Seven myths about the Vietnam War: Three decades after pulling out of Southeast Asia, America remains hostage to a relentless barrage of distortion, myths, and outright lies about the Vietnam War. (Cover Story: Vietnam).
While many Americans, especially those under the age of 40, view the Vietnam War era as ancient history, the ghost of Vietnam is still very much with us, greatly affecting our culture, our beliefs, and our political, social, and military policies. Innumerable journalists, commentators, activist professors, politicians, novelists, and historians have stolen the truth and substituted the most contemptible lies. Consider, for example, the late, celebrated historian Henry Steele Commager. Author of many influential books and articles and an activist in many Communist front organizations and radical-left groups, Mr. Commager aggressively denounced U.S. military actions in Indochina and regularly distorted the facts concerning what was happening during the war. His distortions did not stop once the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam. In 1998, for instance, he wrote the introduction to Loren Baritz's book, Backfire: A History of how Amen can Culture Led Us into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did. Commager praised this anti-American propaganda assault as "the first full-length and scholarly account of why we got into Vietnam in the first place, why we fought it as barbarously as the Japanese in Manchuria or the Germans in Poland, and why we deserved to lose it -- indeed why we did have to lose it if we were to find any kind of ultimate peace.
Incredible! Can the overall performance of American troops in Vietnam truly be compared to the brutal rape of Nanking by the Imperial Japanese invaders of China or the atrocities of Hitler's forces in Poland? Such an obscene defamation of America's armed forces -- of America's sons, fathers, grandfathers, and husbands -- so blatantly contradicts the facts as to seem possible only from the hand of an enemy propagandist. Yet, this abominable screed came from one of our country's most highly praised historians. Many other prominent academics, journalists, commentators, and politicians share Mr. Commager's distorted views and have propagated them in the minds of millions of unsuspecting Americans. In what follows, we hope to inject some truth into the poisonous smokescreen that has clouded popular thinking and discussion concerning the Vietnam War.
Myth #1: The United States was defeated militarily in Southeast Asia.
Response: This, one of the most persistent and widely believed falsehoods, is refuted by overwhelming evidence and unimpeachable authorities. Virtually all military experts agree that America was never militarily defeated in Vietnam; we "lost" the war because of unconscionable political decisions that tied the hands of our fighting forces and prevented them from winning. General Curtis LeMay, a pioneer in the use of strategic bombing during World War II and chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 until his retirement in 1965, said in 1968: "The only reason American soldiers are bleeding and dying in Vietnam today is because our leaders have tied their hands behind their backs. The only reason we haven't had victory in Vietnam is because our leaders have done everything possible to avoid it."
General Paul D. Harkins, commanding general of U.S. forces in Vietnam, stated: "The faster you move in a war, the fewer casualties there are, and the sooner the fighting is over. This war could be won in less than three months, but not the way it is being fought now."
Major General Raymond G. Davis, a Medal of Honor recipient in the Korean War and commander of the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam, was a disciple of the legendary Marine General Lewis "Chesty" Puller. "I kept remembering that the Puller outlook on war was one of total dedication to the proposition that you go out and find the enemy or guerrilla and destroy him," General Davis said of his experience in Vietnam. "He never once thought about trying to protect an area or strong point and displacing people or winning hearts and minds. All that was secondary. I really believe that if we had started with that premise in Vietnam, it would have been over very quickly. Instead we ended up in total disaster."
Are the views expressed above those of a few disgruntled dissidents? Hardly. They expressed what was virtually the unanimous opinion of America's best military minds and most experienced officers. Among the many exhibits we could offer to prove this point is the March 1968 issue of Science & Mechanics. That issue featured a very important article by editor Lloyd Mallan, based on his extensive interviews with a score of top-ranking military leaders. Here are the conclusions of these leaders:
The war against North Vietnam can be irrevocably won in six weeks.... The remaining Vietcong guerrillas in the South could be conquered within six months.... [The war] may go on for another five, ten or more years -- if it continues to be fought as at present.... We are fighting a war in a weak-sister manner that is unprecedented throughout the history of military science.
Who were these military leaders unanimously protesting that our fighting men were being hobbled and needlessly sacrificed in a war that could be won, conventionally, in six weeks? They included: General Nathan F. Twining, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, former chief of naval operations; General George H. Decker, former Army chief of staff; General Frederick H. Smith Jr., former vice chief of staff, Air Force; General Thomas S. Power, former commander in chief, Strategic Air Command; Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, former vice chief of staff, Air Force; and Lieutenant General Arthur G. Trudeau, former Army chief of research and development. Such unanimity from men of their stature and experience is not a matter of politics: It amounts to the nearest thing one can imagine to a military certainty. The war could have been won, and in six weeks. It was not won because the commander in chief, President Lyndon Johnson, and his advisors (McNamara, Rusk, Bundy, Rostow, Ball, Harriman, et al.) would not permit the military to win it.
When briefly set free from the restrictions placed on his Marines by LBJ's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, General Ray Davis' troops kicked tail. Davis was especially aggrieved that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had 162 cannons that were able to pound his men any time the enemy decided to and that he was not allowed to do anything about it. Soon after he was turned loose, his artillery batteries had knocked out all of the enemy cannons, captured 3,500 of their rockets, and destroyed their army divisions. Said Davis: "Once those divisions were destroyed and we had seized all their bases, we were able to destroy the Main Force regiments of the Vietcong that were supported by the North Vietnamese Army. Then we were able to go into the villages and get the Vietcong out. Eventually we had total pacification.... The guerrillas can only work when they are supported by main forces; the only way to get guerrillas is to destroy main forces and their bases of support."
It is not merely the military experts' opinion that victory was possible in Vietnam; they proved it numerous times by their actions, utterly routing the Vietnamese Communist forces.
One of the most extraordinary examples of disinformation concerns the Communists' Tet Offensive of January 1968. The Communists were overwhelmingly defeated in this operation, but the press transformed the defeat into a Communist victory. The Communists themselves say so. Take, for just one example, the Vietcong's former Minister of Justice, Truong Nhu Tang. According to Tang:
Tet proved catastrophic to our plans. It cost us half our forces. Our propaganda transformed the military debacle into a brilliant victory.
'Tet was a huge defeat for the Communists," says Col. Bill Davis, author of TET Marine, whose Marine battalion was guarding Da Nang Airbase. "We knew they were coming because our patrols had not found any booby traps for 48 hours before," he told THE NEW AMERICAN. "So we were waiting and we waxed 'em. We were the defenders and they were just coming in waves to be killed. It was the first time they had come out in the open, so it was much nicer for us than going into the jungle after them. It was a devastating loss of men for them, but the fact that they launched the attack simultaneously in 68 towns impressed [CBS News anchorman] Walter Cronkite. And he and the rest of the media declared that Tet was a crushing defeat for our side. The reporting was appalling."
Myth #2: The impact of the Pentagon's Rules of Engagement on our military capabilities in Vietnam has been greatly exaggerated.
Response: It is hardly possible to exaggerate the deleterious impact that the politically imposed Rules of Engagement (ROE) exerted, both on the actual military performance and on the morale of our forces. In fact, the political powers that be -- in both Democrat and Republican administrations -- understood well that the restrictions imposed on our forces were so clearly unreasonable and immoral that the American public would be totally outraged if they found out about them. So the rules were classified, and our troops and commanders were ordered not to mention them. It was 1985, ten years after the Communist takeover of Vietnam, before Senator Barry Goldwater succeeded in obtaining their declassification. The Rules of Engagement consumed 26 pages of the Congressional Record (March 6, 14, and 18, 1985). Summarizing some of the most Outrageous curbs on our military, Goldwater said:
These layers of restrictions, which were constantly changing and were almost impossible to memorize or understand, although it was required of our pilots, granted huge sanctuary areas to the enemy. When certain limits would at last be removed after repeated appeals by the Joint Chiefs, the reductions were made only in gradual steps and seldom were strong enough to serve our strategic ends. Numerous partial and total bombing halts interrupted the effectiveness of earlier bombing campaigns. Often, when limited extensions of target areas were granted, they were unexpectedly canceled and withdrawn shortly afterward. What were some of the rules?
* SAM missile sites could not be bombed while they were under construction, but only after they became operational.
* Pilots were not permitted to attack a Communist MiG sitting on the runway. The only time it could be attacked was after it was in the air, had been identified, and had showed hostile intentions. Even then, its base could not be bombed.
* Military truck depots located just over 200 yards from a road could not be destroyed. Enemy trucks on a road could be attacked, but if they drove off the road they were safe from bombing.
* If a South Vietnamese forward air controller was not on an aircraft, it was forbidden to bomb enemy troops during a fire fight even though the Reds were clearly visible and were being pointed at by an officer on the ground. The aircraft's bombs were dumped in the ocean.
Myth #3: The North Vietnamese (Communists) won, ultimately, because they occupied the moral high ground. They were fighting for their homeland against a foreign invader.
Response: There was no triumph for the Vietnamese "people" in the U.S. abandonment of Vietnam. A dark shadow of death soon descended on Southeast Asia and Communist auto-genocide (or "democide," to use the term coined by Professor R.J. Rummel) wiped out millions of lives in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and caused recurring floods of refugees not seen since the times of the Mongol invasions.
Talk of "moral high ground" in the same sentence with the butchers of Hanoi is abhorrent. Whatever injustices may have been inflicted on Vietnam by French colonialism or U.S.-supported governments in Saigon, they cannot begin to compare with the tyranny, torture, and democide inflicted on the people of Vietnam (both North and South) following "liberation." The Communist oppression and genocide began long before the U.S. became militarily involved in Vietnam.
In his pathbreaking 1994 study Death by Government, Professor R.J. Rummel notes that "thousands among the most educated and brightest Vietnamese were wiped out in the years 1945 to 1947 that it took the communists to firmly establish their power."
In 1956, high Communist official Nguyen Manh Tuong admitted that "while destroying the landowning class, we condemned numberless old people and children to a horrible death."
According to Professor Rummel's study, "Hanoi is probably responsible for the murder of almost 1,700,000 people, nearly 1,100,000 of them Vietnamese. The figure might even be close to a high of 3,700,000 dead, with Vietnamese around a likely 2,800,000 of them."
Myth #4: The Vietnamese who fought against us were more nationalists than Communists. However; the Communists were willing to help them free their country from the French -- and later; American -- invaders.
Response: Nguyen Huu Tho, the founder of the National Liberation Front (the Vietcong's political arm), was presented to Americans for many years as a liberal attorney, a "nationalist," without any connections to Hanoi or Communism. The NLF, however, was connected to Hanoi all the while, as if by an umbilical cord. Emboldened by the phased U.S. withdrawal, Tho and the NLF began wearing the Red colors more openly.
Once South Vietnam was firmly in Hanoi's grasp, Nguyen Khac-Vien, a leading Communist Party historian in North Vietnam, admitted that the NLF "was always simply a group emanating from [Hanoi]. If we [Hanoi] had pretended otherwise for such a long period, it was only because during the war we were not obliged to unveil our cards."
A corollary of this myth is that North Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh was an ardent nationalist and only accepted Soviet and Communist Chinese assistance because the United States refused to help him fight the French colonialists.
The fact is that by 1945, Ho Chi Minh (the best known alias of the man born as Nguyen tat Thanh, in 1890) had already been a committed Communist for two and a half decades. In 1920, he was a founding member of the French Communist Party. In 1922, he was off to Moscow. In 1924, his Kremlin masters sent him to China as translator and assistant to Mikhail Borodin, the Soviet's top agent in the Far East. In China, Ho recruited Vietnamese youth for training under Soviet instructors at the Whampoa Military Academy. Over the next 20 years, Ho helped spread the Communist revolution throughout Asia, traveling to Burma, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Bangkok, and elsewhere. Authorities throughout the region knew of Ho's criminal and subversive record.
Myth #5: Claims by conservatives and the military that media coverage of the Vietnam War was unbalanced, hostile toward the military, or even anti-patriotic and subversive are not substantiated by the facts. Many scholarly studies have shown that the media coverage, on the whole, was fair and accurate.
Response: We are familiar with some of these studies, which are invariably whitewashes written by fellow leftists, or by even the very reporters who did the malicious and damaging coverage during the war. A few of the leftist media denizens of the Vietnam War era have come clean, admitting what is obvious to any objective observer, that they engaged in propaganda and subversion disguised as news. One of the most refreshing and candid confessions came from Jean Lacouture, ultra-leftist reporter for the major French paper Le Monde, who admitted that he was ashamed "for having contributed to the installation of one of the most repressive regimes history has ever known." Lacouture, whose articles on Vietnam appeared in many major U.S. papers and magazines, said that he and other reporters on Vietnam had operated as "intermediaries for a lying and criminal propaganda -- ingenuous spokesmen for tyranny in the name of liberty." "During the war," he said, "I conducted myself as a militant, sympathetic to their cause and concealed the Stalinist aspect of their system, of which I was well aware."
British writer William Shawcross, whose articles have appeared in Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, and other major media organs, has expressed remorse. At a 1983 "Vietnam Reconsidered" conference held at the University of Southern California, Shawcross reportedly "delivered a moving and eloquent confession of the miscalculations that he and others like him had made about what would happen to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia after the communists took over."
Besides the big, splashy propaganda and disinformation stories like My Lai, Cam Ne, and Tet that so greatly affected public opinion, there was the constant flood of daily stories, photos, editorials, and commentaries -- about both the war in Indochina and the anti-war protests at home -- that cumulatively demoralized the nation.
Nguyen Huu Tho, the Communist founder of the NLF, gave due credit for the Communist victory to the broadcast and print journalists, "including those in the United States who have given moral and political aid to our just struggles."
While many of these journalists were liberal-left dupes and quasi-Marxist sympathizers, probably relatively few were actually under Communist Party discipline. Some Establishment "journalists," though, were indeed hard-core Communist Party propagandists. The most successful (that we know of) was Wilfred Burchett, a Soviet KGB agent whose influence reached far beyond the propaganda and disinformation he fed the American public through his own articles for the Associated Press, Time, Washington Post, New York Times, Harpers, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, and other news outlets.
Myth #6: It was America's pathological anti-Communist obsession that caused our leaders to get us involved in the Vietnam quagmire.
Response: American political leaders did indeed repeatedly cite the threat of Communism and use anti-Communist rhetoric, first, to get us involved militarily in Vietnam and, later, as an excuse massively to expand our involvement there. However, these same leaders, both Democrat and Republican, had done the same thing in Korea and elsewhere with no intention whatsoever of genuinely opposing Communism. In fact, while allegedly fighting the Communists in Vietnam, the internationalists in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations continually supported policies that favored Communist takeovers and expansion in virtually every area of the world. At the same time, they guaranteed that all of our efforts in Vietnam would be futile. It was a continuation of the brutal Yalta betrayal whereby Alger Hiss and other subversives in the Roosevelt administration handed China and Eastern Europe to Stalin.
Our eventual "defeat" in Vietnam was pre-cast decades before our final pull-out, when President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles handed the Communists everything they wanted at the 1954 Geneva Summit. "At Geneva," Time magazine said, "the Communists got precisely what they sought; a vast slice of Indochina [i.e., North Vietnam], and a stance from which to take the rest, plus formal recognition of their military conquests and time to do their further will."
The truth is that Communist North Vietnam would have folded under its own weight if not for continuous, massive transfusions of arms, fuel, food, and supplies of every kind from the Communist world. And even more important to this equation is that Russia, China, and their satellites couldn't have provided those critical supplies to North Vietnam except for the massive aid and trade given to Moscow and Beijing by the United States. In 1973, Professor Antony C. Sutton's meticulously researched and documented study, National Suicide: Military Aid to the Soviet Union, proved that this was precisely the case. Sutton stated:
When all the rhetoric about "peaceful trade" is boiled out, it comes down to a single inescapable fact -- the guns, the ammunition, the weapons, the transportation systems that killed Americans in Vietnam came from the American-subsidized economy of the Soviet Union, The trucks that carried these weapons down the Ho Chi Minh trail came from American-built plants. The ships that carried the supplies to Sihanoukville and Haiphong came from NATO allies and used propulsion systems that our State Department could have kept out of Soviet hands....
Whichever way we cut the cake, there is only one logical and inescapable conclusion: The technical capability to wage the Korean and Vietnamese wars originated on both sides in Western, mainly American, technology, and the political illusion of "peaceful trade" was the carrier for this war-making technology.
"The 100,000 Americans killed in Korea and Vietnam," noted Dr. Sutton, "were killed by our own technology." Sutton hoped that the Republican Party would use this dramatic information to reverse the treasonous policies helping our enemies kill our soldiers. But the Nixon administration wasn't interested. In fact, the aid-and-trade advocates on the Kennedy-Johnson teams had been replaced by equally avid aid-and-trade advocates on the Nixon-Ford teams. The key players in the Democrat-Republican cabinet shuffle were members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the principal nexus of organized effort for detente, East-West trade, U.S.-Russian convergence, and world government. Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, C. Douglas Dillon, George Ball, and W. Averell Harriman (all CFR) were replaced by Melvin Laird, Henry Kissinger, David Kennedy, Elliot Richardson and Philip Habib (all CFR). Under the new Nixon CFR team, aid and trade with Russia, China, and all the Communist countries accelerated, even as the terror and ge nocide swept over Southeast Asia. As long as we had unconscionable officials running the government determined to supply the enemy while placing dangerous and absurd restrictions on our side, the Vietnam War was certain to continue as a "no-win" war. That, tragically, is exactly what happened.
Myth #7: All of America's POWs were returned following the 1973 peace agreement, and Vietnam is now cooperating to find the remains of all the unresolved MIAs.
Response: President Clinton announced on February 3, 1994 that he was lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam, which had then been in effect for 19 years. He was "absolutely convinced," he said, that renewing economic relations with Vietnam is the best way to resolve the fates of the 2,238 U.S. servicemen still listed as missing in that war. Seventy former U.S. POWs from the Vietnam War -- including Representative Sam Johnson of Texas; Admiral James Stockdale, USN (Ret.); Brigadier General Robinson Risner, USAF (Ret.); and Captain Eugene "Red" McDaniel, USN (Ret.) -- sent a letter to the president expressing their strong opposition to lifting the trade embargo against Hanoi. These former POWs urged Clinton "in the strongest possible terms, not to take further steps to restore economic or diplomatic relations with Hanoi until you certify that the Communist government there is fully forthcoming in telling us what they know about our fellow POWs and MIAs who did not make it home with us in 1973."
An October 1990 minority report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations revealed that the Defense Intelligence Agency had "authoritatively concluded as late as April 1974 that several hundred living POW/MIAs were still held captive in South East Asia." Entitled Interim Report on the Southeast Asian POW/MIA Issue, the study stated:
Although the Pathet Lao declared on April 3, 1973 that Laotian Communist forces were holding American POWs and were prepared to give an accounting, nine days later a DOD spokesman declared that there were no more American prisoners anywhere in Southeast Asia. No POWs held by the Laotian Communist forces ever returned. The evidence indicates that the U.S. Government made a decision to abandon U.S. citizens still in the custody of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, at the conclusion of U.S. involvement in the Second Indochina War.
Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord (both top CFR men) represented the United States at the Paris "peace accords." They negotiated the brutal betrayal labeled "peace with honor" that required abandoning our POW/MIAs, including some who were "live sightings." Republican and Democratic administrations since have gone to extreme lengths to cover up evidence that would reignite this issue.
"There are those in Congress who are urging you to lift the embargo as a means to get more information," the former POWs wrote in their letter to Clinton. "Mr. President, such a recommendation is nothing but a submission to blackmail by Hanoi."
The former POWs have been proven right; Hanoi has been showered with hundreds of millions of dollars and has produced little of substance to resolve the outstanding POW/MIA cases.
With the limited space available here, we can only hope to chip a small piece off of the mountains of dis-information and mythology that have accumulated over the years. For an expanded version of this article (along with the source citations) and free access to a wealth of reliable published information and perspective on the Vietnam War, please visit our related web site at: www.jbs.org/vietnam/
RELATED ARTICLE: From Vietnam to 9-11
One of the larger-than-life heroes of the Ia Drang was British-born Lieutenant Rick Rescorla, a naturalized U.S. citizen whose photograph graces the cover of We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young, by General Hal Moore and Joe Galloway. Lieutenant Larry Gwin says that during the desperate battle of Landing Zone Albany: "I saw Rick Rescorla come swaggering into our lines with a smile on his face, an M-79 on his shoulder, his M-16 in one hand, saying: 'Good, good, good! I hope they hit us with everything they got tonight -- we'll wipe them up.' His spirit was catching. The troops were cheering as each load came in, and we really raised a racket. The enemy must have thought that an entire battalion was coming to help us because of all our screaming and yelling."
"I admired the courage it took to land in Albany," said Lieutenant Pat Payne. "Lieutenant Rescorla was one of the best combat leaders I ever saw during two tours in Vietnam. He walked around and pepped everyone up by telling them they'd done a good job, that there was support now, and that things were under control. He never raised his voice; almost spoke in a whisper. We were awfully glad to see him and the others from Bravo Company."
Rescorla earned a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and Bronze Stars for Valor and Meritorious Service. He left active duty in 1967 but continued in the Army Reserves until his retirement in 1990 as a colonel. As vice president of security at the Wall Street brokerage of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Rescorla had an office in New York City's World Trade Center. During the 1993 Trade Center bombing, Rescorla demonstrated the same calm, cool leadership that had brought confidence to his men in Vietnam. He helped ensure that all of his employees got out of the building. When terrorists struck again on September 11th, Rescorla again organized the evacuation of Morgan Stanley's 2,500 work force. Largely due to his direction, all but six of Morgan Stanley's employees escaped the fiery inferno. Rick Rescorla was one of the six. He was last seen heading back into the towers in search of stragglers.
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|Author:||Jasper, William F.|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Mar 25, 2002|
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