Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 21)

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:
Squad/Section8–13Squad Leader
Platoon26–55Platoon Leader
Battalion300–1,300(Lieutenant) Colonel
Regiment/Brigade3,000–5,000(Lieutenant) Colonel/
Brigadier (General)
Division10,000–15,000Major General
Corps20,000–45,000Lieutenant General
Field army80,000–200,000General
Army group400,000–1,000,000Field Marshal
Army Region1,000,000–3,000,000Field Marshal
Army theater3,000,000–10,000,000Field 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 meriful 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):

"For thirty years North and South had been separated, developing along sharply different lines, joined by wars differently experienced. In the South, in contrast to the North, the war had been both a civil war and a war of resistance against outside aggressors and it had been fought on home ground. With peace came the realization of how different the two societies had become: the centralized party state of the North a stark contrast to the South, still swollen with all the Americans had left behind, including hundreds of thousands of disoriented refugees. Now the North, secure in its power, went about the task of bringing order and coherence without paying undue attention to the mobilization of popular support. Thousands of former government officials and military officers were sent to re-education camps for periods which, families were assured, would last only a few months but could stretch to years of imprisonment. Economics transformation was pursued dogmatically. Many of those who had welcomed the outcome of the war, including some who had fought to bring the revolution to power in the South, felt cheated, even betrayed. The necessities of war had justified the people's immense sacrifices; the necessities of peace, more difficult to determine, could prove harder to accept."


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