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Unicorns and Dragons, Myopic Views of Viet Nam

“One judgmental conclusion then is that America did not at the time and does not today understand the essence of the Viet NamWar.  In this ignorance lie both past tragedy and future danger.” (1)

dragon n unicornUnicorns and dragons are mythological creatures and can be assigned attributes to the liking of anyone choosing to discuss them.   One could give a presentation on comparative anatomy of either creature, invent attributes, and a mythical history.   One might also throw in griffins and yetis or other mythical creature, providing exposition on comparative anatomical characteristics of each, or which would emerge victorious in a fight.  It may be an interesting topic were it not for the fact that the entire discussion would have no practical application whatsoever.   None of these animals exist except in the imagination of those discussing them.   In some respects this applies to the current status of  “Viet Nam-ology” and the late Douglas Pike's prescient observation still holds true.

    Overall, it can be argued that one dismal constant applies to American involvement in Viet Nam: utter failure of any major institution to perform with any degree of intelligent elan.   This in turn derives from a fundamental inability and/or unwillingness to ascertain significant, relevant, factual material and interpret it in a logical and intelligent manner, rationally interpreting history's dynamic and clashing forces, thence proceeding to do whatever to do whatever one intends to do, be it report the “news,” formulate and implement intelligent effective strategy, write “histories” on the topic, conduct high school or college courses, or fight a war.   Today, as in 1960, the warning issued centuries ago by Chinese military geographer Ku Tsu-yu remains unheeded:

“Anyone who is to start military operations in one part of the country should know the condition of the country as a whole.  To start such an operation without such a knowledge is to court defeat regardless of whether it is a defensive or offensive operation.” (2)

    It is essential to recognize it was not simply “the Viet Nam War”' but rather a regional theater “jihad” with Hanoi's objective to establish an ideological communist “caliphate” over all of Indochina and beyond.  The war -Hanoi's war- was no more exclusively about “reunification” of the two Viet Nams than WW II was about driving Nazis out of France only.   Ho Chi Minh's communists, adhering to a Comintern 1930 edict,  had long been involved with training Lao and Cambodian troops and cadre.  In 1962 Hanoi began training Thai insurgents at its Hoa Binh Training Camp and also trained ethnic Viet Namese living in NE Thailand. (3)  As a “condition of the region,” paraphrasing Ku Tsu-yu, an appropriate strategy should have been accordingly designed and implemented by a unified U.S.-led theater command.   It never was, aside from a fatuous attempt to assure Laotian “neutrality” in 1962 via the Laotian Accords, signed by Hanoi, compelling foreign forces to leave Laos.   Hanoi signed the Accords then ignored them.  NVA troop strength in Laos remained intact and increased significantly from 1962 on.  Hanoi had a coherent regional strategy.  No appropriate counter-strategy was either designed or permitted by Washington's druids and geo-political alchemists:

“The way Washington assigned combat responsibilities in the Southeast Asia theater totally thwarted a unified approach.  There was no strategy for fighting the Viet Nam War.  If there had been it would have consisted of several coordinated operational campaigns aimed at those parts of the theater in which Hanoi carried out its own war efforts.  …. The U.S. Strategy for fighting the Viet Nam war was bereft of any such approach.  Instead, disharmony was at play, and coordination and integration never occurred.” (4)

This borders on criminal negligence.  Many other examples of Washington's ineptitude exist: retarding “Viet Namization” by failing to provide adequate weaponry to RVN armed forces (only 5% of RVNAF had M16 rifles in January, 1968), failure to coordinate military and pacification operations (not inaugurated until May 1967 formation of CORDS), failure to attack the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) in coordinated fashion until CORDS, and other areas of malfeasance. 
     One of Washington's more inexcusable failures was inability and unwillingness to engage in the propaganda/counter-propaganda/information/psy-pol war effort war, a vital element of Hanoi's overall strategy.  Roger Canfield has exposed the invidious and effective operations of the “Americong,” yet their deluge of hallucinatory and thoroughly deceitful propaganda would have had far less traction had Washington's bean-counters realized the critical importance of the war for public opinion.  Instead, they mumbled insipid platitudes about “peace,” “not seeking wider war,” etc.  This bland and ultimately boring performance left a Viet Namese, American, and world public audience stupefied with doubt, all the more convinced that Washington either didn't know what it was doing -quite true- and/or it was indeed guilty of the heinous barbarity alleged by Hanoi and its supporters in Viet Nam, America, and the world.  Despite having truth on its side, Washington argued its case with all the soporific lassitude of a hog doped on opium.  Phil Goulding, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, elaborated on this:

“In my four-year tour (July 1965-January 1969) there was not once a significant organized effort by the Executive Branch of the federal government to put across its side of a major policy issue on a major controversy to the American people.  Not once was there a public affairs program....worthy of the name.” (5)

     The bizarre irony here is that there were cubic miles of information the Viet Namese, American and world publics deserved to know and HAD to know if “the Viet Nam War” were to be comprehended in all its complexity and, regretfully, barbarity:

           -daily instances of barbaric VC assassinations (decapitations, disemboweling, etc.)
           -testimony from defectors and North Viet Nam natives who fled NVN in '54, to include the 
            political officer of the VC/NVA 9th division who defected after abortive Tet '68 attacks, saying
            he could not abide further carnage and slaughter of his troops
           -elaboration on Hanoi's violation of Laotian Accords, Geneva '54 Agreements, rules of land
            warfare and any standards of civilized behavior
           -testimony from American advisors who had profound respect for the VN, Montagnard, Hmong,
            Khmer Krom people they worked with and fought alongside of, an example being: “Sgt. Giao,
            Recon 71 commander, bravest son of a bitch I have ever seen.  He was hit in the neck in a night
           assault in '68 and was paralyzed.” (6)
         -Units such as the 37th Ranger Battalion which thoroughly decimated an NVA regiment three 
            times times its size at Thach Tru1966.  The 37th was awarded a U.S. Presidential Citation for    
            its feat, so Washington presumably knew about them.   The 2nd VN Marine Battalion, or
            “Trau Dien”(enraged water buffalo)  was similarly renowned for it battlefield elan.
         -infusion of NVA regulars, taking over because the “guerrillas” -the “VC”- were losing the war. 
           NVA regulars constituted 25% of VC/NVA force structure by the end of 1965, rising to 70% in
           June, 1968. (7)      

The pseudo-strategists in Washington were oblivious, having no idea of the essential need to engage in the propaganda/counter-propaganda/information/psy-pol war battle, a sophisticated multifaceted  relentless and emphatic parallel war to justify American involvement.   They were, for reasons beyond rational inquiry, unable to comprehend to this, as spelled out by one of McNamara's colleagues:

“The war is difficult for him [McNamara].  Viet Nam is a combination of people and ideas and these are two areas in which he is weak.” (8)

The ENTIRE war was about “people and ideas.”  Failure to comprehend this places McNamara in the company of 17th century physicians ignorant of bacteria, underscoring assertion he was completely unfit for the job.

     The concept was not difficult to understand on the face of it, let alone after reading insightful works and listening to people familiar with Viet Nam's intricacies and Hanoi's three-phase warfare, moving up from guerillas through mobile regulars to decisive combat with overwhelming conventional firepower, complemented by a diabolically brilliant “dich van” campaign..   Books by Hanoi ideologue-strategists Truong Chinh and Vo Nguyen Giap, available to McNamara and others and readable in a weekend, were on hand.  Hoang Van Chi and P.J. Honey wrote insightful books.  Also available was experience and knowledge of Viet Namese themselves, non-Viet Namese such as Bernard Fall and Jean Larteguy, both with ample SE Asia knowledge, both ignored by US Embassy staff they spoke with in 1964:

“We talked into a void, reduced to playing a role of Cassandra.  We battered our heads against a stone wall of certitude of the general staff and its experts, those naïve experts who believed because they could handle figures, they could understand human beings.” (9)

       McNamara reportedly said Washington didn't understand Indochina and there was no one who could explain matters, to provide insight and guidance.   He was either ingenuous or dissembling.  Beyond sources cited above, in 1959 several scholars clearly delineated probable characteristics of Hanoi's game plan, easily ascertained by examining Soviet communist behavior and tactics visible in preceding decades:

    “They will attempt to paralyze the decision-makers of Western nations.  To this purpose they will
    increasingly exploit a variety of communication channels to produce conditioned guilt responses,
    schizoid attitudes toward the Communist threat, an excessive defensive mentality, and diverse    
    social neuroses among Western elites.” (10)

That is exactly what occurred.  U.S. government detached myopia, uninspired and often counter-productive ignorance, had many other manifestations, leading to conclusion that Washington's pseudo-strategists were and remain guilty of geo-political-military malpractice of the worst order.


“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for freedom of thought, which they seldom use.”  -Soren Kierkegaard

“The journalists of the United States are generally in a very humble position, with scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind.  The characteristics of the American journalist consists of an open and coarse appeal to the passions of the reader.”   -Alexis de Tocqueville

     News reporting was squalid, superficial, explaining little.  Rather than enlightening the American public it layered myth upon hallucinations, fabulist gossip upon infantile ignorance, providing impressions -as distinct from knowledge- that served only to induce public ignorance as opposed to in-depth comprehension.   Books by Walter Cronkite, Sam Ansom, James Willwerth, Jacques Leslie, Dan Rather, Ron Steinman, Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Peter Arnett, and other media luminaries are replete with abundant errors, gross over-generalizations and inexcusable omissions, leading one to conclude these authors have no idea just how ill-educated they are as no one in his right mind would otherwise publicly expose the puerile ignorance if not outright bias in their views and reporting.  Time magazine's James Willwerth admitted to being influenced by “anti-war”(sic) demonstrations at Berkeley, went to Viet Nam as a reporter, found the marijuana and opium to his liking, discovered that Viet Nam's truths were “essentially hidden” from his mind, and after six months in country could not understand what “pacification” was.   Consider his objectives in writing his VN memoir, choosing “...not to talk of the politics or meaning of Viet Nam.  I prefer to tell a story which might interest readers unable to follow the intricacies of politics or diplomacy closely; how Southeast Asia looked to the mind's eye.” (11)

Hence we have someone who admits to his own ignorance attempting to explain matters to people unable to “follow intricacies.”   Hardly a recipe for intelligent informative commentary.

     Peter Arnett claimed reporters had “ opportunity to cover the secretive Viet Cong...” (12)  and that as late as 1972 Hanoi and its leaders were “...still a mystery,” (13) thus indecipherable to reporters.  Utter nonsense.   Books by P.J. Honey, Hoang Van Chi, Bernard Fall, Truong Chinh, Gerard Tongas and other authors clearly spelled out Hanoi's modus operandi, while thousands of VC defectors, thousands of North Viet Namese emigres, and many former Viet Minh from the North and South, were all around to be interviewed and learned from.  That was Arnett's job.   He didn't do it.  He should have spent time reading intelligent books or speaking with very credible Viet Namese and U.S. Sources, rather than wasting time in such infantile actions as using a slide projector to project pictures of “...genitalia two stories tall...” on a nearby building, “...much to the puzzlement of Saigon policemen pulling security duty.” (14)

     Time magazine's Sam Anson exhibited arrogant ignorance, admitting to having a “...head full
of ideas that had been formed by teach-ins and demonstrations.” (15)  Discussing American troops Anson said
“For all I'd written about them, I'd never felt comfortable with the privates, corporals, and Spec4s who were bearing the brunt of the war.  ….  The further truth was I didn't like them very much.”  (16)

All was not lost however as Ansom found Cambodian opium dens to his liking:

“...I went off with a couple of the wire service guys to Madame Chum's, the most famous opium parlor in Southeast Asia.  ...I had enough trouble handling opium which made me sick instead of high...It took a while to get used to opium ...Lying back on my pillow, watching the swaying breasts of the naked Annamite girl before me, I had the feeling this was going to be a lovely war.” (17)

It was hardly a “lovely war” for those fighting and dying or the innocents caught in the crossfire yet  this mattered little to Anson:
“Credit Viet Nam...whatever else the war was it was sure great for a career.” (18)

     L.A. Times reporter Jacques Leslie arrived in Sai-Gon well aware of his ignorance:

   “I was 24, and I had almost no experience as a newspaper reporters.  I didn't know whether lieutenants or captains were higher ranked, whether battalions or companies were larger.  ….What were VNAF and the HES and CORDS and especially COMUSMACV?...Where was Go Cong....? (19).

Leslie took immediate steps to educate himself, correcting gross deficiencies in knowledge:

“...I sat in my villa trying to read a book until I noticed I'd turned several pages without absorbing a word.  My shelves became filled with Viet Nam books I'd started and abandoned. ...When reading was futile I took out my stash … lit a joint... I liked to think up story ideas stoned and fall asleep before the grass wore off.  The next morning I'd sift through the debris of my ideas, occasionally finding something useful.” (20)

    This mutated form of “logic” led one female reporter to conclude

“...Viet Nam was like a poem because it could only be experienced emotionally and could not be understood through logic or reason.” (21)

Author of this supercilious tripe was as dense as McNamara and other Defense Department klutzes.     If these reporters -or “poets”???- had done their job the American public would have long known

       -384 RVNAF were killed in Hue's recapture, as were 214 American troops. (22)
       -The GVN's land reform program distributed 2,500,000 acres of land to 800,000 formerly  
         impoverished tenant farmers (formerly prime VC recruitment candidates) (23)
       -from 1965 through 1974, RVN's tilled rice acreage increased by 10.5% and rice production by
        40.1%, due to land reform, greater security in rural areas, and IR-8 'miracle rice'  (24)
       -over 200,000 VC/NVA defected to the GVN, many ready and willing to bear arms against
         communist forces (signing their death warrant)
       -Sai-Gon had 15-20 independent newspapers, a number of which were vociferously critical of
        corruption and malfeasance.  No independent newspapers existed in North Viet Nam.
       -approximately 66% of American combat fatalities occurred in the 12 border provinces extending
        north from Hau Nghia to Quang Tri, most were victims of NVA regulars not indigenous VC.  
        These 12 provinces, some of which were virtual wilderness with no large population,           
        constituted 27% of RVN's 44 province total.  The geographic pattern clearly indicates it was NVA  
        regulars, not VC, driving the war.   Indigenous VC did kill many, but not enough to win the war. (25)
       -US combat fatalities were 18% of total allied military deaths.  RVN forces were bulk of remaining
        82%.  So. Koreans, Australians, Thais and New Zealanders also died. (26)
       -The 1970 Cambodian incursion involved 29,000 RVNAF and 19,300 U.S. Troops, was very
        successful. RVNAF displayed operational competence never before exhibited. (27)
       -RVNAF combat fatalities by April '75 totaled approximately 275,000, from an population average 
        of 17 million between 1960 and 1975.  Had the U.S., with average population of 200.0 million, 
        sustained proportional combat deaths the total would 3,235,000, more than America's combat 
        deaths in ALL its wars.  RVNAF combat fatalities exceeded those of U.S. every month of the war.

None of these central facts, all contrary to conventional wisdom and popular perceptions, were or are widely known or reported in 'the news' or  mentioned in college courses on Viet Nam.

San Ansom, who never went on field operations with Regional or  Popular Forces (province and district light infantry, respectively), somehow determined “ one would claim that the 'Ruff-Puffs' were a match for the VC.”  (28) Hardly true.  The Hau Nghia RF, with no regular ARVN support, soundly defeated three regular NVA Regiments during Hanoi's '72 offensive. (29)  RF/PF also performed admirably in Kien Hoa, Binh Dinh and a number of other areas.  Ansom was completely wrong, as was John Kenneth Galbraith  who relied on a “...careful reading of news accounts of the war” concluding “...important GVN units will soon collapse or join the VC” (30) following '68 Tet battles.  The opposite occurred.  Over 64,000 VC/NVA defected in the next two years and RVNAF grew from 643,000 to 897,000 in the same period.  Abundant examples of petulant and profound news media ignorance exist.   A seminar could be given on the subject.  This brief snapshot concludes citing damning indictments from those in the news industry:
“The Viet Nam War threw up more imposters and charlatans in the name of war correspondents than I can remember in all the other wars I have covered together.  ..There were some who invented, distorted and lied....” (31)
“....many newsmen were ill-equipped to understand, let alone question, official or unofficial explanations of military deployments, problems, and progress.  They had to learn, in highly unsystematic, patchwork fashion, while on the job.  And, as Tet 1968 was to show, this was insufficient.” (32)

“For the first time in modern history, the outcome of a war was determined not on the battlefield but on the printed page and, above all, on the television screen. … the war was finally lost … because the political pressures built up by the media had made it quite impossible or Washington to maintain even the minimal material and moral support that would have enabled the Saigon regime to continue effective resistance.” (33)


     “Ignorance is always correctable.  But what shall we do if we take ignorance as knowledge.” 
            -Neil Postman (34)

    Postman was speaking of the news media but statement applies to academia as well, an indictment applicable for the past 40 years and continuing today.   Textbooks and curriculum packages currently used in American high schools and colleges are larded with invented 'facts,' gross over-generalizations, inexcusable omissions and counterfeit logic which do not educate and inform but rather “take ignorance as knowledge.”  A widely used high school text's VN chapter, with equivalent of 13.25 full pages of text(once adjusting 26 pages for photos, maps, quiz boxes, etc.) contains over 220 completely false or grossly misleading statements.  (35)  Chapter is to historical precision as Enron financial statements were to financial accuracy.  A study package prepared by the National Center for History in the Schools states '72 Hai Phong harbor mining was “followed by a North Viet Namese assault...” completely inverting cause-and-effect relationship of both events (36) and cause-effect relationships are primary objective in historical inquiry.  Three texts used in college VN courses, Karnow's VIET NAM – A HISTORY, Robert Schulzinger's A TIME FOR WAR, and Randy Roberts/James Olsen's WHERE THE DOMINO Fell are similarly engorged with non-facts, omitted truths, tortured logic and are little more than cliché compendiums rather than comprehensive ruthlessly honest history.  A miniscule sample of flagrantly false statements:

-Karnow states the VC needed only 15 tons of munitions/supplies/day to wage their war.  Hanoi's own 
  data shows that over 8,900 tons/day were required over a 15 year period. (37)
-Karnow cites two statements by American advisor Capt. Stuart Herrington supposedly reflecting on
  the war's futility.  One statement was not made by Capt. Herrington, while Karnow omits ten other
  Herrington statements, all from same Herrington book, entirely contrary to Karnow's message. (38)
-Schulzinger accurately cites 58,420 VC hoi chanh defectors from '65-'67(19,473 annual average) but  
  then stops, omitting the additional 117,395 (29,438 annual average) from '68-'71. Why the omission?
-Schulzinger avows “Many NVA lived in underground tunnels for months or years at a time.” and
  that “uniforms and sandals [of NVA infiltrators] were expected to last five years.”  Utter inanity of
  these assertions is embarrassingly evident.
-Olsen/Roberts state the Viet Minh were “still unarmed” in September '45, oblivious to long-known
  fact that 35,000 rifles, 1,350 automatic weapons, 200 mortars, 54 artillery pieces came into Viet Minh
  hands from surrendering Japanese forces as well as those captured from the French.
-Olsen/Roberts state the “Cao Dai faith spread rapidly in the Mekong Delta.”  An imagined 'fact.'  Hoa
  Hao Buddhism spread in the Delta.  Cao Dai were concentrated in and around Tay Ninh, north of
  the Delta.
-Olsen/Roberts avow “most” weapons/equipment supplied to RVNAF “..ended up with the Viet Cong.” 
  This is unfounded hallucinatory nonsense, unsupported by ANY source or data.   In fact, VC reliance
  on captured weapons was neither desired nor practical nor widespread. (39)

    Aside from problems with determining and interpreting facts, authors of these and other books display an almost infantile credulity in believing communist propaganda.    In their hagiographic views Ho Chi Minh respected Montagnard autonomy, gave land to poor peasants, was a “nationalist”[note: as was Hitler], and was a benign Yoda-like figure dispensing beneficence and justice.   None of this is supported and all is refuted by factual history.  Virtually all books  exclude mention of GVN land reform, Hanoi's pogrom against non-communist VN nationalists in '45-'46, pronounced improvement of RVNAF from '67 on, or the vital importance of dich van, of which the authors are victims.  No reader or student  could infer  Hanoi would not have prevailed without massive communist bloc aid or hundreds of thousands NVA coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail.  Many authors indulge in this epistemological atrocity, sculpting a mythical history that cannot withstand objective, rational, ruthlessly honest inquiry.   The very educational institutions relied upon to explain history have instead become primary purveyors of historical gossip, rumor, and fantasy, resembling 'Star Trek” acolytes at a “trekie” convention, pontificating on the imagined verities of unicorns, dragons,  and yetis.

The American Military

      Contrary to accepted myth, the U.S. military failed to a far lesser degree than any other major U.S. institution, but it can still be deemed to have failed to a degree, earning a C- or D+ overall, in good part  stemming from policy decisions made in Washington.  One point must be made clear however:  despite shortcomings listed below, elements of the  U.S. military performed in exemplary fashion overall, and most individual personnel conducted themselves very, very well.  Heroes were a dime-a-dozen in Viet Nam(and Laos).

     Military failings were imposed by McNamara's refusal to allow operations to cut, block and hold the Ho Chi Minh Trail, combining this with propaganda campaign contrasting NVA POWs captured on the trail with copy of Laotian '62 agreements signed by Hanoi.  This had been recommended by the JCS, MACTHAI, MACV, RVNAF's JGS, and the Thai government, from 1961 on.  Former communists have acknowledged this would have been disastrous for them.  This failure led to perception of a never-ending “guerrilla” war, ultimately having detrimental effect on U.S. troop morale and performance as years went by.  Next, the military was burdened by inductees accepted under McNamara's “Project 100,000” program dictating acceptance of people otherwise unqualified for military service due to educational and/or behavior deficiencies.  Ultimately almost 300,000 were inducted under this program, creating disproportionate problems in many units they served in.   Some were simply mentally handicapped.  Others were sociopaths.

     That said, there were far too many instances of rude misconduct, hardly appropriate to win hearts and minds.  Advisor David Donovan witnessed a U.S. soldier push an old woman off her bicycle, stopped the proceedings immediately then reflected

“...I have never recovered from the appalling view I got of the conduct of many of my countrymen towards the Viet Namese people.  … the observations were so consistent that the impression has stayed with me like an old sore.  ...I saw incidents of Viet Namese civilians being treated with contempt and disrespect.  It was as true in Da Nang and Saigon as it was in Dong Tam...  most [U.S. troops]tried to do their difficult duty while preserving as much of the Viet Namese people's dignity as possible.  Far too many however were harsh with their judgments, obvious in their contempt ...Their attitudes were corrosive and terribly chilling to the ever-sputtering sense of cooperation between the natives and American soldiery....”     (40)  

The military should have conducted intensive pre-VN deployment classes educating all personnel of the conduct required from and demanded of them.  Viet Nam, its history, people and socio-cultural factors should have been explained in adequate detail, and subsequent in-country follow-up with draconian command emphasis.  More U.S. personnel should have received Viet Namese language training.   As articulated by Larteguy and Fall in their discussion with American officials in '64:

“ must see to it that your fighting man knows the reasons for your involvement here, reasons that touch him personally, in order for him to be able to accept sacrifices demanded of him.” (41)

This was never done or conceived of, creating fertile soil for dich van propaganda and infantile reporting(reporters were very often paragons of 'ugly American' crass behavior).    In addition, and growing like mold in the shadow of Washington's strategic void and flaccid pronouncements, careerism detracted from military professionalism and ultimately battlefield performance.   Again, it is necessary to state that most officers and NCOs performed with professional dignity and honor yet it takes only a craven minority to poison the well.   Insidious effects of careerism and toxic by-product of duplicity are well described by authors Richard Gabriel and Paul Savage (42), as well as the Army's own STUDY ON MILITARY PROFESSIONALISM.  (43)  (Self-serving careerism also infected U.S. civilian agencies in Viet Nam, among them the U.S. State Dept. and CIA.)   It need still be recognized the U.S. military, despite inimical factors and forced acceptance of undesirable personnel, achieved near-miracles in SE Asia.   It turned the course of history in 1965 by stopping Hanoi's incursion into the Central Highlands.   It stopped the momentum of one of the world's most capable light infantries, it pioneered innovative tactics in airmobility,  'artillery ambushes,' and naval-infantry riverine operations.  Individuals routinely performed heroically.   Still, failures must be acknowledged, even more so for having miscreants and pseudo-strategists, in the full spectrum, having impugned honorable people and amplified insidious attributes of flawed strategy.   Finally, though assertions of American atrocities are inflated and not representative of U.S. military behavior, My Lai did occur, as did other crimes and atrocities.  They cannot be ignored or excused.

    Phil Jennings correctly states the RVN emerged as a viable entity following defeat of Hanoi's '72 offensive, a development paid for in blood by U.S. AND allied troops.  It was later doomed and strangled by aid cutbacks.  Amplification is still needed, with no expectation of disagreement from Phil.   First, the reason for congressional antipathy was the cumulative effect of past U.S. bumbling; the damage was probably irremediable by '72 and thereafter.   Second, RVN's viability was predicated on secure borders, all but impossible with NVA-occupied Cambodia and Laos on RVN's lengthy border, a toxic by-product of Washington's disjointed pseudo-strategy.  Next, most Americans have no idea of what it means to say “we could have won-or did-the war.”   Who is “we”?   The pronoun is wrongly taken to mean Americans only, to exclusion of those for whom the war was waged, 275,000 of whom were killed in action (excluding mention of Laotians and Cambodians).  Few Americans know of Generals Nguyen Khoa Nam, Ngo Quang Truong, Nguyen Van Hieu and Nguyen Viet Thanh, widely revered for their impeccable integrity and military prowess.  Few know of Dr. Phan Quang Dan or Tran Van Tuyen, GVN figures also respected for their mental and moral virtues.  Unless and until “we” is taken to mean Americans AND the people and military of the Republic of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, and contributions of So. Korean, Thai, Australian and New Zealand forces, the entire subject remains obscured and comprehension impossible.

After The “War Ended”

“Peace is not an absence of war.   It is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.”    -Baruch Spinoza

    American myopic perceptions did not end when Hanoi's war supposedly ended in 1975.  There was no “peace.”  Death and misery continued on the Indochinese peninsula and were arguably worse.  Little was reported in “news,” much has been ignored by would-be “historians.”  Data is scattered but order-of-magnitude estimates suggest annual average of approximately 180,000 deaths per year from mid-'54 through May 1975.   From  May '75 through year-end 1990 the annual average death toll approaches 225,000.  Many more civilians died in the latter period than during the anti-Hanoi war. (44)  This includes all fatalities on all sides in Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia and the Thai border war(which finally petered out in the late 1980s).  Most of latter figure derives from Cambodia yet Hanoi set the Khmer Rouge up in business, did heavy combat lifting in Cambodia, and therefore bears responsibility.  All has not been and is not well in Indochina.  By 1985 Viet Nam's infant mortality rate doubled from pre-'75 levels, primarily from malnutrition.  1999-2002 data indicates non-weighted average infant and maternal mortality rates of VN, Laos and Cambodia are twice that of Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia average. (45)  In 2010 Viet Nam and Laos ranked 165th and 168th respectively, of 178 nations surveyed, in terms of press freedom. (46)  In 1999 Viet Nam's per capita income was 20% of Thailand's having declined from 80.5% in 1950 when Viet Nam was torn by war.  This from Hanoi economist Le Dang Doanh, citing corruption and dictatorial one-party rule as primary reasons for the malaise.  (47) Various sources rank VN and Laos in top 20 countries in oppressing religion.  (48)  2011 ranking of economic freedom shows VN, Laos and Cambodia with rank average of 127 while Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have average ranking of 86.  Ethnic minorities are harassed and jailed.  (49) To escape impoverished hopelessness Mekong Delta young women marry So. Korean or Taiwan husbands.  Hanoi has 'exported' over 400,000 workers overseas.  Former communists, Party officials, NVA officers, PRG ministers and covert agents, have renounced the Communist Party and its polices.   A number escaped as 'boat people,' others have been jailed. (50)   The deplorable situation is seldom examined in news reports and is virtually ignored in classrooms, despite the ease with which this information can be found on the internet.

      Thus, major U.S. institutions envisioned unicorns and dragons of various kinds, none of which were  anything more than illusions, gossip, rumor.  Little that could be 'learned' was applicable in SE Asia or explains what has taken place since 1975.  In the end, the American dysfunction machine was ultimately a contributor to Hanoi's Indochina conquest, aiding and abetting through cumulative effect of simple inability to ask how and why a Viet Namese (or Laotian or Cambodian) rice farmer thought and acted as he did.   People and ideas.  As Norman Podhoretz concluded
“In abandoning these people at the end, the United States demonstrated that saving South Viet Nam from Communism was not only beyond its reasonable military, political intellectual capabilities, but that it was ultimately beyond its moral capabilities as well.” (51)

     Whether or not Viet Nam holds any lessons to be applied in Afghanistan is one question, yet another is whether major U.S. institutions can function as a coherent whole.   If, as is arguably the case, little has been learned from Indochina, what can be gained comparing an Indochina unicorn with an Afghan dragon?


(1) Douglas Pike, P.A.V.N., (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1986), p. 53.
(2) Samuel B. Griffith, translator, THE ART OF WAR BY SUN TZU (London/NY: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 44.
(3) Donald Kirk, A WIDER WAR, pp. 155, 159.
(4) Richard H. Shultz, Jr., THE SECRET WAR AGAINST HANOI (New York: Harper/Collins/Perennial, 2000), pp. 277-278.
(5) Phil G. Goulding, CONFIRM OR DENY: INFORMING THE PEOPLE ON NATIONAL SECURITY (NY: Harper & Row, 1970) pp. 81-82 (also cited in Harry Summers, ON STRATEGY, p. 12)
(7) Michael Clodfelter, VIETNAM IN MILITARY STATISTICS, McFarland, p. 133.
(8) Arthur Hadley, THE STRAW GIANT (New York: Avon/Random House, 1987), p. 155.
(9) Jean Larteguy, THE FACE OF WAR (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1979), p. 259.
(10) Strausz-Hupe, Kintner, Dougherty, Cottrell, PROTRACTED CONFLICT, p. 111.
(11) James Willwerth, EYE IN THE LAST STORM (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1972), pp. 174, 79, xii (in order of comments)
(12) Peter Arnett, LIVE FROM THE BATTLEFIELD (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 134
(13) Ibid p. 273.
(14) Ibid, p 222.
(15) Robert Sam Anson, WAR NEWS (New York: Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 1989), p. 34.
(16) Ibid, p. 50.
(17) Ibid, p. 96.
(18) Ibid, p. 16.
(19) Jacque Leslie, THE MARK (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995), p.17.
(20) Ibid, pp. 98-99..
(21) Bartimus, et al, WAR TORN (New York: Random House Trade Paperback, 2004 [hardbound, 2002], p. 50.
(22) Clodfelter, p. 132
(23) Thompson and Frizzel, THE LESSONS OF VIET NAM, p. 238
(24) Nguyen Anh Tuan, VIET NAM-Trial and Experience (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University International Studies Center, 1987), p. 399.
(25) Compiled from Clodfelter data.
(26) Compiled from Clodfelter data..
(27) Robert Sorley, A BETTER WAR, p. 204.
(28) Ansom, WAR NEWS, p. ?
(29) Described in Stuart Herrington, SILENCE WAS A WEAPON (Novato, CA: (Presideio Press, 1981.
(30) Peter Braestrup, BIG STORY (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1978),  p. 335
(31) Dennis Warner, NOT WITH GUNS ALONE (Richmond, Australian: Hutchison Group, 1978), p. 291.
(32) Braestrup, p. 12.
(33) Robert Elegant, HOW TO LOSE A WAR, Encounter, August, 1981, reprinted April, 1982, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C., pp. 1-2.  (Also available on internet).
(34) Neil Postman, AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH (New York: Elizabeth-Sifton-Viking Books, 1985), pp. 107-108.
(35) Full list of fallacious statements with counter-evidence contained in GODZILLA AT KHE SANH.
(36) D. Antonio Cantu and Sandy Canty, The Viet Nam War: A National Dilemma (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 2003), p. 8
(37) Norman Hannah, LAOS: THE KEY TO FAILURE, p. xiii.
(38)All found in Herrington's book, SILENCE WAS A WEAPON.
(39) See Charles Parker IV, VIET NAM-STRATEGY FOR A STALEMATE, p. 16, for long overdue intelligent discussion on this subject.
(40) David Donovan, ONCE A WARRIOT KING, pp. 26-29.
(41) Larteguy, THE FACE OF WAR, p. 259.
(42)  Richard Gabriel, Paul Savage, CRISIS IN COMMAND (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978).
(43) Discussed in Kitfield, PRODIGAL SOLDIERS.
(44) Tabulation still underway and subject to revision.   Dozens of sources have been researched.
(45) Data from CIA Factbook, UN, World Bank.
(46) index-2010,1034.html
(48) USCIRF.GOV,  See also
(50) List of disaffected includes Bui Tin, Nguyen Cong Hoan, Nguyen Tuong Lai, Dr. Duong Quynh Hoa, Duong Thu Huong, Tran Do, Doan Van Toai, Hoang Minh Chinh, Tran Anh Kim, Pham Que Huong, Le Thi Anh.
Toai's 'Lament for Viet Nam' is recommended: Lament for Vietnam.htm.
(51) Norman Podhoretz, WHY WE WERE IN VIET NAM, p.173.


This speech was delivered at the Seventh Triennial Viet Nam Symposium - Texas Tech University on March 12, 2011 by Bill Laurie. 

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