Berenger plays his role well and the movie moves at a decent pace; it was interesting to learn it received the Oscar for best picture that year as well as a few others.
[Starting to wonder if my breaks from reading about Vietnam should not be movies about Vietnam.]
Addendum (same day): I had a chance to watching a ‘making-of’ piece on the special features of Platoon and it actually changed my perception of the movie. This is because (1) Stone was actually in Vietnam; (2) he wrote the movie and based scenes and characters on his actual experiences (which others in his actual platoon could identify with and other vets thought to be realistic); and (3) all the actors in the movie had to go intensive 2-week training and Stone made the experience of making the movie as real as possible. Regarding the third point, there were no hotels or showers or protection from bugs or decent food, it was all like it was in the war. There were former soldiers that would set of bombs or fire nearby to surprise them while sleeping to give a taste of life and death situations. It got to the point where the actors would pretty much break down or snap at each other. Interestingly, the movie was pretty much shot as it appears, so Stone arranged it so that if someone died in the movie they were actually sent home. By the end there were only a few actors left. The making of the movie was quite incredible and most of the actors were shocked by it and thought Stone brilliant but close to crazy.
Finally, I learned that the movie has actually been used by some vets that didn’t want to talk about their experience to explain what they went through. Some things work on some many levels...
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 1 (1945-1946))
A short recap of history leading up to 1946 starting in the 1920s with emphasis on what happened in the 1930s and early 1940s. Basically, Vietnam’s struggles against the French and the Japanese, Ho Chi Minh’s unsuccessful efforts to persuade the American’s to assist Vietnam in its quest for independence (even though he quoted the Declaration in a large public speech), how different fractions within French controlled Vietnam did not want what had been vaguely agreed to by Minh and leaders in France and how both sides were finding the pull of war increasingly strong.
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 2 (1946-1954))
In this chapter I learned about American efforts to link Ho Chi Minh with Russian or Chinese communism, even though Minh was not aligned towards those powers but simply wanted independence and was nationalistic. The Americans were even vaguely threatened by the French about a possible French lapse towards communism, so the US thought it should prioritize a stable and powerful France to assist in the new world order the US was ‘creating.’ To stabilize France the US provided them with assistance; both direct financial aid and the allowance to transfer aid meant for domestic reconstruction for the French’s war in Vietnam. The US also believed in the domino theory, so Vietnam couldn’t become communist or the whole region would. With these facts one can at least get a glimpse of the ‘logic’ behind their actions towards Vietnam. Finally, the Vietnamese were happy to have some assistance from China and were able to defeat the (hubristic) French through Guerrilla tactics and determination.
Useful excerpt: “By 1950, the war had assumed the shape it would retain until its end four years later: Viet Minh control most of the countryside, north to south; French control the cities, north to south."
Another interesting absurdity was when the Viet Minh, the day before the French command surrendered at Diembienphu on May 7, 1954, sang the song of French resistance (written to inspired partisans against the Nazi invaders) to their French enemies several hundred yards away. Even more absurd is that there were former SS men fighting on the French side!
Chicken Hawk (20% completed)
Mason has now arrived in Vietnam (1965), has been digging holes and learning of the harshness of life there and in the military. He is becoming a better pilot and he is starting to see combat for the first time. We learn of helicopter flying patterns and the rapport of the men.
Probably the thing most interesting to me was when Mason and crew met an old Vietnamese man who thought that they were the French. One of crew spoke to the man in French and told him that they were American. The old man had never heard of America or Americans, but he did tell the crew that Ho Chi Minh was a great man and the one to unify and lead the country. The crew was confused because of course, to them Minh was the enemy (also, how odd would it be to meet someone who has never heard of America if you are an American and you're there to fight for them?).
One little story/incident like that says so much about the situation.
Chicken Hawk (30% completed)
Little about the politics or policies, so if you don't know about the war you won't really be understanding the larger picture. Still 1965, Mason is seeing more experience in combat. Here we see Mason's anger towards the cowardice of his co-pilot (who is his commanding officer).
Also, Mason discusses flying and his trip to Saigon where he discovers the discrepancy of resources allocated to different units/areas (he has none of a uniform and another guy has 8 fresh ones)
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 3 (1954-1956))
A very important chapter that discusses the Geneva Accords of 1954 that partitioned the country along the 17th parallel. Ho Chi Minh et al. in the North and US supported people in the South. Despite Viet Minh success and control, none of the powers (China, Russia, France, Britain, US) really recognized this at the conference (for various real politik reasons). The US didn't quite sign on to the accords and backed Diem with finances and strategists. They laid the groundwork for challenging the elections which everyone agreed would occur in July 1956.
Additionally, we learn that the north instituted flawed land reform policies in 1965 but examined the problem and reversed many of the errors. The people were generally content with the new structure. Despite this, the land reform policy would be used as an excuse to show that the people were being mistreated and to justify action against them. Once Diem was in power, anyone who had fought against the French was treated with hostility (arrested, jailed or sent to re-education camps) and he also removed local community leadership lest someone who didn't agree politically be representing a group of people.
The North waited for the elections (even the Southerners who have moved to the North as part of the Accords) but the US wouldn't have it. A State Department report stated that "Almost any type of election would ... give the Communists a very significant if not decisive advantage." (p52) The US treated Vietnam as their democracy baby - a baby that had to grow and flourish and change the region. They championed Diem (despite some misgivings) and welcomed him when he visited Washington.
The problem is, once again, it seems that the US has democracy at home but does not want to export it. As Young closes the chapter: "...what the United States had labored mightily to produce was not a democratic independent new nation-state but an autocratic ruling family held in place by a foreign power." (p59)
[I'm finally understanding the groundwork for the US intervention and their rationale]
The Legacy of the Vietnam War (1982) Noam Chomsky interviewed by Paul Shannon
This short interview was important as it presented several “revolutionary/heretical” ideas about the war in Vietnam as well as some useful observations about why the US lost that increased my understanding. Basically, the US engaged in a war with South Vietnam and antagonized the north, it wasn’t really about North vs. South. Additionally, public support was so low that it constrained the options of the US politicians and policy makers. I thought it odd Chomsky didn’t mention the perceived Communist threat; too often he doesn’t offer the underlying rationale (valid or not) for US aggression.
Some enlightening excerpts:
…the real [US] invasion of South Vietnam which was directed largely against the rural society began directly in 1962 after many years of working through mercenaries and client groups. And that fact simply does not exist in official American history. There is no such event in American history as the attack on South Vietnam. That's gone. Of course, it is a part of real history. But it's not a part of official history.
And most of us who were opposed to the war, especially in the early '60's -- the war we were opposed to was the war on South Vietnam which destroyed South Vietnam's rural society. The South was devastated. But now anyone who opposed this atrocity is regarded as having defended North Vietnam. And that's part of the effort to present the war as if it were a war between South Vietnam and North Vietnam with the United States helping the South. Of course it's fabrication. But it's "official truth" now.
Usually wars like the Vietnam war are fought with mercenaries -- like the French Foreign Legion. The U.S. tried to fight what amounts to a colonial war with a conscript army. And a colonial war is a very dirty kind of war. You're not fighting armed forces. You're fighting mostly unarmed people. And to fight that kind of war requires professional killers, which means mercenaries. The 50,000 Korean mercenaries we had in Vietnam were professional killers and just massacred people outright. And the American army did plenty of that too, but it couldn't take it after awhile. It's not the kind of job you can give to conscripts who are not trained to be murderers.
Let me make one final point about the peace movement which is often forgotten. When you look back at the internal documents that we have now you can see that when the big decision was made around the Tet Offensive in 1968 -- about whether or not to send a couple hundred thousand more troops -- one of the factors was that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were concerned that they would not have enough troops for internal control of the domestic American population. They feared tremendous protest and disruption at home if they sent more troops to Vietnam. This means that they understood the level of internal resistance to be virtually at the level of civil war.
Q: What is the current U.S. foreign policy toward Indochina?
Chomsky: Well, towards Indochina I think the main policy is what's called "bleeding Vietnam". Even conservative business groups outside the United States are appalled at what the United States has been doing.
We fought the war to prevent Indochina from carrying out successful social and economic development. Well, I think the chances of that happening are very slight because of the devastation, because of the brutality of war. But the U.S. wants to make sure it will continue. And therefore we first of all of course refused any reparations. We refused aid. We try to block aid from other countries. We block aid from international institutions. I mean, sometimes it reaches a point of almost fanatic effort to make them suffer.
(Many more facts for me to check out)
Chickenhawk (45% completed)
In chapter 5 now, still 1965. Mason describes the boredom and depression that results from hanging around the dusty and muddy surroundings of base camp while waiting for some action. He talks about reading news reports that the US is winning and turning the tide and how they all believed them. Additionally, most of the men were angered by the protesters back home. He mentions fatigue factors and that pilots should only be flying 4 hours a day... and later tells of stories when it was 8 hours, 15 or even higher sometimes.
Some of the crew were complaining that the Viet Cong wasn't respecting the Geneva Accords by using certain weapons or attacking Red Cross helicopters. Mason replied that he didn't think the Viet Cong had signed the Accords and he knew the US didn't. He also pointed out that they had shotguns which the Accord prohibited. Upon hearing this, a warrant officer questioned: "Whose side are you on?"
Mason: It may sound bad, but if neither side signed the agreement, then one side can hardly accuse the other of breaking the agreement.
Warrant: You can if the other side is a bunch of f--king g--ks!
I think that says quite a lot.
The latter parts are mainly about actual missions; flying in, out of and around hot zones; the witnessing of death and wondering if it is worth it. As well as disagreement with instructions from superiors (there would logically be a difference between the inclination of a solider to engage in dangerous activity and the commanding officers inclination for the soldier to engage in that activity).
Vietnam: A Television history (Part I – The Roots of a War)
Excellent! It was extremely useful to have visuals to go with what I have read. At this point, there wasn’t much new content but I got to see interviews with the actual people who attended the Geneva Accords, see footage of Ho Chi Minh, watch various examples of battles and fighting tactics, especially Diembienphu. Great to put faces to names and to even see the person say words that I’ve read as quotations. At Diembienphu, you hear the absurd story from a surviving French officer that they stacked dead bodies like sandbags to act as a shield at the entrance.
It was reaffirmed that the US backed Minh in 1945 against Japan, but what was new was learning of a terrible famine that killed 2 million (of the 8 million) that lived in the North. The imagery was properly disturbing.
I did learn that the US was supporting the French more and earlier than I expected. In the 1940s and 1950s, the US was supplying millions and eventually a billion a year.
The Chinese supported the Vietnamese and this concerned the Americans even more. Although Vietnam had an antagonistic relationship with China and were not politically aligned, of course they took the weapons to resist the French (with American support). This probably lead to the US thinking they were justified in their concern about communism taking over Asia (as it was thought Russia and China were monolithic in their political leanings).
The doc highlighted that people were greatly anticipating the elections in two years (good to have first person accounts).
Again, a great supplement to the texts I’ve read; this will be a useful series.
I was reminded of the absurd lengths that Minh went through to fight for his country… and the larger war with the US hasn’t even begun!
(Still haven't gotten to detail about the 60s...)
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 4 (1956-1962))
A very useful description of Diem’s terrorizing the countryside with intimidation, arrests, detentions, and torture. As these things kept happening, along with land policies farmers thought unjust, there were resistance movements building in the south. The North still urged for no revolution and to have things at a slower pace. It seemed for several years people just didn’t fight back because they were trying to engage peacefully or politically. By 1960 this policy was formally reversed and the 'revolution' in the South had the moral support of the North.
Here is Young's perspective on Washington's perspective on insurgencies: "they were the toxic byproduct of the disruptive process of modernization, in the course of which a small band of ruthless outside agitators were able toe exploit the poverty and confusion of a passive population through propaganda and intimidation in order to seize state power on behalf of communism."
(although flawed in many ways, I quite appreciate understanding the 'logic' of the US stance.
Kennedy was conflicted, comparisons with Korea and reminders of China as a threat (and don't waste energy on the 'non-country' of Laos)
Despite continuing implications of the North, the majority (80-90%) of the guerrillas were southern.
In spring of 1961 there was a joint US- Vietnamese testing centre to examine herbicidal warfare. From 1962-1970, "one hundred million pounds of herbicides would be dropped on over four million acres of South Vietnam."
Village XB to demonstrate how the Viet Cong would be truly aligned with the villages while the Diem regime just wanted to use them and there was a lack of mutual trust.
Finally, a brief discussion of the US helicopter companies deployed in 1962 that brought napalm and large machine guns (which the 'insurgents' eventually learned to engage with).
Vietnam: A Television History (Part II –America’s Mandarin)
Once again, so very useful to have the visuals and the interviews.
We learn that Diem was a staunch Catholic that was monk-like when at seminary in New Jersey as well as that hundreds of thousands of catholics moved from north to south (they had helped the French and they feared reprisals). We then soon learn that US propaganda convinced, insisted and then almost forced them to do so.
The US held up Diem to the world as their miracle man who would save the region from communism, but Diem happily took their praise, dollars and weapons, but not their advice.
There is an amusing/saddening clip of Eisenhower in 1967 saying, incredulously, that "we had a dictator controlling more than half the country... and if there were elections he’d get 100 of the vote!" How dare he get all the votes in a free election!
-How banal murder can sound when the phrase used is "Eliminated."
A bit of Kennedy vs. Khrushchev, the struggle for new nations, Bay of Pigs embarrassment, so something had to be done. When watching Kennedy discuss Vietnam, he does not look comfortable.
- Diem didn’t want US combat forces because he was worried about a coo; he was defensive and hostile.
In 1963 there was a Buddhist demonstration to protest how the state police unnecessarily killed 8 people. This wasn’t taken seriously by Diem and was met with force, but the protests kept going. At one point, a monk set himself on fire. The pictures of self-immolation went around the world. In the summer 1963, Buddhist demonstrations lead to voicing of other concerns and the South was becoming less stable. At this point there are 16,000 american soliders (called advisers) and the US is spending 1.5 million a day.
In the end, the US let a military coo occur and since Diem was recalcitrant he ended up dead.
-Kennedy believed that it was the "the people fighting communism." It really seemed beyond comprehension that the people might want to be communists, not because of propaganda, but because it made the most sense. (This is misleading anyway, because the movement was primarily a nationalistic one).
-Even the generals admitted that they needed the US aid to continue the war (which is why they checked with the US before the coo).
Comparison note: This doc had less mention of the terrorizing the countryside but it was mentioned (hard to know of that was purposefully omitted or just under the general constraints of the documentary).
Chickenhawk (55% completed)
Here we see Mason's experiences with the horrors of war: Mason and a crew member find one their own mutilated and hanging upside down from a tree - his skin was removed. Mason comments that this mutilated guy was the one who bragged about having jungle combat training. The implication was that if he couldn’t make it on his own without cover for a short period of time, no one could.
In another section, we hear of the soldiers drinking in town and talking with a Vietnamese officer who said that the Americans were like hairy apes and smelled like greasy meat. He also didn't like them intruding in their internal conflict and taking their women.
A startling story was when a commander told Mason that they had to transport some ARVN (South Vietnamese fighting for South Vietnam, supposedly allied with the US) in his helicopter. He told Mason that some of them might not want to get out when you land so you might have to force them out. Additionally, have the gunners watching them carefully as some ARVN have gotten out of the helicopter, turned around and shot up the whole thing. (crazy!)
Now in chapter 6, late 1965. A colonel was reprimanding his officers for acting inappropriately (drunken stupidity and whoring basically). He told them that the VD rate had quadrupled and there was too much fraternization with the women in town. The colonel actually (but reluctantly) suggested masturbation to deal with the problem. The troops were amused and snarky.
General stories of life and war, one where Mason talks about damaging his chopper on a root.
Also, we here about his unit CAV getting positive press and feeling like superstars, and another instant where he was asked to fly more elaborately because it was being filmed (and his wife actually saw this on tv at home).
There are two larger issues which I've been thinking about given the recent learning and exposure: prostitution and one's self concept.
(1) Prostitution and harassment of Vietnamese women. It is hard not to see this as a huge issue and given how many there were and how much it disrupted the social and economic situation. Given that every girl is someone's daughter or sister or mother, it is understandable that resentment/loathing would build.
(2) I'm going to assume that many good American boys never thought they would be doing drugs, using prostitutes or committing unjustified violence. This might destroy a person's self-concept, or at least challenges it to the breaking point. It might our idea of ourselves that dies in war.
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter Five (1963))
A brief look at the press coverage and how it was negatively impacting the war (except for the positive fluff pieces), but more an analysis Diem and his resistance to US advice. Reading about Diem’s concerns, he really does seem like a nationalist, which is what Ho Chi Minh is, but to Minh I imagine Diem seemed like a US puppet... and even more interesting is that some in the US were concerned the US was a puppet to Diem because he took their resources but not their advice. Oh, self-interested clouded perceptions. Following the Televised History (part 3) I read more about the Buddhist protesting and it provided much more context. Basically, Diem favoured the Catholics and this had been alienating the majority Buddhists. On Buddha's birthday, Diem's government troops would conduct sweeps each year. In 1963, there was a ban on the flying of any flat but the national one. Buddhist defied this in their villages, there was a clash and 9 Buddhists died when the troops fired on the crowd. Two days later, 10,000 Buddhists marched to protest the killings, Diem jailed the leaders - a move the US opposed. Publicly, the turning point was when the 66 Buddhist set himself on fire as this called attention to the issue around the world. One almost has to ask "why would someone set themselves on fire?" This chapter had a bit more editorializing and we see Americans unwilling or unable to accept the notion of a political settlement and a non-US controlled, neutral South Vietnam (Diem’s brother even thought of negotiating with the North). Diem and his brother ended up dead. Young presents it as the US let the assignation happen, but the Televised history indicates they offered Diem an out but he was defiant. Ah, history... An example of the complexity of the war can be seen in Kennedy's question to two advisers who had just reported on their experiences in Vietnam: Do you go to the same country? Young makes an important point regarding the labeling of the Viet Cong. Attempting concision, the US thought it was creating a new state in South Vietnam instead of it really being 1/2 an old country that had long been fighting for its independence. Consequently, the US believed resistance to the government in South Vietnam couldn't have come from the South, it must be from the North. This resistance was called the National Liberation Front (NLF) and it was thought to be supported by Hanoi (the North). The fact that NLF had soldiers that were recruited locally didn't matter for "in the act of joining the NLF a villager become a Viet Cong, and thus an outsider. American reporters, like American government officials, never referred to the members of the NLF, civilian or military as South Vietnamese.
Chickenhawk (65% completed)
Mason discusses his denial about the politics of how the US got into Vietnam (obviously a retrospective), that the he thought 80% of the population support Ho Chi Minh except in the US controlled cities. It's about January 1966, and there are more tales of military operations and the different perspectives from grunts on pilots. An amusing story is when Mason tells of Nancy Sinatra's These Boots were made for walking being interrupted by some Viet Cong who tapped into the broadcasting frequency and would repeated say "F--k you GI!" They couldn't help but find it absurdly funny and the reader ends up feeling the same way.
Good Morning Vietnam (1987) Directed by Levinson, Starring Robin Williams.
This dramatic comedy takes place in 1965, and the first thing was noticing Forest Whitaker is in this (I had completely forgotten) and, forgive the esoterica, the guard in T2 who dies getting his coffee is in it (with his twin). It was a comedy with few political messages, the primary one being that of censorship, as well as at one point an emotional Vietnamese who is found out to support the Viet Cong forcefully and emotionally tells Robin Williams that the US was the enemy. A lot of it certainly was Williams doing improve, the stuff on the radio was better than that in jeep. What was really interesting (spoiler) was that the guy doesn’t get the girl which is so odd for movies, even of this type. It also ended a bit abruptly. Decent flick, but the plot was kind of thin.
Vietnam: A Televised History - Part 3 - LBJ Goes to War (1965-1966)
Opens with clips of Kennedy and LBJ describing the domino theory; interesting to see footage of helicopters firing (as Chickenhawk obviously has no visuals); and LBJ mentions his war on poverty.
The doc stated that both parties had intensified support, VC stepped up their attacks and then they show little children being hurt or crying. I dislike this lack of context. Exactly what happened?
One good line was when an interviewee said "The final domino is not some Asian country but the presidency itself."
There was also an excellent explanation of the gulf of Tonkin incident, primarily because of the visuals. Basically, early morning July 31st, there were two attacks from South Vietnam against two small islands in the North (with CIA support). The next day the US Maddox was patrolling around the area, sometimes as close as five miles (not international waters). The next day, August 2nd, the Maddox was 10 miles off one of the islands raided early and the North linked this with the South attacks and attacked 6 hours later. A second incident was said to have happened, the North has always denied it and then the doc shows a deputy director of the CIA saying at the time he was unsure and then several days later believed it was unsound/unsupported. This incident was used by LBJ to push a 'war against Vietnam' resolution through (only 2 dissented out of the congress AND senate) and was able to remove the war as a campaign issue.
The doc describes three attacks on US in as many months and how various people within the US wanted to bomb the North (but Johnson resisted). Problematically, the doc doesn’t present what bombing/military actions were being taken against the North (as I now know this was already happening a bit) or against the NLF.... and why bomb the north?
George Bell remarks that bombing the North wouldn't be like it was with the Nazis in WWII because the North had no industry to destroy and the people were more determined.
The viewer is show footage of a bridge being bombed year after year (such is war I guess).
US troops were sent in to defend air base, but then given permission to patrol and kill VC. The press asked about this change in policy and it was shrugged off (almost with a good defense is offence line).
The doc gives the impression that Ho didn’t negotiate and turned the US down (on a damming project). This seems peculiar and there is no mention of the US repeated denying the North's attempts to negotiate.
The doc quotes LBJ as saying "American wins the wars it is in... the war on ignorance... the war on poverty..." I don't know if I laughed out loud, but it was just so comical.
There was little analysis in this part so it was a bit disappointing for history without context is close to useless.
Air War in Vietnam (one hour doc from the Modern Combat series)
This is pretty much an apolitical American-centric presentation of the airplanes and helicopters used in Vietnam. At the beginning we hear America lost the war but it is framed as America helping the south from the North.
More bombs dropped than in WWII
The battle of Khe Sanh lasted 77 days. I know battles in other wars have lasted for months if not years but it still seems so absurd to think about.
It did seem like there was some generic “Asian” music for the Vietnamese scenes and more powerful music of the American ones.
At the end of the war there is the introduction of night vision from planes.
The lines at the end of the doc are worth quoting: "Tens of thousands of men fought in the skies above Vietnam and millions of rounds of ammunition were fired for very few tangible results."
Finally, it is "highly unlikely such a one-sided war in the air will ever be fought again."
Chickenhawk (70% done)
Not many notes but an important one: Mason describes the sophistication of a bench and a waterwheel (actually from previous part) and realizes that these villagers aren't so simple-minded and perhaps they are at the height of their designs given their level of technology. He was so impressed with a bench because it didn't have any nails in it yet it could support his weight. His fellow soldier wasn't because they were obviously too dumb to have nails.
Other than that, some missions and stories of drinking and whoring (trips were pretty much organized in the surrounding countries for when they had time off).
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter six (1963-1964))
A description of the movement to bomb the North even though internal documents indicate that it wouldn't change the war in the South. There were detractors and warnings that it would be in effective, but it was thought the threat of force would cause the North to cease operations/support for the South (which was a misunderstanding of the situation).
Gulf of Tonkin coverage was a little different from the Televised History, but basically similar. Young doesn't mince words "that was it; the first and only incident in the Gulf of Tonkin"
She really makes clear that Tonkin was used to give the President powers that Congress usually doesn't bestow (i.e., to wage war) and how there was little dissent among the politicians and some not even caring about the truth of the matter. Some politicians felt betrayed and lied to when the truth came out years later. Additionally, reporters did not question the validity of the Tonkin incident or whether the response was appropriate.
I may have been more skeptical had I not lived through the media and politics surrounding the invasion of Iraq. Sketchy intel and and unquestioning press?
It really seems like they don't learn from their own history.
Vietnam: A Television History - Part 4 1965-1967
This segment begins with the repeated framing that the war was to stop communists from taking over and that the advisory effort had failed. Annoyingly there is no questioning or contextualizing this and especially the 'advisory' effort.
It showed a US propaganda film and former soldiers discussed the complexity of Vietnam and how some ARVN wouldn’t fight. Basically the same people, one group won't fight and the other (VC) will fight to the death. Why? This is a question that wasn't really asked to their superiors.
One soldier said that most of the time they were dealing with mines and snipers while the villagers kept harvesting rice... therefore they must be VC sympathizers. It was hard not to see all the Vietnamese as the enemy.
The destruction of villages and people's homes really does seem absurd. I understand the tactics but it still seems like there should have been a better way (i.e., negotiated settlement)
There was a good interview with a guy realizing that maybe they were on the wrong side but he said that one didn't think about this at the time. Later we see him tearfully saying he does have nightmares about killing an old woman who was unarmed and running away in a rice field.
On January, 1967, there was a dramatic firefight in a village and we get to hear the story from both sides.
Americans were shot at for 36 hours, 19/11 died, they didn't know who was who and they were in panic mode.
The Vietnamese said they burned their houses, shot their farm animals and even burned the children they just killed so they couldn't even treat the body. An old woman spoke about Americans coming into her hut and then throwing a grenade in it and killing her 9 family members, she being the only one that survived. She didn't seem to understand why they would do it. Another man, who was a boy at the time, said things were so horrible he couldn't even say (he was only alive because when he was shot other dead people fell on him and he hid).
One American said he cared only about his comrades and it was almost like he was convincing himself that what he did was right. He also said "I didn’t shoot old ladies and kids... half the guys in my squad didn’t, because that wasn’t the fight." It really seemed like he didn't realize he implied that the other half did!
There was another veteran interviewed (in a wheelchair). He was drafted, young, self-described as naive and was in this odd situation where he realized people were going to kill him. He said he say 5-6 US dead before they shot at any VC due to their own errors. People would be shot in the back because the person behind them tripped or hit the trigger. It's just so absurd.
One of my favourite parts was this guy speaking out loud about his thoughts back then when he started to think that perhaps they might not be on the right side if the people are working so hard to fight them. “I started thinking for the first time... what the hell is communism. I couldn’t even define it.”
Chickenhawk 80% completed
Mason tells more stories of whoring, drinking, and friends dying. We also hear about his unit being shelled by the VC and almost dying. As well, that many of the troops thought the war would be over soon. McNamara said it might be over next year so some of the boys wouldn't even finish their tour (approx a year).
Mainly because of how he tells it, there is a funny story about Mason and a prostitute where he asks if she is sick down there. The girl is offended "Me sick? No!" ... and he later gets VD.
Democracy wasn't the only thing that was being spread. Hiyooooo
Chickenhawk (93% completed)
Again, we hear stories of missions, drinking and whoring, but in this section we see a bit more discussion about the war itself and its execution. His superior says that Mason’s previous unit and the air strikes don’t really help the cause: As soon as you kill all those civilians, you can’t make any progress in the war. Several in his crew do start to wonder why they are there in the first place.
Mason switches units and finds the new one is more lackadaisical regarding regulations (busing in hookers, using the helicopters to transport and sell ice, and other things previously prohibited, but they did get the job done). We also hear of comments from McNamara and LBJ about how they are currently winning the war and that it will be won (such statements almost seem comical in retrospect).
More disturbingly, Mason describes how they were to transport 21 prisoners who had done some gruesome things (killed US soldiers, cut of their penises and put them in their mouths). Another trooper was overtaken by vengeance and began executing the tied up prisoners. Mason exclaimed "It's murder" but didn't take overt action to stop it.
Finally, there is the incident of Mason inspecting a village that was bombed and his terrible experience of seeing an old woman burned to the barbed wire encapsulating the village. Let freedom reign...
Camden 28 (2007) Directed by Anthony Giacchino
This was a very interesting story but only a decent documentary (still worth watching though). The latter comment is due to one or several structural flaws that are hard to describe exactly but the doc didn't quite flow like it should have. The primary issue was that the audience should have been provided with a bit more context (as it shouldn't be assumed people lived through that time period).
Broadly, the film is about twenty-eight members of the "Catholic Left" who were arrested in 1971 for attempting to break into and vandalize a draft board in Camden, New Jersey.
It was a film about the US domestic situation in Vietnam, the nature and purpose of civil disobedience, the workings of the FBI and how states treat their population. It was also a very significant court case. Delightfully, Howard Zinn makes a brief appearance in the doc (and made an important one in the trial by laying out the history of American civil disobedience).
Chickenhawk (100% completed!)
In the final parts of this book we hear another couple stories of close calls and friends dying. Mason is becoming increasingly unstable in that he is anxious, can't sleep without pills and is irritable. He has finally finished his tour and returns to the US from a long Saigon flight. He has been away from his child for half the child's life and his wife seemed surreal.
Mason describes the troubles he had integrating into society and he came to realize he, like many Vietnam veterans, was suffering from PTSD. Mason was labeled a partly disabled veteran due to the cognitive/physical complications he was enduring.
There were odd jobs, moving to different places, but his mood was still off, he still need tranquilizers to sleep and he was drinking heavily at points (over a bottle of whiskey a day). His relationship with his wife was strained, to an almost terminal point. He did go back to school and learned more about the protest movement (as the war was still going on) and he came to believe he hadn't really fought something worth fighting.
Mason and his wife almost ruined themselves while he wrote this memoir. At the end of the memoir we don't know if the book is published but we do know Mason was arrested for marijuana trafficking; he being as surprised as anyone that he ended up in such a position.
Subsequently, one can know that "Chickenhawk became a New York Times best-seller in 1984, and remained on the list for 17 weeks."
I've also rarely seen such a distribution of customer reviews on Amazon.
Mason describes a chilling recurring nightmare he would have: He was in a compound of sorts and a truck would be backing up. The door would open and it was filled with dead babies. The driver asked how many he would like. Mason would say 200 pounds and the man would start using a pitchfork to transfer them. But Mason noticed that babies were actually alive as they were being stabbed and placed on a scale.
Regardless of his other problems, I am happy that Mason eventually realized his problems were not to due to an inherent, individual inferiority, but the experiences he had while in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 7 (1964-1965)
We read about how the NLF wants self-determination and the US is opposed. They argue for 'neutralism' and the US opposed it because the result wouldn't be what they wanted.
As Young states, "The dilemma Johnson faced was painfully clear; Kennedy had faced it before him, Nixon would after him. Any government in Saigon that aspired to popular support was likely to seek peace with the NLF an in time probably reunification as well." (p.126)
There was an increased US desire to extend the war but lacking decent rationales and rarely a dissenting voice (George Ball seemingly being the only exception)
A new tidbit was that in mid-1964 de Gaulle renewed his call for neutrality and urged reconvening the Geneva conference of 1954, and the Secretary General of UN (U Thant) urged direct negotiations between the US and the North and began to arrange them, but waited for the US election. The North was ready but the US didn't respond, so U Thant publicly criticized the US in Feb 1965.
We also hear of proposals following the Goldilocks principle: One too soft, one too hard, one just right, but all them military. The US thought of its bombing of the North as a bargaining chip. Johnson's people kept pushing him to increase military action, so he eventually green-lit operation Rolling Thunder.
Problematically, it was found (even near the time) that the bombing just increased the NLF's determination to overcome the US imperialism.
In Feb 1965, Ambassador Taylor warned about involving US troops on the ground as it would be full of complications. Also around this time, the NY Times ran a piece that showed a map of the worldwide demonstrations against US policies.
The US had now expanded the war to the North, established a friendly government in Saigon, had their own troops under their control, in short, what many had always wanted. But things still didn't work out, this is almost obvious when you read stories about Marines in helicopters mowing down villagers simple because they run from a helicopter (which I imagine, after it happens once and their is a witness it would be hard not to run if know the helicopters will kill you).
There is also more content of how the US treated villagers, how the villagers felt about that, how the ARVN wasn't fully supporting US efforts and didn't rally want to fight the VC (many desertions).
Vietnam: A Television History - Part 5 (1954-67)
This part was called "America's Enemy" so there isn't an increase in the chronological coverage but a greater examination of who the US was fighting.
There is a decent description of the NLF and its resistance to the US supported Saigon government; how material flowed along the "Ho Chi Minh trail" (not one single route); it describes how many NLF returned to the North and waited for the elections; that the North expanded economically and was doing better before it was bombed again. The doc mentioned how NLF landmines would take out ambulances and such fears lead to no teachers or doctors visiting villages... even though it seemed that only the village/hamlet leaders/politicians were the ones being killed. A rough description was the that VC would kill the heads of a village and the US would destroy an entire village.
The NLF would make bombs from the undetonated ones the US dropped. There are also some terrible scenes of some really old people crying while their village was being burned.
The 1965 bombing of the North, called operation Rolling Thunder, was to "last a couple weeks, a few months at most... it went on for 3 years."
The documentary also presents an interview with a US military man who was tortured by having his shoulders out of joint and other things done to his legs. During the horror, he said that he heard a man crying and screaming in the distance and he thought that person must be being tortured too... he then realized it was him. He said that his "will gave out before his heart stopped beating" and because of this perceived failure of personal integrity, he was in "abject misery" for the next 7 years of his imprisonment.
Purposeful or inadvertent, we then get a contrast with an VC informant woman who was tortured by putting sticks under her finger nails and when she would not yield information, they electrified her nipples with each shock slamming her to the ground (with two American advisers always there). The doc implied she didn't give in; that her nationalist passion was unbroken by the torture.
Many of the smaller islands around Vietnam were subject to heavy bombing so the people built tunnels. One particular set of tunnels took 2 years to build and there would be 200-1000 people in it. A woman even gave birth to her child in there (they would go out to get food and water at times). What strikes me is the longevity. Two years to build some tunnels (I'm sure it was gradual expansion). What a terrible existence it would have been.
Vietnam: A Television History - Part 6 (1968)
This 'chapter' was about the Tet offensive of 1968 (Tet being the Vietnamese new year celebration). Typically, the US had been attacked in the winter months, but also that there was a ceasefire around the time of Tet. The Tet Offensive was the first time the NLF/VC/North Vietnamese had taken the battles to the cities and it was a large scale, simultaneous attack on numerous cities.
Before this new year LBJ thought something would be coming and so did Westmoreland, and although it was a military victory for the US as they killed many more than they lost and were able to hold most of their positions, it was a political victory for the Vietnamese as the American public couldn't handle seeing so many US losses and brutality. When a US backed general executed a prisoner in handcuffs most people thought this isn't how we should be doing things.
The internal memos and cables indicated success, but the viewers at home reversed that. It was almost cables vs. cable. American public lead to believe Tet couldn’t have happened, so they were shocked and if there was no end date, they should just get out.
One GI talked about the smell of death and how it was so pervasive that you couldn't escape it, even when eating.
Additionally, the battles in South Vietnam were fought more by the Northern armies and in a more conventional way after Tet.
-The new secretary of defence, Clifford, came to realize that they shouldn’t be in the war (unknowns, war of attrition, no sign of VC giving up so...), and there was an internal group to change LBJ’s mind.
-Congress increased pressure to win or get out. They forced Johnson to decrease domestic programs (war was too expensive), and Johnson didn't go all in because he was concerned about greater Russian or Chinese involvement if the war escalated.
There was also domestic dissent at a high level as Senator Eugene McCarthy (the peace candidate) challenged Johnson in the primary (running against the war) and it was close. Although winning that challenge, Johnson decides not to run again (perhaps thinking Bobby Kennedy would win... but that obviously didn't work out).
Finally, after Tet the VC were still attacking but now there were also some peace talks in Paris.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey
(Non-detailed spoiler alert)
A classic war movie that has provided our culture with several references, but it isn’t really enjoyable to watch. The movie is basically split into two parts: basic training and then Vietnam deployment.
The basic training is a lesson in brainwashing and abuse from a extremist drill sergeant (Ermey). There are some very funny insults (these are the classics and what I used to joke around with in undergrad) but it is mixed with such brutality that the humour doesn’t last long. It has many disturbing parts, primarily surrounding a wannabe marine that doesn’t seem to have what it takes. Eventually the abuse becomes too much and he loses.
Then an abrupt shift to almost an entirely different movie (despite still following a main character).
Now they are in Vietnam (“me so horny”), in the cities and eventually fighting in the cities (during the Tet offensive). Giving Kubrick the benefit of the doubt, the movie didn’t have much a point because the war didn’t have much of a point. The troops didn’t seem to know why they were doing what they were doing and there is no decent explanation offered.
I remembered why I didn’t like it that much the first time (but was worth seeing again because of my current project).
Nearly all of the movie seemed so absurd to me because I know more context now, but regardless war seems so resource intensive and inefficient (because so many innocents die). Having these men with guns wander around trying to kill other men/women with guns just seems like such a bad idea and a waste of resources. Of course, this is how things have to be sometimes, but Vietnam was not one of those.
Once again, I realized that I would not do well in the military. I’d be resistant and asking “why?” so much that I’d be kicked out or court marshaled within days.
It was also reaffirmed was that the true enemy of war is war itself.
Addendum: I just learned this interesting fact from the wiki entry: R. Lee Ermey actually served as a U.S. Marine Drill Instructor during the Vietnam War. Based on this experience he ad-libbed much of his dialog in the movie. Also that Michael Herr, who wrote Dispatches, co-wrote the movie.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 8 (1965-1966)
This chapter ("The American Invasion of South Vietnam") is about how the US further decided to move into South Vietnam (with political action and the increase of ground troops). Young demonstrates there were more memos and internal discussions about what to do about the problems in Vietnam.
A key problem was the inability to permanently secure an area: After a long battle the US would ‘win’ and then leave... and then the VC would be back.
In April 1965 Johnson has said "Our objective is the independence of South Viet-nam and its freedom from attack. We want nothing for ourselves - only that the people of South Viet-nam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way. We will do everything necessary to reach that objective, and we will do only what is absolutely necessary." It's like Johnson doesn't realize what he is saying, as this would mean that the US wouldn't be there; that, as Young states, this statement would mean "the complete withdrawal of the United States, negotiations among the South Vietnamese participants, and, ultimately, between North and South." Indeed, this is what critics argued. It’s like the US just couldn’t let a country’s people decide their own path – the hypocrisy is sickening actually.
Johnson would repeatedly state that he was willing to begin unconditional negotiations, but that was a lie as there were conditions such as VC operations ceasing, that the South continue its separate existence, that the NLF couldn't be involved in political negotiations...etc.
The chapter also discussed a disturbing incident where the unpopular US backed government brutally put down Buddhist protesters who just wanted the elections they were promised.
It's like the US just couldn't realize that most of the people just didn’t want them there.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 9 (1966-1967)
The chapter helpfully starts off by describing the changing nature of military experience as soldiers “fought different wars depending on when they arrived and where (and whether) they were in combat."
A key point of this chapter is that the Vietnamese live in Vietnam, that they are there to stay (where would they go?). The US realized they would lose ground that had just taken, so they decided to secure a village and then destroy it with bulldozers and bombs. They couldn’t appreciate the importance of the rice fields or the little huts to those who have spent their whole lives cultivating them.
South Vietnam used to be an exporter of rice, but in 1967 it had to import.
Huntington makes an appearance (I didn’t realize he went that far back) and his statements are logically consistent but still flawed. The Clash of Civilizations was an overrated idea and it seems one can garner much respect by being partly/mostly wrong as long as the position provides a comforting ideology.
The war started to be seen as a contest of will and the US couldn’t lose that so they had to keep bombing. McNamara admits in Newsweek (1966) that he underestimated the resolve of the Vietnamese.
Representatives from other countries as well as senators come to realize that the public US position of negotiations isn’t meaningful and is in fact deceptive. Senator Fullbright was especially displeased (see p. 182).
South Vietnam elections were rigged and the US kept going because it had a good kill ratio.
One point of the bombing was to stop the flow of materiel to the South from the North. It was realize that no matter the level of bombing the minimal amount would get through. The ‘Ho Chi Minh” trail was a large network of roads that 300,000 people worked full time to maintain.
A CIA report said that “by 1966 it took the United States $9.6 to inflict $1 worth of damage” and that experiments estimated about 24,000 people had been killed, 80 percent civilian(!).
The NLF began to be seen as an organism that functions as a whole, greater than the sum, and one cannot stop it by stopping a small part of it.
Finally, Vietnam was a nice testing ground for the weapons developers and users. Bombs, mines, machine guns, IR photography, poison gas, crop defoliants and even consideration of germ warfare.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 10 (1965-1967)
In this brief chapter the "war in America" is examined, with descriptions of protests, passive and more active, of draft card burning, of solidarity, of Zinn's publication of The Logic of Withdrawal, of MLK's important shift from criticizing the war on pacifist grounds to criticizing it politically.
Additionally, the American public is made more aware of some of the horrors its sons are committing, as well as those in the military resisting orders (from 1966-1973 over 500,000 soldiers deserted).
Fullbright had hearings in the House of Foreign Relations Committee and disputed every administration argument, saying it was there country and the US didn't really have the right to be there. Yet, despite all of this, no one on the committee advocated withdrawal. (It's like they can only go so far.)
When McNamara disputed increasing the bombing would have the desired result because that wasn't achieved in operation Rolling Thunder. He soon found himself no longer the Secretary of Defence (but sent to head the World Bank).
The chapter ends when Wilber Cohen (then secretary of health) asked Johnson, in a cabinet meeting, how he would answer "Why are we in Vietnam?" Cohen said the president took half an hour to answer and the answer didn't make any sense whatsoever.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 11 (1967-1968)
This chapter examines the "cross-over point" and the Tet Offensive. The "cross-over point" was when the US and ARVN troops were killing the enemy faster than they could be replaced. This was believed because a figure of using 285,000 was used for the enemy instead of 500,000-600,000. The former is by only counting the 'main' force and not the 'low-grade, part-time' local defence forces. Of course, if one doesn't count all the people involved in a resistance, one is bound to have incorrect conclusions about an issue. Narratives are hard to alter.
Consequently, the American public was lead to believe in late 1967 that the war was being won. Reporters were told that Communist military strength had decreased and that 67% of the South Vietnamese lived in secure areas. General Bruce Palmer said "the war- the military war-in Vietnam is nearly won." That is what some said, others said almost the opposite. In the same year the senior US military adviser for Long An Province said that "in reality , we can control only a very small area... I would say that we control only four percent in the daytime and only one percent in the night."
As as consequence of that, the US public was completely shocked by the Tet Offensive and the brutality. [I'm finally catching up to the television doc]. The execution of the prisoner by the South Vietnamese General was shocking to the public. Later the media would be blamed for describing Tet as a loss, but in fact they did say it was a military victory. The problem was that people started to feel that the whole thing was such a mess that it wasn't winnable. Polls changed to reflect this. Significantly, Walter Cronkite, on Feb 27, 1968, said to the nation that "we are mired in stalemate."
Johnson was shocked when a large group of senior advisers said things weren't winnable and the war shouldn't be escalated. He almost stated the reverse in his final speech but his friend/adviser Clifford reigned him in.
The chapter ends with the death of MLK, the resulting riots, and the death of Robert Kennedy, all of which lead to greater demonstrations and riots at the DNC in Chicago in August, which was put down by heavy police force.
"The war comes home to us..." (Denise Levertov, p. 231)
Apocalypse Now (1979) Redux (2001) Directed by Coppola, starring Brando, Duvall, Sheen...
(This is mainly a review for people who have seen the movie).
I had seen Apocalypse Now around 10 years ago but I had never seen the Redux version. At 3 hours and 22 minutes, it certainly made for a bit of a project today (it required multiple sittings). My previous memories consisted of The Doors "This is End" playing at some point, the phrase "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" and "the horror" as well as some nice cinematography. I didn't really remember the plot but had vague notions of what the movie was about. No longer! Martin Sheen is ordered to take out Brando who has gone rogue and is living as a God of sorts in Cambodia. I had forgotten Harrison Ford had a small role as well as how gruesome some of the scenes were (I'm guessing I didn't care as much when I was younger and/or the recent project has made the 'fictional' film deaths seem real).
It turns out Duvall says the "napalm line" (I had pictured Hopper saying it) and I found it really revolting now knowing in more detail what napalm is and having images in my head of Vietnamese walking with their skin hanging off them.
Duvall did an excellent job at his role and the helicopter attack scene was so powerful - it succeeded where all the docs have failed (probably due to the larger budget). I do know music was played (I don't know about Wagner) and the line about "letting him drink from my canteen" references an enemy that had held his intestines in for 3 days with a pot lid is based on a real event. Additionally, one official did actually use the phrase "bomb them back to the stone age." The absurdity of the surfing issue!
The killing of innocents, women treated as meat and general "lord of the flies" situations were quite disturbing to watch. I hadn't remembered the decapitations or hanging bodies and things seemed more gruesome (this could also be because things were more gruesome as the original was tamer). Additionally, I had thought Hopper had a larger role.
Sheen's narrative tries to make some decent points, such as why almost kill them and then try to treat them humanely. The flim also explores the horrors of war and how far one must be willing to go to win a war. Brando's main point was that the US soldiers were neither enveloped within their war nor sadistic enough while the enemy was both of these things.
Finally, the French dinner was new (truly, due to Redux) and I felt this was where Coppola was almost trying to explain/warn the American audience of what had happened in Vietnam and how they had erred.
Apocalypse Now is interesting, meandering, and demonstrates the absurdity of war and the psychological toll taken on those who fight in them. It was good but only because I was expecting something similar to what I got.
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 Kissinger 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.
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 Kissinger'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 Kissinger.
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 prevalence 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 plentiful 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 ambassador 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 the 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 aerial 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 creators (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 Khmer 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 started)
- US mistaken 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 desperate, 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!
Vietnam: A Television History - Part 9 - Peace is at Hand (1968-1973)
In Feb 1965, Nixon said that the US must "show the Red Chinese that the United States will not stand by and allow any power, however great, take over another country by aggression."
The statement is comical if so many hadn’t died. I guess it is true because Nixon didn’t say anything about the US doing it. (You ain't standing by cos you was doing it!)
-There is further info about the Vietnamization of the war.
-Ho Chi Minh dying, huge turnout (and I know from the book that he didn't want a monument but they build one. He actually wanted to be cremated and his ashes put in the 3 main parts of Vietnam and instead of mourning or flowers, visitors could plant a tree so eventually there would be forests).
-Fascinatingly, Americans troops, some just back from Vietnam, were deployed to Washington to protect the capital from demonstrators Nov 15, 1969. Around 250,000 marched on Washington.
- Some believe that any protesters cost American lives as it helped the Vietnamese (the good old 'aid and comfort' to our enemy routine).
-Nixon said that the US must go into to Cambodia to attack the North Vietnamese control centre... it was never found.
-Kissinger secretly meeting with the Communists since 1969
- In 1972, Nixon went to China, and soon after Russia. The trips were for many reasons, but also to have them stop supporting the North
- In March the North attacks strongly, and the US had to deal with how to respond without troops? Well, you mine the harbours and keep on bombing
-The US was content with an agreement reached with Hanoi in Paris. Saigon got the text of the agreement in English... they were not happy. Saigon was never given the explicit content.... and they didn't like it. Why accept the North in the South? But Kissinger said all proposals were seen and approved by Thieu. The North north made it public.
- In the election Nixon wins by landslide, but there was a hostile congress.
- During the peace talks, North won't give in, US threatens bombing... and then does it.
- The bombing supposedly consisted of 'entirely military targets.' Yet on Dec 22, American bombs hit a Hanoi hospital for the second time. Civilians complained of deaths.
- The doc implied the bombing worked, but also states the new terms (in 1973) were pretty much the same as in October: South was one country with two govs, reconcile, US troops would leave, Northern forces could remain in the South.
- In Jan 27, 1973, all parties signed the agreement, but to North and South , Vietnam was still divided.
-600 American airmen, prisoners of war, were released.
The Vietnam Wars - Chapter 13 - 1971-1973
This was very useful to read after just watching the television chapter above as it covered similar content, but the narrative was different.
Many of the general details about the negotiations and the time lines and Thieu's rejection, than acceptance of things were the same, but the doc made it seem like US bombing forced Hanoi to the table. Alternatively, Young presents it as Hanoi was willing to come to table after its offensive and the 3 months of bombing didn't change anything. Negroponte joked that the US "bombed Hanoi into accepting the US's concessions."
Young stated that Saigon had the fourth largest air force (due to US support).
Young points out that Nixon got away with bombing various countries until Congress finally cut him off in 1973 (not explicitly mentioned in the doc chapter above)
Similarly, the sheer number of protesters that marched and demonstrated against the war was staggering. Thousands upon thousands were met with thousands of government police/troops and waves of tear gas. Incredible.
The book had a great little section on the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), which was formed in 1967. William L. Calley was held primarily responsible for the My Lai massacre. As the VVAW thought the public should know more about how this wasn't uncommon behaviour they had their own 'rebuttal' of sorts by having over one hundred veterans and 16 civilians, over three days at a Howard Johnson in Detroit, describe their acts of war. "The witnesses... described acts they had witnessed, acts they had performed: rape, torture, petty brutalities, the routine killing of non-combatants." (p.256)
I had previously wondered how Nixon managed to get re-elected considering the bombing and the deaths and the release of the Pentagon Papers. This section was useful to offer one perspective:
"'The American voter is willing to vote for Nixon Now," one television news executive told a British journalist, "because the voter, who is also the viewer, thinks Nixon has ended the war. And he has ended the war, because you don't see the war on the tube any more. So the war has ended, though we are bombing the hell out of those poor people, more than ever." And if the war was over, what were all those people doing demonstrating in the streets? Nixon's answer and all the campaign strategy that flowed from it were simple: the protesters themselves were the issue - their denigration of American values, their ingratitude to the system that nurtured them, their whining complaints about a war Nixon was clearly ending.' (p. 262)
I have long been uncertain of exactly how many soldiers are in a battalion or a regiment, so I finally looked up troop numbers for various groups. From wiki:
|Army group||400,000–1,000,000||Field Marshal|
|Army Region||1,000,000–3,000,000||Field Marshal|
|Army theater||3,000,000–10,000,000||Field Marshal|
(I should have done that a long time ago)
Vietnam: A Television History - Chapter 10
This chapter had some of the content that I found missing in the last. It was mainly about the divisions at home in the US.
- There were religious groups protesting the war, and counter protests by different religious groups.
- If you stayed in college, you didn't have to go to war.
- There are a couple clips of people saying "good" Americans don't protest or challenge things
- Nixon even says, regarding the detractors, 'we never said they were unpatriotic," which is not really true. (but then again the other side often labeled the government as Nazis)
-When MLK died there were riots in 100 cities.
- McCarthy vs. Kennedy in the Dem primary, Kennedy won... and was then shot.
This lead up to the DNC where there was an enormous protest, where inside Humphrey called for peace in Vietnam, but he had to do so under armed support from the protesters just outside.
- There is an amusing clip of Nixon saying "No one is above the law." Again comical if not so saddening. Nixon played to those concerned about the extremist edges of the protesters.
- Still in the late 1960s, week after week, every Thursday, viewers saw the body counts.
- Nixon VP Spiro Agnew had said that Prime Minister of North Vietnam sent a message to organizers of a moderate protest (moratorium) and he said it was a shocking intrusion into the affairs of the American people by an enemy power. Shocking indeed.
- An interviewed Kissinger says: the majority of the population supported the government. Probably not.
- A little coverage of My Lai but not a lot
- The draft was changed to a lottery.
- Basically, the educated got out with a poor physicals, while working class went right through their physicals on to war.
-Kent state, four protesters killed
- John Kerry covered a little, saying their missions didn't have much sense to them.
- VVAW demonstration in 1971, flung their medals. Kerry: "We wish a merciful god could wipe away our memories of that service..."
I found this chapter to have more footage than details.
Vietnam: A Television History - Chapter 11 (last chapter!)
Opens with footage from Saigon, April 29, 1975 where a helicopter is landing on top of the American embassy. This was:
2 years after ceasefire for peace,
10 years US sent combat troops in
20 years after an international conference divided Vietnam
30 years after the communists (ahem, nationalists) launched struggle for independence
-South Vietnamese were shocked to learn the US was leaving and some thought it a death sentence.
- More on protesters.
-Watergate was eroding Nixon's power, but he had ended the draft and was only bombing Cambodia, so most Americans considered the war over and there were far less protesters. (But the Congress did finally cut things off)
-America supplied Saigon with weapons and vehicles and told the leader that the US would support them if the Communists violated the ceasefire. But Thieu could only see war so he launched another offensive (US ambassador encouraged him)
By 1974, Thieu was losing military strength. 31,000 South Vietnamese died in same year, highest for any year but 1972.
-US no longer bombing or supplying much aid, medical supplies low. Saigon couldn't quite believe that the US would no longer support them. Hanoi came to the opposite conclusion and in 1975 North began offensive. Again, the South asked for aid, Ford thought they had a moral responsibility and tried to get Congress to help but they wouldn't (good money after bad logic). Delegation concluded they had received enough, time for the South to fight alone.
General Dung thought it would take 2 years to take over so they moved carefully, wary of American reintervention.
-Thieu decided to focus on the area around Saigon and abandon the northern parts of South Vietnam, but he didn't announce this so there was uncertainty, confusion and fear among those fighting regarding why they were not engaging certain battles
-Population panicked and tried to go to Danang to be safe and board airplanes. Distraught parents trying to get their children to safety.
-On March 30, 1975, Danang fell.
-US Ambassador Martin just wouldn't believe that the South would soon fall, saying so on April 11th (this was one of the reason for the poor evacuation plan).
-Kissinger: Can't move people out too quickly or South might turn on them, as well, North might think US would intervene to rescue it's people.
- The US couldn't evac with planes because of of artillery fire, but on April 29 they used helicopters to transport people aircraft carriers. Disheartening footage of people trying to get onto buses (to get to the choppers)
-Most Americans and thousands of Vietnamese made it out, but 1000s left behind. City started to descend into anarchy and looting.
- Incredible video of a pilot ditching his helicopter in the South China Sea. (I didn't quite get why they destroyed the helicopters).
- Although alive, many South Vietnamese soldiers felt ashamed and dishonored.
-Some in the US felt the Americans cut and run and did not honour agreements (congress blamed).
A 2 year campaign to take over the South took 55 days. The North entered city from 6 different directions (but amusingly, some weren't sure how to get to the palace).
The North flags were flown and it was the happiest day of the lives of the general and his men.
(the doc does not go on to say what happened after 1975).
In all, it was very useful to see so much footage. It did seem to leave out some important bits that Young addresses (i.e., about how much the US rejected negotiations). Similarly, there wasn't enough analysis. It is great to see the people and hear their words but it would have been better to have more detailed analysis from scholars and others.
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 14 (1973-1975)
This chapter starts with the testimony of a Air Force Captain who talked about how illegal acts of war were carried out in Vietnam, such as routine torture of suspected guerrillas and the bombing of enemy hospitals. The Air Force said he was admonished for bombing a hospital. The Captain said that he was admonished for calling it a hospital (it wasn't policy, but it was practice to bomb hospitals).
The bombing was allowed to continue for six weeks, absurd and counterproductive if one is trying to negotiate. This wasn't challenged and no one has really been punished for unnecessarily bombing populated villages.
When Vietnam could no longer be bombed, it all went to Cambodia. The B-52s had to bomb something! ugh.
There was brief coverage of Nixon and how the indictment focused on Watergate not the unconstitutional act of war against a neutral country. Young quotes congressman William Hungate (Missouri): "It's kind of hard to live with yourself when you impeach a guy for tapping telephones and not for making war without authorization." (Of course, congress probably would have approved it...sigh).
Thieu didn't want any agreement and did whatever he could to resist (and get the US to help), even trying to 'accidentally' kill Hanoi's negotiator.
Young also describes the economic difficulties that plagued Saigon after the US pulled out.
There is the terrible story of Vo Van Nam who was desperate to provide for his family so he would drive a pedicab and sell his blood. One day while giving blood, someone stole his pedicab. He sold his watch to treat his children to a movie and then bought gasoline and went into a field and set himself on fire. Immolation seems so horrible, but given this story I wonder if it is more common culturally. On a somewhat related note, I think an interesting question to ask someone to see how they view the world would be: Do you understand why someone would light themselves on fire?
The remaining parts of the chapter deal with the final attack against the South and how the Northern forces were able to eventually take Saigon. Much of the content is similar to that of the documentary described above so I need not repeat it.
Young ends the chapter with a useful summary (p.299):
Vietnam: How Government Became Wolves by Noam Chomsky
This extended essay, appearing in the NY Review of Books in 1972 was useful for highlighting the fact that the US consistently fought against popular sentiment during its intervention in Vietnam. As usual, Chomsky does a great job displaying American hypocrisy (but less about the other side (which I realize is not his goal)).
On to the excerpts! (as usual, bolding is mine):
"Reviewing the record of American intervention in Indochina in the Pentagon Papers, one cannot fail to be struck by the continuity of basic assumptions from one administration to the next. Never has there been the slightest deviation from the principle that a noncommunist regime must be imposed and defended, regardless of popular sentiment.
Nixon and Kissinger may or may not be able to achieve their ends in Indochina, but there is no doubt that they are capable of exacting a horrendous price for the injury to their pride and the threat to their power. They can murder and destroy without fear of reprisal. They have immense resources of terror at their command. Under the circumstances, limited and malicious men, trapped in the wreckage of their schemes, may be driven to unimaginable extremes of violence.
Even if the present situation stabilizes, we will be driven to the same confrontation again and again, if we stay in Vietnam. Acheson pointed out in 1950 that French success "depends, in the end, on overcoming opposition of indigenous population" (DOD, book 8, p. 301). Little has changed since then, apart from the scale of the destruction in Indochina and the dangers of great power conflict.
The major premise of the American intervention has always been that we must "build a nation" in the South to counter the Communist Vietnamese, who seemed to be alone in their ability to mobilize the population. The enemy has found "a dangerously clever strategy for licking the United States," the director of Systems Analysis warned. "Unless we recognize and counter it now, that strategy may become all too popular in the future" (IV, p. 466). The strategy was to wage a war of national liberation based on the aspirations of the Vietnamese peasants for independence and social justice.
The outside power was never able to compete. The US could maim and kill, drive peasants from their homes, destroy the countryside and organized social life, but not "build a nation" in the approved image. We had taken on a society that was simply not fit for domination. Therefore, it had to be destroyed. This, as the realistic experts now soberly explain, was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.
Little is said, however, about the decision to bomb South Vietnam at more than triple the intensity of the bombing in North Vietnam by 1966. This was the fundamental policy decision of early 1965. As Bernard Fall pointed out not long afterward, "What changed the character of the Vietnam war was not the decision to bomb North Vietnam; not the decision to use American ground troops in South Vietnam; but the decision to wage unlimited aerial warfare inside the country at the price of literally pounding the place to bits." But of this decision we learn very little in the Pentagon history, and only a few scattered remarks mention the effects of the bombing.
There is, to my knowledge, no record of any hesitation about the use of any military tactic except on grounds of the potential cost to the decision-makers and the interests they represent.
Concern for law is also absent. The UN Charter, which, according to the Constitution, became the supreme law of the land when ratified by the Senate, clearly prohibits the threat or use of force in international affairs, except in the case of collective self-defense against armed attack or under Security Council authorization. The record shows plainly that American use of force against the population of South Vietnam always preceded any exercise of force attributable to the DRV and was always vastly greater in scale.
Rusk's testimony was an effort to justify the US escalation in February as collective self-defense against armed attack, as permitted under Article 51 of the Charter. Aside from a variety of other objections (e.g., Article 51 refers to armed attack against a member of the United Nations; the 17th parallel is not a territorial boundary under the Geneva Agreements, etc.), the justification would have force only if it had been known at the time of the US escalation that an armed attack had taken place. The record makes it absolutely clear that this was not the case. Hence the justification fails under any possible assumption with regard to unknown facts.
To a large extent, the debate over the war counterposes the "optimists," who believe that with persistence we can win, to the "pessimists," who argue that the US cannot, at reasonable cost, guarantee the rule of the regime of its choice in South Vietnam. The same two positions appear in the first of the secret "Kissinger papers," released in part in the Washington Post, April 25, 1972. The analysis of the pessimists implies "pacification success in 13.4 years," while the interpretation of the optimists "implies that it will take 8.3 years to pacify the 4.15 million contested and VC population of December 1968." As always the pessimists differ from the optimists in their estimate of how long it will take to beat the Vietnamese resistance into submission—nothing more.
There is a third position which, unfortunately, is barely represented in policy-making, at least according to the available documentary record: namely, that the US executive should abide by the supreme law of the land and refrain from forceful intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. It appears that successive administrations believed that Vietnam was the victim of a Kremlin-directed conspiracy in 1950, that there was "aggression from the North" a decade later, and so on. They had the legal authority to express these beliefs and to appeal to the Security Council of the UN to determine the existence of a threat to peace. That they did not do so is self-explanatory.
It is occasionally argued that appeal to the UN Security Council, as required by law, would have been futile because of the Russian veto power. The argument is clearly irrelevant. The law states clearly that "the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and shall determine what measures shall be taken. Parties to a dispute "shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation" and other pacific means of the sort that the US has always explicitly sought to avoid, in the knowledge that "premature negotiations" or any other peaceful settlement would lead to a collapse of the American position. The legal obligations of the US executive were avoided not out of concern for a possible Russian veto, but because there was no credible case to present.
The US executive had no authority to back French colonialism; to impose a terroristic regime (or even a benevolent democracy) on South Vietnam; to engage in clandestine war throughout Indochina; to introduce US forces in combat support and direct aggression from 1961 on; to carry out a full-scale invasion of South Vietnam in 1965, demolishing much of the peasant society; or later, under Nixon, to wipe out the Plain of Jars in Laos and much of rural Cambodia; to bomb Haiphong; or to carry out any of the other actions that have led to mass revulsion in this country and throughout much of the world. Had the US executive been strictly bound by its legal obligations, which in my opinion do express reasonable principles of international behavior, we would never have found ourselves in the Indochina war.
It is often argued that US intervention was motivated by "blind anti-communism" and other errors. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between two kinds of "anti-communism." Opposition to indigenous movements in Asia that might be drawn to the Chinese model of development is not "blind anti-communism." Rather, it is rational imperialism, which seeks to prevent any nibbling away at areas that provide the Western industrial powers and Japan with relatively free access to markets, raw materials, a cheap labor force, the possibility for export of pollution, and opportunities for investment.
On the other hand, to refer to a "coordinated offensive directed by the Kremlin" against Southeast Asia, with the Viet Minh as its agent, is indeed "blind anti-communism," that is, pure ideology, quite beyond the reach of evidence, but extremely useful as a propaganda device to rally domestic support for military intervention against indigenous communist-led movements. The Russians behaved no differently when they invaded Czechoslovakia. They stated, and perhaps even believed, that they were doing so to protect the Czech people from the machinations of Wall Street, the CIA, and the West German aggressors. In fact, they were seeking to preserve the Russian empire from erosion from within, much as the US is doing in Vietnam.
It is often argued that the costs of such intervention demonstrate that there can be no underlying imperial drive. This reasoning is fallacious, however. In the first place, the "costs" are in large measure profits for selected segments of American society. It is senseless to describe government expenditures for jet planes or cluster bombs or computers for the automated air war simply as "costs of intervention." There are, to be sure, costs of empire that benefit virtually no one: 50,000 American corpses or the deterioration in the strength of the US economy in relation to its industrial rivals. But these general costs of empire can be said to be social costs, while, say, the profits from overseas investment guaranteed by military success are again highly concentrated in certain parts of society.
Senator Church noted in recent congressional hearings that the US has spent over $2 billion in aid to Brazil since 1964 to create a "favorable investment climate" to protect a total investment of only about $1.7 billion. This should come as no surprise to any student of modern history. In many respects, the same was true of the British empire, after the original rape of India. The costs of empire are distributed over the society as a whole; its profits revert to a few within. In this respect, the empire serves as a device for internal consolidation of power and privilege, and it is quite irrelevant to observe that its social costs are often very great or that, as costs rise, differences may arise among those who are in positions of power and influence.
What is worse, perhaps, very little has changed. Even many opponents of the war pretend to themselves that others are to blame for the catastrophe of Vietnam. In a strong editorial statement against the war, the New York Times editors wrote:
This is not to say that Americans, including the political and military commands and the G.I.'s themselves, did not originally conceive their role quite honestly as that of liberators and allies in the cause of freedom; but such idealistic motives had little chance to prevail against local leaders skilled in the art of manipulating their foreign protectors. [May 7, 1972]Once again we have the image of the American political leadership, noble and virtuous, bewildered and victimized, but not responsible, never responsible for what it has done. The corruption of the intellect and the moral cowardice revealed by such statements defy comment."
The Vietnam Wars (Chapter 15 (1975-1990))
The idealist in me wanted to believe that after the Americans had left the Vietnamese would have decent lives and be able to live without much conflict. That did not happen.
Young describes how the US did not provide any aid or reconstruction funds for all the damage it had caused and the aid offered by Nixon, which the Vietnamese naively anticipated, would never be coming. Nixon was discredited and congress was fed up, but that wasn't enough, there had to be an embargo on Vietnam as well. Then again, it isn't as if all subsequent bad things were America's fault (my bolding):
"The defeat of the American war against Indochina had released new configurations of power in Southeast Asia, not readily susceptible to control from outside. In Phnom Penh, as in Hanoi and Beijing, there were bitter rivalries older than the entire history of the United States as a country, however exacerbated they might have been by twentieth-century American foreign policy." (p307)
[Quick stats on such exacerbation: in South Vietnam, 9000 out of 15000 hamlets, 25 million acres of farmland, 12 million acres of forest were destroyed, and 1.5 million farm animals killed. There were also hundreds of thousands of prostitutes and disabled people, while almost a million orphans and widows.]
The years that followed the US intervention could be seen as typical international relations activities or a saddening/frustrating mess depending on your experiences:
The Vietnamese wanted more power/control in Cambodia; the Chinese wanted payback for their sacrifices but the Vietnamese have long had antagonism towards the Chinese so they were resistant; Vietnam again reached out to the US (to counter the Chinese) but to no avail so they eventually sought Soviet support/protection, which was then used by the US and China (now paired on the issue of detesting Vietnam) to marginalize Vietnam.
The US even supported Pol Pot at the UN (while denying Vietnam a UN seat) just so the more popularly supported Cambodian government would not be recognized (because it had Vietnam's backing).
Once again, it isn't that America was that much worse than other countries as one starts to think when one learns more about Vietnam, it was that it was like most of the rest, including Vietnam.
It should also be noted that there wasn't complete consistency/agreement within the Carter administration regarding how Vietnam should be treated.
This final chapter (epilogue to follow) ends with a brief description of how Vietnam changed how Americans saw their government and how most foreign interventions had to be quickly completed or the public would get restless. An interesting point that was true until 9/11; now Afghanistan is American's longest war.
Watergate: A Skeptical View by Noam Chomsky (1973)
I think I just use excerpts to convey his main points, I've bolded parts that I thought notable for one reason or another:
"Watergate is, indeed, a deviation from past practice, not so much in scale or in principle as in the choice of targets. The targets now include the rich and respectable, spokesmen for official ideology, men who are expected to share power, to design social policy, and to mold popular opinion. Such people are not fair game for persecution at the hands of the state."
"The Watergate affair and the sordid story that has unfolded since are not without significance. They indicate, once again, how frail are the barriers to some form of fascism in a state capitalist system in crisis. There is little prospect for a meaningful reaction to the Watergate disclosures, given the narrow conservatism of American political ideology and the absence of any mass political parties or organized social forces that offer an alternative to the centralization of economic and political power in the major corporations, the law firms that cater to their interests, and the technical intelligentsia who do their bidding, both in the private sector and in state institutions. With no real alternative in view, opposition is immobilized and there is a natural fear, even among the liberal opposition, that the power of the Presidency will be eroded and the ship of state will drift aimlessly. The likely result will therefore be a continuation of the process of centralization of power in the executive, which will continue to be staffed by representatives of those who rule the economy and which will be responsive to their conception of domestic and global order.
It is true, as critics allege, that Nixon's tactics threatened to subvert the two-party system. The illusion that the people rule rests on the regular opportunity to choose between two political organizations dominated by similar interests and restricted to the narrow range of doctrine that receives expression in the corporate media and, with rare exceptions, the educational institutions of American society. Nixon's tactics thus tend to undermine the conventional basis for stability and obedience, while falling far short of supplying some form of totalitarian doctrine as an ideological alternative.
But the conditions that permitted the rise of McCarthy and Nixon endure. Fortunately for us and for the world, McCarthy was a mere thug and Nixon's mafia overstepped the bounds of acceptable trickery and deceit with such obtuseness and blundering vulgarity that they were called to account by powerful forces that had not been demolished or absorbed. But sooner or later, under the threat of political or economic crisis, some comparable figure may succeed in creating a mass political base, bringing together socioeconomic forces with the power and the finesse to carry out plans such as those that were conceived in the Oval Office. Only perhaps he will choose his domestic enemies more judiciously and prepare the ground more thoroughly."
Liberal political commentators sigh with relief that Kissinger has barely been tainted -- a bit of questionable wire-tapping, but no close involvement in the Watergate shenanigans. Yet by any objective standards, the man is one of the great mass murderers of the modern period. He presided over the expansion of the war to Cambodia, with consequences that are now well known, and the vicious escalation of the bombing of rural Laos, not to speak of the atrocities committed in Vietnam, as he sought to achieve a victory of some sort for imperial power in Indochina. But he wasn't implicated in the burglary at the Watergate or in the undermining of Muskie, so his hands are clean.
If we try to keep a sense of balance, the exposures of the past several months are analogous to the discovery that the directors of Murder Inc. were also cheating on their income tax. Reprehensible, to be sure, but hardly the main point."
The Vietnam Wars (Epilogue)
Over 2.15 million men served in Vietnam; 1.6 million in combat. "Those who fought in the war and died in it were disproportionately poor, badly educated, and black." (p.319)
The rest of this chapter deals with how veterans felt upon their return and the struggles they endured to overcome the trauma of Vietnam.
For a soldier finished his one-year tour, there was no transition period from the war zone to "the world" (what they called the US/everywhere else). Veterans felt spat upon (some probably actually were) and it is this fact, not being welcomed as heroes but with some shame, that caused much of the difficulties. Of course this was not the case everywhere, but significant enough that a Vietnam veteran that might have already had trouble justifying his role in the war would be pushed over the edge.
WWII was different, probably not from 'the horror' point of view, but in terms of the validity (to use an odd term). Veterans had trouble getting jobs (like anyone else is a difficult economy), maintaining relationships and resuming a 'normal' role in society. Even the Veterans Administration admitted that Vietnam vets reported that they had a "greater distrust of institutions" as well as "bitterness, disgust and suspicion of those in positions of authority and responsibility." (It would be useful to know by what amount to know if that is really significant.)
The Epilogue presents various anecdotes and poems of veterans trying to make sense of their trauma - a trauma that ushered in the framing of it being post-traumatic stress disorder (from postwar trauma, from 'shell-shocked,' from...). Women (who mainly served as nurses) as had trouble reintegrating into society, made worse when they weren't seen as true veterans (this was rectified in 1982).
Young points out that the "Vietnam syndrome" (the population's reluctance to engage in war) 'can be better understood as a relatively unique event in American history: an inability to forget, a resistance to the everyday workings of historical amnesia, despite the serious and coordinated efforts of the government and much of the press to "heal the wounds" of the war by encouraging such forgetting, of what comes to the same thing, firm instructions on how to remember.'
I'm currently investigating exactly what the following statement, found on page 324, means compared to the general population, but for the moment it serves as a fitting ending to my coverage of this book: More Vietnam veterans have committed suicide since the war than died in it.
Fog of War (2003) Directed by Errol Morris, starring Robert McNamara
This is an excellent documentary that investigates the psychological and strategic aspects of war by using the life of, and an extended interview with, Robert McNamara.
This was my second viewing and my memories from the first time consisted of McNamara being really smart and an excellent speaker, of him almost admiting they were war criminals and that things were very complicated. This time around I noticed that the flim was also about the morality of war. McNamara kept asking things like, "In a war can you kill 1000 civilians? 10000? 100000?" It is a fascinating topic. What is just in a situation that is anything but?
This time, I still thought he was very smart and a great speaker (but it seems I had forgotten about the edits so McNamara appears to flow better than he actually does). Additionally, I had forgotten McNamara was involved in WWII and the firebombing of Japan, as well as the Cuban missile crisis. He was a numbers guy and focused on efficiency. To dramatize this, at one point Morris had numbers falling as bombs. Significantly, 50-90% of 67 cities in Japan were destroyed! McNamara and Morris make it very powerful by comparing various Japanese cities to American ones.
The documentary actually starts with McNamara saying that his role in WWII would have resulted in a war crimes trial if they lost.
A few other illuminating points were when McNamara went to Cuba and Vietnam years after the conflict to discuss what the other side new at the time. McNamara concluded luck was the reason a nuclear war wasn't started over Cuba. When we was in Vietnam he asked one of the Vietnamese leaders if they would have given up if they had lost more men. Paraphrasing, he responded, "Mr. McNamara, have you not read a history book? We have been fighting with the Chinese for 1000 years, we were not aligned with them, we were fighting for our independence and we would have done so to the last man."
This doc is a must see for anyone interested in military history and/or the psychology of decision making under uncertainty.
Canada's Secret War: Vietnam (CBC News Archives)
From the website: "Vietnam may have been America's war but Canada was heavily involved — for and against. Canada harboured American draft dodgers and helped supervise ceasefires. But at the same time, about 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight in southeast Asia. And there was Canada's involvement in secret missions, weapons testing and arms production. CBC Archives looks at Canada's role in the Vietnam War."
There were a total of 20 clips of Video and Radio, totaling almost 100 minutes. Below are the excerpts (mainly text that accompanied the clip) that I thought useful, separated by clip:
Broadcast Date: July 29, 1954
Canada accepts an invitation in July 1954 to join the International Control Commission (ICC), a peacekeeping body designed to oversee the transition.
• Lester Pearson was minister of external affairs from 1948 to 1957 and prime minister from 1963 to 1968.
• In April 1965 he made a speech at Temple University in Philadelphia suggesting the United States halt bombing of North Vietnam.
• Pearson was the only head of government in any western country to denounce the bombing.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 20, 1966
Despite a law making it illegal, many individual Canadians choose to sign up with the U.S. armed forces to fight in Vietnam.
Broadcast Date: March 16, 1969
Draft dodgers, resisters, evaders, foot-voters, deserters — Canada has become a haven for a conservative estimate of 30,000 to 40,000 Americans avoiding a war they do not support. The initial influx of draft dodgers was followed by a wave of deserters. In Toronto, a group of university professors has set up a halfway house for deserters.
- According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the majority of draft dodgers tended to be urban, well-educated middle class men, while deserters were more often poorer, rural, less educated individuals who were not exposed to the antiwar movement until they were already in the forces.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 10, 1970
Eighteen days camped out in the Canadian winter, 20 months of letter-writing, six months as a nurse in South Vietnam. Social activist Claire Culhane thought this would be enough to win an audience with Prime Minister Trudeau (but it wasn't)
The group called themselves "Enough" and their purpose was to protest against the Canadian government's failure to oppose the U.S. presence in Vietnam. They believed a strong antiwar declaration by Ottawa could help change U.S. policies.
• The Vietnam War was the first war widely broadcast on television. Because many families gathered around the television to watch nightly updates on the evening news, the war earned the nickname "the living room war." Many came to oppose the war or were driven to antiwar protests by the atrocities they witnessed on the news.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 15, 1973
Two weeks after the signing of the Paris Peace Accord, Canadian members of the hastily-formed International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS) are feeling that their presence in Vietnam is more symbolic than real. ICCS observers feel like frustrated spectators because they have no actual powers of enforcement. They are not permitted to investigate violations of the ceasefire as this is done by the Joint Military Commission field teams. (which was made up of members from South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the United States and the Viet Cong.)
• The ICCS was made up of 1160 members — 290 from each from Canada, Hungary, Indonesia and Poland.
• Canadians withdrew on July 31, 1973, but the commission continued to operate until April 30, 1975.
• In September 2004, cabinet records from 1973 were released publicly, showing that cabinet was convinced the ICCS mission was futile.
• The minutes of one briefing paper read "There had been 7,000 violations of the ceasefire recorded. The commission had been asked to investigate only 31 complaints from which only two reports emerged."
Broadcast Date: July 15, 1973
• The Pentagon Papers were based on a secret study of U.S. decision-making about Vietnam since the end of World War II. The study, led by U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara, was completed in 1969.
The sections of the Pentagon Papers that were applicable to Canada were published in the Globe and Mail in July 1973.
• One of the events revealed by the Pentagon Papers is a secret meeting in May 1964 between President Lyndon Johnson and Prime Minister Lester Pearson in which they discussed the possibility of bombing North Vietnam. The telegram exposed by the Pentagon Papers referred to their cryptic discussion of "carrots and sticks," and the "nature of sticks."
(me from the clip: Some argue Pearson would have approved some type of bombing, but Martin Sr. says Pearson wouldn't have.)
Broadcast Date: Jan. 27, 1975
(me from the clip: Since singing of peace treaty, over 100,000 causalities.)
Canada's official position is that it's not in the business of sending arms to dangerous areas. But the truth is, Canadian manufacturers and the Canadian government are involved in filling American defence contracts for shipment to Vietnam.
• Some of the many Canadian-manufactured products destined for Vietnam included: ammunition, aircraft engines, gun sights, grenades, boots, green berets, napalm, TNT, rye whiskey, Agent Orange, generators and passenger vehicles, to name just a few.
• While the sale of these items is by no means illegal, many believed it was morally wrong to profit from sales of war materials. NDP leader Tommy Douglas called it "blood money."
• In 1958 Canada and the United States signed a Defence Production Sharing Agreement. Between 1965 and 1973, industry in Canada supplied $2.47 billion worth of war material to the United States.
Broadcast Date: April 24, 1975
With the communist takeover of South Vietnam looming, diplomats scramble to pull Canadians out of Saigon. Amidst the chaos, little real assistance is offered to Vietnamese civilians desperate to escape the imminent communist regime. The decision to airlift two diplomatic vehicles loaded with art and souvenirs while leaving Vietnamese staff behind causes some concern about Canada's priorities.
• Canada issued 14,000 visas to Vietnamese, but getting out of the country was left up to the individuals. Canada did not have the means to provide assistance in evacuating Vietnamese.
• In the years following the Vietnam War, over one million refugees fled the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Those Vietnamese who took to the ocean in tiny overcrowded ships were dubbed the boat people.
• Canada accepted 69,000 Indochinese refugees between 1975 and 1980.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 23, 1981
Agent Orange is one of the most infamous and dirtiest legacies of the Vietnam War. Ottawa always denied that it cooperated with the United States in testing chemical warfare agents for Vietnam. A recently released report states that in June 1966 the American army tested Agent Orange at Base Gagetown in New Brunswick.
• Agent Orange was a chemical defoliant used in Vietnam for nine years. An estimated 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in South Vietnam during the war, exposing thousands of soldiers and civilians to this harmful chemical.
• In a process deemed "territory denial," Agent Orange was sprayed on the dense jungle foliage, revealing the position of the hiding Viet Cong.
• The dioxins found in Agent Orange can cause cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders, liver problems and genetic abnormalities.
• The Uniroyal plant in Elmira, Ont., was one of seven suppliers producing Agent Orange for the U.S. military.
A 1970 report from national defence to parliament stated that "no research carried out by the Department of National Defence has affected the use of chemicals in Vietnam." Former defence minister Paul Hellyer says such tests were actually routine, but he attempts to downplay the issue by pointing out that Agent Orange was tested as a tactical weapon, not a chemical weapon.
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1986
When approximately 30,000 Canadians enlisted in the U.S. armed forces to serve in Vietnam, they were welcomed, treated like U.S. recruits, even given a U.S. social security number. Upon their return, however, they received none of the benefits that their fellow American soldiers did. While Canadian Vietnam vets suffer the same after-effects as American vets — often worse due to increased isolation and feelings of invisibility — the United States offers them nothing more than a plane ride home.
• After the war, Canadian Vietnam veterans were angry and frustrated by the lack of support from the U.S. government. While American vets had access to treatment centres, the benefits Canadians had been told they would receive were not made available.
• In Canada, Vietnam vets felt invisible. They were not initially recognized by the Canadian Legion as they were not veterans of a war in which Canada was involved. On Oct. 1, 1994, the Canadian Legion extended full membership privileges to Vietnam vets.
(Me from clip: a disturbing interview with a man who implies but doesn't admit he shot a child)
Broadcast Date: Feb. 12, 1965
The prime minister discusses the deepening political and military crisis in Vietnam.
me: Pearson mentions continuous provacations from the North (chinese backed). It seems he might have the direction of causality wrong, and this is a key issue. He does things are very complicated, which of course I second. Pearson does the US hasn't found any support and suggest ending foreign intervention, but toes the line about an independent Vietnam becoming a Communist Vietnam (with China backing). Sigh.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1966
Teens give their thoughts on Canadian politicians and their policies on Vietnam.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 20, 1966
The Canadian Committee of Students Supporting U.S. Policy in Vietnam sends Pearson a telegram.
Broadcast Date: Oct. 2, 1968
The Third Marine Unit contains three Canadian soldiers.
Broadcast Date: Oct. 11, 1968
An antiwar activist discusses plans for an anti-Trudeau march down Toronto's Yonge Street.
Broadcast Date: May 28, 1974
Globe and Mail foreign correspondent Charles Taylor talks about Canada, the United States and Vietnam.
me: Talks about his book Snow Job, where he argues that the Canadian government kept Canadians in the dark, as the Can Gov was by the US gov. Taylor said our leaders were fooling ourselves, thinking diplomacy could be used to resolve the issue. Taylor indicated Canada only 'recognized' Saigon despite the Paris agreements indicating there were two governments that should be acknowledged. We were also giving Saigon 3 million in humanitarian aid.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 26, 1981
NDP defence critic questions the defence minister about government denial of Agent Orange testing for Vietnam.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 17, 2003
International Control Commission representative Blair Seaborn describes his top-secret missions to Hanoi.
me: Starts with a clip of Pearson saying a legitimate government asked the US for help and that's why they did it. How revisionist! But does say we can't solve the problem by military means.
Broadcast Date: Feb. 17, 2003 (I'm guessing part II to that above)
Victor Levant feels Canada's involvement in Vietnam is a story of diplomatic skulduggery, economic entanglement and political duplicity. (He wrote Quiet Complicity)
me: Great little 5 min summary of how Canada played both sides of the issue (to some extent)
Broadcast Date: April 24, 2000
Twenty-five years later, Canadian diplomat Ernest Hebert speaks on the record about the pullout.
(me from clip): Hebert that we issued 15,000 entry visas, but Canada couldn't have persuaded the crumbling Vietnamese government for exit visas, moreover, Canada didn't have the capacity to transport them.
(While I probably 'should' finish Karnow and watch another 11 part doc, for the moment I'm considering this project done)