The following material from William Westmoreland is no longer available on the internet and I am placing it here in order to be able to link citations to it:
An Interview With
General William C Westmorelandby Larry Englemann of the The Washington Post Magazine, 2-9-86
By the end of the summer of 1973 I thought it was virtually impossible for So. Vietnam to survive. How in the heck could they? Napoleon wrote that on the battlefield, morale is to materiel as three is to one. And sometimes it is even more important-four to one or five to one. And Cong- was cutting into both the morale and the materiel for the South Vietnamese.
I talked with President Ford about this problem. But he said there was nothing he could do about it. He said he just did not have the political clout to get Congress to reconsider the Case-Church Amendment.
I retired from the Army in the summer of ’72. And about that time I wrote an editorial for the New York Times-an article I decided not to publish. I wrote that an early peace in IndoChina was merely an illusion and that a viable cease-fire in Vietnam was not a realistic prospect.
As a matter of courtesy I sent a preliminary copy of the article to the State Dept and I got a note back from Kissinger, through an intermediary, stating that they would just as soon I not put forth my thesis in The Times. So I didn’t.
The Paris Agreement (PA) was signed and soon after that Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment (CCA). Then in early ’75 the NV seized all of Phouc Long province, in violation of the PA, and we did nothing about it. In March they attacked Banmethuot and, again, we did nothing. They had decided to violate the PA because they clearly had nothing to fear from us.
I was sick about what was happening. My memory of those days, though, is not as sharp as it might be because I suffered a heart attack and I was in the hospital for six weeks. I was aware o what was happening. And there was nothing I could do about it. Congress had tied out hands. I was disconcerted and very deeply depressed by the situation.
Militarily, you must remember that we succeeded in Vietnam. We won every engagement we were involved in out there. As the senior commander in Vietnam, I was aware of the potency of public opinion-and I worried about it. I told Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense, in a private session in the spring of ’64, “This is going to be a long, drawn-out war the way it’s being fought. And getting resources in Washington is already like pulling teeth. The thing that is worrying me,” I advised him, “is the staying power of the American public.”
Unfortunately, the staying power of the American public had limits when it came to Vietnam. The anti-war movement was an important factor undermining public support.
There were, of course, a large number of factors involved in the appearance and persistence of the antiwar movement. If you look at the cycles of opinion on the campuses of this country, you will find that there has been over the years an inevitable swing toward pacifism and then away from it and then back to it again. It happened just before our entry into WWII. I know because I was a cadet at West Point and we were not very popular among other student groups. The coeds at Vassar demonstrated against the military when I was a cadet. If it had not been for the attack on Pearl Harbor, we would not have had the same phenomenon on college campuses that we observed during the Vietnam war.
The U.S. Initiated conscription before the attack on Pearl Harbor (PH), and it was very unpopular on the campuses and in the body politic. When the draft bill came up for renewal in Congress, it passed by one vote. One vote! That was only a short time before the attack on PH.
The peace movement in the ’60’s in this country had many of the same ingredients as the peace movement in the ’30’s, before PH. What was new about the situation was that the Vietnam war was an undeclared war.
When we declared war after the attack on PH those who conducted themselves in what was considered an unpatriotic or treasonous way were put in jail. But during the Vietnam war, since it was an undeclared war.
Malacca Straits, the waterway between the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean (IO). If that area fell under the control of a hostile power, then we would have to go thousands of miles out of our way o get to the IO. What happened, in the end, was that we lost IndoChina to the communists. But we did not lose Southeast Asia (SA). SA south of IndoChina is now a part of the free world.
The leaders of that part of the world, leaders like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, will tell you today that by virtue of our holding the line in Vietnam for ten years, we gave them 10 years to develop their own resistance to communism-to develop their own confidence in running their own affairs. They had all been colonies of the West-with the exception of Thailand-and they had to develop the infrastructures, their economies and their ability to resist communist pressures. And they will tell you that if we had not stood and fought in Vietnam-if we had not drawn the line there-then the dynamics of communism would have swept throughout the area. Now I would remind you that the Indonesians threw out the Russians in ’66. And they will tell you that they never could have done it if we had not taken a stand in Vietnam.
Something very important was accomplished in Vietnam. We saved SA south of IndoChina, and we might have saved South Vietnam (SV), if we could have been supported and sustained. To do that we would have had to have a mil- itary presence in that part of the world right down to today.
I will tell you just what that presence would have to be: First, we would have to have not only a Marine division in Okinawa, but an Army division closer than Hawaii. We would have to maintain a carrier off the coast of SV. We would have to have B-52’s at U Taphao in Thailand and maybe a few squadrons of fighters in Nakhon Phanom in Thailand. We would have to keep American soldiers there with communications links to the SV Army, to bring fire power to bear if it was needed.
Now that would have been expensive. We would have had to pay the price and to bear the burden in order to enforce any effective peace accords. But we were not willing to pay that price and to bear that burden.
When the soldiers came home from Vietnam-paying that price and bearing that burden-there were o parades and no celebrations and no thank-you’s for them. So they built the Vietnam Memorial for themselves-the boys did. And I was there for the dedication of the memorial in Nov of ’82.
The building of that memorial was the turning point in attitudes of the veterans toward themselves and in the attitude of the American public toward them. They converged on Washington in Nov or ’82 and they had a welcome home for themselves-because no one else had dome it for them. And then they put together a parade in honor of themselves-because no one else had done it for them. They built their memorial without asking Congress for a dime. They dedicated it to the dead without asking for Congress to help. That sent a message.
The memorial is a masterpiece; it’s fitting, too. The names of the dead are listed there, chronologically. Just the names. People always ask me today how I want to be remembered. I’d like to let history take its course. I don’t know what it will say about me, but I hope that history will note of the last sentence I wrote in my autobiography:
“As a soldier prays for peace, he must be prepared to cope with the hardships of war and bear its scar.”
I bear its scars.
William C. Westmoreland, “A Look Back”, 1988
Anybody paying even perfunctory attention to provisos of the 1973 Paris cease-fire agreement, including the American who negotiated it under pressure for disengagement and return of American POW’s, Henry Kissinger, should have been able to discern the disadvantage to which we had condemned the South Vietnamese. Thus in noting that I was seriously perturbed over the agreement both while negotiations were in progress and after the agreement was signed, I make no claim to any particular clairvoyance.
In the fall of 1972 while negotiations for a cease-fire were underway, I prepared an article at the request of the editors of the New York Times in which I discussed the possibilities of a settlement in South Vietnam [RVN]. Af- ter consulting with Henry Kissinger’s office lest my remarks create some pro- blem in Paris, I withheld the article from publication; but in view of the final denouement in Vietnam, I find some of my observations of interest.
In my opinion, I wrote, “an early peace in IndoChina is an illusion. And I also believe that a viable cease-fire is not a realistic prospect…” It was hardly surprising, I noted, that the North Vietnamese [NV] would call for a cease-fire after having achieved advantages in their big 1972 offensive.
Unless forced by the agreement to withdraw, they would gain at least de facto sovereignty over those portions of RVN they had captured and would probably move their troops into those remote regions of RVN, particularly in the Central Highlands, not then occupied by either side. That is what subsequently happened, in effect enabling the NV to outflank almost the entire northern 2/3’s of RVN.
I went on to insist, as I had in my talk with President Nixon in October, that it was vital to achieve withdrawal of all NV troops from RVN. If we would continue the bombing of NV and maintain mines in Haiphong Harbor, which had promoted the first meaningful discussions by the NV, I believed we could obtain their withdrawal and attain our objective of assuring the South Vietnamese a reasonable chance for survival.
Upon first public announcement early in 1973 that a ceasefire had been signed, I reiterated some of those views to a reporter for the Charleston, South Caro- lina, News & Courier but asked that the interview not be made available to the national wire services lest I appear to display a negative attitude toward a possible step toward peace. I seriously doubted, I said, that the NV would halt their efforts to conquer the south. “I just hope,” I remarked, “we don’t in any way tie the hands of the South Vietnamese so they are prohibited from taking appropriate action to provide for the security of the people of RVN.”
In my view the US had signed a solemn international agreement involving the fate of another country and in so doing had incurred a clear moral obligation to insure that the agreement was enforced. Under accepted practices of international law, when one side violated a treaty, the other is no longer bound by it and can take punitive action, including a renewal of hostilities. That was no doubt behind President Nixon’s pledge that if NV violated the agreements, the US would “react vigorously”, which obviously meant with American bombs.
Yet when the need arose, that instrument had been put out of reach by the impotence that the Watergate scandal imposed on government in Washington and by the action of the US Congress in 1973 in forbidding the funding of any American combat action without congressional approval (Case-Church Amendment). President Ford made no effort to obtain congressional approval for new combat action, nor did any of 12 nations other than the US and RVN that had comprised the international conference at Paris to guarantee the ceasefire agreement even bother to speak out against NV violations. These developments were recognized by Moscow and Hanoi as our instrument of surrender; they could break the Paris Peace Accord and get by with it.
Despite the long years of support and vast expenditure of lives and funds, the US in the end abandoned RVN. There is no other true way to put it. We not only failed to react to the gross violations by the NV of a solemn international agreement; we also failed to match the material support that the big Communist powers provided the NV. We failed even to replace all expended RVN arms and equipment, as we were entitled to do by terms of the ceasefire agreement; and it was clear, as RVN began to collapse, that the US Congress was about to eliminate all assistance.
Presumably reflecting the attitude of a majority of the American people, the Congress was tired of the Vietnam struggle. “Additional aid means more killing, more fighting,” the press quoted Senator Mike Mansfield as saying, “This has got to stop sometime.”
The killing could have stopped before it began, back in the late 1950’s, had the South Vietnamese people and their leaders been willing to forsake freedom, to knuckle under to totalitarianism. The killing continued primarily be- cause the NV continued their aggression but also because millions of South Vietnamese preferred the possibility of dying to succumbing to communism. Dating from the days of the Geneva Accords of 1954, the refugees had always flowed south, not north, and even those American’s who long maintained that the refugees were not fleeing the enemy but American shelling and bombing would have to admit that even after American shelling and bombing stopped, the flow was still always southward. So it was until the final deplorable end.
How could anyone genuinely believe that the South Vietnamese people had no desire to forestall the march of totalitarianism, to maintain their freedom – however imperfect – when for years upon years they bore incredible hardships and their soldiers fought with courage and determination to do just that? They carried on the fight under a government that many Americans labeled unrepresentative, repressive, and corrupt. No people could have pursued such a grim defensive fight for so long without a deep underlying yearning for freedom.
But as Sun Tzu put it, “There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefitted.” I myself had summed it up at the Honolulu conference of February 1966: “There comes a time in every battle – in every war – when both sides become discouraged by the seemingly endless requirement for more effort, more resources, and more faith. At this point the side which presses on with renewed vigor is the one to win.”
The American people were tired of a war that had gone on for more than 17 years, one in which their sons had been directly involved in a combat role for over 7 years, one in which the vital security of the US was not and possibly could not be clearly demonstrated and understood, and one in which progress was controlled by political constraints. Yet it need not have been that way.
Between 1963 and 65, for example, when political chaos gripped RVN and the lack of cohesiveness in the nation’s heterogeneous society became clearly evident, the US could had severed its commitment with justification and honor, though not without strong political reaction at home. Had not President Kennedy pledged the nation to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty? Indeed, Vietnam may have served a purpose for John F Kennedy. Following his disastrous meeting with Krushchev in Vienna in 1961, Kennedy allegedly told James Reston of the New York Times: “Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam looks like the place.”
Even after introduction of American combat troops into RVN in 65, the war might still have been ended within a few years, except for the ill-considered policy of graduated response against NV. Bomb a little bit, stop it a while to give the enemy a chance to cry uncle, then bomb a little bit more but never enough to really hurt. That was no way to win or bring the communists to the conference table.
Yet even with the handicap of graduated response, the war still could have been brought to a favorable end following defeat of the enemy’s TET offensive in 1968. The US had in RVN at that time the finest military force – though not the largest – ever assembled. The build-up of troops and the logistical support base were slow in coming, but at last they were there ready for decisive action. Had the President allowed a change in strategy and taken advantage of the enemy’s weakness to enable the command to carry out operations planned over the preceding 2 years in Laos and Cambodia and north of the DMZ, along with intensified bombing and the mining of Haiphong Harbor, the NV doubtlessly would have been broken. But that was not to be. Press and television had created an aura not of victory but of defeat, which, coupled with the vocal anti-war elements, profoundly influenced timid officials in Washington. It was like 2 boxers in a ring, one having the other on the ropes, close to a knock out, when the apparent winner’s second inexplicably throws in the towel.
As I Saw It And Now See It
An Analysis Of America’s Unique Experience In V’nam
By General W. C. Westmoreland, USA, (Retired)
I don’t have to tell you that the war in Vietnam was a traumatic experience for our country. It was a war – so complex – that few understood it. It is still a confused issue. In my talk today, I will try (based on my knowledge, experience and analysis) to untangle that knot of confusion and misunderstanding. As a useful outline for my remarks, I refer to Karl Von Clauswitz who is accepted by many as the most profound but somewhat ambiguous writer on military strategy, who suggested that war to be successful must be based on 3 criteria:
- a clear objective backed by a practical strategy
- prosecuted by appropriate operational instruments and
- backed by the “passions” of the people of the nation.Indeed, the policy of the us government was influenced by:
- the Truman doctrine of 1947
- the Eisenhower strategy of “containment” – containment in the spread of communism
- the defeat of Khrushchev’s “wars of national liberation” and
- President Kennedy’s inaugural words.more specifically our interest in South Vietnam was born in the post WW2 period, motivated by a concern for unchecked communist movement into insecure and unstable areas.
In 1947 President Truman enunciated a national policy that pledged us to the unconditional support of “free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by minorities or by outside pressures”. The congress approved this doctrine by an overwhelming majority. That was the first bench mark along our unwitting and precarious route.
In 1950, President Truman sent a military mission to Saigon. later, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles emphasized a policy of “containment” in association with a massive retaliation strategy. Senator John F. Kennedy said in 1956 “the counterstone of the free world is Southeast Asia”. When Senator Kennedy was elected President he demonstrated interest in the so called “small war” concept, became concerned about the size and readiness of the army that he thought had been neglected under President Eisenhower, he increased the size of the army, and personally sponsored the army’s “Green Berets”. He anticipated the advent of nuclear parity between the US and the Soviet Union.
after his verbal confrontation with Chairman Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961, President Kennedy reportedly stated to Scotty Reston of the New York Times: “We have a problem in making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place”. This brief recounting emphasizes the multiple forces at work during those early years toward our involvement in Southeast Asia. That involvement was inevitable.
President Kennedy set the tone of his administration in his inaugural address when he pledged our nation “to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty”.
President Kennedy greatly increased our military effort in Vietnam with advisors, “Green Berets”, American-manned helicopters, and tactical aircraft. (at west point in 1962, the President alerted the cadets to a “new type of war”.) The young President in his zeal made a grievous mistake in assenting to the overthrow of President Diem of South Vietnam. In my view, that action morally locked us in Vietnam. Hence, political chaos prevailed for 2 years. For the first time our policy makers gained an insight into the chronic internal problems of complex South Vietnam, a country with no experience in self-government.
If not for our involvement in the change of leadership in South Vietnam, and based on pragmatic considerations, alternatively, we could have gracefully withdrawn our support in view of a demonstrated lack of political unity in that small country.
But, in the wake of Mr. Kennedy’s inaugural pronouncements, it is doubtful if his or Mr. Johnson’s administration would have risked the political repercussions. President Kennedy’s inaugural address was still ringing in the ears of Americans. on the other hand, strategic considerations relative to geography and important resources – oil, rubber, tin – were also present.
I was in Vietnam during that politically turbulent period and I recall no discussion of our withdrawal. President Johnson inherited the problem. He was obsessed with his “Great Society” program. In the hope that the war would go away, he expanded our military efforts to avoid inevitable defeat and increased the national debt to do so. But no one, “bore a burden, met a hardship”, except those on the battlefield and their loved ones. (In the Spring of 1964, I had a long 1-on-1 talk in Saigon with Secretary McNamara and warned him that it would probably be a long war that would challenge public support.) There was no question about our national objective. It was bipartisan. But the strategy was another matter. There was no agreement. It was based on wishful thinking and some faulty assumptions, particularly as to the nature of the threat and the character of leadership in Hanoi. The conventional wisdom in Washington (which was also the communist propaganda) was that the threat was a home grown communist insurgency supported by guerrillas.
The counter to that was pacification. Indeed, that was a significant element but South Vietnam was not to be conquered by the guerrilla. It was to be conquered by the North Vietnamese army. However, the objective of both of our political parties was to defeat aggression (not conquer North Vietnam) and to bring the enemy to the conference table. I do not recall that that objective was never clearly and publicly stated.
The will and toughness of the leadership in Hanoi was greater than expected. The bombing campaign was intended to break that will but restraint on the exercise of our capability was too much and only lifted in 1972 – 4 years too late. (I did not have responsibility for the air campaign in the north. That responsibility was vested in my military boss, the Commander-in-chief, Pacific – Admiral Sharp.) our military efforts were politically restrained by several considerations:
- a fear of bringing the Chinese Army to the battlefield
- a fear of escalating and geographically expanding the war on land and to the seas, thereby involving other countries. (1 of the first official policy statements by our President was that we would not geographically expand thewar. Militarily that boxed us in.)
- faith in Ambassador Harriman who presumably had influence with and an understanding with the leadership in Moscow.
- a desire to reduce the cost of the war.
- finally, there was a fear of arousing further the well-organized and growing anti-Vietnam war movement at home and abroad.Our policy makers were influenced by our Korean War experience. They recalled General MacArthur’s initiative. In moving to the Yalu River along the Chinese border on the assumption that the Chinese army would not join the war.
but the Chinese army did – in mass, and we found ourselves again south of the 38 parallel. (Incidentally, I talked extensively with General MacArthur in 1963 before going to Vietnam.) in the Korean War the enemy was brought to the conference table in 1953, allegedly, but I believe factually, by President Eisenhower’s diplomatically delivered threat to use nuclear weapons. At that time the enemy had no counter to that threat.
Our leadership had no such leverage in Vietnam, physically or psychologically. There was wishful thinking by our policy makers that the western border of South Vietnam adjoining Laos and Cambodia would be protected by the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the Geneva Agreement on Laos in 1962 – both to be policed by the International Control Commission (ICC), chaired by an Indian Ambassador with membership from Poland And Canada. The assumption was erroneous, resulting in the battlefield of South Vietnam having an open, hostile flank of almost 800 miles and the use of the port in Cambodia which was then named Sihanoukville.
In contrast, Korea was a peninsula with flanks on the sea. The Korean front along the 38 parallel was only about 125 miles. Now the second criteria by Clauswitz – did we have the appropriate operational instruments? – In other words, did we have a military force trained and equipped for the task? We did, thanks particularly to our army that recognized the capability and utility of the helicopter on the battlefield and foresaw the role and capability of the enemy guerrilla. Without the helicopter with its multiple uses, we could not have accomplished what we did in Vietnam – a country as long as California and about half as wide with an extensive, almost unprecedented hostile front. Also, counter-insurgency training was started by the Army in the mid 1950’5. I would remind you that, unlike the French, the American military suffered no lost like the demise along Highway 19 of French army group Mobile 100 in 1953 and a battlefield defeat like that at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. And as you surely know, but many do not, when South Vietnam was taken over by the North Vietnamese army, American combat troops had departed some 2 1/2 years earlier. The dedicated student and renowned expert on the Vietnamese communist, Douglas Pike has written: “The American military’s performance in Vietnam was particularly impressive. It won every significant battle fought, a record virtually unparalleled in the history of warfare.”
Clauswitz’s final advice for success in war was: support of the war by the passions of the people. Another Clausewitz dictum comes to mind, “war is the extension of politics by other means” and the reverse proved to also be applicable in America – politics is the extension of war. The Vietnam war continues to have an impact on politics.
Needless to say, public attitudes had a major influence, not only on the conduct of the war, but it’s outcome.
What were the factors, developments, and policies that shaped the “passions of the people”. There were many. It was not a declared war which made it impossible under the law to restrain people like Jane Fonda, Ramsey Clark and others who successfully divided support for our idealistic commitment articulated by President Kennedy and others. The Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution by the congress in August 1964 should which committed us to war should have been reaffirmed each year bringing about a public debate on the continuation of the commitment and making clear the will of congress. (There was apparently a political fear of such debate.) The policy of the Johnson administration was to “play” the war “low key”. Confusing to the body politic, was disappointment that the SEATO Treaty had no teeth and proved to be a facade. Also, the American people saw the war through the lens of WW2. The fact that the war could not be followed on a map and that there was no apparent geographical objective was perplexing and frustrating to our people.
The American people never understood that our strategy was to stop aggression, defeat the enemy only in the south and assure reasonable security to the people of South Vietnam and, by our military actions including the bombing of North Vietnam, bring the communist to the conference table.
The policy of deferring college students from the draft, dis-stabilized the campuses and developed a psychological atmosphere that played into the hands of anti-Vietnam war factions. That policy affected the quality of the Corps of junior officers since in all other wars the major source of officers was from the college campus. Instead because of the college deferment policy, that source of officer was seriously restricted. An expanded OCS (Officers Candidate School) program had to fill the void. (Not to be misunderstood: the army received thousands of fine young officers from the OCS program.) Finally, the cost of success in pursuing an ambiguous and little understood strategy exceed the political stamina of a substantial percentage of the our people.
I told President Johnson, in the presence of his senior advisors at Guam, in the Spring of 1967 that if the flow of supplies to the enemy through the Laos panhandle was not stopped the war could go on indefinitely. (that problem was an out growth of Ambassador Harriman’s diplomacy.) The Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese communist was never perceived in perspective by the American people. As in most wars, a strategic counter attack (which the Tet offensive was in early February 1968) was a reaction by the enemy to his recognition that his strategy was not successful and had to be changed.
The Battle Of The Bulge in WW2 was also a case in point. But Tet was pronounced by – some in the reverse – as evidence that we were loosing in the south. The fact that there was no public uprising by the people of South Vietnam against the Saigon regime, despite such announced anticipation by the communist, was a political defeat of Hanoi but given little visibility on our home front.
In contrast to WW2 and the Korean war, there was no media censorship imposed and it was the world’s first TV war.
Some journalist reported irresponsibility and against the interest of success.
Finally, certain TV personalities had more influence on the public in their news pronouncements than informed and responsible senior public officials.
President Johnson stated: “When he lost Walter Cronkite, he lost middle America.” indeed this is a frightening realization. But there were also other developments – in the category “of cause and effect” – which stirred the “passions of our people” (Webster defines “passion” as “an emotion that is stirring and ungovernable”.)
President Johnson’s announcement of 31 March 1968, that he would not run for re-election, was reported as a decision caused by the ememy’s Tet offensive. This has been mentioned so often that most people consider it a fact. It is not a fact. His main reason was his health as he confided his intentions to me privately in mid-November 1967.
The perceived context of the President’s announcement and the way it was handled caused a lessening of support for the war – which was the opposite of what the President wanted. And that was followed by the assassination of Martin Luther King which added another dimension to the emotions of the body politic putting it on the verge of being “ungovernable”. We suffered through the Watergate episode, and saw the arbitrary, straight line, withdrawal of our troops and the signing in Paris of the so called “Paris peace agreement”.
In November of 1967, I had urged the Johnson Administration to plan on turning the war over to the Vietnamese and put money and effort in the preparing for that. I briefed the President, Secretary McNamara and the Congressional Armed Services Committee on the concept without success and discussed it in a talk I made at the National Press Club.
after Mr. Nixon was elected and before taking office, I called several times on President Eisenhower at Walter Reed hospital. On one occasion he asked me if I had any advice that he could pass on to Mr. Nixon. My response was “yes” and I gave him a copy of my talk to the National Press Club in November of 1967. “Ike” thought well of my concept and said he was going to give a copy of the speech to the President elect. I must assume that he did.
Finally, we observed the Case/Church Amendment to the FY 74 appropriations act which prohibited any funds whatsoever “to finance directly or indirectly combat activities by US military forces in or over or from off the shore of North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.” that was an unambiguous message to Hanoi that it could break the Paris Peace Accord and we would not react. That was in contradiction to President Nixon’s commitment to President Thieu.
Then we saw the congress cut military aid to South Vietnam in half and threaten to stop it entirely. And, as you know, in early 1975 with no us troops on the battlefield, the Paris Peace Agreement was broken, communist troops from North Vietnam invaded and conquered the south. The United States had paralyzed itself.
It would seem to me that the greatest challenge to our cherished democracy is to heed another dictum of Sun Tzu “the supreme excellent in subduing an enemy is to defeat him without having to fight him”.
Can our cherished, open democratic society cope with future challenges? (It is interesting to speculate as to the turn of the events in WW2 if not for the unifying effect on the public of the Pearl Harbor attack.) will it take another “Pearl Harbor” to unify our country to pursue a costly venture?
But in the long stretch of history our actions in Southeast Asia will probably look different from our view so close for the events of a decade ago. Even now the ASEAN (Association Of Southeast Asian Nations) those countries of SEA outside of IndoChina, say that from their viewpoint, in there part of the world, we won “by holding the line” for 10 years. We brought 10 years of time for them to mature, gain confidence in running their own affairs, (all except Thailand were former colonies of western nations), to improve their infrastructure and economy and develop resistance to communist pressures.
Meanwhile, those countries of Southeast Asia have looked toward IndoChina, now controlled by Hanoi, and have seen the boat people, the concentration camps, the invasion of Cambodia, the poor state of the economy in IndoChina and an unhappy population and they have concluded that they want no part of that communist system.
But on the other hand the loss of Cam Ranh Bay gives the USSR, for the first time an excellent naval and air base south of Vladivostok. But the communist government in Vietnam, which has demonstrated an inability to run the huge territory it has militarily conquered, is not necessarily a permanent fixture. It is a government in deep trouble.
Now, brief comments about the warrior of an unpopular war.
The percentage of psychological affected veterans does not vary greatly from that experienced after other wars. But in the aftermath of Vietnam, we have heard so much about this percentage-wise small group, that the man on the street has been given the false impression that most Vietnam veterans are psychiatric patients. That is not so.
- 91% of the Vietnam veterans say they are glad they served.
- 2/3 of those say they would serve again even knowing the fate of South Vietnam. (Harris survey 1980)
- There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam veterans and those of their age group who did not serve. (VA survey)
- Fewer Vietnam veterans are in jail than their non veteran age group.
- 1/2 of 1% of Vietnam veterans have been jailed for a crime. (Federal Bureau Of Prisons)
- 97% of Vietnam veterans were discharged under honorable conditions. The same as for 10 years previous.
- 2/3 of the men who fought WW2 were drafted.
- 2/3 of the men who fought in Vietnam were enlisted volunteers.
- The average of the man who fought in WW2 was 26 years of age. The average age of the man who fought Vietnam was under 19. It was a heavy psychological burden for such young men.
At last, the American people should – and I believe do, understand the performance of the Vietnam veterans and the fact that it was not he who failed to make good our national commitment to the people of South Vietnam. That commitment was what the Vietnam war was all about.
Finally, I shall set-forth a pattern of conflicting interest in our society related to the war in Vietnam that could assist in understanding that complex period in our history.
There was the ideological dimension – America is the champion of freedom and self determination of nations. That is what we sought for South Vietnam as we had for south Korea.
Associated with that objective was our strategy of “containment” – containment of the spread of communism.
Second, partisan politics was a factor. The political party out of power jostling with the party in power tended to confuse issues in the public’s mind.
A declaration of war can unify politics as in WW2 but there was no such declaration during the Vietnam war.
Thirdly, at the zenith of our military posture in Southeast Asia, with the capability of bringing the enemy to the conference table, the decisiveness and will of the nation, and hence the President, had been eroded. Fourth, dissenting elements in our society aided and abetted by foreign propaganda were given inordinate visibility. Some media personalities, unwillingly played into the hands of the leadership in Hanoi in attaining its objective. And what was the objective?
Let me answer in the words of the senior military officer of the Vietnamese communist army. General Dung who explained it to Walter Cronkite when he was sent by CBS, hopefully to get helpful information for CBS, during the trial of my case against his network. General Dung said:
“Our war was an all-out war. Victory was measured politically, diplomatically as well as militarily. our objective was to defeat the will of the United States.”
indeed, the US was defeated psychologically and hence politically on our home front and diplomatically by a clever enemy. The US was not defeated on the military battlefield.
The Vietnam war has emphasized a dilemma in our society for which at the moment we have no answer.