Thursday, July 29, 2010

Vietnam: Independent Study (complete)

The full version of the 'project.'

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 24)

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 missle 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.)
R7 (significant)
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.
V9 (significant)
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.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 23)

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."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 22)

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."

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."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 20)

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 thh captial 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)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 19)

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 18)

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: An Independent Study (July 17)

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.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 16)

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 marshalled 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.

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 15)

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 percieved 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 advisors 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.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 14)

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: An Independent Study (July 13)

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).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 12)

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

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vietnam: An Independent Study (July 11)

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 turnd 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.