Vietnam: A Look Back At The Facts
Updated – 11 Nov 02 © by K.G. Sears, Ph.D.
One reason America’s agonizing perception of “Vietnam” will not go away, is because that perception is wrong. It’s out of place in the American psyche, and it continues to fester in much the same way battle wounds fester when shrapnel or other foreign matter is left in the body. It is not normal behavior for Americans to idolize mass murdering despots, to champion the cause of slavery, to abandon friends and allies, or to cut and run in the face of adversity. Why then did so many Americans engage in, or openly support, these types of activities during the country’s “Vietnam” experience? That the American experience in Vietnam was painful and ended in long lasting (albeit self-inflicted) grief and misery can not be disputed. However, the reasons behind that grief and misery are not even remotely understood – by either the American people or their government. Contradictory to popular belief, and a whole lot of wishful thinking by a solid corps of some 16,000,000+ American draft dodgers and their families / supporters, it was not a military defeat that brought misfortune to the American effort in Vietnam.
The United States military in Vietnam was the best educated, best trained, best disciplined and most successful force ever fielded in the history of American arms. Why then, did it get such bad press, and, why is the public’s opinion of them so twisted? The answer is simple. But first a few relevant comparisons.
During the Civil War, at the Battle of Bull Run, the Union Army panicked and fled the battlefield. Nothing even remotely resembling that debacle ever occurred in Vietnam.
In WWII at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, elements of the US Army were overrun by the Germans. In the course of that battle, Hitler’s General Rommel (The Desert Fox) inflicted 3,100 US casualties, took 3,700 US prisoners and captured or destroyed 198 American tanks. In Vietnam no US Military units were overrun and no US Military infantry units or tank outfits were captured.
WW II again. In the Philippines, US Army Generals Jonathan Wainwright and Edward King surrendered themselves and their troops to the Japanese. In Vietnam no US generals, or US military units ever surrendered.
Before the Normandy invasion (“D” Day, 1944) the US Army (In WW II the US Army included the Army Air Corps which today has become the US Airforce) in England filled its own jails with American soldiers who refused to fight and then had to rent jail space from the British to handle the overflow. The US Army in Vietnam never had to rent jail space from the Vietnamese to incarcerate American soldiers who refused to fight.
Desertion. Only about 5,000 men assigned to Vietnam deserted and just 249 of those deserted while in Vietnam. During WW II, in the European Theater alone, over 20,000 US Military men were convicted of desertion and, on a comparable percentage basis, the overall WW II desertion rate was 55 percent higher than in Vietnam.
During the WW II Battle of the Bulge in Europe two regiments of the US Army’s 106th Division surrendered to the Germans. Again: In Vietnam no US Army unit ever surrendered.
The highest ranking American soldier killed in WW II was Lt. (three star) General Leslie J. McNair. He was killed when American war planes accidentally bombed his position during the invasion of Europe. In Vietnam there were no American generals killed by American bombers.
As for brutality: During WW II the US Army executed nearly 300 of its own men. In the European Theater alone, the US Army sentenced 443 American soldiers to death. Most of these sentences were for the rape and or murder of civilians.
In the Korean War, Major General William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, was taken prisoner of war (POW). In Vietnam no US generals, much less division commanders, were ever taken prisoner.
During the Korean War the US Army was forced into the longest retreat in its history. A catastrophic 275 mile withdrawal from the Yalu River all the way to Pyontaek, 45 miles south of Seoul. In the process they lost the capital city of Seoul. The US Military in Vietnam was never compelled into a major retreat nor did it ever abandon Saigon to the enemy.
The 1st US Marine Division was driven from the Chosin Reservoir and forced into an emergency evacuation from the Korean port of Hungnam. There they were joined by other US Army and South Korean soldiers and the US Navy eventually evacuated 105,000 Allied troops from that port. In Vietnam there was never any mass evacuation of US Marine, South Vietnamese or Allied troop units.
Other items: Only 25 percent of the US Military who served in Vietnam were draftees. During WW II, 66 percent of the troops were draftees. The Vietnam force contained three times as many college graduates as did the WW II force. The average education level of the enlisted man in Vietnam was 13 years, equivalent to one year of college. Of those who enlisted, 79 percent had high school diplomas. This at a time when only 65% of the military age males in the general American population were high school graduates.
The average age of the military men who died in Vietnam was 22.8 years old. Of the one hundred and one (101) 18 year old draftees who died in Vietnam; seven of them were black. Blacks accounted for 11.2 percent the combat deaths in Vietnam. At that time black males of military age constituted 13.5 percent of the American population. It should also be clearly noted that volunteers suffered 77% of the casualties, and accounted for 73% of the Vietnam deaths.
The charge that the “poor” died in disproportionate numbers is also a myth. An MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) study of Vietnam death rates, conducted by Professor Arnold Barnett, revealed that servicemen from the richest 10 percent of the nations communities had the same distribution of deaths as the rest of the nation. In fact his study showed that the death rate in the upper income communities of Beverly Hills, Belmont, Chevy Chase, and Great Neck exceeded the national average in three of the four, and, when the four were added together and averaged, that number also exceeded the national average.
On the issue of psychological health: Mental problems attributed to service in Vietnam are referred to as PTSD. Civil War veterans suffered “Soldiers heart” in WW I the term was “Shell shock” during WW II and in Korea it was “Battle fatigue.” US Military records indicate that Civil War psychological casualties averaged twenty six per thousand men. In WW II some units experienced over 100 psychiatric casualties per 1,000 troops; in Korea nearly one quarter of all battlefield medical evacuations were due to mental stress. That works out to about 50 per 1,000 troops. In Vietnam the comparable average was 5 per 1,000 troops.
To put Vietnam in its proper perspective it is necessary to understand that the US Military was not defeated in Vietnam and that the South Vietnamese government did not collapse due to mismanagement or corruption, nor was it overthrown by revolutionary guerrillas running around in rubber tire sandals, wearing black pajamas and carrying home made weapons. There was no “general uprising” or “revolt” by the southern population. Saigon was overrun by a conventional army made up of seventeen conventional divisions, organized into four army corps. This totally conventional force (armed, equipped, trained and supplied by Red China the Soviet Union) launched a cross border, frontal attack on South Vietnam and conquered it, in the same manner as Hitler conquered most of Europe in WW II. A quick synopsis of America’s “Vietnam experience” will help summarize and clarify the Vietnam scenario:
Prior to 1965; US Advisors and AID only
1965 – 1967; Buildup of US Forces and logistical supply bases, plus heavy fighting to counter Communist North Vietnamese invasion.
1968 – 1970; Communist “insurgency” destroyed to the point where over 90% of the towns and villages in South Vietnam were free from Communist domination. As an example: By 1971 throughout the entire populous Mekong Delta, the monthly rate of Communist insurgency action dropped to an average of 3 incidents per 100,000 population (Many a US city would envy a crime rate that low). In 1969 Nixon started troop withdrawals that were essentially complete by late 1971.
Dec 1972; Paris Peace Agreements negotiated and agreed by North Vietnam, South Vietnam, the Southern Vietnamese Communists (VC, NLF / PRG) and the United States.
Jan 1973; All four parties formally sign Paris Peace Agreements.
Mar 1973; Last US POW released from Hanoi Hilton, and in accordance with Paris Agreements, last American GI leaves Vietnam.
Aug 1973; US Congress passes the Case – Church law which forbids, US naval forces from sailing on the seas surrounding, US ground forces from operating on the land of, and US air forces from flying in the air over South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This at a time when America had drawn its Cold War battle lines and as a result had the US Navy protecting Taiwan, 50,000 troops in South Korea and over 300,000 troops in Western Europe (Which has a land area, economy and population comparable to that of the United States), along with ironclad guarantees that if Communist forces should cross any of those Cold War lines or Soviet Armor should roll across either the DMZ in Korea or the Iron Curtain in Europe, then there would be an unlimited response by the armed forces of the United States, to include if necessary, the use of nuclear weapons. In addition, these defense commitments required the annual expenditure of hundreds of billions of US dollars. Conversely, in 1975 when Soviet armor rolled across the international borders of South Vietnam, the US military response was nothing. In addition, Congress cut off all AID to the South Vietnamese and would not provide them with as much as a single bullet.
In spite of the Case – Church Congressional guarantee, the North Vietnamese were very leery of US President Nixon. They viewed him as one unpredictable, incredibly tough nut. He had, in 1972, for the first time in the War, mined Hai Phong Harbor and sent the B-52 bombers against the North to force them into signing the Paris Peace Agreements. Previously the B-52s had been used only against Communist troop concentrations in remote regions of Vietnam and occasionally against carefully selected sanctuaries in Cambodia, plus against both sanctuaries and supply lines in Laos.
Aug 1974; Nixon resigns.
Sept 1974: North Vietnamese hold special meeting to evaluate Nixon’s resignation and decide to test implications.
Dec 1974: North Vietnamese invade South Vietnamese Province of Phouc Long located north of Saigon on Cambodian border.
Jan 1975: North Vietnamese capture Phuoc Long provincial capitol of Phuoc Binh. Sit and wait for US reaction. No reaction.
Mar 1975; North Vietnam mounts full-scale invasion. Seventeen North Vietnamese conventional divisions (more divisions than the US Army has had on duty at any time since WW II) were formed into four conventional army corps (This was the entire North Vietnamese army. Because the US Congress had unconditionally guaranteed no military action against North Vietnam, there was no need for them to keep forces in reserve to protect their home bases, flanks or supply lines), and launched a wholly conventional cross-border, frontal-attack. Then, using the age-old tactics of mass and maneuver, they defeated the South Vietnamese Army in detail.
The complete description of this North Vietnamese Army (NVA) classical military victory is best expressed in the words of the NVA general who commanded it. Recommended reading: Great Spring Victory by General Tien Van Dung, NVA Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Volume I, 7 Jun 76 and Volume II, 7 Jul 76. General Dung’s account of the final battle for South Vietnam reads like it was taken right out of a US Army manual on offensive military operations. His descriptions of the mass and maneuver were exquisite. His selection of South Vietnam’s army as the “Center of gravity” could have been written by General Carl von Clausewitz himself. General Dung’s account goes into graphic detail on his battle moves aimed at destroying South Vietnam’s armed forces and their war materials. He never once, not even once, ever mentions a single word about revolutionary warfare or guerilla tactics contributing in any way to his Great Spring Victory.
Other Aspects: US Military battle deaths by year:
· Prior to 1966 – 3,078 (Total up through 31 Dec 65)
· 1966 – 5,008
· 1967 – 9,378
· 1968 – 14, 589 (Total while JFK & LBJ were on watch – 32,053)
· 1969 – 9,414
· 1970 – 4,221
· 1971 – 1,381
· 1972 – 300 (Total while Nixon was on watch – 15,316)
Source of these numbers is the Southeast Asia Statistical Summary, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense and were provided to the author by the US Army War College Library, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17023. Numbers are battle deaths only and do not include ordinary accidents, heart attacks, murder victims, those who died in knife fights in barroom brawls, suicides, etc. Those who think these numbers represent “heavy fighting” and some of the “bloodiest battles” in US history should consider the fact that the Allied Forces lost 9,758 men killed just storming the Normandy Beaches; 6,603 were Americans. The US Marines, in the 25 days between 19 Feb 45 and 16 Mar 45, lost nearly 7,000 men killed in their battle for the tiny island of Iwo Jima.
By comparison the single bloodiest day in the Vietnam War for the Americans was on 17 Nov 65 when elements of the 7th Cav (Custer’s old outfit) lost 155 men killed in a battle with elements of two North Vietnamese Regular Army regiments (33rd & 66th) near the Cambodian border southwest of Pleiku.
Comparative POW Statistics
Americans taken POW during WW II 130,201 (The “Greatest” generation)
Americans taken POW during the Korean War 7,140
Americans Taken POW in Vietnam 744
These numbers raise the obvious question. If the Communist military were a superb, dedicated, uncanny, divinely led fighting force that always outfoxed the Americans, how come the they didn’t take more prisoners? The answer is, because the Communists were defeated on the field of battle in every single major engagement of the entire war.
The majority of those 744 captured in Vietnam were pilots shot down over North Vietnam. These numbers alone dispel the notion that somehow the US Soldiers in Vietnam was not on a par with those who served in WW II. In Vietnam, the US Marines lost 5 times as many killed as they did in WW I, three times as many killed as they did in Korea and suffered more killed and wounded in Vietnam than during all of WW II. The following is from a speech by the 25th Infantry Division’s command sergeant major on the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Republic of Vietnam.
“The 25th Infantry Division (Tropic Lightening) fought in Vietnam from early 1966 to late 1971.
The Division had a little less than 17,000 assigned. During its tour the Division never lost a
position to the enemy, never had a unit overrun, and never had a soldier surrender under fire.”
Quite a record for a military force that was supposedly made up of uneducated, incompetent, drug addicted, bumbling draftees with low moral and led by officers who were unqualified, selfish dunderheads that were consistently being outsmarted by their enemy. That these Soldiers and Marines get little, if any, credit for their sacrifices and achievements is another story; a story inextricably meshed into the mental fabric of that huge so called “anti-war” draft-dodging majority that still makes up the bulk of the American media market.
During its Normandy battles in 1944 the US 90th Infantry Division, (roughly 15,000+ men) over a six week period, had to replace 150% of its officers and more than 100% of its men. The 173rd Airborne Brigade (normally there are 3 brigades to a division) served in Vietnam for a total of 2,301 days, and holds the record for the longest continuous service under fire of any American unit, ever. During that (6 year, 3+ month) period the 173rd lost 1,601 (roughly 31%) of its men killed in action.
Further Food For thought
Casualties tell the tale. Again, the US Army War College Library provides numbers. The former South Vietnam was made up of 44 provinces. The province that claimed the most Americans killed was Quang Tri, which bordered on both North Vietnam and Laos. Fifty four percent of the Americans killed in Vietnam were killed in the four northernmost provinces, which in addition to Quang Tri were Thua Thien, Quang Nam and Quan Tin. All three shared borders with Laos. An additional six provinces accounted for another 25 % of the Americans killed in action (KIA). Those six all shared borders with either Laos or Cambodia or had contiguous borders with provinces that did. The remaining 34 provinces accounted for just 21% of US KIA. These numbers should dispel the notion that South Vietnam was some kind of flaming inferno of violent revolutionary dissent. The overwhelming majority of Americans killed, died in border battles against regular NVA units. The policies established by Johnson and McNamara prevented the American soldiers from crossing those borders and destroying their enemies. Expressed in WW II terms; this is the functional equivalent of having sent the American soldiers to fight in Europe during WW II, but restricting them to Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, etc., and not letting them cross the borders into Germany, the source of the problem. General Curtis LeMAY aptly defined Johnson’s war policy in South Vietnam by saying that “We are swatting flies in the South when we should be going after the manure pile in Hanoi.”
Looking back it is now clear that the American military role in “Vietnam” was, in essence, one of defending international borders. Contrary to popular belief, they turned in an outstanding performance and accomplished their mission. The US Military was not “Driven” from Vietnam. They were voted out by the US Congress. This same Congress then turned around and abandoned America’s former ally, South Vietnam. Should America feel shame? Yes! Why? For kowtowing to the wishes of those craven hoards of dodgers and for bugging out and abandoning an ally they had promised to protect.
The idea that “There were no front lines.” and “The enemy was everywhere.” makes good press and feeds the cowardly needs of those 16,000,000+ American draft dodgers. Add either a mommy or a poppa, and throw in another sympathizer in the form of a girl (or boy?) friend and your looking at well in excess of 50,000,000 Americans with a need to rationalize away their draft-dodging cowardice and to, in some way, vilify “Vietnam” the very source of their shame and guilt. During the entire period of the American involvement in “Vietnam” only 2,594,000 US Military actual served inside the country. Contrast that number with the 50-million plus draft dodging anti-war crowd and you have the answer to why the American view of its Vietnam experience is so skewed.
Johnson made two monumental Vietnam blunders. First he failed to get a declaration of war, which he could have easily had. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which LBJ regarded as the “Functional equivalent of a formal declaration of war.” was passed unanimously by the House and there were only two dissenting votes cast in the Senate. This would have altered the judicial state of the nation, exactly as the Founding Fathers had intended. The Founding Fathers were all veterans of the American Revolutionary War and knew just how hard it had been to maintain public support during their war (At one point, 80% of the “American” people were against that War. If the Founding Fathers had bowed to public opinion, today we would still be British subjects not American citizens). A formal declaration of war would have allowed for control of the press. If Vietnam had been fought under WW II conditions (during WW II Congress formally declared war) folks who gave aid and comfort to the enemy, people in the ilk of Jane Fonda and Walter Cronkite, would have been charged with treason, tried, found guilty (their “treasonous acts” were on film / video tape), and then hanged by the neck until dead. Second, LBJ exempted college kids from the draft. Presto! The nation’s campuses immediately filled with dastardly little dodgers and became boiling cauldrons of violent rampaging dissent. The dodgers knew they were acting cowardly and could appease their conscience only if they could convince themselves that the war was somehow immoral. Once the “immoral” escape concept emerged and became creditable, it spread like wildfire across the college campuses and out into the main streets of America. Miraculously, acts of cowardice were transformed into respectable acts of defiance. Anti-war protests and violent demonstrations became the accepted norm. However, when one goes back and scrutinizes those anti-war demonstrations, one quickly finds they were not really against the war. They were only against the side fighting the Communists! This of course turns out to be the side which had the army, from which the dodgers were dodging. Hmmmmm!
Once the draft dodging gang’s numbers reached critical mass, the media and politicians started pandering to those numbers (with media it is either circulation numbers or Nielsen ratings. With politicians it is votes). Multi-million dollar salaries are not paid to people for reporting the news, in any form, be it written, audio or video. Multi-million dollar salaries (e.g., Cronkite) are paid to entertainers, stars and superstars. One does not get to be, much less continue to be, a superstar unless one gives one’s audience what it wants. Once the dodging anti-war numbers started climbing through the stratosphere it was not in the media’s interest to say something good about Vietnam to an audience that was guilt ridden with shame and with a deep psychological need to rationalize away the very source of their burden of guilt.
A good example of this number pandering can be found in a 1969 Life magazine feature article in which Life’s editors published the portraits of 250 men that were killed in Vietnam in one “routine week.” This was supposedly done to illustrate Life’s concern for the sanctity of human life; American human life (During WW II the U.S. Media were not allowed to publish the picture of a single dead G.I. until after the invasion of Normandy, D-Day 1944, was successful). And furthermore, to starkly illustrate the Vietnam tragedy with a dramatic reminder (i.e., the faces staring out of those pages), that those anonymous casualty numbers were in fact the sons, brothers and husbands of neighbors. In 1969 the weekly average death toll from highway accidents in the United States was 1,082. If indeed Life’s concern was for the sanctity of American lives, why not publish the 1,082 portraits of the folks who were killed in one “routine week” on the nation’s highways? Then they could have shown photos of not only the sons, brothers and husbands of neighbors, but could have depicted dead daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, babies, cripples, fools and draft dodgers as well. No way. Life knew where its “numbers” were.
The most glaring example of the existence of the dodging guilt syndrome can be found in a statement made by the ranking head dodger himself. When asked for his reaction to McNamara’s book In Retrospect, Clinton’s spontaneous response was “I feel vindicated.” (of his cowardly act of dodging the draft). Clinton is a lawyer and understands the use of the English language very well. For one to “feel” vindicated, as opposed to being vindicated, one must first have been, by definition, feeling guilty.
This is also the reason no one writes gushy, romantic, nostalgic ridden, historically emotional books such as Tom Brokaw’s, The Greatest Generation (a best seller featuring WW II veterans), about the Vietnam Veterans or their war.
The Battle of Xuan Loc; Mar 17 – Apr 17, 1975 & The End
Xuan Loc was the last major battle for South Vietnam. It sits astride Q. L. (National Road) #1, some 40 odd miles to the northeast of Saigon (on the road to Phan Thiet), and was the capitol of South Vietnam’s Long Khanh province. The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) attack fell on the ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam) 18th Division.
On 17 Mar 75 the NVA Sixth and Seventh Divisions attacked Xuan Loc but were repulsed by the ARVN 18th. On 9 Apr 75 the NVA 341st Division joined the attack. After a four thousand round artillery bombardment, these three divisions massed, and, spearheaded by Soviet tanks, assaulted Xuan Loc; but again the ARVN 18th held its ground. The NVA reinforced with their 325th Division and began moving their 10th and 304th Divisions into position. Eventually, in a classic example of the military art of “Mass and Maneuver” the NVA massed 40,000 men and overran Xuan Loc.
During this fight, the ARVN 18th had 5,000 soldiers at Xuan Loc. These men managed to virtually destroy 3 NVA Divisions, but on 17 Apr 75 they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers and the weight of the “Mass.” Before overrunning Xuan Loc the NVA had committed six full divisions, plus a host various support troops.
In the Sorrow of War, author and NVA veteran Bao Ninh writes of this battle: “Remember when we chased Division 18 southern soldiers all over Xuan Loc? My tank tracks were choked up with skin and hair and blood. And the bloody maggots. And the frigging flies. Had to drive through a river to get the stuff out of my tracks.” He also writes “After a while I could tell the difference between mud and bodies, logs and bodies. They were like sacks of water. They’d pop open when I ran over them. Pop! Pop!”
The South Vietnamese Military
There are also many loudly touted, nonsensical misperceptions, about both the willingness and the ability of the South Vietnamese to fight. Between January 1965 and October 1972, the South Vietnamese Army lost 183,528 killed and another 499,026 wounded. Simply stated, during the period when the United States military lost roughly 58,000 men, the Vietnamese military suffered 183,000 battle deaths; and this out of a population base averaging fewer that 16,000,000, which is less than 10% of the average US population during that period. If America had bled its population at the same rate the South Vietnamese bled their population, the Americans would have had to sustain 271,000 battle deaths, and 731,000 wounded every year for the entire seven year period that US combat troops were committed in Vietnam. That would have meant 1,897,500 American dead in Vietnam, along with 5,122,000 wounded.
The men who actually served in combat with the ARVN, have a different view. U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf says it most authoritatively. During his first tour of duty in Vietnam, Schwarzkop was questioned by a rear echelon American officer about staying in the field with the ARVN. Of that encounter, General Schwarzfopf writes he responded by saying “I was confident staying with the airborne because I had no doubt about their ability to fight or their concern for my well being.”
Another item: By the early 1970s the South Vietnamese military was capturing such an enormous amount of material and weapons from the North Vietnamese Army, that in conjunction with various other US Military Assistance programs, Russian made AK-47s captured from the NVA by the South Vietnamese were being issued to other allied nations in Southeast Asia.
The press, politicians, dodgers from academia, and assorted talking heads (still playing to that huge audience of guilty feeling dodgers) dearly love to denigrate and ridicule the South Vietnamese military. They often imply that somehow the South Vietnamese just could not, and would not, defend their own country. During that Cold War period the South Koreans, the Taiwanese, and the Western Europeans, all relied on the military might of the United States to preserve their freedom. That US military shield was withdrawn from South Vietnam by the United States Congress.
The Government of the Republic of Vietnam
Another series of endlessly repeated myths, portray the government of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) as an illegitimate creation of foreigners that was tyrannically oppressive, incompetent and hopelessly corrupt, and the military coup d’état was practically the order of the day. None of these illusions are true. The critical stories of the RVN were written by reporters who were in the RVN carrying visas issued by the RVN.
The RVN officially came into being as a result of the 1954 Geneva Accords. The first president of the RVN was Ngo Dinh Diem, who was overthrown and murdered in November of 1963. The next 19 months saw a series of leadership changes but the government of RVN stabilized in June 1965 with Nguyen Cao Ky as prime minister. Elections were held in 1967. Nguyen Van Thieu became president with Nguyen Cao Ky as his vice president. Thieu was elected in a democratic election where nine political parties fielded candidates. Thieu won the election with only 35% of the vote and was then immediately and loudly criticized by the majority of the US media for “rigging” the election (For the record I’ve been around rigged elections staged by Asian dictators and the idea of rigging a 35% win is just plain goofy).
From the beginning the RVN government in Saigon had much greater legitimacy and international recognition than the communist government in Hanoi. In the words of Dr. Bernard Fall “In various test votes in the United Nations on admission of either or both Viet-Nams, South Vietnam has always led its northern neighbor by a sizable margin, and garnered more votes that South Korea when the latter’s admission was put to the test.” Eventually South Vietnam sat “As a full fledged member in every United Nations agency from which it cannot be barred by the Soviet veto.” In 1957 the UN Security Council voted 8 to 1 (the Soviet Union cast the dissenting vote) and the General assembly voted 49 to 9 to admit South Vietnam. By 1963 sixty-one nations had recognized the sovereignty of South Vietnam. Various UN members (excluding the United States) sent 39,000 troops to fight the communists in South Korea. At the height of the war in Vietnam, various United Nations members (again excluding the United States) had over 60,000 troops in South Vietnam to aid them in their fight against the communists. In all, forty-five countries sent men, money or supplies to help South Vietnam defend itself.
The government of South Vietnam allowed a free press and literally thousands of reporters traveled to Vietnam, and freely around the country once they arrived. When South Vietnam fell the South Vietnamese media consisted of 28 Vietnamese language daily newspapers, and 11 others printed in Chinese, English and French. In addition the were weekly, biweekly and monthly publications covering the full range of topics including politics. This was supplemented by 24 radio stations and three television stations, plus various book publishing houses and all were competing in a free market. There was also a free flow of foreign publications available at newsstands and bookstores throughout the country. The idea of a brutally repressive, corrupt, all powerful dictatorship operating under the merciless and constant surveillance of an unconstrained media, is just pure fantasy.
Perhaps the best illustration is to ask “If the RVN was such a contemptible, despicable government, why didn’t the South Vietnamese people simply flee to the north or escape in boats?” The fact is, it took the North Vietnamese communists to drive the Vietnamese people from their ancestral lands.
The Government of Communist North Vietnam
There is another wide spread myth (which is also dearly adored by many a member of those dodging hoards) that the Government of North Vietnam (under the thumb of Ho Chi Minh), was popular, and even revered. The 1954 Geneva Accords, that legally brought into being both the North and South Vietnamese governments, called for free elections to be held in 1956.
Conventional wisdom has it that if the South Vietnamese and the Americans had agreed to those country wide free elections in 1956, then the South Vietnamese people would have overwhelmingly elected to join Ho. This is pure fantasy. To this day the Vietnamese Communists have never held a truly free and fair election. In 1956 Ho and his communist government were in the midst of their communist land reforms and in the process were murdering tens of thousands of people. Even peasant farmers with as little a one acre of land were being executed for having a “Landlord mentality.” According to historian Edgar O’Ballance, in 1956, these mass killings stirred such resentment in the North Vietnamese that it triggered a “real crisis” in Ho’s government. “Anxiously, Ho stepped in to prevent a national insurrection.” Ho read out an apologetic letter over Radio Hanoi to the people, released some 12,000 people who were waiting execution and declared the 50,000 people that had been killed resisting land reforms were deemed to have been “executed by mistake” and proclaimed “national heroes” of the revolution. Anybody who believes free elections could be carried out simultaneously in a land rife with kangaroo courts and with mass executions is simply not playing with a full deck.
Myth: Vietnam was really one country but had been artificially divided by blundering foreign governments. Fact: Shortly after ousting the Chinese in the fifteenth century, the Vietnamese became engaged in a series of bloody power struggles that lasted for nearly 200 years. In the 1630s, the southern Nguyen constructed two huge walls across the narrow waste of Vietnam near Dong Ha (In approximately the same location as the boundary between North and South Vietnam, established by the 1954 Geneva Accords) and the North and the South Vietnamese continued to battle on for the next 150 years.
After the Communist Takeover
The facts speak clearly. If things were so bad for the South Vietnamese people when the South Vietnamese government was in power and the Americans were supporting them, how come no one fled, i.e., there were no “boat people”? But, as soon as the communist takeover was complete the Vietnamese fled by the millions, a first in the 4,000 year history of the country. Once the communist grip on the people was complete, they showed their true colors and things got so bad that not only the people from the south fled by the millions, and they were soon joined by northerners who fled as well. No one ever says that the South Koreans would like to be ruled by the communist North Koreans or the Taiwanese would like to be ruled by the mainland Chinese communists, or the West Germans would have liked to be ruled by the East German communists or that Western Europe would like to have been ruled by the communist Soviet Union. However, strange as may seem, almost every western writer, politician, and the great majority of media’s talking heads seem to actually believe that the South Vietnamese really wanted to ruled by the communist North Vietnamese.
It’s ironic that in spite of all the hype and hullabaloo about the “Viet Cong” and the “American Soldiers” both were absent from the final battles for South Vietnam. The Viet Cong had been dearly defeated (During Tet 1968) on the streets of the cities, towns, and hamlets of South Vietnam. The Americans had left under the terms of the Paris Peace Agreements, and then were barred by the US Congress, from ever returning. The end came in the form of a cross border invasion. Two conventional armies fought it out using strategies and tactics as old as warfare itself.
A quick word about the South Vietnamese government lacking support from the people, and of the so called “Popular support” for the Communists. During the 1968 Tet Offensive the Communists attacked 155 cities, towns and hamlets in South Vietnam. In not one instance did the people rise up to support the Communists. The general uprising was a complete illusion. The people did rise, but in revulsion and resistance to the invaders. At the end of thirty days, not one single communist flag was flying over any of those 155 cities, towns or hamlets. The citizens of South Vietnam, no matter how apathetic they may have appeared toward their own government, turned out to be overwhelmingly anti-Communist. In the end they had to be conquered by conventional divisions, supported by conventional tanks and artillery that was being maneuvered in accordance with the ancient principles of warfare. But then, as with mathematics, certain rules apply in war, and, military victories are not won by violating military principles.
General Dung’s Great Spring Victory was supported by a total of 700 (maneuverable) Soviet tanks, i.e. Soviet armor, burning Soviet gas and firing Soviet ammunition. By comparison, the South Vietnamese had only 352 US supplied tanks and they were committed to guarding the entire country. However, because of US Congressional action, the ARVN were critically short of fuel, ammo and spare parts with which to support those tanks.
Works by Bao Ninh, the author of The Sorrow of War. He tells of being drafted into the North Vietnamese Army in 1968 and fighting for nearly seven years. His unit lost over 80% of its men to battle deaths, desertion and sickness. In all those years, he never once fought against the Americans. His war was strictly a Vietnamese affair.
For those who think that Vietnam was strictly a civil war, the following should be of interest. With the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union along with the opening up of China, records are now becoming available on the type and amount of support North Vietnam received from China and the Soviet Block. For example:
China has opened its records on the number of uniformed Chinese troops sent to aid their Communist friends in Hanoi. In all, China sent 327,000 uniformed troops to North Vietnam. Chinese historian Chen Jian wrote “Although Beijing’s support may have fallen short of Hanoi’s expectations, without the support, the history, even the outcome, of the Vietnam War might have been different.”
In addition, at the height of the War, the Soviet Union had some 55,000 “Advisors” in North Vietnam. They were installing air defense systems, building, operating and maintaining SAM (Surface to Air Missiles) sites, plus they provided training and logistical support for the North Vietnamese military.
When I asked a well known American reporter, who had covered the war extensively, why they never reported on this out side Communist support, his answer was essentially that the North Vietnamese would not let the reporters up there and that because “We had no access to the North during the war…meant there were huge gaps in accurately conveying what was happening North of the DMZ.”
By comparison, at the peak of the War there were 545,000 US Military personnel in Vietnam. However, most of them were logistical / support types. On the best day ever, there were 43,500 ground troops actually engaged in offensive combat operations, i.e., out in the boondocks, “Tiptoeing through the tulips” looking for, or actually in contact with, the enemy. This ratio of support to line troops is also comparable with other wars, and helps dispel the notion that every troop in Vietnam was engaged in mortal combat on a daily basis.
The Reason it all, Hangs Like a Pall
There always has, and always will be, American opposition to war. The Revolutionary War had the highest, 80 percent, and that was because it was fought on home soil. Opposition to WW I was 64 percent, in WW II the peak was 32 percent, and in Korea it was 62 percent. What makes Vietnam different is the dodger disaster. Of the 2,594,000 million US Military personnel that served in Vietnam, only about 25 percent, or 648,000+ were drafted. Compare that to the 16,000,000+ who dodged, and it works out to 25 dodgers for every draftee who went.
Today, America’s crocks are crammed chock-a-block full of dodgers, and the crocks of academia are more fully crammed than most. America’s schools, colleges and universities are overloaded with dodgers, who, to this day have a need to rationalize away their acts of cowardice and have a compulsion to malign and belittle the very source of their guilt, Vietnam. Consequently, they devote outrageous amounts of time and energy to either, writing articles, position papers, or books, and or, giving speeches and lectures or otherwise carrying on about the “great stupid mistakes” made by those who did serve.
The antiwar movement was akin to a national temper tantrum that eventually engulfed and then afflicted the entire nation with its warped rational. This group, fueled and led by dodgers, were responsible for poisoning the American mind on the subject of Vietnam and eventually those dodging hordes influenced the American body politic to elect a Congress that stripped the soldiers who fought in Vietnam of their victories, and voted to cut and run in the face of adversity. To this day, academia, the media, the politicians, talking heads, and the draft dodging multitudes continuously feed off one another with their preposterous, addictive hallucinations about “Vietnam” and, this is done at small expense, only a handful of veterans bear the brunt of their vicious absurdities.
The reason “Vietnam” will not go away is because the story the dodging masses and their cohorts are perpetuating is not true, and it simply sticks in the craw of the non-dodging population. Especially the young. If a teacher wrote 1 + 1 = 2 on the black board, kids going by would take one look and forget it. However, if 1 + 1 = 6 was there, a certain portion of the kids would stop and question it. Same with Vietnam. The supposed “facts” being taught or presented just don’t add up.
Recently I had a young man ask me “How come North Vietnam, which has a land area smaller than the state of Missouri, and had a population of less than one tenth the size of America’s, could defeat the modern armed forces of the United States?” I answered “Son, they didn’t.” He came back with “Then why did my teachers tell me that?” My answer was “Son, they are mostly either draft dodgers or wannabes (as in wannabe a draft dodger but was too young, the wrong sex, or?), or their descendents, or kin of, or other wise truck with, the dodgers. Take this article, go show it to them, and then ask for a detailed explanation of the American military defeat.”