Three weeks after the execution of Diem, Kennedy himself was assassinated, and his Vice- President, Lyndon Johnson, took office. The generals who succeeded Diem could not suppress the National Liberation Front. Again and again, American leaders expressed their bewilderment at the popularity of the NLF, at the high morale of its soldiers. The Pentagon historians wrote that when Eisenhower met with President- elect Kennedy in January , he "wondered aloud why, in interventions of this kind, we always seemed to find that the morale of the Communist forces was better than that of the democratic forces.
In early August , President Johnson used a murky set of events in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, to launch full-scale war on Vietnam. In fact, the CIA had engaged in a secret operation attacking North Vietnamese coastal installations—so if there had been an attack it would not have been "unprovoked. And it was not in international waters but in Vietnamese territorial waters.
It turned out that no torpedoes were fired at the Maddox , as McNamara said. Another reported attack on another destroyer, two nights later, which Johnson called "open aggression on the high seas," seems also to have been an invention. The Tonkin "attack" brought a congressional resolution, passed unanimously in the House, and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate, giving Johnson the power to take military action as he saw fit in Southeast Asia.
Two months before the Gulf of Tonkin incident, U. Rusk said, in this meeting, according to the Pentagon Papers , that "public opinion on our Southeast Asia policy was badly divided in the United States at the moment and that, therefore, the President needed an affirmation of support. The Tonkin Resolution gave the President the power to initiate hostilities without the declaration of war by Congress that the Constitution required. The Supreme Court, supposed to be the watchdog of the Constitution, was asked by a number of petitioners in the course of the Vietnam war to declare the war unconstitutional.
Again and again, it refused even to consider the issue. Immediately after the Tonkin affair, American warplanes began bombarding North Vietnam. During , over , American soldiers were sent to South Vietnam, and in , , more. By early , there were more than , American troops there, and the U. Air Force was dropping bombs at a rate unequaled in history. Tiny glimmerings of the massive human suffering under this bombardment came to the outside world. In another delta province there is a woman who has both arms burned off by napalm and her eyelids so badly burned that she cannot close them.
When it is time for her to sleep her family puts a blanket over her head. The woman had two of her children killed in the air strike that maimed her. Few Americans appreciate what their nation is doing to South Vietnam with airpower. Large areas of South Vietnam were declared "free fire zones," which meant that all persons remaining within them-civilians, old people , children—were considered an enemy, and bombs were dropped at will.
Villages suspected of harboring Viet Cong were subject to "search and destroy" missions—men of military age in the villages were killed, the homes were burned, the women, children, and old people were sent off to refugee camps. Jonathan Schell, in his book The Village of Ben Suc , describes such an operation: a village surrounded, attacked, a man riding on a bicycle shot down, three people picnicking by the river shot to death, the houses destroyed, the women, children, old people herded together, taken away from their ancestral homes.
The CIA in Vietnam, in a program called "Operation Phoenix," secretly, without trial, executed at least twenty thousand civilians in South Vietnam who were suspected of being members of the Communist underground. A pro-administration analyst wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs in January "Although the Phoenix program did undoubtedly kill or incarcerate many innocent civilians, it did also eliminate many members of the Communist infrastructure.
After the war, the release of records of the International Red Cross showed that in South Vietnamese prison camps, where at the height of the war 65, to 70, people were held and often beaten and tortured, American advisers observed and sometimes participated.
By the end of the Vietnam war, 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, more than twice the total bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II—almost one pound bomb for every human being in Vietnam. It was estimated that there were 20 million bomb craters in the country. In addition, poisonous sprays were dropped by planes to destroy trees and any kind of growth—an area the size of the state of Massachusetts was covered with such poison. Vietnamese mothers reported birth defects in their children.
Yale biologists, using the same poison 2,4,5,T on mice, reported defective mice born and said they had no reason to believe the effect on humans was different.
Vietnam: Historians at War
They rounded up the inhabitants, including old people and women with infants in their arms. These people were ordered into a ditch, where they were methodically shot to death by American soldiers. The army tried to cover up what happened. But a letter began circulating from a GI named Ron Ridenhour, who had heard about the massacre. There were photos taken of the killing by an army photographer, Ronald Haeberle. Seymour Hersh, then working for an antiwar news agency in Southeast Asia called Dispatch News Service, wrote about it. The story of the massacre had appeared in May in two French publications, one called Sud Vietnam en Lutte , and another published by the North Vietnamese delegation to the peace talks in Paris-but the American press did not pay any attention.
Several of the officers in the My Lai massacre were put on trial, but only Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but his sentence was reduced twice; he served three years-Nixon ordered that he be under house arrest rather than a regular prison-and then was paroled. Thousands of Americans came to his defense.
Part of it was in patriotic justification of his action as necessary against the "Communists. Colonel Oran Henderson, who had been charged with covering up the My Lai killings, told reporters in early "Every unit of brigade size has its My Lai hidden someplace. Indeed, My Lai was unique only in its details. Hersh reported a letter sent by a GI to his family, and published in a local newspaper:.
Today we went on a mission and I am not very proud of myself, my friends, or my country. We burned every hut in sight! It was a small rural network of villages and the people were incredibly poor. My unit burned and plundered their meager possessions. Let me try to explain the situation to you. The huts here are thatched palm leaves. Each one has a dried mud bunker inside. These bunkers are to protect the families. Kind of like air raid shelters.
My unit commanders, however, chose to think that these bunkers are offensive. So every hut we find that has a bunker we are ordered to burn to the ground. When the ten helicopters landed this morning, in the midst of these huts, and six men jumped out of each "chopper", we were firing the moment we hit the ground. We fired into all the huts we could It is then that we burned these huts. Everyone is crying, begging and praying that we don't separate them and take their husbands and fathers, sons and grandfathers. The women wail and moan. Then they watch in terror as we burn their homes, personal possessions and food.
Yes, we burn all rice and shoot all livestock. The more unpopular became the Saigon government, the more desperate the military effort became to make up for this. A secret congressional report of late said the Viet Cong were distributing about five times more land to the peasants than the South Vietnamese government, whose land distribution program had come "to a virtual standstill. The unpopularity of the Saigon government explains the success of the National Liberation Front in infiltrating Saigon and other government-held towns in early , without the people there warning the government.
The offensive was beaten back, but it demonstrated that all the enormous firepower delivered on Vietnam by the United States had not destroyed the NLF, its morale, its popular support, its will to fight. It caused a reassessment in the American government, more doubts among the American people. The massacre at My Lai by a company of ordinary soldiers was a small event compared with the plans of high-level military and civilian leaders to visit massive destruction on the civilian population of Vietnam, Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton in early , seeing that large-scale bombing of North Vietnam villages was not producing the desired result, suggested a different strategy.
The air strikes on villages, he said, would "create a counterproductive wave of revulsion abroad and at home. The heavy bombings were intended to destroy the will of ordinary Vietnamese to resist, as in the bombings of German and Japanese population centers in World War II—despite President Johnson's public insistence that only "military targets" were being bombed. The government was using language like "one more turn of the screw" to describe bombing. The CIA at one point in recommended a "bombing program of greater intensify," according to the Pentagon Papers , directed against, in the CIA's words, "the will of the regime as a target system.
Meanwhile, just across the border of Vietnam, in a neighboring country, Laos, where a right-wing government installed by the CIA faced a rebellion, one of the most beautiful areas in the world, the Plain of Jars, was being destroyed by bombing. This was not reported by the government or the press, but an American who lived in Laos, Fred Branfman, told the story in his book Voices from the Plain of Jars :.
Branfman, who spoke the Laotian language and lived in a village with a Laotian family, interviewed hundreds of refugees from the bombing who poured into the capital city of Vientiane. He recorded their statements and preserved their drawings. A twenty-six-year-old nurse from Xieng Khouang told of her life in her village:. But in and I could feel the trembling of the earth and the shock from the sounds of arms exploding around my village.
I began to hear the noise of airplanes, circling about in the heavens. One of them would stick its head down and, plunging earthward, loose a loud roar, shocking the heart as light and smoke covered everything so that one could not see anything at all. Each day we would exchange news with the neighboring villagers of the bombings that had occurred: the damaged houses, the injured and the dead The holes!
During that time we needed holes to save our lives. We who were young took our sweat and our strength, which should have been spent raising food in the rice fields and forests to sustain our lives, and squandered it digging holes to protect ourselves One young woman explained why the revolutionary movement in Laos, the Neo Lao, attracted her and so many of her friends:. But the Neo Lao said that women should have the same education as men, and they gave us equal privileges and did not allow anyone to make fun of us And the old associations were changed into new ones.
For example, most of the new teachers and doctors trained were women. And they changed the lives of the very poor For they shared the land of those who had many rice fields with those who had none. A seventeen-year-old boy told about the Pathet Lao revolutionary army coming to his village:. Then they organized the election of village and canton chief, and the people were the ones who chose them.
Desperation led the CIA to enlist the Hmong tribesmen in military campaigns, which led to the deaths of thousands of Hmong. This was accompanied by secrecy and lying, as was so much of what happened in Laos. When I first arrived in Laos, I was instructed to answer all press questions about our massive and merciless bombing campaign in that tiny country with: "At the request of the Royal Laotian Government, the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return if fired upon.
This was a lie. Every reporter to whom I told it knew it was a lie. Hanoi knew it was a lie. The International Control Commission knew it was a lie. Every interested Congressman and newspaper reader knew it was a lie.. After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us.
By early , the cruelty of the war began touching the conscience of many Americans. For many others, the problem was that the United States was unable to win the war, while 40, American soldiers were dead by this time, , wounded, with no end in sight. The Vietnam casualties were many times this number. Lyndon Johnson had escalated a brutal war and failed to win it. His popularity was at an all-time low; he could not appear publicly without a demonstration against him and the war.
In the spring of Johnson announced he would not run again for President, and that negotiations for peace would begin with the Vietnamese in Paris. In the fall of , Richard Nixon, pledging that he would get the United States out of Vietnam, was elected President. He began to withdraw troops; by February , less than , were left.
But the bombing continued. Nixon's policy was "Vietnamization"—the Saigon government, with Vietnamese ground troops, using American money and air power, would carry on the war. Nixon was not ending the war; he was ending the most unpopular aspect of it, the involvement of American soldiers on the soil of a faraway country. In the spring of , Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger launched an invasion of Cambodia, after a long bombardment that the government never disclosed to the public. The invasion not only led to an outcry of protest in the United States, it was a military failure, and Congress resolved that Nixon could not use American troops in extending the war without congressional approval.
This too failed. Meantime, the Saigon military regime, headed by President Nguyen Van Thieu, the last of a long succession of Saigon chiefs of state, was keeping thousands of opponents in jail. Some of the first signs of opposition in the United States to the Vietnam war came out of the civil rights movement-perhaps because the experience of black people with the government led them to distrust any claim that it was fighting for freedom.
On the very day that Lyndon Johnson was telling the nation in early August about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and announcing the bombing of North Vietnam, black and white activists were gathering near Philadelphia, Mississippi, at a memorial service for the three civil rights workers killed there that summer. One of the speakers pointed bitterly to Johnson's use of force in Asia, comparing it with the violence used against blacks in Mississippi. In mid, in McComb, Mississippi, young blacks who had just learned that a classmate of theirs was killed in Vietnam distributed a leaflet:.
Negro boys should not honor the draft here in Mississippi.
Resurfacing a tabloid from the Vietnam War | Stanford News
Mothers should encourage their sons not to go. When Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara visited Mississippi and praised Senator John Stennis, a prominent racist, as a "man of very genuine greatness," white and black students marched in protest, with placards saying "In Memory of the Burned Children of Vietnam. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee declared in early that "the United States is pursuing an aggressive policy in violation of international law" and called for withdrawal from Vietnam.
They were convicted and sentenced to several years in prison. Around the same time, Julian Bond, a SNCC activist who had just been elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, spoke out against the war and the draft, and the House voted that he not be seated because his statements violated the Selective Service Act and "tend to bring discredit to the House.
One of the great sports figures of the nation, Muhammad Ali, the black boxer and heavyweight champion, refused to serve in what he called a "white man's war"; boxing authorities took away his title as champion. Martin Luther King, Jr. Young men began to refuse to register for the draft, refused to be inducted if called.
As early as May the slogan "We Won't Go" was widely publicized.
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Some who had registered began publicly burning their draft cards to protest the war. One, David O'Brien, burned his draft card in South Boston; he was convicted, and the Supreme Court overruled his argument that this was a protected form of free expression. In October of there were organized draft-card "turn-ins" all over the country; in San Francisco alone, three hundred draft cards were returned to the government.
Just before a huge demonstration at the Pentagon that month, a sack of collected draft cards was presented to the Justice Department. By mid, prosecutions were begun against men refusing to be inducted; by mid that figure was up to 3, At the end of , there were 33, delinquents nationwide. In May the Oakland induction center, where draftees reported from all of northern California, reported that of 4, men ordered to report for induction, 2, did not show up. In the first quarter of the Selective Service system, for the first time, could not meet its quota. Early in the war, there had been two separate incidents, barely noticed by most Americans.
On November 2, , in front of the Pentagon in Washington, as thousands of employees were streaming out of the building in the late afternoon, Norman Morrison, a thirty-two-year-old pacifist, father of three, stood below the third-floor windows of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, doused himself with kerosene, and set himself afire, giving up his life in protest against the war.
Also that year, in Detroit, an eighty-two-year-old woman named Alice Herz burned herself to death to make a statement against the horror of Indochina. A remarkable change in sentiment took place. In early , when the bombing of North Vietnam began, a hundred people gathered on the Boston Common to voice their indignation. On October 15, , the number of people assembled on the Boston Common to protest the war was , Perhaps 2 million people across the nation gathered that day in towns and villages that had never seen an antiwar meeting.
In the summer of , a few hundred people had gathered in Washington to march in protest against the war: the first in line, historian Staughton Lynd, SNCC organizer Bob Moses, and long- time pacifist David Dellinger, were splattered with red paint by hecklers. But by , the Washington peace rallies were drawing hundreds of thousands of people. In , twenty thousand came to Washington to commit civil disobedience, trying to tie up Washington traffic to express their revulsion against the killing still going on in Vietnam.
Fourteen thousand of them were arrested, the largest mass arrest in American history. Hundreds of volunteers in the Peace Corps spoke out against the war. In Chile, ninety-two volunteers defied the Peace Corps director and issued a circular denouncing the war. Eight hundred former members of the Corps issued a statement of protest against what was happening in Vietnam. The poet Robert Lowell, invited to a White House function, refused to come.
Arthur Miller, also invited, sent a telegram to the White House: "When the guns boom, the arts die. A teenager, called to the White House to accept a prize, came and criticized the war. At the National Book Award ceremonies in New York, fifty authors and publishers walked out on a speech by Vice-President Humphrey in a display of anger at his role in the war.
In London, two young Americans gate-crashed the American ambassador's elegant Fourth of July reception and called out a toast: "To all the dead and dying in Vietnam. In the Pacific Ocean, two young American seamen hijacked an American munitions ship to divert its load of bombs from airbases in Thailand. For four days they took command of the ship and its crew, taking amphetamine pills to stay awake until the ship reached Cambodian waters.
The Associated Press reported in late , from "York, Pennsylvania: "Five antiwar activists were arrested by the state police today for allegedly sabotaging railroad equipment near a factory that makes bomb casings used in the Vietnam war. Middle-class and professional people unaccustomed to activism began to speak up. As the war became more and more unpopular, people in or close to the government began to break out of the circle of assent. The most dramatic instance was the case of Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was a Harvard-trained economist, a former marine officer, employed by the RAND Corporation, which did special, often secret research for the U.
Ellsberg helped write the Department of Defense history of the war in Vietnam, and then decided to make the top- secret document public, with the aid of his friend, Anthony Russo, a former RAND Corporation man. The two had met in Saigon, where both had been affected, in different experiences, by direct sight of the war, and had become powerfully indignant at what the United States was doing to the people of Vietnam. Ellsberg and Russo spent night after night, after hours, at a friend's advertising agency, duplicating the 7,page document.
In June the Times began printing selections from what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. It created a national sensation. The Nixon administration tried to get the Supreme Court to stop further publication, but the Court said this was "prior restraint" of the freedom of the press and thus unconstitutional The government then indicted Ellsberg and Russo for violating the Espionage Act by releasing classified documents to unauthorized people ; they faced long terms in prison if convicted.
The judge, however, called off the trial during the jury deliberations, because the Watergate events unfolding at the time revealed unfair practices by the prosecution. Ellsberg, by his bold act, had broken with the usual tactic of dissidents inside the government who bided their time and kept their opinions to themselves, hoping for small changes in policy. A colleague urged him not to leave the government because there he had "access," saying, "Don't cut yourself off. Don't cut your throat. The antiwar movement, early in its growth, found a strange, new constituency: priests and nuns of the Catholic Church.
The year-old revealed that she had actually planned on debuting as a pop singer. It was tough but very enjoyable. About their fourth collaboration together, the year-old actor said the shoot in Thailand felt more like a vacation.
U.S. Army Women in Vietnam
Choung plays the role of a double bassist who helps Sunny find her husband while being continuously ripped off by their manager Jung. The youngest in the batch, he said that the film enabled him to learn more about the Vietnam War, and that the explosions frightened him during the shoot. Through the process she embarks on a journey of self-discovery,'' said the director.
In theaters July Clear face photo of Jeju murder suspect revealed North Korea's new negotiation team in spotlight Democratic socialism spreads to South Korean politics Korean consumers set to boycott Japanese products Former cram school teacher keeps legacy of Hagoromo chalk Why do you learn English? By then, American public opinion and much of the media were antiwar.
Yet we continued to send men to fight there for six more years. Our international standing was never dependent on our commitment to South Vietnam. We might have been accused of inconstancy for abandoning an ally, but everyone would have understood. In fact, the longer the war went on the more our image suffered. The United States engaged in a number of high-handed and extralegal interventions in the affairs of other nations during the Cold War, but nothing damaged our reputation like Vietnam.
It not only shattered our image of invincibility. It meant that a whole generation grew up looking upon the United States as an imperialist, militarist, and racist power. The political capital we accumulated after leading the alliance against Fascism in the Second World War and then helping rebuild Japan and Western Europe we burned through in Southeast Asia.
American Presidents were not imperialists. They genuinely wanted a free and independent South Vietnam, yet the gap between that aspiration and the reality of the military and political situation in-country was unbridgeable. They could see the problem, but they could not solve it. Political terms are short, and so politics is short-term. The main consideration that seems to have presented itself to those Presidents, from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon, who insisted on staying the course was domestic politics—the fear of being blamed by voters for losing Southeast Asia to Communism.
It was a costly calculation. One of these was John Paul Vann, a lieutenant colonel in the Army who was assigned to a South Vietnamese commander in , at a time when Americans restricted themselves to an advisory role. It seemed to Vann that South Vietnamese officers were trying to keep their troops out of combat.
They would call in air strikes whenever they could, which raised body counts but killed civilians or drove them to the Vietcong. Vann cultivated some young American journalists—among them David Halberstam, of the New York Times, and Neil Sheehan, of United Press International, who had just arrived in Vietnam—to get out his story that the war was not going well. He wanted the United States to win. He was all about killing the enemy.
But his efforts to persuade his superiors in Vietnam and Washington failed, and he resigned from the Army in He returned to Vietnam as a civilian in , and was killed there, in a helicopter crash, in Sheehan was in Vietnam, and he knew Vann and the people Vann worked with. Lansdale was at various times an officer in the Army and the Air Force, but those jobs were usually covers. For much of his career, he worked for the C. He was brought up in California.
He attended U. During the war, Lansdale worked Stateside, but in , shortly after the Japanese surrender, he was sent to the Philippines. It was there that he had the first of his professional triumphs. He ran covert operations to help the Philippine government defeat a small-scale Communist uprising, and he supervised the candidacy of a Filipino politician named Ramon Magsaysay and got him elected President, in To assist in that effort, Lansdale created an outfit called the National Movement for Free Elections.
It was funded by the C. He was a fabricator of fronts, the man behind the curtain. The Soviets, of course, operated in exactly the same way, through fronts and election-fixing. The Cold War was a looking-glass war. In , fresh from his success with Magsaysay, Lansdale was sent to South Vietnam by the director of the C. The Communists in question were, of course, Vietnamese opposed to a government put in place and propped up by foreign powers.
As Boot explains, Vietnam was a different level of the game. The Philippines was a former American colony. Almost all Filipinos were Christians. They liked Americans and had fought with them in the war against Japan. English was the language used by the government. The Vietnamese, by contrast, had had almost no experience with Americans and were proud of their two-thousand-year history of resistance to foreign invaders, from the Chinese and the Mongols to the French and the Japanese. There were more than a million Vietnamese Catholics, but, in a population of twenty-five million, eighty per cent practiced some form of Buddhism.
The South Vietnamese who welcomed the American presence after were mainly urbanites and people who had prospered under French rule. Eighty per cent of the population lived in the countryside, though, and it was the strategy of the Vietcong to convince them that the United States was just one more foreign invader, no different from the Japanese or the French, or from Kublai Khan. He was a Communist, but he was a Communist because he was a nationalist. Twice he had appealed to American Presidents to support his independence movement—to Woodrow Wilson after the First World War, and Truman at the end of the Second—and twice he had been ignored.
Only the Communists, he had concluded, were truly committed to the principle of self-determination in Asia. The Geneva Accords called for a national election to be held in Vietnam in ; that election was not held, but many people in the American government thought that Ho would have won. Lansdale knew neither French nor Vietnamese. In the Philippines, he is said to have sometimes communicated by charades, or by drawing pictures in the sand.
Yet, as he had done in the Philippines, he managed to get close to a local political figure and become his consigliere. In the Philippines, Lansdale could choose the politician he wanted to work with; in Vietnam, he had to play the card he was dealt. Diem was the personification of the paradoxes of American designs in Southeast Asia. He was a devout Catholic who hated the Communists.
One of his brothers had been killed in by the Vietminh—the Communist-dominated nationalist party. In , the year of the French defeat, he was appointed Prime Minister by the Emperor, Bao Dai, a French puppet who lived luxuriously in Europe and did not speak Vietnamese well. Diem was a workaholic who could hold forth for hours before journalists and other visitors to the Presidential Palace. But Diem did not see himself as a Western puppet.
He was a genuine nationalist—on paper, the plausible leader of an independent non-Communist South Vietnam. On the other hand, Diem was no champion of representative democracy. His political philosophy was a not entirely intelligible blend of personalism a quasi-spiritual French school of thought , Confucianism, and authoritarianism. He aspired to be a benevolent autocrat, but he had little understanding of the condition Vietnamese society was in after seventy years of colonial rule. The French had replaced the Confucian educational system and had tried to manufacture a new national identity: Franco-Vietnamese.
They were only partly successful. It was not obvious how Diem and the Americans were supposed to forge a nation from the fractured society the French left behind. What made it poisonous was nepotism. Diem was deeply loyal to and dependent on his family, and his family were an unloved bunch.