Morality issues, facts, and the grim results of War.
In addition; What's wrong with America &
Written by: Michael Smith Sept. 2007
and updated December 2015.
The Tet Offensive
*Below quotes are
copyrighted and were written by Michael Smith.
"Never forgive our tyrants, whether they be Gods or Man.
Nor should we forget our ignorance for ever believing in them."
"Religion is the epitome of mans inability to accept responsibility" (MS)
Patriotism is believing that your country is
simply because you were born there.
Photos of The Men You
Die For When Joining The US Military
Watch the below Video of "American
Vietnam, the CIA's Illegal Drug Trafficking, and JFK's Assassination:
The Golden Triangle
much for the fairy tale of American honor! The 30 year war and CIA
Vietnam involvement was for control of the Golden Triangle drug trade.
The Golden Triangle is one of Asia's two main illicit opium-producing
areas. It is an area of around 350,000 square kilometres that overlaps
the mountains of four countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar (Burma),
Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. (Other interpretations of the Golden
Triangle also include a section of Yunnan Province, China.) Along with
Afghanistan in the Golden Crescent and Pakistan, it has been one of
the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia and of the world
since the 1950s. The Golden Triangle also designates the confluence of
the Ruak River and the Mekong river, since the term has been
appropriated by the Thai tourist industry to describe the nearby
junction of Thailand, Laos, and Burma.
9-11 the US needed a reason to start a non-declared war against
Vietnam. After dividing the country, setting up a puppet regime in the
south President Johnson and his war mongers simply made up a reason.
conflicting evidence, the Pentagon insisted there had been not one,
but two attacks on a US military ship in the Tonkin Bay. On August 5,
1964, the U.S. secretary of defense stated:
"In retaliation for this unprovoked attack on the
high seas, our forces have struck the bases used by the North
Vietnamese patrol craft."
This was a clear provocation. There was no
Vietnamese attack on a US warship. But Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf
incident to push a resolution through Congress allowing the president
to wage war in Vietnam. On August 7, 1964 Congress approved the Gulf
of Tonkin Resolution which allowed the president to take any necessary
measures to repel further attacks and to provide military assistance
to any South Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) member. Senators Wayne
L. Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska cast the only
dissenting votes. President Johnson ordered the bombing of North
Vietnam. On March 8-9, 1965 the first American combat troops arrived
The Tet Offensive: the turning point in the
Vietnam War – Part One
Written by Alan Woods Wednesday, 30 January 2008
In the early hours of 31st January 1968, 70,000 North Vietnamese
soldiers, together with guerrilla fighters of the NLF, launched one of
the most daring military campaigns in history. The Tet Offensive was
the real turning point in the Vietnam War. On its 40th anniversary,
Alan Woods analyses the events that led to the Vietnam War and the
significance of the Tet Offensive in bringing about the defeat of US
imperialism, and draws some parallels with Iraq.
The Vietnamese call it "Chien Tranh Chong My Curu Nuoc" or "The War
against the Americans to save the nation." In the course of this war,
some 58,000 US soldiers were killed in action, as well as 304,000
wounded. But these figures pale in insignificance beside the horrific
casualties suffered by the Vietnamese. Almost 1,400,000 North and
South Vietnamese combatants were killed in action.
To this we must add 2,100,000 wounded. It was one of the bloodiest
wars in history, and one that took a particularly high toll of
civilian lives. The total number of Vietnamese people killed in this
conflict will never be known but was probably not fewer than three
million, and the total number of casualties not fewer than 8 million.
Thirty five years after the end of the war 100's of thousands still
suffer from the chemical effects of the American's indiscriminant
The American Buildup
Burning NLF base camp The number of American soldiers in Vietnam rose
from 23,300 in 1963 to 184,000 in 1966. In January 1969 the total
number of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam reached its peak - 542,000. Despite
this the U.S. Army was unable to subdue Vietnam. This was the first
time in history that the USA has been defeated in a war (Korea was a
In August 1963 the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered the first
bombing of North Vietnam, operation "Rolling Thunder". The purpose was
to break the Vietnamese will to struggle through "shock and awe". The
number of bombs dropped over Vietnam in this campaign alone was
greater than the total dropped during the entire Second World War: the
equivalent of roughly 15 kilograms of bombs for every man, woman and
child in Vietnam. Chemical weapons defoliated 10 percent of the
But the numbers of dead and wounded do not tell the whole story. The
country was devastated by years of carpet-bombing. Thousands of square
miles were laid waste. Billions of dollars were wasted. Thousands of
acres of forest were destroyed by the dropping of poisonous chemicals
by the US air force ("defoliants"). This, in plain English, is known
as chemical warfare. Many US soldiers developed serious illnesses
through contact with these chemical agents. But for a huge number of
Vietnamese it meant generations of deformed babies, miscarriages,
cancers and all manner of hideous illnesses.
The origins of the war
The origins of the Vietnam War were rooted in the long and bitter
struggle of the Vietnamese people against French colonial rule. In
1932 the puppet Bao Dai returned from France to reign as emperor of
Vietnam under the French. Ho Chi Minh and his followers set up the
Indochinese Communist Party in 1930. Its main purpose was to fight
against French colonial rule, and it always had a heavy nationalist
element. As in China, the struggle for social emancipation was
inseparably linked to the struggle for freedom from foreign rule.
The Second World War threw everything into the melting pot. In
September 1940 Japanese troops occupied Indochina, but allow the
French to continue their colonial administration of the area. Japan's
move into southern part of Vietnam in July 1941 sparked an oil boycott
by the U.S. and Great Britain. The resulting oil shortage pushed Japan
to risk war against the U.S. and Britain. The result was Pearl Harbour
and the declaration of war by the USA.
The policy of the USA was dictated by its ambition to dominate Asia
and the Pacific. This strategic aim meant that not only Japan but the
old imperial powers (Britain and France) also had to be ejected.
Washington's policy after 1945 was dictated by this goal. It is the
reason for the apparent friendliness of Washington to Ho Chi Minh at
that time. In fact the Americans helped to save his life. In 1945 the
OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) parachuted a team into his jungle camp
in northern Vietnam to treat Ho, who was seriously ill with malaria
and other tropical diseases.
In August, 1945 Japan surrendered and the French colonialists returned
to reclaim their former possessions. The Vietnamese resisted and a
long period of anti-colonial struggle commenced. Ho Chi Minh
established the Viet Minh, a guerrilla army, which overthrew Bao Dai
in a general uprising. On September 2, 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared
Vietnam independent after 80 years of colonialism under French rule
and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi. Ho Chi
Minh attempted to negotiate the end of colonial rule with the French,
but without success. French imperialism had no intention of giving up
Vietnam. A bitter struggle began, in which the country was divided
north and south. The French army shelled Haiphong harbour, killing
over 6,000 Vietnamese civilians, and open war between France and the
Viet Minh commenced.
By this time the Cold War between the U.S.A and Russia had begun. The
Chinese Revolution alerted the USA to the danger of "Communism" in
Asia. Washington therefore recognized Boa Dai's regime as legitimate,
and began to subsidize the French in Vietnam. On the other hand, Mao,
having won the civil war in 1949, began to supply weapons to the Viet
Minh. In the end, the U.S. was bearing half of the cost of France's
war effort in Vietnam. But to no avail. The French imperialists were
decisively defeated in the celebrated battle of Dien Bien Phu on May
7, 1954. Despite substantial American backing, the French finally lost
control of their Vietnamese colony. They suffered a humiliating defeat
at the hands of the army of Vo Nguyen Giap, Supreme Commander of the
Vietminh. Later Giap was to comment:
"The Dien Bien Phu campaign was a huge victory. It was the first time
a poor feudal nation had beaten a great colonial power that had a
modern industry and a massive army. The victory meant a lot, not just
to us, but to people all over the world."
The French-Indochina War was at an end. After the humiliating defeat
at Dien Bien Phu, the French were forced to leave Vietnam after a
century of colonial rule. The Geneva Conference on Indochina declared
a demilitarised zone at the 17th parallel with the North under the
rule of the Vietnamese Stalinists and the South under the leadership
of Ngo Dinh Diem.
This division of the country into two halves was supposed to be
The Vietnamese Communist Party could have easily taken power after
Dien Bien Phu. But Stalin, fearing a direct conflict with the USA, put
pressure on Ho Chi Minh to agree to a settlement by which the
Stalinists would be given the northern part of the country and the
French to the South pending the holding of general elections, which
would decide who would rule the country.
The beginnings of US intervention
The power that succeeded the French was the United States. US
imperialism was already intervening in Vietnam in the 1950s. In June
1954 the CIA established a military mission in Saigon. The same year
Bao Dai selected Ngo Dinh Diem, the future dictator, as prime minister
of his government. The new regime in North Vietnam modelled itself on
the Stalinist regimes in China and Russia. The North Vietnamese
embarked on a policy of radical land reforms. The landlords were
expropriated and imprisoned. This was unacceptable to Washington,
which was embarked on a worldwide confrontation with "Communism".
It was agreed that countrywide elections would be held in 1956. But
America opposed the elections, so they never took place. In his book
Mandate for Change President Eisenhower later said that he thought Ho
Chi Minh would have obtained 80% of the vote if free elections had
been held. General Andrew Goodpastor, aide to President Eisenhower,
"It was felt that the elections could not be free in the North in
particular. I would say that was part of it. The other was a sense
that even if free elections were held, they probably would be
dominated by the Communists and the Communists would gain control."
This expresses with admirable clarity the conception of democracy held
by US imperialism. Elections are very good, as long as they serve to
elect governments that are friendly to the United States. But if they
do not, they are not to be recommended. This has been the philosophy
of Washington ever since. Having deliberately split the country in
half, the United States underwrote the vicious dictatorship of
President Diem in South Vietnam, a fanatical anti-communist. Diem
ruthlessly suppressed any opposition. But Washington nevertheless
backed him as a "democrat".
Bombing of North VietnamThe decision not to hold elections made war
inevitable. The Americans pumped vast economic and military resources
into South Vietnam in order to build a puppet state in South Vietnam
just as they are doing today in Iraq. The South Vietnamese generals
became over-confident as a result of American support. They decided to
attack North Vietnam. In 1956 fighting began between the North and the
South. The first American combat deaths in Vietnam occurred in 1959
when Vietnamese guerrillas attacked Bien Hoa billets, killing two US
servicemen. But the combat only commenced in earnest in the following
In 1960, National Liberation Front (known to its enemies as the "Viet
Cong") was set up by Hanoi in order to fight Diem and to unite the
country. This was supported by Moscow. The NLF fighters were making
gains in the countryside in the South. In order to cut off the
guerrillas from the peasants, Diem's troops burned entire villages to
the ground. The inhabitants were moved into fortified "strategic
hamlets," built under the supervision of American advisers. This
policy was carried out with brutal coercion and was extremely
unpopular with the peasants, who flocked to the ranks of the
The reasons why the USA became involved in Vietnam had nothing to do
with "democracy", as its actions clearly show. It was dictated by the
defense of imperialist interests and strategic questions such as the
need to contain Russia and China and halt the advance of "Communism"
in Asia. As early as 1954 the article "Why is the US risking a war in
Indochina" was published on April 4, 1954 in the "U.S. News and World
Report". The article stated:
"One of the richest areas in the world will be open to the victor in
Indochina. This is what lies behind the growing U.S.
interest...control of the very lucrative drug
routes, poppy fields and heroin production in the Golden Triangle,
as well as pewter, rubber, rice, strategic key primary produce are the
true reasons for this war. The U.S. considers this an area in which to
maintain control - by any means necessary."
In Washington the fear grew that Vietnam would fall, causing a "domino
effect" throughout Asia. Robert McNamara, U.S. secretary of defense at
the time, explained:
"The objective was to prevent the dominoes from falling. The loss of
Vietnam would trigger the loss of Southeast Asia, and conceivably even
the loss of India, and would strengthen the Chinese and the Soviet
position across the world."
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy was elected. As a Democrat, some
supposed that he would favour a more peaceful foreign policy.
Nowadays, it has become fashionable to paint Kennedy as a progressive
and a man of peace. But this is in flagrant contradiction to the
facts. Within a year of his election, he backed the invasion of Cuba,
which ended in the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba. Smarting from the
effects of this humiliation, Kennedy set out to show the strength of
US imperialism in Asia.
The first stages of US military involvement in Vietnam were extremely
limited and cautious. The U.S. military build-up in Vietnam began with
combat advisors. These advisers were initially sent to train the South
Vietnamese army in counterinsurgency. However, President Kennedy
declared that they would respond if fired upon. They encouraged the
use of brutal methods against the insurgents, in which Diem's troops
were already fairly proficient. Indeed, violence was the normal weapon
used to prop up a brutal and unpopular regime against its own people.
All this was justified by Washington with its customary cynicism.
Speaking on May 23, 1962, Robert McNamara said:
"The actions of the ruler, President Diem, have been declared
autocratic and perhaps his personal actions are to some degree, but
one realizes the chaos he faced, the complete anarchy that existed
there, it's conceivable that autocratic methods within a democratic
framework were required to restore order."
But these "autocratic methods within a democratic framework" were not
so popular in Saigon as in Washington. There was a growing opposition.
South Vietnamese protesters organized a wave of demonstrations. In the
summer of 1963 Buddhist monks burnt themselves to death, in protest at
Diem's religious intolerance. The discontent spread to the tops of the
army, where a group of generals plotted a coup against Diem.
Washington knew all about the coup but did nothing to stop it, hoping
for a stronger pro-US regime in Saigon. It was clear to Washington
that the South Vietnamese army could not defeat the guerrillas and
this forced America to launch a direct military intervention in
Vietnam. As in Iraq, the imperialists were over-confident. According
to McNamara, they expected to withdraw the force of 16,000 military
advisers by the end of 1965, and that the first unit of withdrawal
would be completed within 90 days, by the end of December 1963. Not
for the first or last time, the imperialists had miscalculated badly.
On November 1, 1963, the government was overthrown by a group of
dissident generals. Diem was murdered by his own soldiers. The people
of Saigon came out onto the streets to celebrate Diem's overthrow.
Within three weeks of Diem's murder, President Kennedy was himself
assassinated. His replacement, Lyndon Johnson, was a virulent
anti-communist and like Kennedy, totally committed to pursuing the war
in Vietnam. Direct military American intervention in Vietnam began in
the same year with the declared aim of stopping the South falling into
"communist" hands. In August, Lyndon Johnson, who had taken over the
American presidency in the wake of the assassination, ordered the
first air strikes on the North.
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident
On May 4, 1964 a trade embargo was imposed on North Vietnam. This was
a notable stepping up of hostilities. It is sometimes said that trade
embargoes are a more satisfactory alternative to war, but in fact, if
they are to be effective, trade embargoes usually lead to war. This
was no exception.
In South Vietnam, the NLF now had 170,000 men and women in the field.
They could move and operate throughout most of the country. They were
able to stage attacks in the heart of Saigon whenever they liked. Tran
Bach Dang, an activist of the National Liberation Front in Saigon
"People were fighting back. We would establish contacts with them, and
guide them. The protest movement of students and intellectuals,
including Catholics and Buddhists, was widespread. When people saw
that our methods were effective, they would join us."
The rottenness of the bourgeois regime in Saigon was clear to all. The
government was in a constant state of crisis. One coup followed
another. The uninterrupted rise and fall of ministers, each as
unpopular and corrupt as the last, was a symptom of the impasse of the
regime. Without US support, it would not have lasted one week.
Johnson increased the US military presence in Vietnam. He sent Gen.
William Westmoreland, a veteran of Korea and World War II, to take
charge of military operations. Johnson was determined to take the
American military intervention in Vietnam to a qualitatively different
level. But in order to convince the US public of the need for drastic
action in South East Asia, Johnson needed an excuse. He found it in
the so-called Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which served the same purpose
as Pearl Harbour or the 11th September - a causus belli - an excuse
In August 1964, an American destroyer, the USS Maddox, on patrol in
the Gulf of Tonkin, exchanged fire with North Vietnamese torpedo
boats. President Johnson issued instructions that in the event of a
further attack upon US vessels in "international waters" they were to
respond with the objective of destroying the attackers. Two days
later, the ship's captain thought he was again coming under attack.
But one of the pilots was not so sure. In a television interview, Vice
Admiral James Stockdale, who was a pilot at Tonkin, made the following
"Well, I was over that ... those destroyers for over an hour and a
half, below a thousand feet, lights off, watching everything they did.
I could hear 'em chit-chatting on the radio, the Maddox and the Joy,
they seemed to have some intermittent radar targets. I took it upon
myself to get out there where they thought the boat was and try to
kill it if they didn't. But it was fruitless ... and I'd go down there
and there was nothing."
Ignoring the conflicting evidence, the Pentagon insisted there had
been a second attack. On August 5, 1964, the U.S. secretary of defence
"In retaliation for this unprovoked attack on the high seas, our
forces have struck the bases used by the North Vietnamese patrol
This was a clear provocation. There was no Vietnamese attack on a US
warship. But Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf incident to push a
resolution through Congress allowing the president to wage war in
Vietnam. On August 7, 1964 Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution which allowed the president to take any necessary measures
to repel further attacks and to provide military assistance to any
South Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) member. Senators Wayne L. Morse
of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska cast the only dissenting
votes. President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam. On
March 8-9, 1965 the first American combat troops arrived in Vietnam.
Moscow and Beijing
The war was a battle between, on the one side, the most powerful and
wealthiest country in the world, and on the other side, a barefoot
guerrilla army armed with weapons left over from World War Two. North
Vietnam was a poor agricultural country with virtually no industry. Ho
Chi Minh was therefore obliged to seek aid from China and the Soviet
Union. Moscow agreed to increase military aid to the North Vietnamese.
Three weeks after the marines landed, forces of the NLF bombed the
American Embassy in Saigon. Johnson blamed China for these attacks. On
May 13, 1965 he said:
"Their [China's] target is not merely South Vietnam - it is Asia.
Their objective is not the fulfilment of Vietnamese nationalism, it is
to erode and to discredit America's ability to help prevent Chinese
domination over all of Asia."
There was not a shred of evidence for this accusation. As a matter of
fact, it was the Soviet Union and not China that was now supplying
most aid to the Vietnamese. North Vietnamese pilots were being trained
in the Soviet Union, which was also providing money and arms to Hanoi.
Moscow was looking for an advantage over the USA in Asia, and at the
same time was anxious to stop Vietnam from falling under the influence
of China. This was the period of the Sino-Soviet split in which two
rival Stalinist bureaucracies confronted each other and vied for
influence in the world "communist" movement.
The Soviet Union gave considerable aid to North Vietnam. Moscow sent
missiles to North Vietnam. And more than a thousand Soviet advisers
worked on air defences against the Americans. This was a serious
factor limiting the possibilities for US aggression against the North.
However the scale of this aid was adversely affected by growing
tensions between the Russian and Chinese Bureaucracies, which were
then engaged in a bitter struggle dictated by the narrow nationalist
interests of both sides. Fyodor Mochulski, deputy Soviet ambassador to
"The Chinese demanded that we hand over all military equipment for
Vietnam on the Soviet-Chinese border and that China in its turn would
pass it on to the Vietnamese. We discovered later that the Chinese
weren't handing everything over. Some of the equipment they unloaded
This view is supported by Igor Yershov, Soviet military adviser to
"What surprised me was that we could send the newest anti-aircraft
missiles to Egypt, a capitalist country, but not to Vietnam. Our
commanders used to say that it was because there was a danger they
would fall into the hands of the Chinese."
Operation Rolling Thunder
In March 1965 the first American ground troops landed at Da Nang. The
first major military engagement between U.S. and North Vietnamese
forces occurred on November 14-16, 1965. The USA was being inexorably
sucked into a major war on the Asian mainland. Like Bush at the start
of the invasion of Iraq, Johnson and his generals were suffering from
delusions of grandeur. They made the mistake of exaggerating their own
power and underestimating that of the enemy. They imagined that the
mere appearance of the U.S. Marines in Vietnam would terrify the enemy
into surrendering. This was a bad mistake. Johnson's optimistic
assessment of the situation in South Vietnam - which closely resembles
that of George W. Bush in relation to Iraq - was rapidly falsified by
events. The military situation worsened by the day.
In June, a military outpost at Dong Suay was destroyed. An elite South
Vietnamese regiment was decimated, and there were many civilian
casualties. McNamara returned to Vietnam to reassess the war. A mere
glance at the situation was enough to convince him that without the
commitment of massive American forces, the puppet government of South
Vietnam was doomed. General Westmoreland feared that South Vietnam
would be cut in two. The first major battle of the war was fought out
in the Ia Drang valley in the Central Highlands. It showed the
tremendous fighting capacities of the Vietnamese. The Americans
defeated the North Vietnamese at Ia Drang, but casualties were heavy:
2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed; and 300 elite American
infantry died in the battle. General Vo Nguyen Giap, the commander of
the North Vietnamese Forces, commented:
"The battle at Ia Drang was our first big victory. We concluded that
we could fight the Americans and win. The key thing was to force the
Americans to fight the way we wanted - that is, hand to hand."
The NLF forces launched an attack on Pleiku airbase in which eight
Americans were killed and a hundred more were wounded. Johnson
responded by launching Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive campaign
of bombing against the North. He hoped it would boost Southern morale
and force Ho Chi Minh to the negotiating table. The North was
supplying the guerrilla forces in the South through the famous Ho Chi
Minh Trail. This complex network of tracks linked the North with the
South through the impenetrable jungles of Central Vietnam, Laos and
Cambodia. The Vietnamese, displaying great courage, carried supplies
along this trail day and night, constantly changing their tactics to
keep ahead of the enemy. One driver on the Trail, Kim Nuoc Quang,
recalls the extremely dangerous conditions in which they worked:
"One night we counted 14 cannons firing, reddening and lightening the
whole sky with explosions. It was like fireworks night in Hanoi. We
were constantly driving through bullets and smoke."
It was the inability of the US army to inflict a serious defeat on the
Vietnamese on the ground that led Johnson to step up the massive
bombing of the North, although he occasionally ceased the bombing to
"encourage" the North Vietnamese to negotiate. But all these
stratagems failed. The war continued.
All history shows that bombing alone will not win a war. Hitler's
bombing of British cities did not force Britain to surrender, but only
increased the hatred and bitterness of the British people against Nazi
Germany. The same process occurred in North Vietnam. In the end, as
was predictable, the USA was compelled to commit a large force of
ground troops to stop the collapse of the puppet regime in Saigon,
which otherwise would have been a foregone conclusion. As McNamara
"It became more and more clear that President Johnson was going to
have to choose between losing South Vietnam or trying to save it by
introducing U.S. military force and taking over a major part of the
Quite early on, the Americans gave up the idea of defending territory,
and instead used their superior mobility to launch so-called search
and destroy missions. These left behind a bloody trail of death and
destruction, of burning villages and dead peasants and livestock. The
forces that claimed to be "saving" South Vietnam were systematically
destroying it. And this fact, far from weakening the guerrilla forces,
only served to strengthen them. This is also true in Iraq.
The French revolutionary leader Robespierre once said that nobody
likes missionaries with bayonets. The American soldiers were told then
that they had gone to South Vietnam to fight communism, just as the
American soldiers are now told that they have been sent to Iraq to
fight for democracy. But just as in Iraq today, so in Vietnam the
American soldiers met hostility from those they were supposed to be
Mao Zedong said that the guerrilla must learn how to swim among the
people like a fish in water. The support of the population is the
first and most important conditions for the success of the guerrillas.
It is in the nature of a guerrilla war that it is difficult to
distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. The guerrilla
fighters strike suddenly and then melt away into the general
population. As in Iraq, so in Vietnam, American troops found it
impossible to tell which Vietnamese were friends and which were
enemies. The potential is therefore always present for abuses and
atrocities against civilians. This in turn tends to drive the
population still more firmly into the arms of the guerrillas.
Any army is made up of contradictory elements, like society itself.
The officer caste must maintain discipline and keep the killing spirit
alive among the troops. In the concrete conditions of a guerrilla war,
where the front lines are blurred and the enemy is mixed up with the
population, the troops must be hardened to the idea of killing
civilians. The American troops in Vietnam were told not to worry too
much about who was killed: "if it's dead and Vietnamese, it's VC."
That was they were told. The inevitable result was that a lot of
civilians who were not guerrilla fighters were killed. This stoked the
fires of resentment against the occupying forces.
Despite steadily increasing numbers of American troops in Vietnam, the
guerrilla operations continued without a break. In response to the
American troop build-up, Hanoi sent thousands of North Vietnamese to
join the guerrilla fighters in the South. What the Pentagon thought
would be a relatively easy and quick operation turned out to be a
protracted and bloody conflict.
In general a guerrilla army involved in a war of national liberation
has a great advantage over the occupying forces. They are willing to
die. This weapon is potentially far more potent than the most
sophisticated modern weapons. This was true in Vietnam and it remains
true in Iraq today. What the military planners in the Pentagon could
not understand is that when an entire people stands up and says no, no
force on earth can force them to submit. This was the lesson the
British learned in India and the French had to learn the hard way in
Algeria and Dien Bien Phu. The Americans are still learning the same
lesson in Iraq. They should have paid more attention to the experience
in Vietnam, or even to their own history. After all, the United States
itself was born out of a revolutionary war of independence that pitted
farmers with hunting muskets against the might of the British army.
The latter was one of the most powerful army in the world at the time,
but in the end the farmers won.
In many ways the guerrilla struggle in Vietnam has echoes of the
present war in Iraq. Just listen to the memories of a former guerrilla
fighter, Tong Viet Duong, from the National Liberation Front, Saigon:
"At 8 o'clock in the morning of March 23rd, we hit them. Our artillery
destroyed aircraft. We killed not only some guards, but also the
American quartermaster. Our commando unit also attacked the police
training school. We killed many trainee police officers whilst they
were watching a movie."
In an attempt to justify their brutal rape of Vietnam, the apologists
of US imperialism frequently refer to the alleged cruelty of the NLF.
It is true that any civil war or national liberation struggle is
characterised by cruelty. Let us remind ourselves that there was no
lack of savagery displayed in the American Civil War. In part this
reflects the conditions of a kind of warfare where there is no clearly
defined boundaries, no definite front line, no rules of engagement, no
rights and no law. It is a war that most often takes place in the
midst of a civilian population.
Furthermore, the guerrilla forces are fighting against a vastly
superior professional army in conditions of extreme inferiority. The
US forces had all the paraphernalia of modern high-tech warfare. The
Vietnamese had to rely on the most primitive methods, such as
concealed pits with sharp spikes at the bottom. It is a simple
mechanism but very effective, like many other of the methods of
guerrilla warfare. And let us not forget that the aim of all warfare
is to kill the enemy. In conditions of military inferiority the
guerrilla forces cannot renounce any method that achieves this aim and
that strikes terror into the hearts of the invader. In any case, the
methods used by the American forces - including the indiscriminate use
of napalm to incinerate people alive, or the even more indiscriminate
use of chemical agents discharged over vast tracts from the air - were
infinitely more cruel and devastating than any of the tactics used by
The anti-war movement
The war in the South dragged on with no end in sight. At the beginning
of 1967, the Americans used B-52s to bomb NLF bases near Saigon in a
vain effort to clear the area of guerrillas. By August, in a desperate
effort to put more pressure on Hanoi, Johnson extended the bombing of
the North to within 10 miles of the Chinese border. This was playing
with fire. In vain Johnson argued that this was not aimed against
"First I would like to make it clear that these air strikes are not
intended as any threat to communist China, and they do not in fact
pose any threat to that country. We believe that Peking knows that the
United States does not seek to widen the war in Vietnam."
The official optimism clashed at every step with the crude reality of
the casualty lists and the never-ending conflict. As the savagery and
futility of the war became clear, there was increasing dissent back
home. The US forces were now taking heavy losses. The American
casualty rate increased steadily every year. Jack Valenti, aide to
President Johnson, recalls the situation:
"I would go in the president's bedroom, at 7 o'clock in the morning.
Every morning, he'd be on the phone, with a 12-hour time difference,
checking the casualties of the day before. 'Mr. President, er, we lost
18 men yesterday, Mr. President, we lost 160 men, we had 400
casualties' - morning after morning after morning."
In the end Johnson was utterly undermined by the rapid growth of the
anti-war movement in America. One of the most important elements in
the equation was the disproportionate number of poor working class and
black kids among the casualties. As in every war, it is always the
poorest, most oppressed and downtrodden layers of the population that
provide most of the cannon fodder. Inside the USA there was a growing
swell of discontent. The black Americans were tired of being
second-class citizens. In the Southern States, the civil rights
movement was engaged in a ferocious struggle against discrimination
and racism, for equal rights. But the war in Vietnam highlighted in an
extreme form the oppression of the blacks. The two issues became
indissolubly linked. On April 15, 1967 black civil rights leader
Martin Luther King Jr. said:
"This confused war has played havoc with our domestic destinies.
Despite feeble protestations to the contrary, the promises of the
great society have been shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam. The
pursuit of this widened war has narrowed the promised dimensions of
the domestic welfare programs, making the poor - white and Negro -
bear the heaviest burdens both at the front and at home."
Napoleon explained long ago the vital importance of morale in war. No
soldier likes to fight and put his life at risk when he feels that he
is not backed by public opinion at home. The American soldiers in
Vietnam increasingly felt the backlash of opposition in the USA. They
began to feel that they were fighting an unjust and un-winnable war.
Lt. Col. George Forrest, U.S. Army recalls:
"When you turned on AFN and you saw riots in the streets, and
whatever, and guys were saying: ‘Wait a minute. Why am I fighting here
when these guys at home are saying the war is wrong?'"
The growing opposition to the war even found expression in pop music.
There was a very popular song around at that time by "Country Joe"
McDonald that contained the words:
"Come on, mothers, throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on, fathers, don't hesitate
Send your sons off before it's too late
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box!
"And it's 1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn.
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's 5, 6, 7, open up the Pearly Gates
Yeah, there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die!"
In April 17, 1965 the first major anti-war rally was held in
Washington. By October of the same year anti-war protests are held in
about 40 American cities. As is usually the case, the ferment began
among the students, who always act as a sensitive barometer of moods
in society. 25,000 people gathered in Washington, 20,000 in New York
and 15,000 in Berkeley, California, to demonstrate against the war. In
April 1967, 300,000 people demonstrated in New York On Oct. 21-23,
1967 50,000 people demonstrated against the war in Washington. The
anti-war movement was now spreading fast. More than five million
people are estimated to have been involved one way or the other.
484 Vietnam War"At
1000 hours on October 5, 1966, The US Marines Company M advanced
toward the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) atop Hill 484. Believing that
artillery fire would be ineffectual due to the steepness of the slope,
the company commander ordered direct tank fire against enemy positions
on Hill 484. Five rounds were ordered. Two came at the target; both
missed the enemy troops and instead hit Marines.
It is now generally recognized that Vo Nguyen Giap was one of the
brilliant generals of the 20th century. He was trained in the tactics
of guerrilla war in the long struggle against French imperialism, in
which his small forces were fighting against a bigger, well-trained
and well -equipped force. Under these conditions Giap developed a
strategy for defeating superior opponents. This was not to simply out
maneuver them in the field but to undermine their resolve by
inflicting demoralizing political defeats through bold and unexpected
tactics. His slogan was that of Danton: "de l'audace, de l'audace et
encore de l'audace!" (audacity, audacity and yet more audacity!)
Nowhere was this more evident than in the Tet Offensive.
The Tet Offensive orchestration by Vietnamese general Giap
demonstrated that was prepared to take a gamble, irrespective of the
cost in lives. He must have known that in conventional combat he was
at a disadvantage. Whenever they had met the American forces in open
battle his divisions had been hammered. In the South the War was not
going well. The guerrillas, though still active, were slowly being
pushed back. By September 1967 Giap concluded that the war had reached
a stalemate and that something needed to be done. On the other hand
Hanoi could see the growing anti-war movement in the USA. Giap decided
that what was needed was a coup de grace that would break Washington's
will to continue the War.
This was the origin of the Tet offensive - a campaign of breathtaking
breadth, speed and scope. It shook US imperialism to its roots and had
a dramatic and lasting effect on US public opinion. He carefully
planned the offensive, utilising techniques he had learned in the
struggle with the French, where he had learned to approach his enemy's
strengths as if they were weaknesses to be exploited. As early as
1944, Giap sent his tiny forces against the French army in Indochina.
As with the Tet Offensive, he chose a moment to attack when it was
least expected: Christmas Eve. In 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu,
Giap lured the overconfident French into a disastrous battle and won a
stunning victory by means of brilliant deployments. Now, nearly a
quarter of a century later, in 1968, Giap was aiming for a quick and
decisive victory to influence the result of the 1968 US Presidential
He prepared a bold offensive on two fronts. The first was to be an
attack on the US Marines' firebase at Khe Sanh. Simultaneously the NVA
and the NLF would stage coordinated attacks on South Vietnam's major
cities and provincial capitals. This would present the Americans with
a military dilemma. If they opted to defend Khe Sanh, they would be
stretched to the limit when battles erupted all over the South. Giap
had set the campaign's minimum and maximum objectives. As a minimum
the Tet outbreak would force the halting of the aerial bombardment of
North Vietnam and force the Americans into negotiations. As a maximum
the offensive could drive the Americans out of Vietnam all together
opening up the path to liberation and unification.
The battle for Khe Sanh
The Vietnamese decided upon a daring but high-risk strategy. They
worked out a plan for concerted attacks throughout South Vietnam at
the start of 1968. With consummate skill and tremendous audacity, they
moved large amounts of weapons, ammunition and supplies to the South
for an offensive planned for the Vietnamese New Year - known as Tet.
They hoped to spark a general uprising across the country.
One of the bloodiest battles in the offensive took place in Khe Sanh,
where there was a small US army base. General Westmoreland believed
that Giap's troops were converging on Khe Sanh as part of the policy
to seize control of the northern provinces. He was basing himself on
an analogy with the battle of Dien Bien Phu. But the analogy with Dien
Bien Phu was misleading. The US was in a far stronger position than
the French were in 1954. In "Operation Niagra" the US had unleashed
the greatest air attack in military history. B52 bombers caused
tremendous losses to the Vietnamese, who suffered as many as 10,000
dead, for the loss of only 500 US marines.
The attack on Khe Sanh was linked to the overall strategy. Once the
general offensive was in full swing, the over-stretched American
forces would be unable to come to the help of Khe Sanh and prevent the
base from being overrun. In this way, Giap might indeed have repeated
his triumph of Dien Bien Phu. But that was not the central idea.
Actually, the Vietnamese were not trying to re-enact Dien Bien Phu,
but had organized a very successful diversion to draw the Americans
away from the big towns and cities, leaving them open to attack.
Westmoreland fell into the trap prepared by Giap. As a result, the
Americans were caught off guard by the rapidity and scope of the
offensive. Years later a West Point textbook compared the US
intelligence failure to see what was happening with the shock of the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. A 1968 CIA report concluded:
"The intensity, coordination and timing of the attacks were not fully
anticipated," adding that the ability of the NLF guerrillas to hit so
many targets simultaneously was "another major unexpected point"
The village of Khe Sanh lay in the northwest corner of South Vietnam,
close to the Laotian border just below the Demilitarized Zone. It had
been garrisoned by the French during the first Indochina war and later
became an important US Special Forces base. Due to its proximity to
the Ho Chi Minh Trail, US artillery in Khe Sanh could shell the trail
and observe NVA traffic moving southwards. In 1967, the Marines took
over Khe Sanh and converted it into a large fire base, while the
Special Forces moved their base to the Montagnard village of Lang Vei.
Towards the end of 1967, two NVA divisions - the 325th and the 304th -
were spotted moving into the Khe Sanh area and a third was positioning
itself along Route 9 where it would be able to intercept
reinforcements coming in from Quang Tri. The same NVA divisions had
fought at Dien Bien Phu. The message was clear and General
Westmoreland had no intention of duplicating the French mistakes at
Dien Bien Phu. He began to reinforce the base. By late January, some
6,000 Marines had been flown into Khe Sanh and thousands of
reinforcements had been moved north of Hue.
This was just what Giap wanted them to do. The NVA continued its
build-up: at least 20,000 North Vietnamese were ultimately moved in
around Khe Sanh. Some estimates put the number at twice that. The
White House and the US media were taken in by this stratagem. They
became convinced that they were witnessing the preparations for the
decisive battle of the War. Day after day Khe Sanh became lead-story.
TV news reports were obsessed with Giap's alleged replay of Dien Bien
Phu. Finally, shortly before dawn on January 21st, the first attack
began when the NVA attempted to cross the river running past the base.
The attack was beaten back but followed by an artillery barrage which
damaged the runway, blew up the main ammunition stores, and damaged a
few aircraft. Other attacks were launched against the US Special
Forces at Lang Vel and against the Marines dug-in on the hills
surrounding Khe Sanh. These attacks were clearly aimed at testing the
defenses. But the entire episode was a diversionary tactic that
succeeded very well. The attention of the US commanders was
concentrated on Khe Sanh, while the NVA and NLF forces were preparing
an all-out offensive in South Vietnam's cities.
The Vietnamese attack on Khe Sanh was defeated only thanks to massive
aerial bombardments of NVA positions. B-52's and strike aircraft
dropped tons of bombs and napalm, with great accuracy, within a few
hundred feet of Khe Sanh's perimeter. Despite bad weather and
increasing anti-aircraft fire, planes and helicopters kept dropping
cargo. The battle settled down into a siege. Khe Sanh was finally
relieved on April 6th. Fighting continued around Khe Sanh for a time
but any hope of overrunning the base had to be abandoned. But it had
served its purpose, which was to act as a feint to cover preparations
for a general offensive in the South.
Preparations for the offensive
Up to this time the war had been mainly in the jungles and swamps and
rural areas where the NLF guerrillas had their main base of support.
They now planned and executed a bold offensive, which was aimed at
penetrating South Vietnam's supposedly impregnable urban areas. The
General launched a major offensive against American and South
Vietnamese forces on the eve of the Tet lunar New Year celebrations,
in order to seize the element of surprise.
Whilst the attention of the world was focused on Khe Sanh, NVA and NLF
regulars were also drifting into Saigon, Hue, and most of the other
cities of South Vietnam. They came in small groups of twos and threes,
disguised as refugees, peasants, workers, and ARVN soldiers on holiday
leave. Gradually, roughly the equivalent of five battalions of NVA/NLF
infiltrated Saigon without any of the ubiquitous security police
noticing, or anyone informing on them. This was a considerable
achievement given the sheer scale of the operation.
There was already a guerrilla network in Saigon and the other major
cities, which had long stockpiled stores of arms and ammunition drawn
from hit-and-run raids or bought openly on the black-market. Through
contacts and spies the guerrillas had managed to store arms,
ammunition and explosives in a secret location in preparation for the
attack. It was common knowledge that the guerrillas on leave from
their units drifted in and out of the cities. Some who were captured
during the pre Tet build up were mistaken for regular holiday-makers
or deserters. In the general noisy crowd of New Year merry-makers, the
NLF's secret army of infiltrators went completely unnoticed.
Weapons were brought in separately in flower carts, jury-rigged
coffins, and trucks apparently filled with vegetables and rice. Tong
Viet Duong, a guerrilla fighter with the National Liberation Front in
Saigon describes the preparations for the Tet offensive:
"Taxis carried chrysanthemums into Saigon for the Tet market. Hidden
underneath them were AK-47s. The people supported the revolution. They
helped us - we were able to penetrate the security in the city. We
changed our clothes and carried fake identity documents. The people of
Saigon hid us in their houses."
Tet had traditionally been a time of truce in the long war and both
Hanoi and Saigon had made announcements that this year would be no
different - although they disagreed about the duration. US
Intelligence had gotten wind that something was brewing through
captured documents and an overall analysis of recent events, but
Westmoreland's staff tended to disregard these generally vague
reports. At the request of General Frederick Weyand, the US commander
of the Saigon area, however, several battalions were pulled back from
their positions near the Cambodian border.
General Weyand put his troops on full alert but - due to a standing US
policy of leaving the security of major cities to the ARVN - there
were only a few hundred American troops on duty in Saigon itself the
night before the attack began. Later General Westmoreland claimed that
he knew about all these preparations. All the evidence shows that he
was not prepared for anything approaching the intensity of the attack
that came and that he was still concentrating his attentions on the
developing battle at Khe Sanh where he thought Giap would make his
chief effort. In reality, the US army was taken completely off guard.
Offensive: the turning point in the Vietnam War – Part Two
Written by Alan Woods Thursday, 31 January 2008
In the early hours of 31st January 1968, 70,000 North Vietnamese
soldiers, together with guerrilla fighters of the NLF, launched one of
the most daring military campaigns in history. The Tet Offensive was
the real turning point in the Vietnam War. On its 40th anniversary,
Alan Woods analyses the events that led to the Vietnam War and the
significance of the Tet Offensive in bringing about the defeat of US
imperialism, and draws some parallels with Iraq.
The offensive commences
On the night of January 31, 1968 the North Vietnamese army and the NLF
launched the Tet Offensive. The NLF broke the truce they had made for
the New Year festivities and fought its way into more than one hundred
cities, including the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. Throughout
the country provincial capitals were seized, garrisons simultaneously
attacked. Vietnamese irregular soldiers stormed the highland towns of
Banmethout, Kontum and Pleiku, they then simultaneously invaded 13 of
the 16 provincial capitals of the heavily populated Mekong Delta. The
dimension and sweep of the offensive astonished US army generals, one
of whom commented that tracking the assault pattern on a map was like
a "pinball machine, lighting up with each raid."
The guerrilla army even succeeded in penetrating the U.S. Embassy in
Saigon. Through contacts and spies the NLF had managed to store guns,
ammunition and explosives at a secret location in preparation for the
attack. At 3.15 am a group of guerrilla soldiers drove up to the
embassy in a taxi. Within five minutes they had killed the five guards
on duty and seized the building. They failed to blast their way
through the main Embassy doors with anti-tank rockets and found
themselves pinned-down by the Marine guards. An intense fire fight
began, which lasted all morning, and ended with the bodies of all
nineteen guerrillas scattered around the Embassy courtyard.
Cholon destroyed Although the damage to the Embassy was slight, this
attack on "American soil" was publicized in the USA and throughout the
world and had tremendous psychological significance. Other guerrilla
squads attacked the Presidential Palace, the radio station, the
headquarters of the ARVN Chiefs of Staff, and even Westmoreland's own
compound at Tan Son Nhut airbase. In the heavy fighting that followed,
things were so bad that Westmoreland ordered his staff to find weapons
and join in the defence of the compound. When the fighting was over,
twenty-three Americans were dead, eighty-five were wounded and up to
fifteen aircraft had suffered serious damage.
Two NVA/NLF battalions attacked the US air-base at Bien Hoa and
crippled over twenty aircraft at a cost of nearly 170 casualties. They
fought with great bravery. Guerrilla units fought to the death in the
French cemetery and the Pho Tho race track. The suburb of Cholon
became an operations base for the guerrilla attacks in Saigon and
surrounding area. Fourteen guerrilla soldiers who attacked the main
radio station in Saigon were under siege for 18 hours, after which
they blew themselves up along with the building.
Everywhere the attacks came as a total surprise. The sheer scale and
ferocity of the Tet offensive was as much of a shock to Westmoreland
as it was to a stunned American public, which watched with disbelief
as their South Vietnamese allies engaged in desperate hand-to-hand
fighting with the guerrillas in the streets of Saigon. It took over a
week of ferocious fighting to liquidate the pockets of resistance
scattered around the city. The entrenched guerrillas fought against
tanks, helicopter gunships, and aircraft, which blasted buildings and
reduced parts of the city to rubble. Using guerrilla tactics, they
fought as long as they could, and then slipped off to fight somewhere
else. The radio station, factories, and a large block of low-cost
public housing were flattened along with the homes of countless
civilians who were forced to flee as the city dissolved into chaos.
Large areas of Saigon and Hue suddenly found themselves liberated.
Guerrillas marched through the streets waving guns and proclaiming the
revolution while others rounded up prepared lists of collaborators and
government sympathizers. The Americans used air power to pulverize the
enemy. The B-52 strikes against NV and NLF positions outside Saigon
came within a few miles of the city. Even when the guerrillas were
finally driven out of Saigon, they continued to put up a determined
rearguard action in the surrounding government villages, forcing the
US and ARVN to bomb and shell and destroy their own fortified
villages, thus further alienating the rural population. A month after
the beginning of the offensive, the Americans calculated the number of
civilian dead at around 15,000 and the number of new refugees at
anything up to two million and the fighting was still continuing.
The battle for Hue
The success of the Tet offensive varied from place to place. In some
areas the attacks were beaten back in a short time, but in others
there was bitter fighting. In cities like Ban Me Thuot, My Tho, Can
Tho, Ben Tre, and Kontum, the insurgents entrenched themselves in the
poorer neighbourhoods and stubbornly repelled efforts to push them
out. By February 5th most of the fighting within Saigon was over, but
it continued in Cholon until the end of the month. Although Cholon was
bombed, strafed and shelled, the guerrillas held on with grim
determination, and even mounted counter-offensives against the
American and ARVN positions within the city. Fighting in the resort
city Dalat went on until mid-February and left over 200 guerrillas
dead. The total NVA/NLF death total in Saigon during the Tet offensive
was nearly 1200.
However, the fiercest battle raged the ancient city of Hue, which had
been captured by the insurgents and which the US army only recaptured
with great difficulty. Hue was also a sacred city to the Vietnamese
and the violent suppression of anti-government protests by Buddhist
monks had crisis had alienated the population from the Saigon
Government. The insurgents therefore found considerable support among
the populace. Insurgents supported by some ten NVA battalions
infiltrated Hue, the ancient Vietnamese capital, and within a few
hours overrun the entire city except for the headquarters of the ARVN
3rd Division and the garrison of US advisors. Thousands of political
prisoners were set free and thousands of government officials and
sympathizers were rounded up and many were shot.
US Marines and ARVN counterattacked but resistance was heavy and the
bitter street-by-street fighting slow and costly in lives. In the end
the US forces and their allies bombarded the historic Citadel, which
was ferociously defended by the insurgents backed. Then US forces
crossed the Perfume River in a fleet of assault craft and on February
2Oth launched the final assault. Not until February 23rd were the
insurgents finally overwhelmed. Even then, resistance in Hue continued
in isolated pockets of sniper teams. The fight for Hue ended on
February 25th at a cost of 119 Americans and 363 ARVN dead. American
wounded during the battle for Hue came to just under a thousand,
compared to slightly over 1,200 ARVN. The NVA and insurgent dead was
about sixteen times that number.
The big difference in fatalities makes the battle look a one sided
affair. But it wasn't. The difference in casualty figures came largely
from the heavy use of artillery and aerial bombardment to devastate
NVA/NLF positions. Large sections of the ancient and revered city Hue
were reduced the city to piles of rubble strewn with dead bodies.
Without this, the US/ARVN casualties would have been much higher.
Close to 6,000 civilians were killed, mostly by the indiscriminate
bombing and shellfire and nearly 120,000 citizens of Hue had been made
homeless. Those parts of Hue that escaped relatively undamaged were
later wrecked by days of looting by soldiers from the original ARVN
garrison, who had played no role in the fighting.
Did Tet succeed?
The Tet offensive showed a considerable degree of military
preparedness, skill and bravery on the part of the Vietnamese. It
shook the morale of the US army, which was forcibly made aware of its
own vulnerability, and it had a profound effect on US public opinion.
However, from a military point of view it must be seen as a defeat for
the NLF. One of the main aims was to drive a wedge between the
Americans and the South Vietnamese. The Embassy attack was aimed at
showing up the vulnerability of the American forces. The NLF hoped
that their liberation of towns and cities would lead to an uprising
against the Americans by the South's war-weary soldiers, discontented
peasantry and rebellious youth. However this perspective did not
materialize, or did so only on a sporadic basis.
It was a bold plan, but the perspective of a nationwide uprising was
based on an incorrect reading of the situation. The NLF leadership
expected large sections of the urban populace to rise up in revolt.
But although the NLF had support in this cities and towns, its main
base was the peasantry. The city dwellers of South Vietnam did not
support the Saigon Government but were suspicious of the Stalinists.
They generally remained inactive and the guerrillas did not get the
support they expected. The mass executions of Catholics in Hue also
alienated a section of the population that might otherwise have
When the offensive was over, the Americans remained in control and the
NLF had suffered heavy losses. NVA/NLF dead totaled some 45,000 and
the number of prisoners nearly 7000, while the Americans and South
Vietnamese lost 6000. Within a matter of days they were driven from
most of the positions they had conquered. This was both the high point
of guerrilla actions in the war and the beginning of their decline.
Since the planners of the offensive expected a people upraising, the
most secret cells were ordered to emerge clandestinely. When the
offensive was defeated, cell members had to flee to the jungle. Thus,
the Tet offensive ended in the destruction of much of the NLF
infrastructure in the South. This was a heavy blow. After the Tet
offensive, the regular North Vietnamese army did most of the fighting
against the U.S.
However, the Tet Offensive brought about a different kind of turning
point. It strongly influenced the opinion of the American public. For
the first time in a major war, the power of television became
apparent. Fifty million people watched the destruction brought on by
the war. The U.S. government was no longer able to portray the war as
clean, simple and easily won. Johnson and the generals had claimed the
enemy was in decline. This was falsified by events. The moment
Vietnamese commandos penetrated the American Embassy in Saigon, all
the official propaganda crumbled to dust.
During Tet the Americans and their ARVN ally had suffered over 4,300
killed in action, some 16,000 wounded and over 1,000 missing in
action. It is true that the enemy suffered far more but to an already
skeptical US public this mattered little. What mattered was that the
war now seemed never-ending, just like Iraq today. And just like Iraq,
it no longer had any definite, realistic objective. The scenes of
slaughter and devastation in Saigon, Hue, and other cities horrified
the average US citizen, to whom the conflict now seemed senseless. The
senselessness of it was reflected in the notorious comment of a US
officer who explained the destruction of about one-third of the
provincial capital of Ben Tre: "It became necessary to destroy it in
order to save it". The same words could serve pretty well as an
epitaph for the invasion of Iraq.
In Washington something akin to panic reigned in high places.
Congressmen were now turning on the president. On February 7, 1968
Senator Robert Kennedy, who was preparing himself to assume the mantle
of his dead brother, commented:
"It is said the Viet Cong will not be able to hold the cities, and
that is probably true. But they have demonstrated that despite all of
our reports of progress, of government strength, and of enemy
weakness, that half a million American soldiers, with 700,000
Vietnamese allies, with total command of the air, total command of the
sea, backed by the huge resources and the most modern weapons, that we
are unable to secure even a single city from the attacks of an enemy
whose total strength is about 250,000."
General Westmoreland, supreme commander of US forces, compared the Tet
offensive to the Battle of the Bulge in World War Two where the
Germans staged a desperate bid to break through the US lines before
meeting an inevitable defeat. But this analogy was completely false.
It was not the Vietnamese but the Americans who were heading
inexorably for defeat. After the war General Giap said:
"For us, you know, there is no such thing as a single strategy. Ours
is always a synthesis, simultaneously military, political and
diplomatic - which is why quite clearly, the Tet offensive had
Although the Tet offensive had failed in its major objectives, it had
a profound and lasting effect on the course of the war. The cost in
North Vietnamese casualties was horrendous but Giap's gambler's throw
proved to be a turning point in the War. It was a media disaster for
the White House and effectively ended the presidency of Lyndon
Johnson, America's commander in chief. According to US secretary of
state, Henry Kissinger:
"Henceforth, no matter how effective our action, the prevalent
strategy could no longer achieve its objectives within a period or
within force levels politically acceptable to the American people."
The scale of the offensive shook President Johnson to the core. The
shockwave from the fighting undermined his will to carry on. McNamara
resigned as Secretary of State for Defense, a disillusioned man, and
was replaced with Clark Clifford. But from subsequent statements we
learn that the latter had absolutely no idea where he was going:
"I'd ask questions like when is the war going to end? Well, we don't
know. How many more men do you think we're going to lose? Well, we
really don't know. Then I finally got down to it and said, 'What is
our plan to win the war in Vietnam?' Turned out there wasn't any. The
plan was just to stay with it and ultimately hoping that the enemy
would finally give up."
To win even a game of chess some kind of strategy is necessary. And
war - the most complicated of all equations as Napoleon called it - is
far more difficult than a game of chess. A general staff needs a
combination of a clear and well-defined strategy and flexible and
intelligent tactics. The Americans had neither. The "strategy"
outlined above in the words of Mr. Clifford ("to stay with it and
ultimately hoping that the enemy would finally give up.") is the
military equivalent of the philosophy of that incorrigible bankrupt
Mr. Micawber, who was always "confidently expecting that something
will turn up." This is very bad economics and even worse military
The fall of Johnson
In 1963, when he came to power following the assassination of Kennedy,
Lyndon Johnson's approval rating was over 80%. By 1967 it had fallen
to 40%. Stanley Karnow wrote: "But then came Tet - and his ratings
plummeted - as if Vietnam were a burning fuse that had suddenly
ignited an explosion of dissent." By the beginning of March the
popularity of the President was only about 30%, while endorsement for
his handling of the war was only 6%. Like George W. Bush, his
credibility had collapsed. A 1971 poll showed that 60% of Americans
with college degrees were in favour of an American retreat from
Vietnam. However, 75% of those with only high-school diplomas and 80%
of those without any secondary education supported a retreat. This
showed a sea change in the attitude of the American working class.
Captured Viet Cong Even the mule-headed Texan Johnson finally
understood that the war could not be won on the battlefield, and that
he must negotiate. After years of bombing hell out of North Vietnam,
he suddenly announced a cessation of the bombing: "I renew the offer I
made last August to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that
talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of
peace." However, despite the opening of negotiations with the North
Vietnamese, US, troop levels remained at about 500,000 and the war
would drag on for another five years. More American soldiers were
killed after Tet than before, and the United States itself would be
torn apart by the worst internal upheavals in a century.
Westmoreland was pressuring Washington for 206,000 troops to carry on
the campaign in the South and even to make a limited invasion of North
Vietnam just above the DMZ. As the battle for Hue died out, Johnson
asked Clark Clifford to find ways and means of meeting Westmoreland's
request. Clifford consulted CIA Director Richard Helms who presented
him the Agency's pessimistic forecast. On March 4th Clifford told
Johnson that the war was far from won and that more men would not make
Clifford was not alone. Johnson's main advisors, including Generals
Omar Bradley, Matthew Ridgway, and Maxwell Taylor; Cyrus Vance, Dean
Acheson, and Henry Cabot Lodge, had all turned against the war. Recent
CIA studies revealed that the programme to win Vietnamese "hearts and
minds" was failing in forty of South Vietnam's forty-four provinces
and that the NLF's manpower was actually twice the number that had
been estimated previously.
The extreme right-wingers naturally supported the war, and condemned
the Administration for not going all out for victory. But this was an
increasingly minority opinion. The CIA's gloomy reports cooled the
enthusiasm of even the most hawkish members of the administration.
Johnson was in a dilemma. To meet the generals' manpower requests
would mean either withdrawing American troops from Europe or calling
up the active reserves. Neither option was politically feasible.
Westmoreland therefore had to settle for half of the over 200,000
additional troops he was demanding.
In the first period of the war any opposition was usually seen as
anti-patriotic and anti-American. But now the perception of the
American public changed dramatically. Bourgeois liberals like Robert
Kennedy achieved overnight popularity by speaking out against the war.
Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy, an unknown standing on an anti-war
ticket, challenged Johnson for the Presidential nomination. He was
supported by thousands of students and young Americans opposed to the
At the New Hampshire Democratic primary, Johnson polled only 300 votes
more than Eugene McCarthy. This was an unprecedented humiliation.
Normally an incumbent President could expect to be re-elected
unopposed. The result was the final nail in the coffin for the
administration of Lyndon Johnson. On March 31st, Johnson went on TV to
announce a bombing halt of the North and America's willingness to meet
with the North Vietnamese to seek a peace settlement. Now hopelessly
demoralized, Johnson announced to an astonished world his decision not
to stand again as President: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept,
the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
Johnson said that would spend the rest of his term in a search for
peace in Indochina.
Soon after, General Creighton Abrams replaced Westmoreland as head of
US forces in Vietnam. Westmoreland was recalled to become Army Chief
of Staff - theoretically a promotion, but in practice a move to get
him out of the way. Westmoreland's deputy commander, Abrams had been
present at the special CIA briefing that convinced Johnson that a
change of course was needed. Abrams was sent to Saigon with a mission:
he was to institute a programme of "Vietnamization", that is to say,
to take all necessary measures to enable the ARVN to take on the
burden of the fighting, and gradually reduce the American role to that
of advisors. This is the very same tactic that they are trying to
carry out in Iraq. But ever since 1965 it was quite clear that Saigon
was incapable of doing the job. We now see exactly the same pattern
emerging in Iraq, and the end result will also be similar.
Nixon escalates the war
The resignation of Johnson did not end the war. In fact, it was
actually escalated until it spread throughout the whole of South East
Asia. On May 10, 1968 the peace talks between U. S. and Vietnamese
officials began in Paris. But the bloody war on the ground continued.
The election of the Republican hawk Richard Nixon did nothing to
improve matters The American deployment that had started with only
23,300 in 1963 rose inexorably to 184,000 in 1966 and reached a peak
of 542,000 in January 1969 under Richard Nixon's presidency. The war
was now costing £30 billion a year: a huge drain of blood and gold
even for the richest and most powerful country on earth. And the
perception grew among Americans that it was un-winnable. The mood was
turning against the war even in the American ruling class. But Richard
Nixon belonged to that wing that believed that "one last push" could
end the war, or at least compel North Vietnam to negotiate a
settlement acceptable to Washington. This reminds one of George Bush
and the notorious theory of the "surge" and of the famous remark of
Karl Marx: "history repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, and the
second time as farce."
In April 1970 the armies of the U.S. and South Vietnam invaded
Cambodia, alleging the presence of North Vietnamese troops on
Cambodian soil. The real aim was to disrupt the flow of supplies to
the NLF along the The Ho Chi Minh Trail and to intimidate Hanoi. The
Trail passed through neutral Laos and Cambodia. As a result both had
suffered heavy American bombing. General. William Westmoreland stated:
"Over the years Cambodia, the border area of Cambodia and Laos, were
used freely by the enemy, but by virtue of the policy of my
government, we could not fight the overt war or deploy troops overtly,
military troops, into those countries."
However, in practice the USA did intervene militarily against Cambodia
and Laos, violating their neutrality. In particular, Cambodia was
subjected to a savage air bombardment that killed large numbers of
Cambodian peasants. This fact is never mentioned as one of the main
causes that led to the brutality of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces when
they finally entered Phnom Pen. The Americans could not, however,
invade North Vietnam for fear of the Russians, as McNamara pointed
"On one or two occasions, the chiefs recommended U.S. military
intervention in North Vietnam and stated that they recognized this
might lead to Chinese and/or Soviet military response, in which case,
they said, 'We might have to consider the use of nuclear weapons.'"
Jack Valenti, aide to President Johnson, said on the same subject:
"The president was worried about China and Russia. He didn't know ...
in Korea nobody thought the Chinese were going to cross the Yalu with
a million men, and we were caught by surprise. And I remember time
after time, when the military would suggest mining Haiphong or sending
in war planes to bomb Haiphong, he said, 'Hell no,' he said, 'some
damn aviator will drop a bomb down a Russian smokestack and then I've
got World War III on my hands.'"
But Nixon was not concerned about such details. Like George W. Bush he
was a strange combination of a narrow-minded provincial and an
irresponsible adventurer. And like Bush he displayed a pig-headed
determination to follow his own agenda, regardless of the
consequences. The policies of Nixon and his White House clique set off
a chain of events that led to a nightmare for the people of Cambodia
and had serious effects inside the USA. The result was a further
intensification of the anti-war movement. The invasion of Cambodia
sparked off campus protests all over the USA. On November 15, 1969
250,000 people demonstrated against the war in Washington, D.C. On May
4, 1970 National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State
University in Ohio. The killings sparked hundreds of protest
activities across college campuses in the United States. At the
University of New Mexico the police also used murderous violence
against the protesters. More than 100 colleges were closed as a result
of student demonstrations against the invasion of Cambodia.
US public opinion was further shaken by news of the infamous massacre
at My Lai, where American soldiers slaughtered a hundred peasants,
including women and children. Early in the morning of March 16 in
1968, a group of American soldiers entered a small village in South
Vietnam. In "The My Lai massacre: An American Tragedy" Adam Silverman
and Kristin Hill recall the events:
"The American soldiers shot at anything that moved, including cattle,
chickens, birds and worse yet: civilians. The villagers did not offer
any resistance; still the Soldiers threw hand grenades into huts,
shouted orders and killed without distinction. The atrocities
continued throughout the morning. Infants were killed, young children
shot and women raped at gunpoint. Before long 500 civilians lay dead
on the ground. But their work wasn't finished... after this the
village was set on fire. Bodies, homes, supplies, food - everything
These events were hushed up until November 13, 1969. In March 1970
Captain Ernest Medina was charged with murder for the massacre at My
Lai. This began a chain of events leading up to the My Lai
Courts-Martial, ending with the conviction of Lieutenant William
Calley on March 29, 1970. When the horrific facts about the My Lai
massacre became known, many people's view of the war changed
fundamentally. High-ranking American officers were guilty both of the
massacre and the subsequent cover-up. However, in the end only four
soldiers were tried and only one of them, Calley, was convicted. This
murderer of women and children did not pay a serious price for his war
crimes. President Nixon pardoned him after only three years under
This was not an isolated case. The brutal massacre of unarmed
Vietnamese civilians at My Lai was just the tip of the iceberg of
appalling atrocities perpetrated on the Vietnamese people by
imperialism. In his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger Christopher
Hitchens he writes that the U.S. Army admits to killing 10,899 enemies
during operation "Speedy Express" in early 1969, but says that they
only seized 784 weapons.
The myth of America's humanitarian and civilizing mission was dealt a
blow from which it never recovered. By this time, not just the
American people but also a growing section of the US ruling class had
had enough of the war. Public opinion in the USA, already swinging
against the War after Tet, was further alienated by the sickening
callousness revealed in the court case. At this point opposition to
the war was to be found not only among young people and students but
also increasingly among working class Americans.
Inexorably, the USA was being sucked into a wider conflict that was
spreading all over South East Asia. In February 1971 South Vietnamese
and U.S. troops invaded Laos in an attempt to sever the Ho Chi Minh
Trail. This resulted in a further intensification of anti-war
activity. The largest demonstrations were held on April 24, 1971. In
San Francisco about 300,000 people marched against the war, in
Washington between 500,000 and 750,000. These were the biggest
political demonstrations in the history of the United States. In
December 1972 the US air force commenced its Christmas bombing of
Hanoi and North Vietnam in an attempt to force the Vietnamese to the
conference table. Towards the end of December the North Vietnamese
announced that they would return to Paris if Nixon ended the bombing.
The bombing campaign was halted and the negotiators met during the
first week of January 1973.
From a military point of view, the U.S. always enjoyed a clear
superiority over the Vietnamese. They had complete command of the air
and were continuously bombing the country, north and south.
Theoretically, the Americans could have stayed in Vietnam for many
more years. They might even have won. But in order to do so they would
have needed an army of half a million soldiers, and they would have to
be soldiers like Hitler's SS. Such an army did not exist. The changing
mood of the working class and the soldiers from working class families
made it impossible to continue the war. If the government had had
prolonged the war, it would have brought the U.S. to the brink of
A total of 2,59 million Americans were sent to fight in Vietnam. The
harrowing experiences of these soldiers in Vietnam had an extremely
demoralizing effect on them. From returning soldiers, first-hand
knowledge of the situation in Vietnam slowly began to percolate into
many ordinary working class American households, producing a change in
the psychology of the working class. There was increasing sympathy for
the Vietnamese people. New York Times/CBS News published the results
of a poll in June 1977. The question asked was: "If the president
would recommend helping Vietnam, would you want your representative in
congress to approve aid for Vietnam in the form of food and medicine?"
66% answered yes, and only 29% said no.
In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen describes an
experiment he carried out during lectures delivered in the 1990s, when
he asked the audience was asked to guess the level of education among
those who opposed the Vietnam War in 1971. Most thought that 90% of
college graduates were against the war, but only 60% of those with
only a high-school education. The real figures are precisely the
opposite. The growing opposition to the war among the American working
class was the result of hard experience. Kids from poor working class
homes were the overwhelming majority of those drafted to fight in
Vietnam. They were the ones most likely to be killed and maimed. As in
Iraq, a disproportionate number were black or Latino. Rich kids and
college students could often avoid getting drafted - as the case of a
certain George W. Bush shows.
The anti-war movement in the USA increasingly influenced the mood of
the soldiers in Vietnam. It is one thing to fight and die for a just
cause, which earns the praise and admiration of the folks back home.
It is another thing entirely to risk your life and suffer daily
dangers and hardships for a cause in which you no longer believe and
which your fellow citizens detest. The demoralization among US troops
in Vietnam is well documented. Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr. wrote in
The Collapse of the Armed Forces shortly after the US withdrawal from
"The morale, discipline and fighting condition of the armed forces
are, with a few exceptions, lower than ever this century and perhaps
lower than ever in the history of the United States. In every possible
way, the armed forces still in Vietnam are on the brink of collapse.
Separate units avoid or refuse battle, kill their officers, are full
of drugs and are without enthusiasm when not on the verge of mutiny.
"Although no high ranking officer (especially not while on duty) could
openly make a similar assessment, the conclusions... above are almost
unanimously backed up by a number of anonymous interviews with high
and midlevel commanding officers. As they are by lower ranking
officers in all positions.
"In Vietnam the after troops of an army of 500,000 men, formerly the
best army ever sent to battle by the U.S., are trying to retreat from
a nightmare-like war that they feel has been dumped upon them by smart
civilians. Civilians now at universities in America, are writing books
about the stupidity of the whole venture.
"One American soldier, stationed at Cu Chi, is cited in the New York
Times. He speaks of ‘separate companies for soldiers refusing to
fight. It is no longer a big deal to simply refuse to participate in
battle. If a soldier is sent somewhere he no longer bothers to go to
the trouble of refusing. He'll simply pack his shirt and goes off to
visit a friend at another base. Many guys don't even wear their
uniforms any more... The American garrisons at the larger bases are in
effect disarmed. Professional soldiers confiscate their weapons and
lock them up.'
"Could this be common or even true? The answer is unfortunately yes.
By now "fragging" is the preferred expression among soldiers for
murder or attempted murder of authoritarian, unpopular, or aggressive
officers. When officers are reported dead there is cheering in the
trenches or at the movie-theaters of some regiments.
"In the underground GI publication "GI Says" a reward of $10,000 is
offered for killing lieutenant colonel Weldon Honeycutt, shortly after
the costly attack at Hamburger Hill in mid 1969, which was led and
initiated by Honeycutt.
"The issue of combat refusal, an official euphemism for refusing
battle and the worst crime a soldier can commit, recently surfaced
again when Troop B of the First cavalry at the Laotian border refused
to retrieve their captain's commanding vehicle containing
communication devices, codes and secret orders. Yet, as early as 1969
a whole company at 196 Light Infantry Brigade officially sat down in
the middle of a battlefield. Later that year another unit from the
famous First Air Cavalry Division refused - on air on CBS television -
to advance on a dangerous footpath.
"Search and evade (when a unit silently avoids battle) is practically
a principle by now. The GI expression for this is "CYA (cover your
ass) and get home". That the practice of search-and-evade hasn't gone
unnoticed by the enemy is emphasized by the fact that the Viet Cong
delegation at the peace negotiations in Paris stated that: ‘Communist
units in Indochina have been told not to attack American units unless
American soldiers were killing their own officers. This practice gave
rise to a new word in the English language: "fragging", derived from
"fragmentation bomb." An unofficial web page of the US military police
gives the following estimate of the number of victims:
"Between 1969 and 1973, there was an increased incidence of fragging,
says the historian Terry Anderson from Texas A&M University. The U.S.
Army does not have any exact statistics on how many officers were
killed in this manner. But they do know of at least 600 cases of
confirmed fragging and another 1400 where officers died under
suspicious circumstances. As a result of this, the U.S. Army was not
at war with the enemy in the beginning of 1970. They were at war with
This was the main reason why US imperialism was compelled to abandon
the war in Vietnam. If they had continued, there could have been
revolutionary consequences in the USA itself. The imperialists
therefore drew the conclusion and threw in the towel. On January 23,
1973 the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam signed the
Paris Peace Accords, ending America's combat role in Vietnam. The U.S.
military draft was ended and five days later a cease-fire went into
effect. By the end of March the last of the U.S. combat troops left
Vietnam. The war was really over at this point, although the puppet
regime in Saigon clung to power for almost another two years. But
deprived of American military backing, it was doomed.
The fall of Saigon
Nixon, who was increasingly showing signs of mental instability,
looked out of control. The Establishment therefore organized a legal
coup d'etat to remove him from power in August 1974, using the
Watergate scandal as a convenient excuse to get rid of him. The US
ruling class was now looking for some face-saving formula to cut their
losses and get out of Vietnam as painlessly as possible. But in the
end they were forced to withdraw under the most humiliating
On April 21, 1975 Thieu resigned as South Vietnamese President. The
rats were already leaving the sinking ship. Just over a week later, on
April 30, tanks of the NLF smashed their way through the gates of the
presidential palace, the heart of the US-backed Saigon government. The
United States finally extricated itself from Vietnam in conditions of
incredible chaos, panic and confusion. In a final indignity, the US
diplomatic staff had to escape in helicopters from the roof of the
embassy in Saigon. All afternoon American helicopters - Chinooks,
Hueys, Jolly Green Giants - wheeled above, landing precariously on the
tops of high buildings to take off Vietnamese and other evacuees. In
an article entitled "US abandons Saigon to Communists", The Guardian's
correspondent in Saigon Martin Woollacott reported on Wednesday April
"More than 80 helicopters ferried the remaining Americans as well as
thousands of Vietnamese, including former Vice-President Ky, to an
armada of ships in the South China Sea. Pilots were fished out of the
water as they ditched their helicopters to make room for more on the
landing pad. Thousands more Vietnamese were evacuated in boats form
Vung Tau and others left by plane for Thailand and the Philippines.
The final departure came on the orders of Washington and at the
insistence of President Duong Van Minh. Early this morning a
helicopter with 11 US Marines helping in the evacuation finally took
off after being delayed by a burst of small arms fire in the US
The Guardian reporter continued:
"The way the Americans went was a spectacle in itself. It is a long
time since Vietnam has seen so many helicopters, and they swept in at
speed, with Phantoms flying overhead. Orange and red flare smoke
mushroomed up from the American Embassy and other pick-up points for
"The evacuation was a fantastic scene as the choppers roared in
against a grey and leaden sky, sometimes as many as two dozen visible
at once from Central Saigon, and the air was filled with the mutter of
"General Cao Van Vien, Chief of the General Staff, and other senior
officers and politicians were reported to have left the city aboard
American helicopters, as the North Vietnamese close in for the kill
they now seem intent on making."
Nobody knew whether or not the NLF troops would storm the capital.
There were rumours that the Provisional Revolutionary Government and
the new Saigon Administration had reached agreement to call a
cease-fire. But nobody could confirm or deny anything. The city
awaited its fate. Everybody knew that the war was now over and the
American occupation in its last death-throes.
The Quislings in Saigon now no doubt regretted the day when they
accepted the advice of Richard Nixon to "hang on" in the hope of
getting a better deal. Now the only deal open to them was a bumpy ride
in an American helicopter and an uncertain future in foreign exile. In
a desperate attempt to salvage something from the wreckage, the old
regime elected a new leader, President Duong Van Minh, who offered to
negotiate. But the time for negotiations had long since passed. Now
everything would be settles by force of arms, and the Saigon regime
had no arms to use.
Lenin explains that the state in the last analysis is armed bodies of
men. And the old state was disintegrating before one's very eyes.
Order was breaking down and chaos reigned as police and militia
disappeared from the streets. Amidst scenes of indescribable panic,
hundreds of Vietnamese who had collaborated with the occupying forces
and the old regime struggled to get into the American embassy. ARVN
soldiers roamed the city, destroying property and looting.
The Provisional Revolutionary Government naturally rejected the
cease-fire and negotiations offer made by President Minh. Why should
they, when all the cards were now in their hands? "At the very least
they want Saigon down on its knees," a Western diplomat said before
leaving, "they want to see those M16s stacked up in a surrender." This
task was now not very difficult. The demoralized ARVN soldiers were
utterly unable to fight. Most threw their weapons away and ran for
their lives or else turned their coats and joined the NLF.
The objective of warfare, as Clausewitz explained long ago, is to
disarm the enemy and make him submit to your will.. The only task that
remained for the NLF was to liquidate what little was left of the ARVN
forces and organize a new state power in Saigon. But such a state in
the given conditions would necessarily be modeled on the lines of
Stalinist North Vietnam.
One diplomat responsible for evacuating American and Vietnamese -
tidying up after- was reported as saying: "I feel like someone with a
dustpan and broom," one said, "but at least we're trying to fulfill
our last obligations." That is a fairly accurate comment. All that was
left after twenty years of American policy in Indo-China was so much
useless waste to be swept up as tidily as possible. The US
imperialists doubtless fulfilled its obligations to those
collaborators fortunate enough to be evacuated to more or less
comfortable destinations in the USA. This would apply to the top
echelons, but the rest were abandoned unceremoniously to their fate.
After 28 years of war, US imperialism was finally forced out of
Vietnam in the most humiliating circumstances imaginable. The fall of
Saigon marked the official end to a war. After the expenditure of
$150,000 millions and the loss of 50,000 American lives, the USA had
been defeated by a small Asian country of poor peasants. The most
powerful army in the world was forced to flee from Vietnam with its
tail between its legs. What did they leave behind?
"And when they have created a wilderness, they call it Peace"
The defeat of US Imperialism in Vietnam was a most progressive
development and one that was enthusiastically welcomed by the workers
of the world and by the Marxist Tendency. It permitted the north and
south to reunify and allowed the Vietnamese people to determine their
own fate. But a decade of brutal war had reduced Vietnam to rubble,
its cities bombed, its industries destroyed, its agriculture,
transport and infrastructure dislocated. Most of its largely agrarian
population of 82 million remains poor with per capita income hovering
around $550 (£288) a year. The expropriation of the landlords and
capitalists was a great step forward, although the new regime had
nothing in common with the regime of workers' democracy established by
Lenin and Trotsky in Russia after 1917. It was a totalitarian
bureaucratic caricature modeled on Stalinist Russia. Nevertheless,
thanks to the advantages of a nationalized planned economy, Vietnam
made a remarkable recovery from the devastation of war.
Perhaps worst of all was the heritage of chemical war that the US
waged against the Vietnamese people. During the Vietnam War, 80
million litres of herbicides with high concentrations of dioxin, known
as Agent Orange, were repeatedly sprayed over 12 percent of the
rainforest and mangroves of South Vietnam in an attempt to destroy the
foliage that provided cover for the Vietcong guerrillas. The
inheritors of this chemical war are thousands of Agent Orange
children, victims of the poison clouds their parents inhaled. Recent
research has linked Agent Orange to a third generation. The Vietnam
War is long over, but its toxic legacy is still poisoning the food
chain in "hot spots" close to former US bases, causing cancers and
birth deformities. Writing in The Guardian thirty years later, Tom
"Tran Anh Kiet, whose feet, hands and limbs are twisted, lives an hour
away from Ho Chi Minh City, in Cu Chi district. He is 21, but his body
appears to belong to a 15-year-old, and he has a mental age of around
six. He has to be spoon-fed and his attempts at speech are confined to
"Today in Vietnam there are 150,000 children
like Kiet, whose parents believe their birth defects are the result of
exposure to Agent Orange during the war, or the consumption of
dioxin-contaminated food and water since 1975. A further
800,000 Vietnamese are reported to be
suffering from dioxin- related diseases, including various cancers."
Who is responsible for these atrocities? In the first place the US
government and armed forces, in the second place the big US companies
that supplied these poisonous agents and made fortunes out of them.
Yet thirty years later, the USA refuses to accept responsibility for
the consequences of chemical warfare. Not long ago a lawsuit was
launched in the US courts, accusing chemical companies of complicity
in war crimes and demanding compensation.
A US judge ruled against the Vietnamese. Meanwhile, two of the
companies concerned, Monsanto and Dow Chemical, have been allowed to
set up branch offices in Ho Chi Minh City, in line with Vietnam's
desire to attract foreign investors.
Today Vietnam faces a new threat - the threat of capitalist
restoration, which is already far advanced in China. Department stores
sell French perfumes and Italian shoes to an emerging urban Vietnamese
middle class. A French-owned five-star hotel has opened across the
street from the US consulate. Even in the annual victory parade some
floats, sponsored by Vietnamese banks, sport the logo of American
credit card companies. US warships are allowed to visit Vietnamese
ports. In Ho Chi Minh City, the renamed capital, a new elite of
Vietnamese businessmen is enjoying the good life in trendy bars and
restaurants, toasting business success and the new market economy. The
privately owned businesses are engaged in the ruthless exploitation of
the workers, just as they do now in Russia and China.
The United States has now become Vietnam's single-largest trading
partner. US imperialism may yet achieve through trade and investment
what it failed to achieve with bombs and napalm. Was it for this that
the workers and peasants of Vietnam fought with such inspiring heroism
and defeated the mightiest imperialist power the world has ever seen?
Will they allow the bureaucracy to privatise the economy and, like
China, lead Vietnam back to capitalism? Or will the working class
fight against the pro-capitalist elements and lead Vietnam onto the
road of genuine Leninist socialism, based on the democratic control
and administration of the working people themselves? This question has
not yet been answered by history. It is our fervent hope that it will
be the second variant and not the first. The working people of Vietnam
deserve no less!
London, 31st January 2008.
Postscript: The workers of the world will never forget the crimes
perpetrated by US imperialism on the people of Vietnam. In the
"Rolling Thunder" air campaign alone more bombs were dropped on North
Vietnam alone than were used in the whole of the Second World War. In
the following five years the two Vietnams received the equivalent of
22 tons of explosives for every square mile of territory, or 300lb for
every man, women and child. 7 million tons of bombs and defoliants
were dropped in total and nearly three million Vietnamese were killed.
Forty years later, U.S. imperialism is involved in another criminal
occupation: this time in Iraq. The parallels will immediately strike
anyone who takes the trouble to study the Vietnam War.
For almost a decade the U.S. bombed Iraq. The reason for invading
Iraq, according to the US Government, was, among other things, to
destroy Iraq's chemical weapons. Yet the U.S. government did not
hesitate to use chemical warfare when fighting the Vietnamese
guerrillas hidden beneath the leaves of the jungle. These are the
ladies and gentlemen who attempted to justify the rape of Iraq on the
grounds that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed the means of waging
chemical warfare - something which US imperialism has been doing for
decades and is still doing. The US military are still carrying on the
same kind of chemical war in Colombia, under the excuse of a "war
against drugs". Obviously, for them chemical weapons are only
unpleasant when they are not using them themselves.
Someone once said that there can be no such parallels because in Iraq
there are no jungles. But there are deserts and cities that can
harbour guerrilla forces just as well. Bush's infamous "Mission
accomplished" speech echoed the many poorly timed triumphant
declarations made by President Johnson in the early stages of the
Vietnam War. The American forces are trapped in an un-winnable war and
this is now increasingly evident to the people of the United States.
As in the case of Vietnam, it will be the American people who will put
an end to the criminal invasion of another people's land.
the question for the future is "When will the people put a stop to any
and all American Imperialism aggressions?
In his masterfully
detailed book, Piper’s simple one-paragraph explanation may be the
most concise overview of the Vietnam War ever written. The military
men and defense contractors were making out like bandits from the War
Machine, while the CIA crooks and Lansky-led Mobsters (via Santo
Traficante as the major wheeler-dealer) were likewise padding their
pockets. Author Peter Dale Scott, in Deep Politics and the Death of
JFK, said of this phenomenon, “The flood of drugs into this country
since WWII was one of the major ‘unspeakable’ secrets leading to the
ongoing cover-up of the Kennedy assassination.”
To provide a broader
perspective on this situation, Professor Alfred McCoy stated in The
Politics of Heroin, “Since the prohibition of narcotics in 1920,
alliances between drug brokers and intelligence agencies have
protected the global narcotics traffic. Given the frequency of such
alliances, there seems a natural attraction between intelligence
agencies and criminal syndicates. Both are practitioners of what one
retired CIA operative has called the ‘clandestine arts’ – the basic
skill of operating outside the normal channels of civil society. Among
all the institutions of modern society, intelligence agencies and
crime syndicates alone maintain large organizations capable of
carrying out covert operations without fear of detection.”
On the government
side, the two main Golden Triangle runners were Ted Schackley and
Thomas Clines – the same two men who ran Operation Mongoose (the plot
to take out Fidel Castro). Thus, from 1960-1975, the CIA deployed a
secret force of 30,000 Hmong tribesmen to fight the Laotian
Communists. They also created heroin labs in this area; then brought
it out via their own private airline – Air America.
Alfred McCoy, in The
Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, describes
how the CIA first gave smack to our own American soldiers in Vietnam
before shipping it into the United States, where Lansky mobsters dealt
it on the streets.
biographers reinforced this point by stating that while organized
crime did its thing, “The CIA looked the other way – allowing over
$100 million a year in illicit drugs to flow through Havana into the
U.S. It was an arrangement similar to all the rest they’d made. The
CIA received 10% of the take on the side of narcotics, which they
utilized for their undercover slush fund.”
After the Mob and the
CIA generated this dirty money, they laundered it into secret bank
accounts controlled by the international bankers. That way, the
government couldn’t get their hands on it and the funds could be
invested in the stock market, loaned out to other businesses on the
take, or channeled into the Secret Services’ black budgets.
So, even though the
above information is only the tip of the iceberg, now do you see why
it was so important to the CIA/Mobster/international banker cabal that
JFK didn’t pull America out of Vietnam? The money (via illegal drug
trafficking and for the War Machine) was incredible, while CONTROL of
another area of the globe (the Golden Triangle) was secured.
As a final note, only
FOUR DAYS after John Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Baines Johnson,
his successor, put his name on NSAM 273, which secured our increased
involvement in Southeast Asia. These guys weren’t wasting any time!
Within a few short months, our involvement in Vietnam went from 20,000
troops to a quarter of a million! The CIA had won, and ten years later
58,229 American soldiers were dead - truly shocking and abysmal
behavior – an embarrassment and blight on the American consciousness.
My Lai Officer Apologizes For Vietnam Massacre
August 21, 2009
L. Calley, the only person to be convicted in the Vietnam, My Lai,
massacre of 500 men, women and children, speaks to a Kiwanis Club in
Columbus, Ga., about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968.
"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what
happened that day in My Lai," William L. Calley told members of a
local Kiwanis Club, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported Friday. "I
feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families,
for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very
William L. Calley, 66, was a young Army lieutenant when a
court-martial at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971
for killing 22 civilians during the infamous massacre of 500 men,
women and children in Vietnam.
Though sentenced to life in prison, Calley ended up serving only three
years of house arrest after President Richard Nixon later reduced
"It's hard to apologize for murdering so many people," said Eckhardt,
now a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "But at
least there's an acknowledgment of responsibility."
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what
happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who
were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved
and their families. I am very sorry.
Calley didn't deny taking part in the slayings on March 16, 1968, but
insisted he was following orders from his superior, Capt. Ernest
Medina — a notion Eckhardt, the former prosecutor, rejects.
Medina was also tried by a court-martial in 1971, and was acquitted of
When asked if he broke the law by obeying an unlawful order, the
newspaper reported, Calley replied: "I believe that is true."
"If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the
orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting
orders from my commander and I followed them — foolishly, I guess,"
*Receiving 3 years of house arrest
is such an injustice. The bastard and everyone involved should have
been shot. The soldiers massacred 5oo men, women and children, all non
combatants, in the small Vietnam village of My Lai for no reason whatsoever.
In reality there was 3 villages destroyed that day and this was just
the tip of a huge iceberg of atrocities. MS)
Millions of killed, mostly civilians. 14+ million wounded and even
more displaced and homeless. Decades of poverty, disease and utter
starvation. Generations of birth defects and contaminated land still
evident today. Trillions of dollars in damage to every aspect of
their lives; depredation to their culture and countless future
generations; destruction of their cities, villages and towns, their
infra structure, their farmland, wildlife & livestock and so much
more. These gracious, but tenacious people endured the raping of
their women and little girls. They suffered the torture and total
humiliation of their people and were left with nothing more than
memories of how American soldiers enslaved their people, turning
them against each other, traded their cut off ears for beer, they
watched their young women being forced into being whores...They
watched and endured the raping of their children, which were often
killed afterwards. Memories of watching American soldiers pouring
gas and setting a blaze their friends and families for no other
reason than that they could. The invaders answered to no one or no
God. The Vietnamese still endure the nightmarish memories of
watching their villages napalmed, their people shelled, and shot,
even gutted, beheaded, thrown out of helicopters and dragged behind
jeeps and tanks. Of watching soldiers tie hand-grenades to their
people and laugh in hysteria watching their bodies blow apart. The
soldiers of America were taught and encouraged to believe that the
Vietnamese people were less than animals, subhuman, nothing but
gooks. It made it easier for these young, numb boys to carry out
their competitive sport of acquiring more kills and body counts than
other squadrons. It wasn't war...it was sport killing...blind and
Persevering recognition, global maturity and hopefully a future...nothing more!
One more comment...please remember that when
traveling the world; while very rewarding it is not your
playground, nor your backyard, so show respect where ever you wander!
And keep in mind that if you're not part of the solution in saving
our world...then you are definitely a part of the problem!
The below video is narrated
to teach the young about 'The Truth about The Vietnam War" 40 mins.
Visas: Obtaining a visa
is easy and quick, but must be done before arrival. Extensions are
also quite easy and can be purchased at most tourism agencies..
Vietnam health risks: Dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, rabies,
typhoid, tuberculosis and a minor threat (especially to pregnant
women) of dioxins found in the remnants of America's use of defoliant
Agent Orange. Vietnam, while not as bad as most of Asia, suffers from
water and air pollution. We also advise against renting or operating
any vehicle while anywhere in Asia, especially in Vietnam. The traffic
is maddening and extreme and no one gives right away to anyone or
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