The Vietnam War, also known as the American War (by the Vietnamese) or the Second Indochina War, was a Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from approximately 1 November 1955 (accounts differ) to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.
This war followed the First Indochina War (1946–54) and was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People's Army of Vietnam (also known as the North Vietnamese Army) engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle. The war exacted a huge human cost in terms of fatalities (see Vietnam War casualties). Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 800,000 to 3.1 million. Some 200,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–200,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict.
- Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.
- Muhammad Ali, as quoted in Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties (1999) by Mike Marqusee; also quoted in the International Socialist Review Issue 33 (January–February 2004)
- The AK-47 went head-to-head with the M-16, and emerged on the winning side.
- Narration to the Top Ten Rifles presentation by the Military Channel (renamed American Heroes Channel in 2014), part of their Top Ten series which began in 2005.
- If we go down that road we might have, within five years, 300,000 men in the rice paddies of the jungles of Viet-Nam and never be able to find them.
- George Ball at a Nov. 7, 1961, meeting with President John F. Kennedy. Ball is objecting to the recommendations of Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor and Deputy National Security Advisor Walt W. Rostow to, among other things, increase the US troop presence in Vietnam (see the Taylor-Rostow report). As quoted in DiLeo, David L., George Ball, Vietnam, and the Rethinking of Containment, (Univ. of N. Carolina Pr., 1991), p. 56.
- 1968- This is when it began to dawn on me that there was a serious competition going on in America to see who could be the biggest group of assholes: the right-wing assholes who thought that the Vietnam War was a god thing, as long as they personally did not have to go over to Vietnam and get shot at; or the left-wing assholes who thought that what we really needed was for more people to shoot each other here at home. It seemed as if both sets of assholes were winning in 1968. The King assassination did, in fact, result in terrible riots; and the Vietnam War, despite its growing unpopularity, became the longest in American history, with more U.S. troops over there than ever, and more men being drafted, and no end in sight.
- Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998), p. 125
- The antiwar protests led to pro-war- or more accurately, anti-anti-war- protests, including a big one in Manhattan in which thousands of people, many of them construction workers, marched through the streets. I went out and watched that one during my lunch hour. My main memory is of two men, both about my age: One was a crew-cut protestor, wearing a tool belt; the other was a long-haired guy on the sidewalk. The long-haired guy started yelling "STOP THE WAR! STOP THE WAR!" The crew-cut guy ran over to him and, stopping just short of making physical contact, began yelling "BETTER DEAD THAN RED! BETTER DEAD THAN RED!" The two of them stood there, close enough to exchange spittle, screaming slogans at each other. That was political discourse in 1970.
- Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998), p. 137
- 1973- This was the year that the war finally ended. Nixon called it "peace with honor," although he surely knew that the Communists would take over, just the same as if we had never gotten involved over there in the first place- except of course for the hundreds of thousands of people who got hurt or killed. So you tell me why the whole thing was not a terrible, criminal waste. You tell me why Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize, instead of being required- along with all the other "leaders" who kept sending Americans over there long after they knew the war was pointless- to get down on his knees and beg the forgiveness of the American veterans, and their families, and the Vietnamese people. Everybody knew that "peace with honor" was bullshit, but nobody cared at that point. Everybody just wanted it to be over. When it finally was, there was no joy, only relief.
- Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998), p. 151. NOTE: The Vietnam War did not end in 1973, but in 1975. 1973 was the year the United States officially withdrew from the conflict and removed the last of its combat personnel from South Vietnam.
- A few years ago I got into a heated argument with the 18-year-old son of a friend of mine. Actually, it wasn't so much an argument as it was me getting angry at him for something he said. What he said, basically, was that he wished there was a war like Vietnam going on right then, so that the members of his generation would have something big, something exciting, in their lives. I told him that this was a reprehensible thing to say; I told him he should not want people to die to keep his generation amused. But in retrospect- although I obviously don't want another Vietnam- I see what he meant. He didn't want people to die; he wanted there to be something to give his life significance, something to mark his formative era that would be more meaningful than whatever TV sitcoms were popular at the time. We Boomers had that; we had a lot going on, maybe too much.
- Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns 50 (1998), p. 159
- We cannot remain silent on Viet Nam. We should remember that whatever victory there may be possible, it will have a racial stigma…. It will always be the case of a predominantly white power killing an Asian nation. We are interested in peace, not just for Christians but for the whole of humanity.
- Eugene Carson Blake, remarks at a World Council of Churches meeting, Geneva, Switzerland (February 12, 1966); reported in The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C. (February 13, 1966), p. A–5.
- The limits of the centralizing cybernetic model became clear in Vietnam, although its large role in the US defeat has often been disregarded. James Gibson has perhaps done the most to document the dramatic failure of ‘technowar’, ‘a production system that can be rationally managed and warfare as a kind of activity that can be scientiﬁcally determined by constructing computer models’. The principles of OR and SA were applied to provide analysis of the conﬂict and guidance to the policy makers while cybernetic command-and-control technologies were widely deployed. What developed in Vietnam can be appropriately described as an ‘information pathology’, an obsession with statistical evaluations and directing the war from the top, perceived as the point of omniscience, when in practice soldiers on the ground often understood far better than their superiors how badly the war was going.
- Antoine Bosquet, “Cyberneticizing the American warmachine: science and computers in the Cold War”; pp. 95-96.
- Between 1967 and 1972, the Air Force ran Operation Igloo White at the cost of nearly $1 billion a year. Through an array of sensors designed to record sound, heat, vibrations, and even the smell of urine, feeding information to a control centre in Thailand which sent on the resulting targeting information to patrolling jet aircraft (even the release of bombs could be controlled remotely), this vast cybernetic mechanism was designed to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of roads and trails providing logistical support to the North Vietnamese. At the time, extravagant claims were made about the performance of the system with the reported number of destroyed trucks in 1970 exceeding the total number of trucks believed to be in all of North Vietnam. In reality, far fewer truck remains were ever identiﬁed, there were probably many false positives in target identiﬁcation, and the North Vietnamese and their Laotian allies became adept at fooling the sensors. In spite of all this, the ofﬁcial statistics still trumpeted a 90 per cent success rate in destroying equipment traveling down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an assertion difﬁcult to sustain given that the North Vietnamese conducted major tank and artillery operations in South Vietnam in 1972. Edwards incisively observes that ‘Operation Igloo White’s centralized, computerized,automated, power-at-a-distance method of “interdiction” resembled a microcosmic version of the whole US approach to Vietnam’.
- Antoine Bosquet, “Cyberneticizing the American warmachine: science and computersin the Cold War”; pp. 95-96.
- Intelligence on Vietcong positions and movements frequently arrived too late to be actionable, delayed in an information-processing infrastructure unable to treat all the data it was fed. And this despite the creation of an unprecedented telecommunications network in a ﬁeld of operations,with electronic communications gear accounting for a third of all major items of equipment brought into the country and the ﬁrst use of satellite communications for military purposes in 1965.
As Arquilla and Ronfeldt recognize, ‘informational overload and bottlenecking has long been a vulnerability of centralized, hierarchical structures for command and control’
- John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, “Cyberwar is Coming!” In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conﬂict in the Information Age, edited by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt. Santa Monica, CA:RAND, 1997; as qtd. in s qtd in Antoine Bosquet, “Cyberneticizing the American warmachine: science and computersin the Cold War”, p. 97.
- The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction – all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured. It is not pleasant to say such words, but candor permits no less.
- Noam Chomsky, in American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Introduction.
- There were only two types of people when I came home- those who were against what we did and those who said nothing. I spent the next 17 years saying nothing. I had no one to talk to.
- Jack Coughlin, as quoted in Homecoming: When the Soldiers Returned From Vietnam (1989), by Bob Greene, p. 184
- To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, if unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could.
- Walter Cronkite, CBS TV news anchor, on "Report from Vietnam," aired February 27, 1968.
- Political repression in the United States has reached monstrous proportions. Black and Brown peoples especially, victims of the most vicious and calculated forms of class, national and racial oppression, bear the brunt of this repression. Literally tens of thousands of innocent men and women, the overwhelming majority of them poor, fill the jails and prisons; hundreds of thousands more, including the most presumably respectable groups and individuals, are subject to police, FBI and military intelligence surveillance. The Nixon administration most recently responded to the massive protests against the war in Indochina by arresting more than 13,000 people and placing them in stadiums converted into detention centers. ... Repression is the response of an increasingly desperate imperialist ruling clique to contain an otherwise uncontrollable and growing popular disaffection leading ultimately, we think, to the revolutionary transformation of society.
- Angela Davis, If They Come in The Morning (1971)
- Tens of thousands of American servicemen enjoyed their first exotic port of call, too, this time at Olongapo City. The 20 or so R&R sites in the late 1950's had swelled to 1,567 in Olongapo and another 615 in Angeles city by the late 1980's.
Hawaii and the Philippines were only two of the many places where military sexism found its logical expression. Soldiers viewed girls and women there through lenses of compliant Asian femininity but referred to them derogatorily as “slant eyes”. The “little brown sex machines” referred to T-shirts in Okinawa, Japan, morphed quickly into “little brown fucking machines powered by rice” in displays of militarized misogyny. Following six months of service, soldiers tired of drinking and playing billiards and video games could fly cheaply to Thailand, Hong Kong, Okinawa, or South Korea for more of the same, where structurally similar R&R venues had been set up for them. The 500,000 American soldiers in and near Saigon during the Vietnam war were matched in number by women and girls in prostitution, many in a kind of licensing system approved by the U.S. military.
- Melissa Hope Ditmore ed., Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, Volume 2, p. 376.
- In the nineteen-sixties came the Vietnam War
Can somebody tell me what we were fighting for?
So many young men died
So many mothers cried
Now I ask the question
Was God on our side?
- I am convinced that the French could not win the war because the internal political situation in Vietnam, weak and confused, badly weakened their military position. I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai. Indeed, the lack of leadership and drive on the part of Bao Dai was a factor in the feeling prevalent among Vietnamese that they had nothing to fight for. As one Frenchman said to me, "What Vietnam needs is another Syngman Rhee, regardless of all the difficulties the presence of such a personality would entail".
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years (1963), vol. 1, p. 372.
- With 450,000 U.S. troops now in Vietnam, it is time that Congress decided whether or not to declare a state of war exists with North Vietnam. Previous congressional resolutions of support provide only limited authority. Although Congress may decide that the previously approved resolution on Vietnam given President Johnson is sufficient, the issue of a declaration of war should at least be put before the Congress for decision.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, remarks to Republican congressmen, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 15, 1967), published in a paraphrased form in The Washington Post (July 22, 1967), p. 1.
- I don't want these fucking medals, man! The Silver Star--the third highest medal in the country--it doesn't mean anything! Bob Smeal died for these medals; Lieutenant Panamaroff died so I got a medal; Sergeant Johns died so I got a medal; I got a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, Army Commendation medal, eight air medals, national defense, and the rest of this garbage--it doesn't mean a thing!
- Ron Ferrizzi, former helicopter crew chief and member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), before hurling his medals onto the Capitol steps during a VVAW protest on April 23, 1971. Quoted in The Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns (2017), p. 481.
- I figured if this medal is so important let's make it important. Here it is. You can have it back. End the war in Vietnam. What else is there? There was nothing else. I wouldn't put them on the wall for my son. That was the last thing in the world I would ever want my son to revere.
- Ron Ferrizzi quoted in The Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns (2017), p. 481-3, recalling his participation in the above protest over 40 years later.
- This "cybernetic model" was adopted during the Vietnam War and endorsed by General William Westmoreland, leader of United States forces during the conflict. It influenced his vision for the near future of combat. In 1969 he predicted that within ten years the United States could experience an automated battlefield that thrived on information and consisted of "computer assisted intelligence evaluation," automated fire control and "24-hour real or near-real time surveillance of all types." Unfortunately, this technologically adept war fighting style was not to be as the debacle of Vietnam shook the scientific fundamentals that backed the cybernetic model of war. Confidence in statistical data returning from the front that indicated success on paper caused commanders to continue feeding the numbers back into the system and exacerbated the real problem. The cybernetic model masked the reality that the United States was losing the war to a less advanced, less trained and more poorly equipped Third World guerrilla force.
"Defeat in Vietnam exposed the shortcomings of cybernetic warfare and revealed the inherent limitations of its attempt to make war into an entirely controllable and predictable activity.” Vietnam was a rude awakening that caused a shift from the cybernetic model to what international relations expert Antoine Bousquet refers to as "chaoplexity," a term combining the chaos and complexity of the modern battlefield. This model retains the technology dependence of the cybernetic model but discards the top-down "command and control" structure for a non-linear network. Computer scientist Christopher Langton supports this method saying "since it's effectively impossible to cover every conceivable situation, top-down systems are forever running into combinations of events they don't know how to handle.”
- Gregory J. Ferrara, “Museum Treasures in the Fog of War: a Historical Analysis of Cultural Heritage Protection During a Time of War”, Seton Hall University, (Spring 5-2013), pp. 45-46.
- The Communist leaders in Moscow, Peking and Hanoi must fully understand that the United States considers the freedom of South Viet Nam vital to our interests. And they must know that we are not bluffing in our determination to defend those interests.
- Gerald R. Ford, "U.S. Foreign Policy: New Myths and Old Realities", address to the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. (July 21, 1965); in Michael V. Doyle, ed., Gerald R. Ford, Selected Speeches (1973), p. 199.
- You know, we get involved in these wars and we don't know a damn thing about those countries, the culture, the history, the politics, people on top and even down below. And, my heavens, these are not wars like World War II and World War I, where you have battalions fighting battalions. These are wars that depend on knowledge of who the people are, with the culture is like. And we jumped into them without knowing. That’s the damned essential message of the Pentagon Papers.
- Les Gelb interviewed on On the Media
- The United States has a strategy based on arithmetic. They question the computers, add and subtract, extractsquare roots, and then go into action. But arithmetical strategy doesn’t work here. If it did, they would already have exterminated us with their airplanes.
- Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap in James Gibson, The Perfect War, p. 23; as qtd in Antoine Bosquet, “Cyberneticizing the American warmachine: science and computersin the Cold War”, p. 97.
- Our equipment consisted of a powerful loudspeaker of the kind used in football stadiums, which could be carried on the operator’s back. Another team member backpacked the 40-pound load of batteries that kept the speaker going. Our gear also included a tape recorder and a number of Vietnamese language tapes that directed the enemy to surrender. The idea was that when one of the U.S. battalions engaged with the VC or North Vietnamese regulars, my team would be helicoptered to the site of the fighting and begin broadcasting surrender demands. In addition, one of the several English-speaking Vietnamese interpreters assigned to the brigade would be made available to us for conveying gentler messages.
- We were also told by the brigade’s intelligence section that the communist forces had an especially high regard for propaganda and psychological operations, and thus if we were taken prisoner, a price would be put upon our heads. They suggested that we exchange our psychological warfare shoulder patches for the ivy cloverleaf insignia of the 4th Division, which we were happy to do, since the division had a long and glorious history during World Wars I and II, and we didn’t want to have our heads chopped off.
- We also had, at our disposal, an AC-47 “Gabby” aircraft—a twin-engine Douglas DC-3 in civilian life. We used it to circle above the enemy’s suspected hiding places and play scary funereal music over the loudspeakers to cause them to run away in terror or at least to keep their troops awake all night.
If the weather conditions were just right, some of these airplanes were equipped with a kind of movie projector that would shine big dragons or other frightful things onto low-hanging clouds. A downside of these tactics was that they could cause any friendly South Vietnamese troops in the neighborhood to run away also.
- Since 1975, more than 40,000 Vietnamese are believed to have been killed and about 60,000 others maimed by what is known as unexploded ordnance — land mines, artillery shells, cluster bombs and the like that failed to detonate decades ago. Quang Tri Province alone, along the border that once divided Vietnam into North and South, is said to have been more heavily bombed than all of Germany was in World War II.
- Clyde Haberman, “A Lingering, Deadly Legacy of Wars: Unexploded Bombs”, The New York Times, (Oct. 30, 2016).
- We underestimated the willingness of these peasants to pay the price. We won every set piece battle. Westy believes that he never lost a battle. We had absolute military superiority, and they had absolute political superiority, which meant that we would kill 200 and they would replenish them the next day. We were fighting the birth rate of a nation.
- David Halberstam, as quoted in Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam (2011) by Lewis Sorley, p. 96.
- George, without doubt, the Army will be blamed for any failures in the Vietnam War.
- General Paul D. Harkins made this remark to then-Major George S. Patton, IV, son of the famous World War II general, while Harkins was the first head of Military Assistance Command Vietnam in early 1963. As quoted in The Fighting Pattons (1997) by Brian M. Sobel, p. 120.
- Morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.
- Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., “The Collapse of the Armed Forces,” Armed Forces Journal issue, June 7, 1971
- Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods.
- Michael Herr, in Dispatches (1977), "Colleagues", section 3.
- The Vietnam War helped create a new category of unprotected speech: The “true threat.” In 1966, Robert Watts said to a crowd in Washington that “if they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ.” Watts was promptly arrested for threatening the president. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction, saying that Watts’ speech was “crude political hyperbole,” not a “true threat.”
Unfortunately, Watts v. United States did not explain what a true threat is; just what it isn’t. With threats and harassment everywhere on the internet and in “real life,” true threat doctrine seems primed for clarification in the near future. For now, we have only a vague idea of when threatening words leave the protective umbrella of the First Amendment.
- Jacob Hillesheim, “How Today’s Laws Were Shaped by the Vietnam War “, PBS, (September 14, 2017)
- What happens when “speech” isn’t really speech? In 1966, four protesters burned their draft cards to protest the Vietnam War, breaking a 1965 federal law. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which, in a major victory for “symbolic speech,” declared that the First Amendment protected non-verbal expression, too.
The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. O’Brien was not a victory for the protesters, however. State legislatures could make laws that limit expression as long as they do not target any particular belief. The Court decided that the law did not target Vietnam protesters, and as a result, the protesters’ convictions were upheld.
- Jacob Hillesheim, “How Today’s Laws Were Shaped by the Vietnam War “,PBS, (September 14, 2017)
- A State Department working group similarly argued: "Unavoidably, the United States is, together with France, committed in Indochina"-even though a year earlier the Department had explicitly denied this (U.S. Department of Defense, 1971: 152-153)-and concluded, "The whole of Southeast Asia is in danger of falling under Communist domination" (FRUS, 1950, VI: 714). Until Korea these strong words were accompanied by only limited action. As in Europe, there was a great gap between the description of the threat and the proposed remedies. By 1954, of course, the United States seriously considered direct military intervention to prevent a Communist victory. While it is possible that this conflict could have become the vehicle for changing U.S. policy, two considerations make this unlikely. First, much of the American involvement followed and was at least partly caused by the Korean war. Once the United States became more anti-Chinese, defined the threat to its security more broadly, and had more funds available, it became both possible and necessary to try to halt the Viet-Minh. Before Korea, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were in the forefront of those calling for a tougher policy against the Communists, opposed additional commitments. Although they welcomed the May 1950 decision to provide aid to Bao Dai, they were adamant that the United States not stretch its scarce military resources any thinner. Greater involvement in Indochina required greater funds, and in the climate of 1950 they were not likely to be forthcoming. Second, without extensive U.S. involvement, the fall of Indochina probably would not have produced the shock necessary to gain support for American rearmament. If China had sent troops in, the United States might have responded with force, as it did in Korea. However, since the Viet-Minh were capable of winning on their own, it is hard to imagine such a Chinese move.
- Robert Jervis, “The Impact of the Korean War on the Cold War”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1980), p. 587.
- In Asia we face an ambitious and aggressive China, but we have the will and we have the strength to help our Asian friends resist that ambition. Sometimes our folks get a little impatient. Sometimes they rattle their rockets some, and they bluff about their bombs. But we are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, remarks at Akron University, Akron, Ohio (October 21, 1964); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, book 2, p. 1390–91.
- As I sat in my office last evening, waiting to speak, I thought of the many times each week when television brings the war into the American home. No one can say exactly what effect those vivid scenes have on American opinion. Historians must only guess at the effect that television would have had during earlier conflicts on the future of this Nation during the Korean war, for example, at that time when our forces were pushed back there to Pusan or World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, or when our men were slugging it our in Europe or when most of our Air Force was shot down that day in June 1942 off Australia.
- I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Viet-Nam, against the Communists.
- John F. Kennedy, televised interview with Walter Cronkite (September 2, 1963); in The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 652.
- The war the soldiers tried to stop.
- John Kerry, commenting on how Vietnam would be known to future generations, at rally of antiwar demonstrators, west front of the Capitol (April 24, 1971), as reported by The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. (April 26, 1971), p. A–7.
- As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.
- Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be — are — are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
- We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers [...] I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called "enemy" [...] Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the — for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.
- Look at Vietnam, look at Lebanon. Whenever soldiers start coming home in body bags, Americans panic and retreat. Such a country needs only to be confronted with two or three sharp blows, then it will flee in panic, as it always has.
- Osama bin Laden, as quoted in The Looming Tower, by Wright, p. 187.
- In the Vietnam War, the leaders of the White House claimed at the time that it was a necessary and crucial war, and during it, Donald Rumsfeld and his aides murdered two million villagers. And when Kennedy took over the presidency and deviated from the general line of policy drawn up for the White House and wanted to stop this unjust war, that angered the owners of the major corporations who were benefiting from its continuation. And so Kennedy was killed, and al-Qaida wasn't present at that time, but rather, those corporations were the primary beneficiary from his killing. And the war continued after that for approximately one decade. But after it became clear to you that it was an unjust and unnecessary war, you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, Rumsfeld.
- The continuity in the infiltration corridor through Cambodia and Laos mitigated against the forces being stopped. Unlike Greece, fifteen years earlier, which had been able to seal its borders with the help of neighbors, South Vietnam could not count on such aid. Cambodia's port of Sihanoukville made possible the flooding of the South Vietnam battlefield with a family of Sino-Soviet equipment that was completely compatible with that used by VC/NVA forces in the rest of Vietnam. The overthrow of Sihanouk and the closing of the Sihanoukville port in early 1970 were too little too late. Laos was still a wide-open corridor, and U.S. forces were withdrawing. It was never a question of victory for the North, it was only a matter of time.
- Lanning and Cragg, Inside the VC and the NVA, pp. 34–159
- All we are saying is give peace a chance.
- John Lennon, song "Give Peace a Chance" (1969); common chant in rallies against the Vietnam War.
- “There’s the old apocryphal story that in 1967, they went to the basement of the Pentagon, when the mainframe computers took up the whole basement, and they put on the old punch cards everything you could quantify. Numbers of ships, numbers of tanks, numbers of helicopters, artillery, machine gun, ammo—everything you could quantify,” says James Willbanks, the chair of military history at U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. “They put it in the hopper and said, ‘When will we win in Vietnam?’ They went away on Friday and the thing ground away all weekend. [They] came back on Monday and there was one card in the output tray. And it said, 'You won in 1965.’”
This is, first and foremost, a joke. But given the emphasis that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara placed on data and running the number—I began to wonder if there was actually some software that tried to calculate precisely when the United States would win the war. And if it was possible that it once gave such an answer.
The most prominent citation for the apocryphal story comes in Harry G. Summers’ study of the war, American Strategy in Vietnam: A Critical Analysis. In this telling, however, it is not the Johnson administration doing the calculation but the incoming Nixon officials:
When the Nixon Administration took over in 1969 all the data on North Vietnam and on the United States was fed into a Pentagon computer—population, gross national product, manufacturing capability, number of tanks, ships, and aircraft, size of the armed forces, and the like. The computer was then asked, “When will we win?” It took only a moment to give the answer: “You won in 1964!”
He said “the bitter little story” circulated “during the closing days of the Vietnam War.” It made the point that there “was more to war, even limited war, than those things that could be measured, quantified, and computerized.”
There’s no doubt that Vietnam was quantified in new ways. McNamara had brought what a historian called “computer-based quantitative business-analysis techniques” that “offered new and ingenious procedures for the collection, manipulation, and analysis of military data.”
In practice, this meant creating vast amounts of data, which had to be sent to computing centers and entered on punch cards. One massive program was the Hamlet Evaluation System, which sought to quantify how the American program of “pacification” was proceeding by surveying 12,000 villages in the Vietnamese countryside. “Every month, the HES produced approximately 90,000 pages of data and reports,” a RAND report found. “This means that over the course of just four of the years in which the system was fully functional, it produced more than 4.3 million pages of information.”
- Alexis C. Madrigal, “The Computer That Predicted the U.S. Would Win the Vietnam War”, The Atlantic, (Oct 5, 2017).
- When I entered West Point, some Americans still believed the Vietnam War might end honorably. By the time I graduated, South Vietnam did not exist. As cadets, we watched the war teeter and implode, and the historical sweep was not lost on us.
- General Stanley A. McChrystal, in his memoirs My Share of the Task (2013), p. 17
- It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.
- Attributed to an unnamed United States major, referring to the bombing of Ben Tre, South Vietnam; reported by AP correspondent Peter Arnett, "Major Describes Move", The New York Times (February 8, 1968).
- Often misquoted in a variety of ways, notably: In order to save the village, we had to destroy it. or "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."
- John McGuffin, Internment (1973), Anvil Books, page 26 (early misquote); Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When (2006), ISBN 978-0-312-34004-9.
- Where is your data? Give me something I can put in the computer. Don’t give me your poetry.
- Robert McNamara on being told by a White House aide that the Vietnam War was doomed to failure); as qtd. in Edwards, The Closed World: Computers',, 127–8, Antoine Bosquet, “Cyberneticizing the American warmachine: science and computersin the Cold War” p. 77.
- What, then, had we learned with our sacrifices in the Ia Drang Valley? We had learned something about fighting the North Vietnamese regulars- and something important about ourselves. We could stand against the finest light infantry troops in the world and hold our ground. General Westmoreland thought he had found the answer to the question of how to win this war: He would trade one American life for ten or twelve North Vietnamese lives, day after day, until Ho Chi Minh cried uncle. Westmoreland would learn, too late, that he was wrong; that the American people didn't see a kill ratio of 10-1 or even 20-1 as any kind of bargain.
- Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once.. And Young (1992), p. 345
- But we had validated both the principle and the practice of airmobile warfare. A million American soldiers would ride to battle in Huey helicopters in the next eight years, and the familiar "whup, whup, whup" of their rotors would be the enduring soundtrack if this war. Finally- even though it took ten years, cost the lives of 58,000 young Americans and inflicted humiliating defeat on a nation that had never before lost a war- some of us learned that Clausewitz had it right 150 years earlier when he wrote these words: "No one starts a war- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it."
- Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once.. And Young (1992), p. 345
- We'd originally intended to put our medals in a body bag and have them delivered to Congress. But the Nixon administration erected this big wire and wood fence on the steps of our Capitol to keep us out--keep out the young men and women who were fighting that war. And all that did was piss us off and give us the greatest photo opportunity that we could ever have had.
- John Musgrave, Marine veteran and member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), on the April 1971 protest in which veterans hurled their medals onto the Capitol steps. Quoted in The Vietnam War: An Intimate History by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns (2017), p. 481.
- Since the Vietnamese continued to resist the US-imposed dictatorship in South Vietnam, the United States invaded Vietnam in the early 1960s, beginning a devastating campaign of bombings, atrocities, chemical warfare, and torture, leading to the deaths of 3.8 million people, according to a study published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).
According to Nick Turse in Kill Anything That Moves:
[T]he stunning scale of civilian suffering in Vietnam is far beyond anything that can be explained as merely the work of some “bad apples,” however numerous. Murder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, imprisonment without due process—such occurrences were virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of the American presence in Vietnam. … [T]hey were no aberration. Rather, they were the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest levels of the military.
Turse’s investigations of US war crimes (spurred by his discovery of the Pentagon’s Vietnam War Crimes Working Group) lend credence to the various displays and photographs one will find in the museum.
One example is a sewer pipe present at the Thanh Phong massacre, used by three children to hide in before being killed by future Senator Bob Kerrey and his cohorts (ten other civilians also died).
- Brett S. Morris, “What the United States Did to Vietnam”, Counterpunch.org, (June 19, 2015).
- But also out here in this dreary, difficult war, I think history will record that this may have been one of America's finest hours, because we took a difficult task and we succeeded.
- Richard Nixon, remarks to American troops of the First Infantry Division, Di An, Vietnam (July 30, 1969); in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, p. 588.
- Tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.
- Richard Nixon, Appeal to the nation (3 November 1969) for support in the Vietnam War, as reported in Chambers Dictionary of Quotations (1997), p. 730.
- I have often reflected that General Abrams, who had worked so hard to make the South Vietnamese armed forces capable of defending their country, at least had been spared the agony of seeing the death of the Republic of Vietnam. Westmoreland, on the other hand, was not spared that trauma, but seems over the years since the war to have become a national scapegoat, blamed for everything that went wrong in Vietnam, large or small, regardless of whether he had even a remote connection with the matter. It is a singularly fair and unsupported judgement. Many scores of senior American officials, civilian and military, including the author, contributed to our Vietnam mistakes, most of which have been so judged in hindsight. The real "blame", of course, must be laid squarely on the Hanoi regime and the North Vietnamese people, who demonstrated to the world that they had the will to prevail. Although it is a small comfort to Westmoreland, history is replete with the examples of one native son's being singled out, rightly or wrongly, as the person responsible for a national disaster.
- General Bruce Palmer, Jr., in his book The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam (1984), p. 133-144
- I: The nine classic principles of war as explained and demonstrated by Clausewitz definitely apply in this type of conflict. One principle should be added and that would be the principal of cultural understanding or familiarization.
- II: Operations should be guided by good intelligence "now," as opposed to refined intelligence, for example, two hours from now.
- III: Fully understand the form of warfare in a Vietnam type of conflict- call it counterinsurgency or whatever term is being used to characterize the so-called meeting engagement. Go within the training base and develop doctrine at all levels which supports this form of combat.
- IV: When contact with an enemy unit is either present or expected, the commander must always hold a unit close in hand and in reserve to commit upon hostile contact. This reinforcement capability is absolutely critical in guerrilla warfare.
- V: A commander may talk all day and most of the night on the subject of preventative maintenance in the field. However, it is simply not well done on the battlefield as there are far too many distractions, interruptions and poor facilities. As a result of my experience, I believe the best procedure is periodic withdrawal of armored units to a safe rear area where higher echelon maintenance personnel can provide valid assistance. Although those who would oppose that procedure would oppose it all the way, I found that armored vehicle capability, especially tanks, increased in the long term.
- Major General George S. Patton, IV, stating his "Five Principles for Counterinsurgency Warfare", developed after thirty-three months total spent in Vietnam. As quoted in The Fighting Pattons (1997) by Brian M. Sobel, p. 159
- The trouble is that the goal was never clear. It changed under the Johnson administration from time to time. Our overall goal was pacification, but it didn't work because of lack of strategic direction from the United States. I want to make sure you understand this. The national leadership, the President, did not bring the country into the total scene of the war. There was a lack of unification of the American people. A manifestation of that lack was the failure to mobilize the National Guard and Reserves. In my opinion, one of the great criticisms that will be placed against the leadership will be that failure to mobilize. The point is, when you mobilize the Guard and Reserves, you also act toward mobilizing the people, because some guy gets called out of a drug store and called to active duty, so the burden is not just placed on the career services, who were stretched to the breaking point.
Do you see what I'm getting at? You can do all kinds of things to this testimony and make me look like a goddamn nut. But I'm talking about strategic direction plus violation of the fundamental principles of war- of which there are nine. We could have won by more correct adherence to those principles, such as the principle of objective, the principle of unity of command, the principle of surprise and security, all of which were violated. The United States can never afford again to allow itself to be at such a vast strategic disadvantage as we were in Vietnam. I sincerely hope we've learned. We were defeated by an eighth-rate power.
- Major General George S. Patton, IV, as quoted in The Bad War: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Kim Willenson (1987), p. 78-79
- The VA recognized over a dozen medical conditions for children of women who served in of Vietnam. However, for the children of the men who served in Vietnam, only Spina Bifida is recognized as being directly connected to Agent Orange exposure.
- Beatrice Peterson, “Vietnam War veterans' kids say Agent Orange impact 'a nightmare'”, ABC News, (Nov 12, 2018).
- The Vietnamese claim that 4 million people were exposed to Agent Orange and 3 million of its people suffer from medical conditions that were caused by the exposure from the Vietnam War. Despite the efforts to decontaminate the soil, the U.S. vehemently denies that the number of Agent Orange illnesses are that high, which according to the Vietnamese includes children of men and women who were exposed to the dioxin following the war.
- Beatrice Peterson, “Vietnam War veterans' kids say Agent Orange impact 'a nightmare'”, ABC News, (Nov 12, 2018).
- ...military supplies were sailed directly from North Vietnam on communist-flagged (especially of the Eastern bloc) ships to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, where that nation's neutrality guaranteed their delivery. The supplies were unloaded and then transferred to trucks which transported them to the frontier zones that served as PAVN/NLF Base Areas. These Base Areas also served as sanctuaries for PAVN/NLF troops, who simply crossed the border from South Vietnam, rested, reinforced, and refitted for their next campaign in safety.
- John Prados, The Blood Road, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998, pp. 47–178
- In 1964 our army began to send to the battlefield complete units at their full authorized strength of personnel and equipment... By the end of 1965 our main force army in South Vietnam totaled almost 92,000... Our main force troops grew from 195,000 soldiers in early 1965 to 350,000 soldiers in May 1965 and finally to 400,000 by the end of 1965.. During 1966 the strength of our full-time forces in South Vietnam would be increased to between 270,000 and 300,000 soldiers... By the end of 1966 the total strength of our armed forces was 690,000 soldiers.
- Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954–1975. Trans. by Merle Pribbenow, Lawerence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002, p. 78-211
- As for the peace that we would preserve, I wonder who among us would like to approach the wife or mother whose husband or son has died in South Vietnam and ask them if they think this is a peace that should be maintained indefinitely. Do they mean peace, or do they mean we just want to be left in peace? There can be no real peace while one American is dying some place in the world for the rest of us. We're at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it's been said that if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.
- Erosion of the law on CBW will facilitate assimilation. That is why the controversy regarding the legal status of herbidices and the sensoy irritant agents, such as CS and the tear gases, has been so important. Largely as a result of their employment by the United Staates and allied forces in Indo-China, and subsequently by their adersaries, CS weapons are now the furthest advanced toward assimilation of all CB weapons. But the Vietnam-related efforts to reduce, through R&D, the technical and operational limitations of CS weapons, and to increase their military utility and attractions for regular combat forces, has inevitably meant a weakening of at least the technological constraaint on the assimilation of all types of CB weapons. This, it should be noted, was by no means an unintended consequence of the use of CS, and herbicides as well, in Vietnam.
During an interview, the U.S. Army Chief Chemical Officer was utterly explicity on this point: the Vietnam war provided a much needed opportunity for him to demonstrate the value of his wares to the Army at large, and for the Chemical Corps to secure that combat role which would enhance its status and protect it from bureaucratic repression in Wasghinston. CS employment cemical crop destruction and chemical defoliation were only three of many CBW proposals put forward by the Chemical Corps for the Vietnam war.
- J.P. Perry Robinson, “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists”, (May 1975), pp. 21-22.
- Largely as a result of their emloyment by the United States and allied forces in Indo-China, and subsequently by their adversaries, CS weapons are now the furthest advanced toward assimilation of all CB weapons. But the Vietnam related efforts to reduce, through R&D, the technical and operaational limitations of CS weapons, and to increase their military ultility and attractions for regular combat forces, has inevitably meant a weakening of at least the technological constraint on the assimilation of all types of CB weapons. This, it should be noted, was by no means an unintended consequence of the use of CS, and herbicides as well, in Vietnam.
- J.P. Perry Robinson, “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists”, (May 1975), p.22.
- In one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War, the top American military commander in Saigon activated a plan in 1968 to move nuclear weapons to South Vietnam until he was overruled by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to recently declassified documents cited in a new history of wartime presidential decisions.
The documents reveal a long-secret set of preparations by the commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, to have nuclear weapons at hand should American forces find themselves on the brink of defeat at [[w:Khe Sanh|Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the war.
With the approval of the American commander in the Pacific, General Westmoreland had put together a secret operation, code-named Fracture Jaw, that included moving nuclear weapons into South Vietnam so that they could be used on short notice against North Vietnamese troops.
- David E. Sanger, “U.S. General Considered Nuclear Response in Vietnam War, Cables Show”, The New York Times, Oct. 6, 2018
- “Johnson never fully trusted his generals,” said Mr. Johnson, who is of no relation to the president. “He had great admiration for General Westmoreland, but he didn’t want his generals to run the war.”
- David E. Sanger, “U.S. General Considered Nuclear Response in Vietnam War, Cables Show”, The New York Times, Oct. 6, 2018
- “In Korea, MacArthur did not make a direct appeal to move nuclear weapons into the theater almost immediately,” when it appeared that South Korea might fall to the North’s invasion in 1950, Mr. Beschloss said. “But in Vietnam, Westmoreland was pressuring the president to do exactly that.”
- By late 1967, there were 485,600 American troops in South Vietnam; over the course of the war, nearly 2.6 million American service members would serve in country. While much of the historical discussion around the American military effort has focused on the immense firepower and destruction it entailed, an equally awe-inspiring aspect of the war has been overlooked: logistics.
Moving more than two million people — along with their weapons, aircraft, food and medical supplies — in and out of the country was an almost unfathomable challenge. Early in the war, South Vietnam, which even after a century of French rule remained a largely rural nation, simply did not have the seaports and airfields required to receive this level of manpower and sustain military operations. America would have to build those facilities, and much more, from scratch. It would be, in the words of The New York Times correspondent Hanson W. Baldwin, “probably the most massive construction effort ever organized and put into the field in so short a time and the ‘largest military construction contract in history.’”
- Mel Schenck, “The Largest Military Construction Project in History”, The New York Times, (Jan. 16, 2018).
- By the end of the war, American forces had constructed six new major airports, with 10,000-foot concrete runways, at Bien Hoa, Cam Ranh Bay, Chu Lai, Phan Rang, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat, and enlarged the two French-built airfields at Da Nang and Saigon; six new airports were also built in Thailand. Some 100 smaller airfields were built around South Vietnam to accommodate helicopters and supply aircraft.
To care for the growing number of American and Vietnamese service members, Americans built 26 hospitals with 8,280 beds. To receive and hold the millions of tons of supplies shipped over, contractors built 10.4 million square feet of covered storage, as well as 5.5 million square feet of ammunition storage and enough tanker farms to hold 3.1 million barrels of petroleum products. Finally, the military built 26 major base camps around Vietnam, some with shopping malls and movie theaters, as well as hundreds of smaller combat firebases.
- Mel Schenck, “The Largest Military Construction Project in History”, The New York Times, (Jan. 16, 2018).
- Patton asked him to go aboard a chopper equipped with a loudspeaker and order his men to surrender. The prisoner quickly refused, and Patton said to him, "If you don't go up in the chopper with me and ask them to surrender you have personally signed their death warrants, because I will be forced to obliterate this position." The NVA captain again declined, and Patton's frustration was evident. He glowered at the man, and said, "Goddamn it, who is winning this war?" "You are," was the reply. "Then in that case," Patton shouted, "why don't we save the lives of your soldiers and let us take them out and feed them and medicate them?" "Sir," he said, "you didn't ask who would win this war." "Well, who is going to win this war?" Patton snorted. "We will," the prisoner said forcefully, "because you will tire of it before we do."
- Brian M. Sobel, quoting an exchange between George S. Patton, IV and a North Vietnamese Army officer in December 1968, in his book The Fighting Pattons (1997), p. 167-168.
- Only a few days after the Ia Drang, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was back at the division base camp at An Khe on a cold and rainy Thanksgiving. Lieutenant Colonel Robert McDade, the battalion commander, met a visiting Westmoreland near the mess hall and told him that everyone was just about ready to eat their Thanksgiving dinners. But Westmoreland told him, "Get them all together and let me talk to them." The troops had been issued a hot meal, real coffee instead of the powdered stuff that came with C-Rations, turkey, and the trimmings. They were walking back to their squad tents to enjoy this special repast when the order was given to assemble. "There stood General Westmoreland himself," said Sergeant John Setelin. "He made a speech there in the rain and while he talked we watched the rain turn that hot dinner into cold Mulligan stew. Who knew what the hell the man said? Who cared?"
- Lewis Sorley, in his book Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam (2011), p. 96.
- What the world (and particularly the White House) needs to remember is that aggression is unleashed and escalated when one party to a dispute decides for itself who is guilty and how he is to be punished. This is what is happening in Cyprus, where we have been begging Greeks and Turks to desist from the murderous escalation of reprisal and counter reprisal. Johnson practices in Southeast Asia what he deplores in the Mediterranean.... The U.S. now seems to operate on the principle that invasion of other people's skies is our right, and efforts to interfere with it (at least by weaker powers) punishable by reprisal. This is pure "might is right" doctrine...
- Even in wartime, reprisals are supposed to be kept within narrow limits. Hackworth's Digest, the State Department's huge Talmud of international law, quotes an old War Department manual, Rules of Land Warfare... says reprisals are never to be taken "merely for revenge" but "only as an unavoidable last resort" to "enforce the recognized rules of civilized warfare." Even then reprisals "should not be excessive or exceed the degree of violence committed by the enemy." These were the principles we applied at the Nuremberg trials. Our reprisal raids on North Vietnam hardly conformed to these standards. By our own account, in self-defense, we had already sunk three or four attacking torpedo boats in two incidents. In neither were our ships damaged nor any of our men hurt; indeed, one bullet imbedded in one destroyer hull is the only proof we have been able to muster that the second of the attacks even took place. To fly sixty-four bombing sorties in reprisal over four North Vietnamese bases and an oil depot, destroying or damaging twenty-five North Vietnamese PT boats, a major part of that tiny navy, was hardly punishment to fit the crime....
- Morse revealed that U.S. warships were on patrol in Tonkin Bay nearby during the shelling of two islands off the North Vietnamese coast on Friday, July 31, by South Vietnamese vessels. Morse said our warships were within three to eleven miles of North Vietnamese territory, at the time, although North Vietnam claims a twelve-mile limit. Morse declared that the U.S. "knew that the bombing was going to take place...[and] charged that the presence of our warships was "bound to be looked upon by our enemies as an act of provocation."
- In writing to President Johnson in December 1965 about his intention to make a film about the Green Berets, John Wayne explained that it was “extremely important that not only the people of the United States but those all over the world should know why it is necessary for us to be there . . . The most effective way to accomplish this is through the motion picture medium.” He thought he could make the “kind of picture that will help our cause throughout the world.” According to Wayne, it would “tell the story of our fighting men in Vietnam with reason, emotion, characterization, and action. We want to do it in a manner that will inspire a patriotic attitude on the part of fellow Americans—a feeling which we have always had in this country in the past during times of stress and trouble.”
Unlike earlier wars, however, the Vietnam War did not unite the nation to a common cause, but tore it apart. Michael Wayne, who produced the film for his father’s company, claimed that The Green Berets did not tell a controversial story: “It was the story of a group of guys who could have been in any war. It’s a very familiar story. War stories are all the same. They are personal stories about soldiers and the background is the war. This just happened to be the Vietnam War.”
On its part, the White House willingly embraced the project. Jack Valenti, then an advisor to President Johnson, advised him that while John Wayne’s politics might be wrong, “insofar as Vietnam is concerned, his views are right. If he made the picture, he would say the things we want said.” Wayne himself freely admitted he was doing more than playing his usual soldier role. He saw the movie as “an American film about American boys who were heroes over there. In that sense, it was propaganda.”
Of all the filmmakers in Hollywood, whether Hawk or Dove, only Wayne was willing to take a financial gamble and make a movie about an increasingly unpopular war. But The Green Berets did not inspire other filmmakers to use Vietnam as a subject for war movies. In fact, until 1975, no one in Hollywood seriously considered producing a major theatrical film about the Vietnam conflict.
- Lawrence Suid, “Hollywood and Vietnam”, Film Comment, (September-October 1979).
- In coming to the Pentagon with his plans in May 1975, Coppola told Public Affairs officials that his initial script would need considerable work, especially the end, which he considered “surrealistic.” While recognizing that the screenplay had considerable problems, the officials forwarded it to the Army with the recommendation that the service should work with the director so that the completed film “will be an honest presentation.”
The Army found little basis to even talk to Coppola, responding that the script was “simply a series of some of the worst things, real or imagined, that happened or could have happened during the Vietnam War.” According to the service, it had little reason to consider extending cooperation “in view of the sick humor or satirical philosophy of the film.” Army officers pointed to several “particularly objectionable episodes” which presented its actions “in an unrealistic and unacceptable bad light.” These included scenes of U.S. soldiers scalping the enemy, a surfing display in the midst of combat, an officer obtaining sexual favors for his men, and later smoking marijuana with them.
The military probably could have lived with at least some of these negative incidents if put in what it regarded as a realistic and balanced context. But, from the initial script onward, the Army strongly objected to the film’s springboard which has Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) sent to “terminate with extreme prejudice” Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has set up an independent operation and is waging a private war against all sides. The Army said Kurtz’s actions “can only be viewed as a parody on the sickness and brutality of war.” The service maintained that in an actual situation, it would attempt to bring Kurtz back for medical treatment rather than order another officer to “terminate” him. Consequently, the Army said that “to assist in any way in the production would imply agreement with either the fact or philosophy of the film.”
- Lawrence Suid, “Hollywood and Vietnam”, Film Comment, (September-October 1979).
- I have been among the officers who have said that a large land war in Asia is the last thing we should undertake. Most of us, when we use that term, are thinking about getting into a land war against Red China. That's the only power in Asia which would require us to use forces in very large numbers. I was slow in joining with those who recommended the introduction of ground forces in South Vietnam. But it became perfectly clear that because of the rate of infiltration from North Vietnam to South Vietnam something had to be done.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, interview, "Top Authority Looks at Vietnam War and Its Future", U.S. News & World Report (February 21, 1966), p. 42.
- The acceptance of the legitimacy of the overt use of power comes hard in some segments of our citizenship. In some of the expressions of concern over our behavior in Vietnam, we are seeing curious aspects of our national character in this regard. They often contain a note of reluctance or of regret over the use of the vast power represented by the resources of the United States at home and abroad. In some quarters there seems to even be what amounts to a certain feeling of guilt arising from our possession of this power and an uneasiness about the morality of our conduct. One consequence of this attitude in the Vietnam situation is that our government must constantly defend its actions to critics and, in so doing, is often obliged to disclose its plans and purposes to a degree which must be vastly helpful to our opponents. Inevitably in a situation such as Vietnam, where we are using limited means to gain limited ends, it is essential to keep the adversary in doubt with regard to the full scope of our intentions.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, Responsibility and Response (1967), p. 79
- Elements of the information media contributed to prolonging the war by their manner of reporting the news. It required only selective reporting, not deliberate fabrication, to create the impression that we Americans were the prime aggressors bent on expanding the war to avoid impending defeat, and that our alleged successes were really defeats which officials were trying to hide from the American public. Biased reporters found no good to say about our Vietnamese allies, whom they held up to scorn in a way which led the American people to believe that our allies were not worth the sacrifices we were making in their behalf. Such selective and slanted reporting spread defeatism among the tender-minded at home and provided enormous encouragement for Hanoi to hold fast and concede nothing.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (1972), p. 408
- Of course, the media did not have to manufacture dissent and antiwar feeling in the United States; there was enough of the real article to provide them with legitimate subject matter. Every war critic capable of producing a headline contributed, in proportion to his eminence, some comfort if not aid to the enemy. Unfortunately, from 1967 onward there was no shortage of eminent figures among the opponents of the war willing to make this contribution.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (1972), p. 408
- We are carrying into the next decade many unresolved problems raised by Vietnam. How can a democracy such as ours defend its interests at acceptable cost and continue to enjoy the freedom of speech and behavior to which we are accustomed in time of peace? To a Communist enemy the Cold War is a total, unending conflict with the United States and its allies- without formal military hostilities, to be sure- but conducted with the same discipline and determination as a formal war. Unless we can learn to exercise some degree of self-discipline, to accept and enforce some reasonable standard of responsible civic conduct, and to remove the many self-created obstacles to the use of our power, we will be unable to meet the hard competition waiting for us in the decade of the 1970s.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (1972), p. 408
- We all have a share in it, and none of it is good. There are no heroes, just bums. I include myself in that.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, commenting on the fall of Saigon and with it the collapse of the Republic of Vietnam, speaking in a UPI interview in May 1975. Quoted from General Maxwell Taylor: The Sword and the Pen (1989), p. 366
- First, we didn't know ourselves. We thought we were going into another Korean war, but this was a different country. Secondly, we didn't know our South Vietnamese allies. We never understood them, and that was another surprise. And we knew even less about North Vietnam. Who was Ho Chi Minh? Nobody really knew. So, until we know the enemy and know our allies and know ourselves, we'd better keep out of this dirty kind of business. It's very dangerous.
- General Maxwell D. Taylor, quoted in The Certain Trumpet: Maxwell Taylor and the American Experience in Vietnam (1991) by Douglas Kinnard, p. 198
- Throughout the war, the results of the bombing of North Vietnam have consistently fallen far short of the claims made for it. The bombing began with the expectation that it would break the will of the enemy—although many questioned its capability to do so. When Hanoi showed no signs of weakening, the rationale shifted toward interdiction, but this goal, too, proved unobtainable. Many suggested that this failure was because there were too many restrictions. If such targets as the North's petroleum facilities were attacked, it was argued, Hanoi's capabilities would be sharply reduced. But again North Vietnam proved capable of adapting; the will of the Hanoi leadership held strong. Again bombing failed to fulfill the promises made for it.
- Bombing As a Policy Tool In Vietnam: Effectiveness. A STAFF STUDY BASED ON THE PENTAGON PAPERS. Prepared for the Use of the Committee on Foreign Relations. United States Senate. Study No. 5. 12 October 1972. U.S. Government Printing Office
- “Hue was one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam war, both in terms of its human cost as well as the amount of physical destruction it generated,” says Erik Villard of the US Army Centre of Military History, who specialises in the Vietnam war.
The citadel of Hue, widely regarded as the cultural capital of Vietnam, became the key battleground in 25 days of urban warfare which raged within its walls, gardens and moats.
According to Villard, 216 US servicemen and 421 South Vietnamese troops were killed in the action, and some 1,600 US soldiers and 2,100 South Vietnamese wounded. North Vietnamese losses were estimated at 2,500 to 5,000.
- Erik Villard in South China Morning Post, “Hue: what to see 50 years after Vietnam war’s Tet offensive nearly destroyed the historic city”, (30 Jan, 2018).
- Fifty years ago, this picturesque area where today tourists snap selfies was the scene of intense bombardment; many of the walls and gatehouses have been reduced to little more than rubble. As US and South Vietnamese forces sought to penetrate the citadel and evict the insurgents, efforts were made to restrict the degree of damage inflicted on the Imperial Palace.
“US forces used artillery, naval gunfire and an occasional air strike to suppress the enemy on the outer wall, but could do nothing about the snipers in the Imperial Palace because the royal residence was a no-fire zone,” says Villard.
- Erik Villard in South China Morning Post,“Hue: what to see 50 years after Vietnam war’s Tet offensive nearly destroyed the historic city”, (30 Jan, 2018).
- The Vietnamese struggle is the most significant political event of our generation. Understanding the history of the Vietnam war is a key to understand the present world situation, the present US governmental crisis, the present possibilities for the revolutionary movement here, and a correct anti-imperialist perspective.
- The Weather Underground, Prairie Fire (1974)
- I was a junior in high school in 1968, during the Tet Offensive. The disaster of Tet marked the beginning of the end of American public support for the war, as was apparent even in the small private high school I attended. Although most of my peers were the children of well-heeled, conservative civilians, they were rapidly shedding their willingness to automatically rubber-stamp those values. I, however, was a steadfast Teenage Republican, and gave a speech for Richard Nixon in our school's mock elections that fall. Later the same year I passionately defended the Vietnam War before my speech class, keenly aware that my classmates, most of them apolitical or liberal, could not have seen me as more alien if I'd leaped off a Huey (helicopter gunship) into their midst.
- Mary Edwards Wertsch, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress (1991), p. 323
- In the fall of 1969, barely a month after I arrived on campus for my freshman year, word spread of a huge peace demonstration planned in Washington, D.C., just a few hours away. The night before the demonstration, one of my civilian friends spotted me on campus and shouted, "Come on! We've got a van going to D.C. and there's just enough room for you! Hurry up!" To my friend's consternation, I refused. "Why not?" he asked in disbelief, stopping in his tracks. I had told no one of the conflict that tormented me. Yes I was against the war, but no I was not antimilitary. Yes I wanted to protest, but no I didn't want to condemn country and military wholesale. What would it mean to lend my presence to a huge, historic demonstration that would only be read one way? My friend searched my face for an answer. "I can't go," I finally told him, "because armbands only come in black, not in shades of gray." He stared at me blankly, then shook his head and ran off to join the caravan.
- Mary Edwards Wertsch, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress (1991), p. 324
- Military brats during the Vietnam War covered the whole spectrum of opinion, from those wholly supporting the war, to those wholly condemning it, to those who declined to take a position. What I believe all had in common, however, was a sensitivity to the real human beings serving in the military who were swept into the hell that was Vietnam. The children of warriors did not find it easy to swallow the caricature of the military as a monolithic, inhuman juggernaut thriving on death and destruction. We all knew someone who had served there, someone who had died there. For us the warriors were not faceless and inhuman: They were our fathers, our brothers, our cousins. We could not condemn them. And that point alone was enough to divide us from our many civilian peers.
- Mary Edwards Wertsch, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress (1991), p. 325-326
- One thing I believe all of us children of the Fortress sensed in our gut: The opposition to the war was too simplistic. It condemned too broadly, too blackly. Where it should have focused clearly on national policy and those who shaped it, the movement blindly condemned those charged to carry out the war, who had little freedom to refuse. It is true that there were individuals in the military who did refuse, and who accepted the consequences. Where these acts were morally driven, it is possible to say those individuals were courageously obeying a higher law. But it was and is unrealistic to imagine an entire armed force laying down its weapons in mutiny against an unpalatable foreign policy. And it is purely fanciful to imagine that soldiers should pick and choose the wars they wish to fight; that's the last thing any country would want, for nation-states depend absolutely on their warriors to do as they are commanded without question or hesitation. Therefore to condemn wholesale hundreds of thousands of soldiers who did not desert or mutiny but went, as ordered, into the nightmare of the Vietnam War, is not only to misplace the blame, but to lack compassion. On this point military brats of both Right and Left stand united.
- Mary Edwards Wertsch, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress (1991), p. 327
- After 10,000 North Vietnamese soldiers slipped into the poorly guarded city of Hue in February of 1968, it took a month of intense fighting, principally by American Marines, to root them out. One reason was gross negligence by the high command in estimating the enemy’s strength. A deeper reason was the physical reality of urban density, trapped civilians, stout houses, and massive stonewalls. There was no avoiding house-to-house fighting to force back a determined enemy. In terms of total fatalities among friendly and enemy troops and civilians, the result was, to quote Bowden, “well over ten thousand, making it by far the bloodiest [battle] of the Vietnam War.”
- Bing West, “Urban Warfare, Then and Now”, The Atlantic, (Jun 30, 2017).
- The enemy had achieved in South Vietnam neither military nor psychological victory. For the South Vietnamese the Tet offensive served as a unifying catalyst, a Pearl Harbor. Had it been the same for the American people, had President Johnson discerned the same support behind him that Thieu did behind him, and had he acted with forcefulness, the enemy could have been induced to engage in serious and meaningful negotiations. Unfortunately, the enemy scored in the United States the psychological victory that eluded him in Vietnam, so influencing President Johnson and his civilian advisors that they ignored the maxim that when the enemy is hurting, you don't diminish the pressure, you increase it.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 334.
- As any television viewer or newspaper reader could discern the end in South Vietnam, in April 1975, came with incredible suddenness, amid scenes of unmitigated misery and shame. Utter defeat, panic, and rout have produced similar demoralizing tableaux through the centuries; yet to those of us who had worked so hard and long to try to keep it from ending that way, who had been so markedly conscious of the deaths and wounds of thousands of Americans and the soldiers of other countries, who had so long stood in awe of the stamina of the South Vietnamese soldier and civilian under the mantle of hardship, it was depressingly sad that so much misery should be a part of it. So immense had been the sacrifices made through so many long years that the South Vietnamese deserved an end- if it had to come to that- with more dignity to it.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 396.
- In the renewed war in South Vietnam beginning in the late 1950s, the considerable success that Giap and the Viet Cong enjoyed was cut short by the introduction of American troops. In the face of American airpower, helicopter mobility, and fire support, there was no way Giap could win on the battlefield. Given the restrictions they had imposed on themselves, neither was there much chance that the Americans and South Vietnamese could win a conventional victory; but so long as American troops were involved, Giap could point to few battlefield successes more spectacular or meaningful than the occasional overrunning of a fire-support base. Yet Giap persisted nevertheless in a big-unit war in which his losses were appalling, as evidenced by his admission to the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci that he had by early 1969 lost half a million men killed. Ruthless disregard for losses is seldom seen as military genius. A Western commander absorbing losses on the scale of Giap's would have hardly lasted in command more than a few weeks.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 405.
- Forced in January 1973 by American pressure to to accept a cease-fire agreement that left well over 100,000 North Vietnamese troops inside South Vietnam and free access for tens of thousands more, South Vietnamese leaders surely had reason to believe that if their enemy seriously violated the agreement, the United States would interfere. Yet that was not to be. In the face of that grave psychological blow for the South Vietnamese, it required no military genius to assure South Vietnam's eventual military defeat.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 405-406.
- Ironically, the North Vietnamese victory could have come much sooner. In view of the increasing commitment of American troops in the mid- and late 1960s, General Giap would have been well advised to abandon the big-unit war, pull in his horns to take away the visible threat to South Vietnam's survival, and thereby delude the Americans that they had already achieved their goal of making the South Vietnamese self-sufficient. President Johnson had given Giap that chance at the Manila conference of 1966 when he had announced that once "the level of violence subsides," American and other foreign troops would withdraw within six months. That would have been eight years before the eventual South Vietnamese defeat, long before the South Vietnamese armed forces would have had any claim to self-sufficiency. Making that offer at the Manila conference may well have been an effort by President Johnson to rid himself of the albatross of South Vietnam, whatever the long-range consequences. For once the United States had pulled out under those circumstances and Giap had come back, what American President would have dared risk the political pitfalls involved in putting American troops back in?
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 406.
- Dating from the days of the Geneva Accords of 1954, the refugees always flowed south, not north, and even those Americans 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.
- General William Westmoreland, in his memoirs A Soldier Reports (1976), p. 409.
- You put the government on the spot when you even mention Vietnam. They feel embarrassed — you notice that?... It's just a trap that they let themselves get into. … But they're trapped, they can't get out. You notice I said 'they.' They are trapped, They can't get out. If they pour more men in, they'll get deeper. If they pull the men out, it's a defeat. And they should have known that in the first place. France had about 200,000 Frenchmen over there, and the most highly mechanized modern army sitting on this earth. And those little rice farmers ate them up, and their tanks, and everything else. Yes, they did, and France was deeply entrenched, had been there a hundred or more years. Now, if she couldn't stay there and was entrenched, why, you are out of your mind if you think Sam can get in over there. But we're not supposed to say that. If we say that, we're anti-American, or we're seditious, or we're subversive…. They put Diem over there. Diem took all their money, all their war equipment and everything else, and got them trapped. Then they killed him. Yes, they killed him, murdered him in cold blood, him and his brother, Madame Nhu's husband, because they were embarrassed. They found out that they had made him strong and he was turning against them…. You know, when the puppet starts talking back to the puppeteer, the puppeteer is in bad shape….
- Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements edited by George Breitman, January 1965, p. 217
Carole C. Fink, Cold War: An International History (2017)
- The Soviet Union hastened to endorse the Bandung principles, and the United States began to ease its hostility toward nonalignment (which Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had denounced as "morally bankrupt"), acknowledge the diminishing appeal of its security pacts, and court independent Third World governments. Vietnam was an exception. The Eisenhower administration, which had refused to sign the Geneva Accords, feared a communist victory in the national elections and a domino effect throughout Southeast Asia. After the French withdrawal, the United States proceeded to build up a client state in the south, allowing President Ngô Đình Diệm to cancel the 1956 elections and to clamp down on his opponents. Contrary to the Geneva Accords, which forbade the Vietnamese from entering foreign alliances or allowing foreign troops into Vietnam, Dulles mobilized the US-led Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to agree to protect South Vietnam against communist aggression. When a popular insurgency, which Diệm contemptuously labeled Viet Cong (Vietnamese communists) erupted in the south two years later and received support from the north, Eisenhower expanded US economic and military aid and personnel on the ground. Between 1955 and 1961 the United States poured more than $1 billion in economic and military aid into the Diệm regime, and by the time Eisenhower left office there were approximately one thousand US military advisers in South Vietnam.
- p. 96-97
- The US intervention in Vietnam was not inevitable. It evolved from the vacuum left by the collapse of Japan's Asian Empire, followed by the communists' victory in China, the Korean stalemate, and France's defeat in 1954. But it also grew out of the Cold War decisions of three US presidents: Truman's to move away from Roosevelt's anticolonialism and back the French, Eisenhower's to block the Vietnamese national elections in 1956 and prop up the Diệm regime, and Kennedy's to increase the number of US military advisers, Special Forces, and CIA agents in South Vietnam. All three intended to transform Vietnam into a "proving ground for democracy in Asia."
- p. 124
- Three months before the presidential election Johnson had already obtained his justification for going to war. From the beginning of 1964 the US military had taken over direction of the CIA/South Vietnamese covert commando attacks against North Vietnam as well as naval intelligence gathering in the coastal areas (known as DESOTO patrols). On August 1, 1964, shortly after a South Vietnamese commando attack on two islands, the destroyer Maddox entered the Gulf of Tonkin for the purpose of collecting electronic intelligence. The next day, as it approached the island of Hon Me, it encountered three North Vietnamese torpedo boats whose signals had been intercepted. The Maddox fired, damaging only one of them. Two days later, the Maddox, now joined by a second intelligence vessel, C. Turner Joy, again fired on what appeared to be approaching enemy ships, although no evidence has ever been found of a second North Vietnamese interception.
- p. 126
- Although neither US ship had been hit and there were no casualties, Johnson immediately ordered a retaliatory bombing raid against North Vietnamese naval bases. Evoking America's dread of surprise assaults, Johnson appealed for public support against an "unprovoked attack" in international waters. After Defense Secretary Robert McNamara assured Congress that the US Navy had "played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any," Johnson on August 7, 1964 won near-unanimous Senate approval for a resolution authorizing him to use US military force to defend the freedom of South Vietnam, a measure his administration had prepared earlier in the spring. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution enabled Johnson to spurn proposals that fall for another Geneva conference to achieve a negotiated settlement over Vietnam.
- p. 126
- Shortly after his overwhelming electoral victory, Johnson moved quickly to rescue South Vietnam from an imminent collapse. In 1965 he launched Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam, and by the end of the year he had dispatched 180,000 combat troops as well. Although this dramatic escalation contained several cautious elements, Johnson had transformed South Vietnam into a Cold War struggle and one of the longest and most divisive wars in US history.
- p. 127
- In selecting bombing targets, Johnson avoided destroying North Vietnamese dams and ports and thereby provoking a Chinese intervention although the Ho Ch Minh Trail was bombed, Johnson made no moves to invade Laos or attack the Viet Cong sanctuaries in Cambodia; and US forces confined themselves to search-and-destroy operations against enemy units and largely refrained from involvement in local politics.
- p. 127
- The US involvement in Vietnam had a major effect on global politics. Antiwar movements developed rapidly in America, with young people burning their draft cards, fleeing the country, or serving jail sentences rather than go to Vietnam. By October 1965 protest demonstrations in forty American cities had spread to Europe and Asia. Critics of the war condemned America's atrocities against the civilian population- North and South- and its use of chemical weapons, and they called for an immediate US withdrawal. Antiwar activists derided Washington's claim of battling Chinese communism to save Asians from tyranny, and deplored America's opposition to the third World's struggle for independence. To the generation raised after World War II and the Holocaust, America's claim to defend freedom against a tiny, tenacious people, and its support of a corrupt and repressive puppet government, rang increasingly hollow.
- p. 129
- The conclusion of the Vietnam War underscored the paradox of US-Soviet détente that had been complicated by the emerging US-Sino-Soviet triangle. Although the Superpowers had committed substantial resources to the struggle in Southeast Asia, neither had fully controlled its clients. Both had expected the other to be more accommodating than either was willing to be, or even capable of being. To be sure, Hanoi's victory in 1975 created more diplomatic and economic problems for Moscow as well as for Beijing, while America's defeat- although a severe political and psychological blow- had left its triangular diplomacy unimpaired. Nonetheless, America's war in Vietnam had reinforced the nation's growing conviction that the struggle against global communism must no longer be fought solely by US soldiers.
- p. 162-163
Ronald E. Powaski, The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991 (1998)
- Johnson was equally determined to prevent the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia, but the price the United States had to pay in lives and money to do so would be much higher than in Latin America. Between November 1963 and July 1965, Johnson transformed Kennedy's program of limited U.S. assistance to South Vietnam into an open-ended commitment to defend that country. By 1968 the United States would have over 500,000 troops in Vietnam. Johnson believed, probably correctly, that South Vietnam would collapse if the United States did not expand its participation in the war. Remembering the conservative backlash against the Truman administration after the communist takeover of China, Johnson believed he could not abandon South Vietnam and remain in the White House. Shortly after assuming the presidency, Johnson said privately, "I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went. If the United States pulled out of Vietnam, Johnson warned on one occasion, "it might as well give up everywhere else- pull out of Berlin, Japan, South America."
- p. 155.
- Although Johnson consulted with congressional leaders before he committed combat units to Vietnam, he did not request another congressional resolution authorizing him to do so. He felt that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution already provided sufficient authorization. Moreover, he did not want to put the country on a war footing, because he feared a public backlash against U.S. involvement in the conflict; he also wanted to maintain congressional and public support for his Great Society reform program, which he feared might be set aside if the war were given priority status. Johnson believed that he could wage war and implement a major reform program simultaneously, something no other president had ever attempted. Ultimately, Johnson's decision to expand the U.S. military commitment in Vietnam would force him to withdraw from the presidential campaign of 1968. The Republican victory in the election that November would mean the end of Johnson's Great Society program as well as the inauguration of a new Vietnam policy.
- p. 156-157.
- One reason for the failure of Johnson's Vietnam policy was the inherent unworkability of U.S. military strategy. The gradual escalation of the U.S. bombing campaign allowed the North Vietnamese sufficient time to disperse their population and resources and to develop an air defense system that would destroy a large number of U.S. aircraft. Moreover, the U.S. Army never developed a consistent strategy for stopping the infiltrations of regular North Vietnamese units and supplies into the South. General Westmoreland's search-and-destroy strategy was designed primarily to protect the cities of South Vietnam while killing as many Vietcong as possible. Westmoreland grossly miscalculated North Vietnam's willingness to suffer huge losses in manpower as well as its capacity to replace those losses. An estimated 200,000 North Vietnamese males reached draft age each year, far more than U.S. forces could kill. North Vietnam was able to sustain its war effort by drawing on both Soviet and Chinese military and economic assistance. With the Sino-Soviet split deeper than ever, even after Krushchev's demise, both communist powers tried to outdo each other in helping North Vietnam. Their combined assistance between 1965 and 1968 exceeded $2 billion, an amount that more than offset the losses North Vietnam suffered from U.S. bombing. In addition, between 1962 and 1968 approximately 300,000 Chinese soldiers went to North Vietnam, 4,000 of whom were killed. Though not participating in ground combat, they helped operate antiaircraft weapons and communications facilities.
- p. 157.
- Without question, the presence of the Chinese military in North Vietnam was largely intended to deter a U.S. invasion, and, clearly, it was successful in doing so. Fearing that an expansion of the ground war into North Vietnam would again bring Chinese soldiers into conflict with U.S. troops, as had happened in the Korean War, the administration refrained from taking that step. Unwilling to fight an all-out war with North Vietnam, Johnson ensured that the conflict would become a war of attrition. In such a war the communists were bound to win because they were willing to accept much higher casualties than were the American people.
- p. 157.
- With no prospect of either a military or diplomatic end to the war, the carnage inevitably grew. By late 1967 the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action reached 13,500. Many Americans were wondering if the war was worth the mounting deaths that were so vividly displayed on the nightly news. Slowly, American public opinion turned against the administration. College students in particular became bitter opponents of the war. But the opposition to the conflict also increased in Congress, with Senators William Fulbright (Dem.-Ark.) and Wayne Morse (Rep.-Ore.) leading the attack, bringing to a standstill legislative progress on Johnson's cherished great society program. By 1967 growing demonstrations against the war and vicious personal criticism of the president had made Johnson a virtual prisoner in the White House. The increasing unpopularity of the war, however, did not sway Johnson from his goal of preserving a noncommunist South Vietnam. For the president in 1967, there was no acceptable alternative but a continuation of the war. Accordingly, in August 1967 he approved General Westmoreland's request for an additional 45,000-50,000 troops, but he imposed a new ceiling of 525,000 military personnel, a level that was not surpassed for the remainder of the war. In November 1967 Westmoreland assured Johnson that the United States was "turning the corner" in Vietnam.
- p. 160.
- Then, much to the surprise of U.S. intelligence, the supposedly nearly beaten North Vietnamese and their Vietcong allies launched a major offensive against the cities of South Vietnam in February 1968. Coinciding with the Vietnamese Tet holiday, the communist forces attacked more than 100 towns and cities, including Saigon, where the grounds of the U.S. Embassy were penetrated, and Huế, the ancient capital of Vietnam, which the communists held for more than a month before they were driven out. While American and South Vietnamese forces were able to repel the communist onslaught, and inflict enormous losses on the enemy in the process, they also suffered heavy casualties. The Tet offensive was a significant military victory for the United States, but it was also a stunning psychological defeat. To most Americans, who had been subjected to repeated administration claims that the war was being won, it seemed incredible that the communists could mount such an impressive offensive.
- p. 160-161.
- After Tet, with no end to the war in sight, a Gallup poll in March 1968 reported that a clear majority of "Middle America" had turned against the administration. The same poll showed that Johnson's approval rating had reached a new low of 30 percent. General Westmoreland seemed oblivious to the growing hostility of the American people and Congress toward the war. He insisted that the communists had been dealt a crippling blow during Tet and that the war could be won by launching new ground offensives against their bases in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam, and by intensifying and expanding the bombing campaign, especially around Hanoi and Haiphong. To implement this strategy, Westmoreland requested an additional 206,000 troops.
- p. 161
Mark G. Toulouse, “CHRISTIAN RESPONSES TO VIETNAM: THE ORGANIZATION OF DISSENT”, University of Chicago Religion and Culture Web Forum (June 2007)
- Up to about 1965, the dissent expressed in the pages of Christian Century and Christianity and Crisis had been fairly mild. The journals largely supported America’s motive for its presence in Vietnam. Prior to the 1964 presidential election, support for American policy had been consistent. After 1965, editorials began openly to question the escalation carried out by Johnson. They criticized the failure to negotiate, and the impossible conditions expected before negotiations could take place. In the fall of 1965, Christians began to organize more effectively against the war. At that time, the existing dissenting Christian groups were largely composed of pacifists. Further, the newer dissenting groups representing the New Left, were often as willing to overlook violence on the left as they were to reject it on the right. There seemed to be no middle ground. Many Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders sought a way to express their dissent without identifying completely with any of the existing groups.
- Tom Cornell, a leader among the Catholic Worker movement, a friend and veteran of draft card burnings, described draft card burning and the effect of Johnson’s legislation in the movement’s newsletter: In psychological terms it’s a kind of castration symbol and an Oedipal thing. Your kid is flying in the face of authority. . . . There is a kind of civil or state religion which has subsumed large elements of Christianity, Judaism, whatever else there is, and it has its symbols, obviously secular symbols like the flag, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. It’s subsumed a good part of our traditional real religion. And the draft card then becomes a sacrament. And there’s nothing worse that you can do in sacramental terms than defile a species of the sacrament. And this was a defilement, a real blasphemy against the state.
- Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, "Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam, 1963-1975", (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1984), 51-58; as qtd. on p. 2.
- In most cases, the major fear behind these restrictions was the fear that controversial issues would lead to conflict and, ultimately, division. Therefore, the Century editor concluded, “most of the Protestant churches stand mindless and mute before the great events which shake the ecclesiastical, cultural and social foundations of our time.” Since Protestants want no one to speak on their behalf, “no one knows whether there is a majority opinion and commitment” about pressing issues. No one knows whether a consensus exists and, if it does, “no one knows whether it is Christian.” He continued: It may be that in the United States Christians are now so thoroughly dispersed in and absorbed by the general fabric of society that it is wholly impossible to obtain a Christian opinion on anything. It may be that the churches are saying nothing about the issues facing the people because as churches they have no mind to speak. . . . If this is the situation we need to know it. Do the churches have anything to say to the world about the world’s affairs that the world cannot say just as well to itself? We need to devise methods of answering this question, even though in the process we run the risk of conflict and division. Better turmoil in the church than total irrelevance.
- “Mindless and Mute,” Christian Century (10 November 1965): 1371-1372; as qtd. on p.4
- Editors at the Century and Christianity and Crisis expressed their opposition to American policies even more strongly as 1965 gave way to 1966. Commonweal increasingly expressed its doubts about the wisdom of the current direction of the war effort. Though none of them called for what might be described as a “precipitous” withdrawal of forces, they insisted on United Nations intervention and unconditional negotiations that would include a significant role for the National Liberation Front (NLF) in a post-war Vietnam. They condemned Johnson’s shift in policy that seemed committed to the mistaken notion of seeking an “all out military victory” in the “undeclared war” in Vietnam. Commonweal reversed its previous support for short-term bombing efforts and joined the other two journals in calling for an immediate stop to all bombing. Meanwhile, Christianity Today and America continued their efforts to encourage American resolve in Vietnam and to defend the continued bombardment of North Vietnam. The war would end the second the aggressors from North Vietnam stopped their aggression. Of these three journals with serious questions about the war, Christianity and Crisis found itself in the most unusual position. Its birth in 1941 came because it opposed Christian isolationism, especially the neutralist and pacifist sentiments so present in the Christian community at the time. Niebuhr and his colleagues at Christianity and Crisis took the lead in providing a strong Christian rationale for American intervention in World War II. But in 1966, they stood absolutely opposed to American military action in Vietnam.
- p. 5.
- The dissent against the war that by 1972, became so loud and far-reaching that it helped force America to withdraw, had very little to do with pacifism. That dissent was composed of liberals and conservatives with a vast array of moral philosophies and motives. Hunter is correct, however, in his brief description of the peace movement’s overall concern for the use of economic resources. Throughout the war, most protestors—pacifist or not—expressed regular concern about the effect of the war on Johnson’s “Great Society” program. The consistent theme resounded that billions of dollars spent annually in an unnecessary war effort could have been better used at home.
- p. 7.
- From 1966 on, this kind of argument emphasizing the disjuncture between values and behavior became predominant in the journals opposing the war. In April 1966, the Century claimed that the use of idealistic arguments to support American involvement in Vietnam no longer worked. The “self-righteous argument” that Americans were in Vietnam “because a freedom-loving people summoned us to their aid” had “eroded and collapsed not because wise men exposed its error – . . . but because it can no longer stand against the relentless assaults of unfolding events.”
- “America Non Grata,” CC (20 April 1966): 483; as qtd. on p. 10.
- Borrowing a phrase of Senator William J. Fulbright from the title of his well-known series of talks at Johns Hopkins University during the spring of 1966, American dissenters to the war were not so much bothered by the use of power; they were instead bothered by the “arrogance” that accompanied America’s use of power, an arrogance that violated America’s expressed ideals. Fulbright compared the country’s arrogance to that of Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany. These comparisons, especially the one to Hitler, upset many Americans, but such comparisons became frequent in many peace circles after 1966.
- William J. Fulbright, Who Spoke Up?, 82-83; s qtd. on pp. 11-12.
- King’s speech linked the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam in a way that made many black leaders uncomfortable. Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young, Jr. both criticized his speech. The board of the NAACP passed a resolution to keep the two movements separate. King’s speech recognized that the connections were not something one chose, but rather intrinsic to what both movements were about: In 1957, when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” . . . Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” . . . So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be saved are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
- Martin Luther King Jr., Because of Their Faith, 44; Who Spoke Up?, 109; as qtd. on p.14.
- He called for a “radical revolution of values.” Revolutions were taking place all over the globe, he told his audience. “It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of Communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries.” King offered a five-step program “to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam.” He called for an end to all bombing; a unilateral cease fire with the goal of beginning negotiations; the curtailment of all military build-up elsewhere in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand and Laos; acceptance of the NLF as a player in any future Vietnamese government; and the establishment of a date for all foreign troops to leave Vietnam. He urged the church to seek out “every creative means of protest possible.” To all ministers who held ministerial exemptions, he recommended giving them up in order to seek conscientious objector status, a status that most likely would be denied. The injustice of the war needed to be exposed in whatever ways were possible. The next week, King’s name was listed as a national co-chair of CALCAV. On April 15, the Spring Mobilization gathered between 150,000 and 400,000 protesters (estimates vary) in New York City and another 50,000 in San Francisco. The antiwar movement had gained considerable strength. Meanwhile, some 438,000 troops were now in Vietnam
- Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” in The Vietnam War: Christian Perspectives, 114-130; as qtd. on pp. 14-15
- Evangelical supporters of the war never seemed to question their own support of the war, or to interpret it as an example of dabbling in political affairs or approving military strategy. They had no problem reporting that Billy Graham, after making a visit to Vietnam, "said that Americans should back their President in his decision to make a stand in Viet Nam.” In the words of the Century, “they have made their peace with this evil thing . . . Is it not ironic?”
- “Graham Preaches Peace in Viet Nam,” CT (20 January 1967): 36-37; “Danger on the Home Front,” CC (25 January 1967): 99-100; as qtd. on p.18
- In a letter to the editor, Graham chided the Century for attributing to him an opinion about the war. “I have been extremely careful,” he wrote, “not to be drawn into either the moral implications or the tactical military problems of the Vietnam war.” The Century responded by reminding Graham of the many ways he had passed judgment: his recent condemnation of King’s address, his protest against protesters, describing them as “giving comfort to the enemy,” and his many examples of vocal support of American policy in Vietnam. From “his position high above life’s sordid arena,” the editor wrote, “Graham plunged into the dangerous waters of opinion.” One wonders what the Century would have written if they had known that a few years later, Graham used his influence with Nixon to “gain draft exemptions for Campus Crusade staff members, contending that, though unordained, they were doing the work of ministers.”39 Events during the Vietnam and Nixon years did not do much to draw out Graham’s better qualities.
- Billy Graham as quoted in William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1996), 146; as qtd. on p.18.
- Near the year’s end, Christian leaders were certain that the war was winding down. Little did they know that the number of Americans killed would nearly double before war’s end. Between March 1968 and March 1969, the total number of dead grew from 19,670 to 33,641, (more than the 33,629 that represented the total number of Americans killed in the Korean War). The total count of the dead would grow to nearly 58,000 within the next three years.
- Catholic opposition to the war began to grow considerably beginning in 1967. By July, a plurality of Catholics opposed further escalation (52% opposed; 36% in favor). Editors at America lagged considerably behind. By January 1971, 80% of Catholics favored the return of all military personnel by the end of the year. That same year, in November, Catholic Bishops issued a collective resolution declaring that the Vietnam War no longer met just war criteria. “It is our firm conviction,” their statement read, “that the speedy ending of this war is a moral imperative of the highest priority.”
- The most radical dissent among evangelicals came from the Post-American (later Sojourners) community. Led by James Wallis and founded in 1971, this community of students at Trinity Evangelical Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, came under the watchful eye of the FBI for their protests against Vietnam. They took the name “post-American” for their journal because they had given up on America’s values. They regarded American society as “oppressive” and beyond redemption. Christians needed to assume a post-American posture. Wallis viewed the Christian response to Vietnam as proof that the church in America was “captive and . . . morally impotent.” For the Post-American crowd, allegiance to America in the Vietnam era meant disobedience to God. Wallis and his community represented a new movement among young evangelicals, one far to the left of the Century in its view of social revolution and Vietnam. After the war, other evangelicals accused Wallis of being blind to the plight of the refugees because of his blind support for the unification of the country at all costs under the revolutionary principles of North Vietnam.
- Wallis, “The Desire to Forget,” Post-American (March-April, 1973): 1-3. For evangelical condemnation of the community’s view of refugees, see Lloyd Billingsley, “Radical Evangelicals and the Politics of Compassion,” in Piety & Politics, ed. Richard J. Neuhaus and Michael Cromartie (Lanhau, MD: University Press, 1987), especially 211-212 ; as qtd. on p. 22.
- In 1978, James Wall, the new editor of the Century, took a nostalgic look back at the 1960s, “when the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam made the church’s liberal posture so right.” The church could be sure in those days, on those issues, that it was on the right side: “the cause was just and the issues clear-cut. Or so they appeared.” Living through that period caused some to believe that the church could always speak with clarity and authority in the public arena. There is a tendency when things seem so clear to assume that God’s blessing absolutely supports your position. The danger lurking in this assumption is illustrated by the Century’s endorsement of Johnson over Goldwater in 1964. They were sure Johnson was God’s man for the job, so sure that they were willing to lose their tax exempt status to say so. As Wall pointed out, it is dangerous to ignore the ambiguity that exists in every human situation. The Christian position has to be willing to embrace “ambiguity” and the willingness to recognize that God “sanctifies no single political solution.”
- Wall, “Living in the Political Briar Patch,” CC (1 November 1978): 1027-1028, as qtd. on p. 23.
Lyndon B. Johnson Telephone Call With Senator Richard Russell (May 27, 1964)
- as quoted in "The Vietnam War Transcript Trump Needs to Read", by Jeff Green Field, Politico Magazine, (September 27, 2017)
- Johnson: What do you think about this Vietnam thing? I’d like to hear you talk a little bit.
- Russell: Well, frankly, Mr. President, it’s the damn worse mess that I ever saw, and I don’t like to brag and I never have been right many times in my life, but I knew that we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don’t see how we’re ever going to get out of it without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in those rice paddies and jungles. I just don’t see it. I just don’t know what to do.
- Johnson: Well, that’s the way I have been feeling for six months.
- Russell: Our position is deteriorating and it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less they are willing to do for themselves. It is a mess and it’s going to get worse, and I don’t know how or what to do. I don’t think the American people are quite ready for us to send our troops in there to do the fighting. If I was going to get out, I’d get the same crowd that got rid of old Diem [the Vietnamese prime minister who was overthrown and assassinated in 1963] to get rid of these people and to get some fellow in there that said we wish to hell we would get out. That would give us a good excuse for getting out.
- Johnson: How important is it to us?
- Russell: It isn’t important a damn bit for all this new missile stuff.
- Johnson: I guess it is important.
- Russell: From a psychological standpoint. Other than the question of our word and saving face, that’s the reason that I said that I don’t think that anybody would expect us to stay in there. It’s going to be a headache to anybody that tries to fool with it. You’ve got all the brains in the country, Mr. President—you better get a hold of them. I don’t know what to do about this. I saw it all coming on, but that don’t do any good now, that’s water over the dam and under the bridge. And we are there.
- Johnson: Well, they’d impeach a president, though, that would run out, wouldn’t they?
- Russell: I don’t think they would. I don’t know how in hell you’re going to get out, unless they [the South Vietnamese government] tell you to get out.
- Johnson: Wouldn’t that pretty well fix us in the eyes of the world and make us look mighty bad?
- Russell: Well, I don’t know, we don’t look too good right now, going in there with all the troops, sending them all in there, I’ll tell you it'll be the most expensive adventure this country ever went into.
- Gelb, Les and Gladstone, Brooke (January 12, 2018). What the Press and "The Post" Missed. On The Media.
- Peter Arnett (February 8, 1968), ["Major Describes Move", The New York Times, p. 14. This two-sentence article began, "BENTRE, Feb. 7 (AP)—'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,' a United States major said today."