Viet NamPart 2:
Historical Background & First Defining Statement
by Robert L. Kocher

Viet Nam has a long history, most of which is irrelevant. What have been only very recently referred to as Vietnamese are descendants of Chinese and Indonesian migrants over a period of several thousands of years. Somewhere about 2,200 years ago there was a kingdom, really a geographical area called Nam-Viet. The term is derived from the Chinese meaning “distant South.”

One hundred years later, to the extent that the area was looked upon as anything, it was looked upon as a Chinese province. What evolved was an upper level social shell of Chinese politics and administration that the original people didn’t want to be bothered with. Whenever you have a group of people who want to bother other people who don’t want to be bothered, somebody with a pretentious title who is in charge of bothering people eventually gets his feelings hurt over being rejected. It draws attention to the area and evolves into a focused test of will between botherers and botherees. The territory, itself, was of little intrinsic value to anybody except the comparatively few people who lived there. However, some Chinese decided they wanted to be titular bosses, and even if they didn’t really have profound power and effect on the culture among the ordinary people, who they seldom saw, they were an irritant that persisted over centuries.

In the year 939 the indigenous people staged an uprising and threw off formal external Chinese control of the area. China then tried, halfheartedly, to retake and re-establish control over the area periodically through marginal military actions, but was finally repelled in 1427. After that period the area was independent, although China was paid symbolic tribute to avoid its becoming a nuisance. Basically, there wasn’t enough in the area, or potentially enough in the area, to justify expenditure of any serious effort or involvement on China’s part. Neither did the area have enough population or other resources to become a military or any other kind of threat to massive China. Hence, there was a kind of truce based upon Chinese disinterest, although the experience left a “Vietnamese” cultural tradition of mistrusting China.

The area wasn’t even a crossroads. To the southwest was the Malay Peninsula. According to my school geography book in the 40s, the people there still lived a primitive life in which they spent a phenomenal amount of time beating a tubor called manioc to get poison out so it could be cooked and eaten like potatoes. For several thousand years nobody wanted to go there, let alone go through Viet Nam to go there. The Vietnamese area was protected from early serious conquest by its uselessness. There wasn’t anything there worth stealing. It was too irrelevant to attract notice, much less outside conquest. Distant South described its position as well as the level of interest and knowledge regarding the area.

Internally, the area that was to eventually become Viet Nam hundreds of years later became ruled or administrated by a Mandarin/Confucianism-based system modeled after that brought in by the Chinese. A mandarin is a civil servant/administrator who is a member of the educated elite. Rival mandarinates eventually evolved between the Trinh dynastic group in the North and the Nguyen in the South which became quasi-separate political countries.

So, during its early period the area lived under a Chinese cultural and political domination which was resented and never incorporated. Basically, the area was so physically uncomfortable, sparsely populated, disease-ridden, and primitive that few people of rank or authority ventured out of what few cities there were. Any governing authority existed in name only, and in the comfort of cities. This led to the maxim in Vietnamese life, “The government stops at the village gate.” More accurately, government never even got from the city to the village for lack of reason or motivation.

Under Jesuit influence the area developed its own culture and during the 1500s developed into three countries: Cochin-China in the South, Annam in the middle, and Tonkin (or Ton Kin) in the North, which had distinct cultural and political differences. Tonkin provided the name for the Tonkin Gulf that was to become famous many years later in a small naval confrontation that solidified the conflict in the Viet Nam war. There was the usual history of petty rivalries, incompetent mini-dynasties, and whatever. There were also religious wars and persecution of Christians.

During the early 1800s the French introduced a military force to take control of the area and finally made the three countries into a quasi-French colony, which (although they built some roads and communications from north to south) the French were unsuccessful in uniting. The Vietnamese didn’t like the French. (It is not strictly correct to say Vietnamese since Viet Nam didn’t exist.) The people in the three countries or areas didn’t like the French. There was an imposed peace, and forced compliance to French rule.

The French Find Rubber

When the French took it over, the area was useless. The French were near the bottom of the international power totem pole at the time, and as a consequence had to be content with crummy areas of the world, while the British got the really neat stuff like Canada, India, Australia, and so on. In the 1900s Viet Nam became somewhat economically important as a source of rubber, which was originally made from the sap of rubber trees, after Charles Goodyear found it could be vulcanized into durable material with sulfur. This was to persist until the American chemist Corothers elucidated the functionality of the carbon-carbon double bond in the 1930s, resulting in eventual world-wide artificial synthesis of much higher grade rubber in huge quantities from butadiene derived from petroleum. Nobody has made significant use of rubber tree sap for more than 50 years–and certainly not for tires and similar products.

But for a period, there were rubber tree plantations where Frenchmen could live like genteel noblemen.

The 1929 Historical Atlas, by professor William Shepherd, shows an area called French Indo-China with few cities and the somewhat vague areas of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin-China. The geography was only marginally charted, and at the time not worth the effort of serious mapping. The 1943 Columbia Standard Illustrated World Atlas shows about the same thing, with more cities.

During World War Two, the Japanese conquered the area—among other reasons for rubber, because Japan had few raw materials of its own and was also technologically backward. The famous American Office of Strategic Services, which was a precursor to the CIA, and simultaneously military, was looking for a way to use foreign forces to harass both the Japanese and the French elements then supporting Hitler (after the collapse of France to the German armies). They organized and supported a guerrilla resistance movement around a man named Ho Chi Minh, who was educated in France and was a communist.

After the Japanese lost the war, the French retook the area by military force. The future Vietnamese wanted the French out, so they could go back to what they had 120 years earlier. They just didn’t want to be bothered by anybody.

Here, we run into several complex situations.

Stupidity, Arrogance, and Allies

Necessary political and military allies come from imperfect backgrounds. The French and the English come from historical backgrounds of stupidity and arrogance. For several hundred years, both nations had the very annoying habit of sailing about the world, planting their flags on whatever beaches they landed at, then claiming the area for their kings, queens, or whatever, regardless of whether or not there were already millions of people living there who didn’t want to be bothered or claimed. The French were forced out of much of North America during the French and Indian War. The British were expelled by what became the United States during the American revolution. But both the French and English continued empty claims on numerous other portions of the earth where they had no real business being, while generating and fighting off considerable continuous local resentment. The sun never set upon the British empire and its style of stolid aggravation—particularly in places such as China and India. South Africa was a peculiar situation to which the British had an arguable legitimate right because it was uninhabited when the British established Capetown as a servicing station for ships traveling around the African horn. France had various portions of Africa and S. E. Asia, which required the presence of the famous French Foreign Legion to put down the constant turmoil that French demands for control produced.

At the same time, the British and French were very necessary American allies during World War Two and later against the determined advancement of communist aggression. This left the United States in the position of being allies with nations who were correct in certain policies, but who were also suppressing the equivalents of our own American revolution in other parts of the world. We rightly should have supported the pre-Vietnamese forces seeking to expel the French. But if we did, we would have lost the French as allies in other critical areas.

During the twenties or thirties we should have told the French that we could not support their continued control of Indo-China. However, it’s doubtful at that time that three people in the United States, including presidents, even knew where Annam was. It wasn’t even accurately defined on maps of the period. The French should have been told not to reestablish French control after the Second World War, but rather to re-establish the three countries that originally existed, and then get out. That having not been done, and the French being unwilling to do it, part of the stage was set for the Viet Nam War.

Marxist Revolutionaries

There are important differences between the Viet Nam War and the American revolution. The communists were rather smart. Attempts to expel colonialism or other oppressive governments cannot succeed without arms and military aid. The communists offer (present tense) that aid and channel it through sympathizers or Marxists within the revolutionary movement, and establish the training cadre. This establishes and reinforces a disciplined corps of Marxists within the controlling points and leadership of the revolution. What results is a framework of Marxist development and power. When the revolution is over, that framework remains. Marxists are then in control of the arms, organized force, and subsequent direction of the movement which is still presented as a fight for national independence. The poor naive devils who think they have been fighting to free themselves then awaken afterwards to find they are in the grip of a highly developed Marxist structure and cadre which will not let loose, and which is immediately recognized as the only legitimate government by other Marxist regimes. Once the “government” is recognized, outside Marxist military units can be called in to support the “people’s government” and to kill any opposition to communism. There is often a purge or circumvention of non-Marxists immediately after the revolution.

Ironically, the main mass of people who think they have been fighting for independence are suddenly declared enemies of the people (and enemies of the revolution) when they attempt to establish the government they were originally fighting for. By manipulation of language, the ordinary people who were fighting for freedom are reclassified as being part of the same regime that they have been fighting against, and—in a continuation of the “people’s revolution”—these same ordinary people are wiped out.

Remember all this, because it turns out to be important when some of our American leaders later talked about, quite incorrectly, nationalistic movements and revolution. What actually existed was a facade of nationalistic rhetoric under which something far different was taking place.

Once the Marxist revolutionary process is a quarter of the way developed, the situation becomes nearly impossible. Opposing a revolution which should (and may) have begun as a quest for freedom becomes a necessity to preclude a communist takeover and the imposition of a state even more evil than that which the revolution was originally attempting to overthrow. But this opposition is interpreted by Marxist propaganda as an attempt to suppress the people or prevent the people from gaining their freedom. However, at this point, freedom is not where the people are being taken, whether they understand it or not.

This is where the United States gets into hopeless situations. Suppose there is a small country with a moderately oppressive leader. If we don’t support that leader, the communists may take that country through revolution. If we do support that leader, we are looked upon as being against the people, and the people become anti-American. The eventual resurgence of revolutionary activity then becomes Marxist and anti-American.

More importantly, given a benign leader with good intentions, the sequence of events is similar. Communists begin by killing a few people or blowing up things. Eventually, even a blessed saint may impose martial law to save the society. At that point the communists complain about imposition of a police state, and you go to the first sentence a few paragraphs previous.

The Leftist Effect “Justifies” Initiating the Cause

In ordinary healthy thinking and analysis there is a sequence of events where a given cause creates or justifies a consequent effect. But in the leftist mind there is a paranoid reversal of reasoning in which a reasonable later consequent of their actions is used to justify the action preceding it. If a communist revolutionary attempts to kill you and you defend yourself by killing him, the communist movement will say your act makes you an oppressor even though they initiated the foreseeable sequence of events. Under this reversed logic, you are never allowed to defend yourself from attack by a leftist because the act of defense makes you guilty of actions that justify having tried to kill you initially. Since most sane people who are shot at will shoot back, in the leftist mind the world is filled with oppressive people who leftists feel uniquely justified in killing or destroying.

A good model for this process is Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Although temporarily a hero of what was believed to be a revolution to free Cuba from the previous Cuban dictator, Castro then imposed his own awaiting communist dictatorship (which wasn’t the original plan disclosed to the Cubans). Castro was immediately recognized by the Soviets who sent in additional military forces to defend Castro with threat of nuclear war. Castro and his henchmen have kept Cuba an imprisoned hell-hole for nearly 40 years.

After the conclusion of WWII, Ho Chi Minh was left with an organized command structure and military, and during the last half of the 40s established himself in what had been Tonkin. Although the French Vichy government that had capitulated to Hitler was deposed and replaced after the Allied liberation of France, Ho Chi Minh was in an organized position, and had external communist support, to continue opposing the French presence in Indo-China. In 1949 the French proposed a union of the three countries under French authority. The union was approved by Cochin-China and Annam, and Boa Dai of Annam became Emperor in 1949. Ho Chi Minh and the communist Vietminh in Tonkin refused to acknowledge the agreement. The French were determined to enforce acknowledgement upon the North through military action. They were defeated by the communists at the famous battle at Dien Bien Phu in Tonkin during 1954.

At this point there is a confounding of variables. The first variable is the authority of the French. If the French had proposed unification of the area under force of French authority and force of arms, assuming Tonkin was an independent country, Tonkin would have had legitimate objection over non-recognition of Tonkin as an independent country that had the right to reject incorporation into a larger union, or to reject continued French influence.

No Legitimate Claim on the South

However, there is a second distinct element here. As an independent country, Tonkin had no right to prevent Cochin-China and Annam from making separate arrangements or unions as long as those agreements did not obligate Tonkin. On the other hand, if the premise that Ho Chi Minh was operating under maintained that the three countries were already as one, then the majority democratic vote in the other two established legality for all three. By any legal or rational standard, then, Ho Chi Minh had no serious claims on the South.

Subsequently, Ho Chi Minh both refused to look at the three separate areas as independent, and also refused to acknowledge the outcome of elections in two of the three areas. Essentially, he wanted to replace French colonialism with himself and his own colonial occupation under communism.

Upon the French defeat, a subsequent agreement was drawn up in Geneva in which Ho Chi Minh and the communists were given Tonkin, while Cochin-China and Annam became South Viet Nam under Boa Dai, and the French pulled out with a great feeling of relief combined with embarrassment and humiliation. In 1954 Ngo Dinh Diem became president of South Viet Nam and eventually did away with the office of emperor. One might expect everyone would be satisfied. The French were defeated and were expelled. Ho Chi Minh got the country he wanted. The South Vietnamese received what they had voted for, albeit free from French authority. That was supposedly the goal of the revolution created to free the people. Whoever wanted to could live in what had formerly been Tonkin. Anyone who wanted to could go live in the South in peace—and 900,000 people did. Simultaneously, 90,000 communists in the South went to the north. It was nearly ideal.

That, however, was never what had been planned by the communists. The 90,000 communists that had moved north had gone there for guerrilla training preparatory to invasion of the South.

Ho Crushes Rebellion

The first step in Ho Chi Minh’s plan was consolidation of what was now North Viet Nam. All was not well in North Viet Nam. The people awoke to find themselves in the grasp of a new brutally authoritarian state that they didn’t bargain for. There were a number of attempted rebellions in the North. They were put down with considerable vigor and ruthlessness. Several cities were nearly wiped out. Hundreds of thousands were killed. The lesson was well learned by others considering protest. Until 1958, North Viet Nam was too preoccupied with its own internal problems to direct any effort to the South. By the beginning of 1958 all active protest had been crushed in the North and plans were drafted for conquest of the South.

Meanwhile Diem was involved in building South Viet Nam. Diem was a unique character. He was a devout Catholic, in fact was a friend of Cardinal Spellman in the United States, and lived an austere personal life with very few interests other than his almost religious involvement with the country as an act of faith. He was absolutely incorruptible because he didn’t want anything for himself. He insisted on incorruptibility in government, which was a considerable annoyance to those who wished otherwise. He had eradicated the old mafia gangs, and their army. He had a very good development program for the people which was working.

In his seriousness, Diem made some powerful and critical enemies. In his book, Lost Victory, William Colby describes Diem’s “civic action” programs where government personnel were “to eat, sleep, and work with the people” [1]. Many of those charged with that responsibility regarded themselves as an elite who viewed such activity as humiliating or degrading. The former privileged and self-regarded intellectual community of South Viet Nam found their rarefied thinking becoming an ignored irrelevance in the emerging culture. They had formerly held parasitic titular positions, or had comprised the cultural and social elite who attended court life under the French, but now, with no court, found themselves excluded from power and influence. It produced a degree of dissatisfaction that was to haunt Diem. For one thing, outsiders seeking information on Viet Nam would establish easy communication with the urbane former courtesans and intellectuals, with whom they were more comfortable than with the ordinary people, and the astigmatism of the intellectuals’ dissatisfaction provided a distorted view of what was taking place, which was disseminated in American analytic writing and the press.

President Diem of South Viet Nam had been expected to fail and South Viet Nam to become a non-entity. Much to everybody’s surprise, he was making a success out of the place. He had an emphasis on facilitating free trade and economic development. South Viet Nam shortly began to develop into a bustling nation under his leadership.

Le Doan’s Alarming Report

What follows is one of five major definitive statements regarding South Viet Nam of which there is almost no reference in the nearly exclusively politically leftward analysis dominating the media and academia. In 1958 North Vietnamese communist party commissar Le Doan visited South Viet Nam. He returned to the north with an alarming report. Economic and general conditions for the South Vietnamese people were improving at a rate that was a threat to communist revolution and communist expansion, and such progress had to be stopped or there would be insufficient dissatisfaction in South Viet Nam to exploit for organizing revolution. Certainly, there would be little spontaneous motivation in the South to adopt the mess that was going on in the North.

This glowing evaluation of Diem’s leadership and Southern progress came from one of Diem’s worst enemies. It was at the time, of course, intended only for private consumption of the politburo in the North. It should be taken very seriously by those studying the history of the area and the war. Privately, Diem was well-regarded as an honest and very capable leader by the North, by Ho Chi Minh, and by Chairman Mao in China. (In fact, in 1945, Diem was well known for both his honest ability, and his dedication for independence from the French to the point where he was approached by Ho Chi Minh to join a coalition to seize power from the French. Diem declined because of his dislike for communist influence in the move and a realization that he would be exploited, then betrayed.) But the view by leftist intellectuals in America and elsewhere was a public parroting of criticism and denunciation of Diem, contrary to fact, which fulfilled the propaganda strategy necessary for revolution in the North, and which suited the angry ex-courtesans in the South. Diem was, and continues to be to this day, carped at and criticized. In this case, the private evaluation from his enemies is more valid that what was said publicly, here or there.

So the communist North was beginning to panic. Progress in South Viet Nam had to be stopped and reversed immediately. Ready or not, disruption preparatory to the subjugation of South Viet Nam was to begin. A system of supply lines was started. Revolutionary guerrillas groups began infiltrating back into the South organized as five-man teams.

There was a wave of attacks and terrorism. On July 8, 1959, a small American military advisory team 20 miles north of Saigon was attacked as they watched their evening recreational movie. Two were killed, becoming the first casualties in what was to become a war. It is only recently that their names were added to the wall, because the American government did not recognize the period and deaths as being part of the war.

In his book, ex-CIA Director William Colby describes Diem’s programs, and what happened, on concrete levels that would be beyond the experience and understanding of Washington intellectuals.

Killing the Healers

Malaria had been a torment and killer of the Vietnamese people for centuries. Indeed, it was at one time one of the world’s worst cripplers and killers. Diem established government teams that would spray large areas and relieve the people of the malaria plague. It had been proven to work. The people were thrilled with it. The communists killed the malaria control teams. That ended the program. The communists would then use the lack of success in combating malaria to stir discontent among the people, and argue there was government incompetence, unconcern, and corruption.

This occurred before there was significant American presence in Viet Nam.

Much of South Viet Nam was potentially fertile land which if developed would represent a better and less stressed condition for the people. There was an agrovilles program in which fertile land was opened up and given to the people. A system of roads was being built so people could get their products to market. There were planned villages with medical centers and schools. The homes were spaced some distance apart so that families could have gardens around their homes. Taking advantage of the distance between homes, the communists would pick off the families one by one at night. The people were forced to leave rather than be killed, That was the end of another very well-intentioned and beneficial program. As Colby says with some understatement, “An idea that might have had promise in a peaceful atmosphere proved impossible in the face of Hanoi’s campaign.”

Medical personnel and teachers were systematically killed by the communists before and throughout the war.

Village residents were forceably gathered in groups by communist teams to witness disembowelment of uncooperative peasants. The heads of the resistant were chopped off and impaled on poles outside village entrances. Record of this can be found under Edward Lansdale, in The Lessons of Vietnam, and in Guenther Lewy, America in Vietnam. It was common knowledge among the people involved in Viet Nam at the time.

The problem in South Viet Nam was not Diem. If Diem had not been opposed by communist terrorism, probably 90 percent of the people in rural South Viet Nam would have been living in modernized homes on their own farms with local schools and access to medical clinics several days a week by 1968. There is no real doubt of it by people familiar with the situation. Certainly, there was no real doubt of it by the communists in the North who looked on it as a threat that desperately had to be prevented. So the threat was ended by killing off both ordinary people and critical personnel.

Guerrilla Control

South Viet Nam was a primitive agrarian culture with a small, largely ceremonial, untrained military and had neither the population nor the industrial capacity to produce even simple military armaments. If Vietnamese left their fields to fight a war, there would be no food. They had few military resources of any kind. Substantial resources would be required to locate even a small number of thugs wandering around hidden by the jungle. Using standard military tactics, at least 10 soldiers are typically required to counteract one guerrilla. This ratio varies with terrain/foliage, military mobility, communication systems, population density/distribution, configuration of guerrilla forces, and village size. A mathematical formula can be worked out. In Viet Nam, a ratio of at least (that means at least) 30-50 to one would be required to control small guerrilla bands using standard tactics. Two thousand outside-supported guerrillas would require a 200,000 man army to control them under optimal conditions (for the guerillas) and with serious training. South Viet Nam was completely dependent upon outside help for survival.

Massive military confrontations could be avoided by the guerrillas, and such confrontations would indeed be irrelevant or unnecessary. The goal of the guerrillas would not be to defeat an army, but to defeat a people. In this particular situation the goal could be accomplished without defeating the army or occupying territory. It is possible to destroy the people’s will to resist while circumventing a strong army and a virtuous government. Further discussion of this will be deferred until a later segment on military science and tactics.

There was a possible defensive approach against guerrilla action that paralleled that which occurred in the American revolution. There were local self-defense forces and a civil guard roughly comparable to American revolutionary minutemen and utilizing individually armed citizens.

“The reason these units received no American military assistance in the turning point years of 1959 and 1960 was one that appeared logical in Washington but was obvious nonsense in a faraway Southeast Asian country facing a new style of warfare. In Vietnam, these forces came under the Ministry of the Interior in Vietnam, not the Ministry of Defense. This made them ineligible to receive American military assistance.”

“What in reality were the front line forces therefore had to make do with ancient weapons, without shoes, and without communications even to advise when they were being attacked, let alone vainly request reinforcement. Little wonder that their morale was abysmal, and that their nightly maneuver was limited to closing the barbed wire around their pathetic fort and waiting for morning in hopes that Communist guerrillas would ignore them …” [3]

This was the first critical point of the conflict. If each village had been even armed with 30 WWII carbines and a radio, it would have helped destroy the confidence and effectiveness of the Viet Cong. As it was, the people were left absolutely without any means of defense and were helpless. Five guerrillas could take any village assured of no risk to themselves or no capacity for opposition. Failure to fully evaluate and understand this was part of an inexcusably soft, indifferent, lazy, mindless, insightless, uncreative, incompetence—combined with a lack of attention to detail—that was to be a consistent pattern of the American role throughout the conflict. No military operation could survive it. Indeed, no friendly government could survive it.

Ho the Conqueror

Ho Chi Minh was not a one-man-one-vote type of guy. There wasn’t any choice in the North. He didn’t go to South Vietnam with ballot boxes to see if those people were voluntarily interested in voting for his rule. The North had been a separate country for hundreds of years. And 900,000 people had already voted with their feet and had ran to the South while trying to get away from him in desperation. He invaded with a well-financed army, well-maintained with equipment provided from other oppressive regimes and with the intention of killing any opposition. The only vote he would recognize would be from an election held after he secured enough power to make it clear that those who did not vote for him would be killed.

The situation in South Viet Nam was complicated by a cultural civil war of sorts, the importance of which has been exaggerated and was exploited by the radical left in this country as propaganda to support the communist invasion. South Viet Nam had an extensive Catholic population. There had been a resented Chinese domination of the area for hundreds of years. The Vietnamese were determined to throw off Chinese influence and develop a separate culture. In the 1640s, under the Jesuit missionary Alexandre De Rhodes, this goal was achieved. The Jesuits had set up a strong educational system in Viet Nam. This brought medicine, literacy, and technology to the country. Virtually anybody who could do anything or possessed modern knowledge was Catholic. The Buddhists, who were remnants from a more primitive period, found themselves losing cultural relevance and prestige, and several of them protested by burning themselves in the streets. But that wasn’t what the Viet Nam war was about. Ho Chi Minh didn’t send armies south to rescue the cultural prestige of Buddhists. With or without Ho Chi Minh, the days of supreme prestige of Buddhists were drawing to a close. More will be said about this later.

McNamara, the Loser

In his book, In Retrospect, Robert McNamara states that in March 1962 he told a meeting of the Advertising Council in Washington that “success in opposing guerrilla warfare will depend at least as much and probably more upon the political and economic actions and programs than upon the military programs” [4]. This was brilliant rhetorical showmanship that sounded plausible, but was completely disconnected from any reality. If he believed any of it, it is obvious from this that McNamara had no idea what was going on in Viet Nam. This type of incompetence was to become the hallmark of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. McNamara, Kennedy, and the rest of the Kennedy administration may have believed it. To the extent that they did, they were either very naive or stupid. But, it’s obvious that to the extent it was believed, neither McNamara nor anyone else had any idea what was happening in South Viet Nam.

Basically, only two real problems existed in South Viet Nam and they were not economic or political. The first problem was people like McNamara in America. The second was that South Vietnamese were being killed. Economic progress had already taken place, but this had become irrelevant because the South Vietnamese people were being killed at will and without significant risk to the people doing the killing. If the people were living in a South Viet Nam that was converted to Disneyland, the country would still fall because of unopposed terrorism. This simple obvious truth was completely out of the frame of reference, indeed was an insult, to pompous self-infatuated windbags who thought they were terribly clever when parading the evasive childishness the Kennedy intellectuals had acquired at left-wing schools.

There was a developing problem in this country in that people were becoming over “educated”. They began to create various leitmotifs, adopt symbolisms, and nourish interpretations characteristic of artistic intrigue viewed as cleverness in college literature courses. The idea that if someone puts a bullet through you, or publicly disembowels you, so that it’s all over at that point, and that political organizing and leverage can be as simple as that, was becoming—as a matter of rewarded intellectual habit—too vulgar and unsophisticated to be acceptable as both a first and final absolute truth. Such basic reality doesn’t get you an A+ in a political science course which rewards students who demonstrate a creative capacity for convoluted interpretation and conjecture. Instead, the cute convoluted reasoning (which may result in a good grade) is likely to lose a war and a nation while sacrificing thousands or millions of lives. Many of the American educated were sincerely perplexed by the outcome of their war efforts. The most distilled and worst of such unworldly thinking was proudly represented in the Kennedy administration and its intellectuals.

A Leftist Revolution Against Economic Progress

From this, there developed an ideological misconception. There was a romanticized a priori left-wing idea that leftist revolution was always a fight against economic poverty or a part of some other noble struggle. This was far from the truth. Leftist revolution can be, and in the case of Viet Nam was, a determined fight against economic or any other kind of progress.

Success in revolution can be as simple as killing or terrorizing anybody who is not on your side, or who doesn’t do what you want them to do. If the people involved have little means of defending themselves to stop the process, it’s absolutely 100 percent effective. Period.

Contrary to the views of McNamara and others in the Kennedy administration, progress and improvement in conditions for people requires physical security before anything else. That was the only failure that was relevant. Before anything else can work, that must happen. Where there is a destructive influence by an organized group, that means a military confrontation and victory is necessary. Without that victory and physical security, the best of intent and the best of governments will fail. Given the most saintly of leaders, political stability or economic improvement can not be accomplished as long as people are being randomly killed and blown up.

As an aside, please notice the purpose of the communist insurgency was not to improve the lives of the people. Personal progress for the average Vietnamese was a threat to the spread of communism, and thus had to be annihilated. The communist role was to deteriorate the condition of the people and to exploit the consequent dissatisfaction, or else use the threat of continued deterioration as leverage and blackmail to procure obedience. If left alone, Diem would have improved the condition of the people by a factor of ten within a reasonable period. That should have made anyone ecstatic whose real interest was in betterment for the ordinary people. Groups whose primary interest is in improvement do not drive people out of vastly improved villages and kill off doctors and schoolteachers. The war was not about human improvement, but about something entirely different. It was basically about confrontation with pure psychotic evil.

Left-wing graduates of places like Berkeley or Harvard who became the backbone of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were far too sophisticated to accept the simple truth of this principle. They needed something far more complex to use in demonstrating their intellectual acumen and creativity. They could give speeches denying the truth through omission, which they did, but doing so wouldn’t change it. They could get angry with the South Vietnamese leaders, which they did, but that wouldn’t change the fact of Marxist terrorist killings. They could have a temper tantrum and assassinate a South Vietnamese president, which they did, but that wouldn’t change Ho’s strategy. They could get angry with the Vietnamese people afterwards, which they did, but that wouldn’t change the underlying facts either.

Thus, the failure to understand the basic confrontation with evil, together with synergistic elements, underwrote the loss of the Viet Nam war. The disinclination to view evil as evil is what still divides this country to this day regarding Viet Nam.

All of this should have been explained by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Robert McNamara at the beginning. We should begin asking ourselves why it wasn’t done. We should be asking why it isn’t done today. Part of the answer will be examined in future installments in this series.

The Communists Dig In

By 1964 the communist movement in the South was consolidated and fully functional. Small groups of on the order of five guerrillas who were difficult to locate in the jungle could move into and terrorize unarmed villagers at night, or harass them during the day. Eventually the communists intruded into the villages, and indoctrination sessions were held, and demands were made for food and support. Men or village chiefs who resisted were not uncommonly disciplined by being hung upside down and having to watch their sons being castrated and their daughters having their breasts cut off before they, themselves, were disemboweled and left hanging. This is what people on the political left in America would romanticize as marvelous ability of the Viet Cong to inspire support from the common people. The fact that the people in the villages lived in constant fear was sadistically given the distorted interpretation as a failure of the American and South Vietnamese government to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Five or six of these inspirational meetings and demonstrations of faith were generally enough to gain control of an area about five miles square, Two hundred guerrillas could subjugate an area 40 miles square through employment of fear. On the political left this is called bringing democracy to the people. To be sure, it produced unity where people would do what they were told and would vote as they were told, but with less than ecstatic participation.

With what little moral spine there existed in this country and in the Kennedy-Johnson administrations, we increased American military involvement in response to this systematic atrocity. To say American involvement caused these atrocities or made things worse is a little like saying the movement of grass and leaves in the trees causes wind. No, these atrocities were standard methods and were planned before we got there. In fact, the decisions were made in the North in 1958.

The military tactics of the Kennedy-Johnson-McNamara period were self-destructive and inept for reasons that must be deferred. The strategy was one of loss for us, which was nearly a fait accompli at the end of 1968. There was a complex conflict among morality, sound military action, and destructive left-wing politics. Destructive left-wing politics warped everything into a suicidal venture.

Colby Opines

William Colby was probably one of the most perceptive minds in Government in the last 50 years.

In his book he makes the point, “A rough but fair way of judging nations is whether refugees move toward or away from them, and by this test the verdict against the North Vietnamese was conclusive, both during and after the war.” [5] Around 900,000 people escaped from Ho Chi Minh after his takeover of Tonkin. Over a million, from a small country, desperately attempted to escape by boat, many of whom perished in the China Sea, after his takeover of the south.

Colby states he was puzzled that “…many antiwar leaders actually believed that a North Vietnamese victory would be the best possible outcome.” [6]

He writes of the predictions of Douglas Pike, one of the most astute students of Vietnamese communism, made in 1968.

“If the communists win decisively in South Vietnam, what is the prospect? First, all foreigners would be cleared out of the South, especially the hundreds of foreign newsmen who are in and out of Saigon. A curtain of ignorance would descend. Then there would be a night of long knives. There would be a new order to build. The war was long and so are memories of all scores to be settled. All political opposition, actual or potential, would be systematically eliminated. Stalin versus kulak, Mao versus landlord, Hanoi versus Southern Catholic, the pattern would be the same: eliminate not the individual, for who cares about the individual, but the latent danger to the dream, the representative of the blocs, the symbol of the force, that might someday, even inside the regime, dilute the system. Beyond this would come Communist justice meted out to the ‘tyrants and lackeys’. Personal revenge would be a small wheel turning within the larger wheel of Party retribution.

“But little of this would be known abroad. The communists would create a silence.

“The world would call it peace.” [7]

Colby concludes:

“This almost precise prediction of what actually transpired in Vietnam after 1975, with the exception of the mass exodus that occurred, was disputed by the antiwar movement at the time as alarmist and contentious, as well as unlikely. We have seen it was directly on the point.”

With the absence of any opposition to communism, Cambodia and South Vietnam fell into communist hands simultaneously. Twenty-five percent of the population of Cambodia were executed, meaning the loss of 1,500,000 lives. The total number of executions of Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh may have been in the order of between 15,000,000 to 20,000,000. There will never be a full accounting. When more than a million people are driven to leave a country in small boats as an almost suicidal alternative, something terrible beyond ordinary belief must be happening there.

Bill Clinton’s Apologies

In allowing this to happen, while involving ourselves, this country was a party to the worst crimes against humanity that the world has seen in a hundred years. It was numerically worse than the holocaust in Germany. It was morally more unforgivable than the holocaust. In the case of Stalin and Hitler, we could plead ignorance and innocence. But, in Viet Nam there was no innocence possible. The earlier lessons of the twentieth century were too obvious to allow any new pleading of ignorance. What happened, happened with full knowledge that it would occur.

Bill Clinton  traveled to Africa to apologize for what was done to Africans 300 years ago. He and his brethren have a far more serious moral obligation to apologize to the world for what was done forty years ago.


[1] William Eagan Colby, with James McCargar, Lost Victory, Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1989, p. 62.

[2] Edward Lansdale in The Lessons of Vietnam, W. Scott Thompson & Donaldson D. Frizzell, editors, Crane, Russak, 1977. Also Guenther Lewy, America in Vietnam, Oxford University Press, 1978.

[3] Colby, p. 61.

[4] Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect: the Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Times Books, New York, 1995, p. 46.

[5] Colby, p. 360.

[6] Colby, p. 337.

[7] Colby, p 361.