Archive for April, 2010

April 30, 2010

How America Won the Vietnam War, By Losing



Nothing more symbolizes the decline of American leadership into a succession of failed, power mad, GOP incompetents than a recent comment by Al Haig at a conference to reassess the Vietnam War: “Former Nixon adviser Alexander Haig said Saturday military leaders in Iraq are repeating a mistake made in Vietnam by not applying the full force of the military to win the war. ”

Haig’s comment came up in a search BuzzFlash did on “Vietnam” using Yahoo News.

It was ironic to note many of the other stories that appeared with “Vietnam” as the keyword. Consider the one about U.S. Fortune 500 companies that were lobbying to get Vietnam in the World Trade Organization, the ultimate symbol of entry into the kingdom of multinational corporate globalization.

The article notes that in addition to potential entry into the WTO, “Bilateral U.S.-Vietnam trade has boomed since the historic trade agreement between the two countries was passed in 2001. Last year, two-way trade topped US $7.5 billion.”

In fact, Vietnam is tripping all over itself to offer sweat shop labor to leading U.S. manufacturers who might otherwise open factories in China, Vietnam’s longtime adversary. It’s the kind of situation that makes the Republican outsourcing-low-wage-profiteers cream in their pants. (Remember how Bush stood in India recently and extolled the “benefits” of outsourcing!)

Some other recent news articles on Vietnam worthy of note to the barons of capitalism that we came across included: “Intel announces 300-million-dollar chip factory for Vietnam”; “Petrovietnam has awarded McDermott International Inc a $60 million contract to install a gas pipeline, Vietnam’s second, for completion in early 2007″; “Vietnam has become a promising destination for foreign investors, including those from South Korea.”; and “Three Japanese companies expect to receive licences to set up wholly foreign invested enterprises providing sea transport services for Vietnam’s domestic market.”

And even the ultimate sign of capitalist decadence, the cruise ship industry is making a dramatic return to Vietnam.

Vietnam still has a bit of a ways to go in the human rights department; but heck, right now the Busheviks are rowing the United States rapidly backwards in that area.

In fact, it is the French imported faith of Catholicism that is experiencing a rebirth in Vietnam. “Catholic worship is flourishing in Vietnam, a sign that the Communist Party’s repression of religion is easing. As Vietnam’s leaders push for faster economic growth, they are finding that a swifter flow of money requires and creates more openness and less political control over people’s private matters.”

Millions of lives were lost in the Vietnam War, including more than 50,000 dead American soldiers and two million killed because of the political repercussions resulting from Henry Kissinger’s illegal bombing of Cambodia. The Vietnam War was an ill-conceived bungling disaster built upon a quicksand of lies and mistaken premises. Just as is its ill-begotten offspring: the Iraq War.

As BuzzFlash travels around the nation, in airports, in coffee shops, in truck stops, we wonder how many men we see would not be enjoying their families and lives if the foolhardy, dangerous plans of people like Al Haig had been allowed to be carried out. Haig represents the core of the sentiment remaining on Capitol Hill for supporting the ill-fated, dishonest Iraq War: We must win to show that we can win, even if we can only really win by losing.

So many red state Bush voters who served in Vietnam in the early ’70s, with grandchildren now, don’t realize that they are alive because people like Haig were prevented from carrying out an ill-conceived warlord game plan that would have cost even more lives.

For the Al Haigs, Donald Rumsfelds, Dick Cheneys and George W. Bushes of the world, you can’t be “perceived” as losing, even if continuing a mistaken war means the death and wounding of thousands of more Americans and Iraqis, just so they can show that they are tough guys. The current relationship with Vietnam is irrefutable evidence that there are less costly ways in blood and money to achieve America’s international goals.

Rumsfeld and Cheney presided over the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Vietnam. Their bruised egos have never gotten over it. So, now we fight just for the sake of letting them (along with the Vietnam draft evading Bush) try and prove their manhood — and grab some oil fields, Halliburton profits, and military bases while they are at it.

It’s over boys! Vietnam is now a full-fledged member of the globalized world of capitalism. The only thing that the GOP corporate supporters have to worry about with Vietnam is how low they can get those slave wages to go.

America won the Vietnam War by losing it. The dominoes never fell, unless you count them falling toward Wall Street.

It was a stupid war fought by the Al Haigs of the world whose only concern was in beating the other side to a pulp. These Dr. Strangeloves have no sustainable military goals but destruction — neither in Vietnam nor in Iraq.

And now, Haig is still telling us his dreams of how we could have beaten Vietnam militarily, while some shoe company is manufacturing running shoes for a buck in Hanoi City that they will sell in the U.S. for $55.00.

Al, we’re amazed that Bush hasn’t appointed you to oversee his “little” war in Iraq. You’re just the guy to ensure that it continues to be a disaster — and that makes you Bush’s kind of guy.

After all, Karl Rove was quoted the other day as saying that the administration will not pull American troops out of Iraq until “victory” is won.

Well, Karl, we won in Vietnam by pulling the troops out.

Just ask the American Chamber of Commerce.


BuzzFlash Afternote: Of course, when Karl Rove talked about not bringing the troops home until after “victory” is won, he was speaking to a political gathering. It is likely that the real meaning of “victory” to him was the 2006 mid-term elections. He couldn’t give a hoot about the people of Iraq or our soldiers. After all, Rove, Cheney and Bush all ran away from serving in Vietnam, with yellow streaks painted down their backs.

April 30, 2010

Who won the Vietnam War?

Cached from:

by Michel Chossudovsky

This article was written ten years ago, initially published on April 30th 1995 in the context of the 20th anniversary of the Liberation of Saigon.

A more in-depth analysis based on fieldwork conducted in Vietnam focusing on Hanoi’s neoliberal reforms was subsequently published in  Michel Chossudovsky’s book, The Globalization of Poverty, first edition 1997, second edition, 2003.

On April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended with the capture of Saigon by Communist forces and the surrender of General Duong Vanh Minh and his cabinet in the Presidential palace. As troops of the People’s Army of Vietnam marched into Saigon, U.S. personnel and the last American marines were hastily evacuated from the roof of the U.S. embassy. Twenty years later a fundamental question still remains unanswered: Who won the Vietnam War?

Vietnam never received war reparations payments from the U.S. for the massive loss of life and destruction, yet an agreement reached in Paris in 1993 required Hanoi to recognize the debts of the defunct Saigon regime of General Thieu. This agreement is in many regards tantamount to obliging Vietnam to compensate Washington for the costs of war.

Moreover, the adoption of sweeping macro-economic reforms under the supervision of the Bretton Woods institutions was also a condition for the lifting of the U.S. embargo. These free market reforms now constitute the Communist Party’s official doctrine. With the normalization of diplomatic relations with Washington in 1994, reference to America’s brutal role in the war is increasingly considered untimely and improper. Not surprisingly, Hanoi had decided to tone down the commemoration of the Saigon surrender so as not to offend its former wartime enemy. The Communist Party leadership has recently underscored the “historic role” of the United States in “liberating” Vietnam from Vichy regime and Japanese occupation during World War II.

On September 2, 1945 at the Declaration of Independence of Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi proclaiming the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, American agents of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor of today’s CIA) were present at the side of Ho Chi Minh. While Washington had provided the Viet Minh resistance with weapons and token financial support, this strategy had largely been designed to weaken Japan in the final stages of World War II without committing large numbers of U.S. ground troops.

In contrast to the subdued and restrained atmosphere of the commemoration marking the end of the Vietnam War, the 50th anniversary of independence is to be amply celebrated in a series of official ceremonies and activities commencing in September and extending to the Chinese NewYear.

Vietnam Pays War Reparations

Prior to the “normalization” of relations with Washington, Hanoi was compelled to foot the bill of the bad debts incurred by the U.S.-backed Saigon regime. At the donor conference held in Paris in November 1993, a total of nearly $2 billion of loans and aid money was generously pledged in support of Vietnam’s free market reforms.

Yet immediately after the conference, a secret meeting was held under the auspices of the Paris Club. Present at this meeting were representatives of Western governments. On the Vietnamese side, Dr. Nguyen Xian Oanh, economic advisor to the prime minister, played a key role in the negotiations. Dr. Oanh, a former IMF official, had been Minister of Finance and later Acting Prime Minister in the military government of General Duong Van Minh, which the U.S. installed 1963 after the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother(f.2). Dr. Oanh, while formally mediating on behalf of the Communist government, was nonetheless responsive to the demands of Western creditors.

The deal signed with the IMF (which was made public) was largely symbolic. The amount was not substantial: Hanoi was obliged to pay the IMF $140 million (owned by the defunct Saigon regime) as a condition for the resumption of new loans. Japan and France, Vietnam’s former colonial masters of the Vichy period, formed a so-called “Friends of Vietnam” committee to lend to Hanoi” the money needed to reimburse the IMF.

The substantive arrangement on the rescheduling of bilateral debts (with the Saigon regime), however, was never revealed. Yet it was ultimately this secret agreement (reached under the auspices of the Paris Club) which was instrumental in Washington’s decision to lift the embargo and normalize diplomatic relations. This arrangement was also decisive in the release of the loans pledged at the 1993 donor conference, thereby bringing Vietnam under the trusteeship of Japanese and Western creditors. Thus twenty years after the war, Vietnam had surrendered its economic sovereignty.

By fully recognizing the legitimacy of these debts, Hanoi had agreed to repay loans that had supported the U.S. war effort. Moreover, the government of Mr. Vo Van Kiet had also accepted to comply fully with the usual conditions (devaluation, trade liberalization, privatization, etc.) of an IMF-sponsored structural adjustment program.

These economic reforms, launched in the mid-1980s with the Bretton Woods institutions, had initiated, in the war’s brutal aftermath, a new phase of economic and social devastation: Inflation had resulted from the repeated devaluations that began in 1973 under the Saigon regime the year after the withdrawal of American combat troops(f.3). Today Vietnam is once again inundated with U.S. dollar notes, which have largely replaced the Vietnamese dong. With soaring prices, real earnings have dropped to abysmally low levels.

In turn, the reforms have massively reduced productive capacity. More than 5,000 out of 12,300 state-owned enterprises were closed or steered into bankruptcy. The credit cooperatives were eliminated, all medium and long term credit to industry and agriculture was frozen. Only short-term credit was available at an interest rate of 35 percent per annum (1994). Moreover, the IMF agreement prohibited the state from providing budget support either to the state-owned economy or to an incipient private sector.

The reforms’ hidden agenda consisted in destabilizing Vietnam’s industrial base. Heavy industry, oil and gas, natural resources and mining, cement and steel production are to be reorganized and taken over by foreign capital. The most valuable state assets will be transferred to reinforce and preserve its industrial base, or to develop a capitalist economy owned and controlled by Nationals.

In the process of economic restructuring, more than a million workers and over 20,000 public employees (of whom the majority were health workers and teachers) have been laid off(f.5). In turn, local famines have erupted, affecting at least a quarter of the country’s population(f.6). These famines are not limited to the food deficit areas. In the Mekong delta, Vietnam’s rice basket, 25% of the adult population consumes less than 1800 calories per day(f.7). In the cities, the devaluation of the dong together with the elimination of subsidies and price controls has led to soaring prices of rice and other food staples.

The reforms have led to drastic cuts in social programs. With the imposition of school fees, three quarters of a million children dropped out from the school system in a matter of a few years (1987-90)(f.8). Health clinics and hospitals collapsed, the resurgence of a number of infectious diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhea is acknowledged by the Ministry of Health and the donors. A World Health Organization study confirmed that the number of malaria deaths increased three-fold in the first four years of the reforms alongside the collapse of health care and soaring prices of antimalarial drugs(f.9). The government (under the guidance of the international donor community) has also discontinued budget support to the provision of medical equipment and maintenance leading to the virtual paralysis of the entire public health system. Real salaries of medical personnel and working conditions have declined dramatically: the monthly wage of medical doctors in a district hospital is as low as $15 a month(f.10).

Although the U.S. was defeated on the battlefield, two decades later Vietnam appears to have surrendered its economic sovereignty to its former Wartime enemy.

No orange or steel pellet bombs, no napalm, no toxic chemicals: a new phase of economic and social destruction has unfolded. The achievements of past struggles and the aspirations of an entire nation are undone and erased almost with a stroke of the pen.

Debt conditionality and structural adjustment under the trusteeship of international creditors constitute in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, an equally effective and formally nonviolent instrument of recolonization and impoverishment affecting the livelihood of millions of people.

Michel Chossudovsky is professor of economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Center for Research on Globalization

April 30, 2010

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos meeting opens

A meeting on Vietnam – Cambodia – Laos friendship and cooperation opened in HCM City on April 28.

A total of 154 delegates from the three countries, students and officials from Cambodia and Laos who are studying and working in HCM City and former Vietnamese soldiers who fought and worked in the other two countries are attending the four-day event.

Speakers at the opening ceremony included Vu Mao, Head of the Vietnamese delegation and President of the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Association; Men Sam An, Head of the Cambodian delegation, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Association; and Vilayvong Bouddakham, Head of the Lao delegation, Vice Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and Vice President of the Laos-Vietnam Friendship Association. All described the meeting as vivid proof of international friendship and special solidarity among Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The meeting took place on the occasion of Vietnam’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of the liberation of Southern Vietnam and its national reunification.

The Vietnamese head delegate, Vu Mao, expressed the deep gratitude of the Vietnamese Party, State and people towards the Cambodian and Lao people for their sacrifice and valuable assistance to Vietnam’s national liberation.

This is an opportunity for the Cambodian and Lao people to celebrate the resplendent, historic milestone of 1975 in the war against US aggressors.

Within the framework of the meeting, the three countries’ delegates will pay courtesy visits to Vietnamese Party and State leaders, attend a seminar, go on a tour of HCM City’s socio-economic establishment and attend a meeting to mark the 35th anniversary of the liberation of Southern Vietnam and national reunification.

Uncle Ho hailed as torchbearer for Lao revolution


The Lao newspaper, New Vientiane, on April 29 ran a feature story on the late Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh hailing him as a torchbearer who lit the way forward for the Lao revolution.

The story, titled “President Ho Chi Minh: a great cultural activist, an outstanding revolutionary”, reads, in part, “the three Indochinese peoples as well as all progressive forces in the world will remember forever the great contributions made to the national liberation movement by President Ho Chi Minh. He stands as an outstanding revolutionary of the international communist and workers’ movement, and a great cultural activist for Vietnam and for the world as well”.

His love of the people, his generosity and international solidarity are so great and profound that no words can express it. He harmonised genuine patriotism and noble internationalism, the article goes on to say.

It describes the late President as a talented strategist and outstanding organiser who deftly combined the strengths of the Vietnamese people and the strengths of the Indochinese alliance with those of the era to defeat the enemy.

The story recalls efforts made by the late Vietnamese President to establish the Communist Party of Indochina, emphasising that Uncle Ho’s noble revolutionary spirit and ideology have always been a torch that led the Lao revolution and a source of strength that encouraged the Lao people to unite for national liberation.

“He always urged Vietnamese soldiers and experts on international missions in Laos to undertake the hard jobs and leave the easier ones to their Lao friends and do their best in training and protecting Lao officials,” the article relates.

“Uncle Ho always did his best to cultivate the special relations between Vietnam and Laos as well as between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia ”.

The newspaper calls on Lao people of all walks of life and agencies from the central to local levels to closely follow Uncle Ho’s teachings as a practical way to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the late President’s birth anniversary on May 19. (VNA)

April 30, 2010

The Pentagon Book Club

By Nick Turse

This article appeared in the May 17, 2010 edition of The Nation.


April 29, 2010

Detroit riot scene through a bullet-shattered windshield EDDIE  ADAMS/AP EDDIE ADAMS/AP
Detroit riot scene through a bullet-shattered windshield

In the spring of 1984, a young Army officer wrote a seminar paper about the use of force in the post-Vietnam era. Three years later he returned to the subject in a Princeton University doctoral dissertation titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” What “today’s junior officers think about Vietnam–which is fast becoming ancient history–is likely to undergo significant change before they assume positions of power and influence,” he claimed. In his dissertation, he sought to investigate the legacy of the war and its “chastening effect on military thinking about the use of force,” which made military leaders, he contended, “more cautious than before.” “Caution has its virtues, of course,” he wrote. However, “the lessons from which that caution springs are not without flaws.” Among the flawed lessons he identified were a professional aversion to counterinsurgency operations, “a new skepticism about the efficacy of American forces in the Third World countries where social, political, and economic factors are the causes of unrest” and “a widespread fear among officers that assignment to counterinsurgency, special forces type missions will be the end of their career.”

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam
by Lewis Sorley
Buy this book
Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972
by Lewis Sorley
Buy this book
Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975
by John Prados
Buy this book
Vietnam at War
by Mark Philip Bradley
Buy this book
Eddie Adams: Vietnam
by Alyssa Adams, ed.
Buy this book

» More

The author of those words is David Petraeus, now a four-star general and commander of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974, one year before the fall of Saigon, and he has lately consolidated his military career around trying to reverse the lessons of Vietnam. He tasted combat for the first time during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, where he commanded the 101st Airborne Division and the Multinational Security Transition Command (tasked with training Iraqi military forces). In 2005-06, after his second tour in Iraq, Petraeus oversaw the revision of FM 3-24, the military’s counterinsurgency (COIN) field manual. (The previous Army COIN manual was published in 1986; the Marines were still using a guide from 1980.) It was a chance for Petraeus to put his dissertation into practice by literally rewriting the book on the type of warfare American officers had shunned since Vietnam. Early in 2007, following the futile efforts of generals Ricardo Sanchez and George Casey, Petraeus took command of US forces in Iraq and aided a reeling President George W. Bush by implementing the “surge” strategy, designed to tamp down violence to a so-called acceptable level. Taking a page from FM 3-24, Petraeus offered money and weapons to Sunni insurgents in exchange for a cessation of attacks on US troops, a strategy that helped to lessen bloodshed and get bad news about Iraq off the front page. In exchange, Bush made “King David” his most influential adviser on the war (Petraeus was granted much clout at National Security Council meetings) and even took him mountain biking.To a segment of the military establishment that Andrew Bacevich has dubbed the “Crusaders,” officers who “see the Army’s problems in Iraq as self-inflicted,” the consequence of excessive post-Vietnam caution, Petraeus is seen as a successor to another top Army general, Creighton Abrams. A West Point grad and World War II tank commander under Gen. George Patton, Abrams assumed command of US forces in Vietnam in 1968 when his predecessor, William Westmoreland, was kicked up and out, to Army chief of staff, after a four-year run of failure in Southeast Asia. Abrams’s star has been on the rise in recent years too, thanks in large part to the efforts of his chief booster, the prominent historian, retired Army lieutenant colonel and CIA veteran Lewis Sorley.

Last fall, as the debate over the way forward in Afghanistan geared up, Sorley’s ten-year-old book A Better War was the pick of the Pentagon and, according to Peter Spiegel and Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal, “recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.” (A Better War is also listed in FM 3-24’s annotated bibliography of recommended texts, and Abrams is mentioned and quoted several times in the manual.) Sorley’s book was also read and reread, according to Newsweek, by Petraeus’s top commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal–a counterterrorism specialist who worked closely with Petraeus when he led the Joint Special Operations Command, a unit that The New Yorker‘s Seymour Hersh called “an executive assassination wing.” Under this program, according to Hersh, elite units were reportedly given the authority to track and kill suspected terrorists and militants with minimal oversight, in noncombat situations and across national boundaries.

There is much for the Crusaders to like about Sorley’s account of the often neglected latter half of the Vietnam War, especially his assertion that by late 1970 “the fighting wasn’t over, but the war was won” by the United States. Abrams had achieved this victory, Sorley contends, through a kinder, gentler strategy of pacification operations and population protection that stood in abject contrast to Westmoreland’s ineffective “search and destroy” missions in the countryside. As Sorley explained in a New York Times op-ed published in 2009 when President Obama was weighing his options in Afghanistan, “Abrams decided instead to try ‘clear and hold’ operations, in which small patrols were sent to villages to protect the populace.” According to Sorley, Abrams recognized that under Westmoreland US forces had been “causing undue ‘collateral damage’ to the South Vietnamese people and their property”; thus enlightened, Abrams “reined in the use of heavy firepower like artillery and tactical airstrikes.” Defeat, however, was snatched from the jaws of victory when the United States cut its support for South Vietnam’s Saigon government–a stab in the military’s back by weak-willed politicians and a war-weary public back home.

In 2004 Sorley took an up-close-and-personal approach to his hero in Vietnam Chronicles, a collection of passages selected and transcribed by Sorley from tapes of high-level meetings chaired by Abrams in 1968-72. The book is a tremendous resource, yet one gets the feeling while reading it of being not a fly on the wall but the object of a concerted propaganda campaign. In the spring of 1969, for instance, we hear Abrams yukking it up over cigars he had imported from Hong Kong. At the same time, in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, his World War II buddy from the Siege of Bastogne, Gen. Julian Ewell, was coordinating a civilian slaughter during Operation Speedy Express, which was executed with the same heavy artillery and tactical airstrikes Abrams had supposedly shut down [see Nick Turse, “A My Lai a Month,” Dec. 1, 2008]. During the operation, Abrams publicly praised Ewell’s performance. Behind closed doors not long afterward, he laughed off his subordinates’ bloodthirsty talk while warning Ewell to consider how a proposal of his to kill Vietnamese civilians for petty crimes might look if Newsweek got wind of it.

In 1971 two reporters from Newsweek discovered much worse: namely, that as many as 5,000 noncombatants–ten times the number killed during the My Lai massacre–had been slaughtered during Speedy Express, according to one US official. When one of the Newsweek reporters, Kevin Buckley, brought the results of the investigation to Abrams’s attention and asked for comment, the general claimed to have no information and denied Buckley an interview. What Buckley couldn’t have known, and what goes unaccounted for in Vietnam Chronicles, is that Abrams knew a lot about Speedy Express. He learned of reports about mass killings in 1969 from US advisers who charged Ewell’s division with having driven up the enemy body count by killing civilians with helicopter gunships and artillery. Then, on a 1970 trip to Vietnam, Army Secretary Stanley Resor, on the advice of the Army’s acting general counsel, discussed with Abrams reports of widespread civilian killings provided by a different source, a whistleblower from Ewell’s division who had witnessed the bloodshed firsthand. Buckley and his Newsweek colleague Alex Shimkin learned about the carnage from still other US and Vietnamese sources during the meticulous investigation they conducted over a period of months. A Pentagon-level cover-up and Newsweek‘s desire not to upset the Nixon administration in the wake of the My Lai revelations kept the full results of their work under wraps. The publication of a severely truncated version of Buckley and Shimkin’s original article allowed the Pentagon to ride out the coverage without being forced to convene a large-scale official inquiry of the sort that followed public disclosure of My Lai. A secret Army report, commissioned in response to Buckley and Shimkin’s investigation but buried for decades, concluded:

While there appears to be no means of determining the precise number of civilian casualties incurred by US forces during Operation Speedy Express, it would appear that the extent of these casualties was in fact substantial, and that a fairly solid case can be constructed to show that civilian casualties may have amounted to several thousand (between 5,000 and 7,000).

In both his books Sorley ignores the carnage of Speedy Express. Consequently, his readers, including McChrystal and other Crusaders in the Pentagon book club, taking notes for their own pacification campaign in Afghanistan, are left with a counterfeit history of Abrams’s bloodless “better war.”

Not all of Sorley’s fans, however, labor under the same misconceptions about what the Vietnamese call the American War. In the acknowledgments of his Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975, John Prados writes admiringly of the herculean labors of transcription that Sorley–a friend–performed to produce Vietnam Chronicles. But Prados’s scholarly admiration goes no further. He squarely challenges the contentions of Sorley and others who have, over the years, attempted to recast US and allied efforts in Vietnam as a Lost Victory or an Unheralded Victory, among other wishfully titled studies [see Rick Perlstein, “The Best Wars of Their Lives,” October 15, 2007]. Regarding Sorley’s belief that victory was thrown away, Prados writes:

Most recent commentators of this school call themselves “revisionists,” arguing that Americans are wrong to believe they lost the Vietnam war. This is not revisionism, it is neo-orthodoxy.
Something happened in the countryside, but it was not Saigon’s victory….
The neo-orthodox commentators of the “lost victory” school make their claims as if the only important elements were pacification and Vietnamization, as if politics did not matter. Not only is this strange, given the kind of conflict–where supposedly everyone now understood the political to be paramount–but those same analysts take no account of Saigon politics.

For these reasons, General McChrystal would do well to forgo another reading of Sorley’s text and instead wade into Prados’s Vietnam. Steeped in the copious records generated by the US government during the conflict, Prados offers an expansive history, written in a lucid style, that scholars of the war will want to make room for on their shelves and casual readers can accommodate by purging a few faded volumes. Prados, a senior fellow of George Washington University’s National Security Archive and the head of its Vietnam Documentation Project, surveys the wars in Vietnam against the Japanese, French and Americans, from 1945 through 1975, and makes smartly written sojourns back to the United States to listen in on White House phone calls and take it to the streets with returning antiwar veterans. Prados demonstrates the dire effects a foreign war can have on the homeland, as criminality abroad acted as a catalyst for an increasingly lawless government at home.

While he ably covers a lot of historical territory in the United States and Southeast Asia (with surprisingly thorough, if brief, treatments of the contiguous conflicts in Cambodia and Laos), Prados is strongest on Nixon’s war in Vietnam–the period from 1969 onward–making his book a natural counterweight to Sorley’s study of the same period. Through a staggering array of primary and secondary sources, Prados discredits the “better war” thesis and the “neo-orthodox” school through his clear and thorough examination of the increasingly hollow and corrupt South Vietnamese government and its failures to win over the people, which made supposed US pacification successes meaningless.

With devastating clarity, Prados demonstrates that neo-orthodox claims of an increasingly effective South Vietnamese military taking charge, from 1969 onward, are based on smoke and mirrors and outright fabrications. In truth, just as the US military was increasingly wracked by drug use, racial tension, AWOLs, fraggings (attacks on officers and noncommissioned officers, often by fragmentation grenade), combat refusals, mutinies and other disciplinary issues, Saigon’s military forces were in dire straits, as draft evaders and deserters thinned the ranks, officers collected the pay of nonexistent “ghost soldiers” and child soldiers were, instead, put into uniform. At the same time, government corruption was rampant. (In one scandal top officials got away with skimming from a tax on soldiers that was designed to aid veterans.) Prados then couples his nuanced study of the ample shortcomings of the South Vietnamese government and armed forces with, more important, an astute analysis of the many “levels and layers of reasons” the revolutionary forces from North and South Vietnam won the war. It’s here that Prados really shines and demonstrates what a historian at the height of his powers of scholarly synthesis can accomplish.

Paying attention to the Vietnamese–whether ordinary civilians being slaughtered in the name of pacification or Saigon’s political elites emptying the public treasury–has never been a strong suit of American commentators on the war. Consciously written to render the Vietnamese visible in ways too few American histories of the war do, Mark Philip Bradley’s important history Vietnam at War mines Vietnamese novels, poetry and films, as well as a plethora of recent and often overlooked works of scholarship, to paint a more complete picture of the lived experience of the war for the people of Vietnam. Bradley begins with the millennium-long Vietnamese anticolonial struggle against the Chinese beginning in 111 BC and then chronicles the rise of French colonialism in Indochina during the latter half of the nineteenth century; the often-ignored political and intellectual developments among elites and the economic upheaval and demographic explosion in the countryside during the early part of the twentieth century; and finally the wars of liberation against France and the United States.

Bradley discusses the many ways that ordinary people struggled to “navigate and survive the complicated terrain of wartime South Vietnam.” Weaving together disparate threads, from contemporary commentary about changing Vietnamese romantic and sexual mores amid wartime uncertainty (“It’s no longer about appreciating love but escaping the sense that one has been abandoned”) to social anthropologist Heonik Kwon’s recent meticulous and skillful reconstruction of the complex and clandestine networks of social connections that allowed a wounded South Vietnamese officer to defect to the revolutionary side, Bradley offers a social history of wartime Vietnam and of a people in a state of acute crisis. Perhaps the most important aspect of Vietnam at War, however, is Bradley’s effort to convey the ubiquity of civilian suffering during the American War–the decimation of the countryside, the mass population dislocations, the indiscriminate use of firepower, the collapse of farming, the savaging of the economy, the rampant inflation and the proliferation of a culture of corruption and prostitution among the desperate, war-ravaged Vietnamese. Given the scale of misery caused by the war, Bradley doesn’t devote enough attention to the subject. But he makes a noble effort and, even in a slim volume, is stronger on the subject than many thicker histories.

In fact, very few of the more than 30,000 books about the conflict plumb the depths of Vietnamese misery during the American War. One volume that should, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted among them is Eddie Adams: Vietnam, but the book–a glossy collection of photos and text–in many ways defies conventions. Most books, for instance, don’t begin with an admission of the photographer’s opposition to the project. But Adams didn’t have a say in the matter. He died several years ago, and Eddie Adams: Vietnam–edited by his wife, Alyssa, with text by Hal Buell, Adams’s former boss at the Associated Press, as well as short interviews with contemporaries like Morley Safer, Peter Arnett and the late David Halberstam–was published against his wishes.

Adams is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Col. (and later Brig. Gen.) Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a defenseless, restrained prisoner at point-blank range in the head with a pistol. (It is the cover image of Eddie Adams: Vietnam.) It was a photo, Arnett notes in the opening of the book, that Adams “was sorry for.” Adams would later commiserate with Nguyen (known to Americans as “General Loan”) at a pizza parlor in Virginia operated by the former general, who immigrated to the United States with help from a friend in the CIA. Adams felt the photo had been used unfairly to vilify Nguyen and not only apologized for his picture but took great pains to excuse the general’s actions. “General Loan was killing our so-called ‘bad guys,’ but the U.S. government kind of disowned him,” Adams later lamented. In his introductory piece, Arnett recalls telling Adams that he had captured a moment of truth–executions were common but rarely photographed–yet “Eddie, Mister Patriot, just would not accept that. He enjoyed winning the Pulitzer Prize as well as the fame that came with it, but in his heart he felt that he had let the country down.”

Adams, who served as a photographer in the Marines during the Korean War, was hardly critical of the US war in Vietnam and maintained a close relationship with the military. Yet while no equal of Philip Jones Griffiths’s magisterial Vietnam Inc., a 1971 collection of more than 250 photos documenting the destruction of the Vietnamese people’s way of life during the war, Eddie Adams: Vietnam almost inadvertently manages to convey the scale of Vietnamese suffering. When defending Nguyen, Adams noted that a picture can lie; yet it can also be said that multiple images can often offer a less cloudy vision of the truth. In Adams’s book we see many disturbing scenes: a bound prisoner threatened with a bayonet; another with a spear at his throat; a noncombatant being punched; a woman beckoning Adams and fellow Americans to help her wounded husband, his arm vainly grasping at air as they fly away in their helicopter; a child suspect trussed up with a rifle trained on him, mangled bodies lying in the open; children crouching and wailing in fear as an armed US marine approaches them; a young girl, hands raised to the sides of her head, whose eyes lock on Adams’s camera as she runs for cover; and a Saigon demonstrator being threatened with a bayonet.

Whatever his internal conflicts, Adams’s fearlessness, skill and fine eye are evident in a picture he shot on April 25, 1965, in Quang Nam province. Crawling on his belly, Adams captured the abject terror on the faces of a mother, crouched low and clutching her baby, and a father, frightened and powerless, shielding his tiny child as marines, their weapons at the ready, stalk through their hamlet searching for the guerrillas who had fired at them from afar. That November, Adams pronounced the shot his favorite. Of all his many magnificent photos, including his iconic shot of the prisoner and Nguyen Ngoc Loan–which many consider the defining photograph of a conflict that produced not a few worthy contenders–this image may capture the essence of the American War as well as any other. The combination of helplessness and sheer terror in the parents’ eyes, their inability to do any more for their children than to hold them close and act as human shields while a hulking group of heavily armed foreign teenagers draw fire and return it from their yard, says much about the American War in Vietnam and American warmaking in general.

Several years ago, during a trip through the Mekong Delta, I talked with Nguyen Van Tu, a well-weathered farmer residing in a simple wood-and-thatch home with an earthen floor, likely very similar to the one he lived in during the war. Probably the only major difference was the absence of a nearby bomb shelter. During the war, such bunkers were as ubiquitous as the bombs and artillery shells from which they provided uncertain protection. Year after year, families were forced to live a semi-subterranean existence. But they still had to eat, and that meant farming and foraging out in the open. One afternoon in 1971, Nguyen heard artillery being fired from a nearby base and shouted for his family to bolt to their bunker. They made it. He didn’t. A 105-millimeter US artillery shell slammed into the ground near him and ripped off most of his right leg. It was, in fact, one of numerous tragedies he endured as a result of the American War. His brother, a simple farmer, was shot dead by America’s South Vietnamese allies in the early years of the conflict. His father was killed just after the war. While tending his garden, he accidentally detonated a US M-79 round–a 40-millimeter shell fired from a single-shot grenade launcher–buried in the soil.

In 2008 I published a story about Nguyen, and thanks to readers’ generosity he received a new prosthetic leg to replace the rudimentary wooden model he’d walked with for years. But Nguyen hadn’t asked for a new leg; it wasn’t what he wanted out of the interview. What he wanted was a story in the US press about the true suffering of the Vietnamese people that would spur the government to “take responsibility” for what it had done during the war. Nguyen was skeptical that an American would tell this story. “Do you really want to publicize this thing?” he asked. “Do you really dare tell everyone about all the losses and sufferings of the Vietnamese people here?”

Nguyen’s skepticism was well founded, even if he knew nothing of the Crusaders or their revisionist histories. There’s a moment in Petraeus’s dissertation when he pauses to take stock of the “impact of America’s longest war” and its fallout. He devotes not a word to Vietnamese civilians. There’s no mention of women with shrapnel still lurking beneath their skin, or the men with faces melted years ago by incendiary weapons, or the inconsolable people still grieving for mothers, fathers, siblings and children gunned down decades ago. Instead, Petraeus wrote, without apparent irony, that “the psychic scars of the war may be deepest among the Army and Marine Corps leadership.”

Drawing too many conclusions from a years-old dissertation is a risky proposition, but Petraeus’s writings then and his efforts since raise serious questions about just who he believes has suffered most because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what role he has played in that misery and the lessons he has drawn from the carnage. Given the Crusaders’ cheery (and bizarre) conclusions that Petraeus turned the bloody US war in Iraq into a victory and that his “surge” there offers a template for similar success in Afghanistan, one also worries what dubious lessons the next generation of Crusaders will draw from him and his “better wars.”

  • Copyright © 2009 The Nation
April 30, 2010

Vietnam celebrates 35th anniversary of war’s end

Vietnam marked the 35th anniversary of the Communist victory in the Vietnam War with a grand military parade Friday through the former Saigon, with the government basking more in its economic achievements than its historic military defeat of the United States.

The city is now named for Ho Chi Minh, the father of the revolution, but signs of the burgeoning market economy are everywhere, with Communist banners competing for space with corporate ads and logos.

Some 50,000 invitees, many waving red and gold ruling party flags, crowded the parade route. They marked the day that North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the former Presidential Palace in Saigon and ousted the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government – the culmination of one of the most seismic military achievements since World War II.

The parade brought back vivid memories for Do Thi Thanh Thuy, 49, who watched the tanks roll by her home on April 30, 1975, when she was a junior high student. She and her neighbors on the outskirts of the city had run into the streets to cheer.

“When I saw those tanks, I felt so happy,” said Thuy, who on Friday carried a hammer and a sickle flag. “The South had been liberated, the country was united, and the war was over.”

The fall of Saigon marked the official end of the Vietnam War and the decadelong U.S. campaign against communism in Southeast Asia. The conflict claimed some 58,000 American lives and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese.

The war left divisions that would take years to heal as many former South Vietnamese soldiers were sent to Communist re-education camps and hundreds of thousands of their relatives fled the country.

In Friday’s re-enactment of the war’s end, everyone in the former Saigon greeted the Communist troops with jubilation. A tank replica rolled by and soldiers in white uniforms goose-stepped their way down the former Reunification Boulevard, later renamed Le Duan Street after a former Communist Party chief.

Battalions of women soldiers marched by carrying rifles and wearing the black-and-white checkered scarves made famous by the former Viet Cong guerrillas. Patriotic songs blared, some to a pulsing disco beat.

In a reminder of how the Communist Party retains a strong grip on the flow of information despite the opening of the economy, foreign journalists were forbidden from conducting interviews along the parade route. The area was sealed off from ordinary citizens, apparently due to security concerns.

President Nguyen Minh Triet was joined at the parade by leaders and dignitaries from Cuba, Russia and neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Most of those in the crowd were war veterans, party cadres and others selected by local communist organizations.

Among the veterans was Huynh Van Quan, 70, who helped build the famous Cu Chi tunnels outside Saigon, an elaborate underground network where Viet Cong guerrillas sought refuge from American bomber planes. He sat beneath one of the hundreds of portraits of Ho Chi Minh that dotted the route.

Quan, who has attended each of the 35 anniversary ceremonies since the war’s end, declared the anniversary a “very important day for the Vietnamese nation.” He reminisced about how skilled his comrades were in fighting the United Sates.

A usual honored guest, former Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, 98, architect of Vietnam’s military campaigns against their former French colonial rulers and then the Americans, was too ill to attend.

Friday’s speeches were sprinkled with timeworn communist slogans and quotes from Ho Chi Minh, including perhaps his most famous, which was invoked by Le Thanh Hai, the Ho Chi Minh Communist Party chief: “There is nothing more precious than independence and freedom.”

But Hai focused his remarks on Vietnam’s economic achievements, for which Ho Chi Minh City has served as the engine. The city generated more than 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product last year and 30 percent of its tax revenues, Hai said. The city’s economic growth has averaged more than 10 percent a year since 1986.

Much of Vietnam’s growth is being fueled by foreign investment and trade, and in recent years, the United States has become Vietnam’s main trading partner.

“The U.S. is a friend of Vietnam now,” said Do Phuoc Man, 17, who woke up at 3 a.m. to attend Friday’s festivities, which began at 6:30 a.m. “We’ve seen growing investment from the United States, which is to our mutual benefit.”

Although the two nations have grown much closer since the war, they disagree over issues such as human rights and press freedom.

In a speech, Lt. Gen. Le Thanh Tam, the chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Veterans Association, warned that Vietnam must be wary of “hostile forces who use democracy and human rights as a pretext to sabotage Vietnam.”

“We affirm that the Communist Party of Vietnam is the only party which has the prestige to lead the Vietnamese people to stable development and international integration,” Tam said.

Vietnamese students wave Communist Party flags in Ho Chi Minh  City, Vietnam on Friday April 30, 2010. Communist Vietnam marked the  35th anniversary of the war's end Friday with a dramatic reenactment of  the day North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the former  Presidential Palace and ousted the U.S.-backed government. The  celebration took place in a city where signs of the emerging market  economy are everywhere and communist banners now compete with corporate  logos.
Nick Ut.
Vietnamese students wave Communist Party flags in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on Friday April 30, 2010. Communist Vietnam marked the 35th anniversary of the war’s end Friday with a dramatic reenactment of the day North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the former Presidential Palace and ousted the U.S.-backed government. The celebration took place in a city where signs of the emerging market economy are everywhere and communist banners now compete with corporate logos.

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