Burning History: Winners & Losers; Memories & Nightmares

In America: Forgotten and Ignored Voices of Southeast Asians.

By John M. Del Vecchio

End plate  from   For The Sake of All Living Things  : There is no understanding of the war without an understanding of the landforms and the peoples of Southeast Asia.

End plate from For The Sake of All Living Things: There is no understanding of the war without an understanding of the landforms and the peoples of Southeast Asia.

This post is a follow-up to the essays previously written on the Burns/Novick program. Since the Burns/Novick series ended I have received scores of emails, essays, notes and columns which illuminate various and specific aspects of the history of the Second Indochina War, or of this highly-flawed series itself. Four Southeast Asian voices are included below. At the end of this post you will also find links to a number of significant columns that have appeared in the past few weeks.

A Cambodian voice: The following email is from friend and advisor Saren Thach. In 1967 Saren graduated first in the officer’s class of Ecole Militaire Khmere, and a year later, again first in his class, from Ecole Militaire d’Application as an infantry officer in Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s Army.  By mid-1968 he was commanding Khmer units in the Parrot’s Beak, a salient of Cambodian territory protruding into what was then South Vietnam’s III Corps. His service continued in this area under Prime Minister Lon Nol after Sihanouk was disposed. In 1972, as a 1st Lieutenant, he became the Operations Officer for the 39th Infantry Brigade in Svay Rieng Province. Later that year he joined the newly formed Khmer Special Forces, eventually commanding five SF A-Teams in the Cambodian Highlands across from VN’s II Corps. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen, a founding member of the 1st U.S. Army Reserve Linguist Unit. In 1992 he returned to Cambodia using his language skills to aid in the search for missing American servicemen. For a dozen years he served as an analysist with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

    Talking about nightmares and memories I have had ton of them and still have them now.  Ask my wife how many times she has had to wake me up in the middle of the night with me crying, sobbing…  Those things of four decades ago still live in me.

    The US started sporadic bombing of the border area in March 1969. At the time Prince Sihanouk was already unpopular in the country because, rightly or wrongly, he let the NVA/VC use the border area from I Corps all the way to IV Corps, for sanctuaries, weapon depots, R&R centers, and hospital complexes. In 1969 I was a 21 years old second lieutenant and was leading a Cambodian platoon in this NVA/VC infested area of Parrot Beak facing Vietnam’s Tay Ninh province in III Corp. [See map: The Cambodian province is Svay Rieng.]Backed up by the villagers’ militia, my platoon had frequent small scale fighting with mostly VC troops. The fighting intensified in May of 1970 when the U.S. began the menu bombings of the border areas by B-52.

    The strategic mistake that the U.S. kept on repeating in the final year… (and repeated by Bush and Obama administrations in Iraq and Afghanistan) was that President Nixon announced the American bombings, that the pursuit of fleeing NVA/VC would stop on June 1970, and the incursion would be limited to 20 km inside Cambodia. So to speak we disclosed up front to the enemy our ops plan. All the NVA/VC did was move deeper into Cambodia for safety, and wait until July 1st to move back into same areas.

    Tonight’s story (Burns’ episode 8: The History of the World) ignored the fact that NVA/VC used Cambodian territory to fight its neighbor, and that this was the main reason the Cambodian military and people had had enough, and decided to depose Prince Sihanouk on March 11, 1970.

    During my three years posting in the border area I witnessed all these events.  Sometime NVA/VC columns moved 50 km deep into Cambodia at night just to evade observation from the South Vietnamese side.

    In the 1996 Winter issue of Army Reserve Magazine Col. (Ret) Charles Doe wrote about Saren’s 1992 return to Cambodia to aid in the search for American MIA/POWs:  “As Major Saren Thach’s convoy entered Cambodia’s “Parrot’s Beak” salient on the Vietnam border, the rusting girder bridge it crossed stirred haunting memories of combat there almost two decades before. ‘The bridge was the only government position in the middle of Viet Cong territory,’ Saren recalled of his duty there as a Cambodian army lieutenant in late 1972. ‘My company was assigned to hold it at all costs.’”

    There are a lot of secrets that to my knowledge had not been told about the treachery of Prince Norodom Sihanouk.  My three years posting in dangerous border areas provided me with a lot of real, physical, observations, physical contacts and fighting with VC.  I keep the memory of my first hand combat experiences to myself, but I’m not afraid of any challenge to the stories.  Some can speculate all day long, but for me the facts are the facts.  The real war story shouldn’t need to be written or recited only by the left.

     [Today, Saren’s homeland, after a period of semi-democratic rule, is quickly reverting to despotic state. The leadership behind this regression have their roots in various communist factions of the past. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-cambodia-dictatorship-2017-story.html.]

The original of this article by Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Sang can be found at the following: http://maggiesfarm.anotherdotcom.com/archives/30521-Review-Of-Ken-Burns-Vietnam-PBS-Series.html. His comments on Winners and Losers are of particular interest.

    I was fortunate to be part of a joint PBS and local library panel to preview the Vietnam War Documentary by filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick who had spent ten years to complete the eighteen-hour series, which the PBS will air on September 17, 2017.

    Although being anxious before an audience of more than 200 participants (mostly American-born except for my young assistant, Dr. Gwen Huynh) I decide to continue with the discussion thinking it is an opportunity to express a Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces soldier’s view about the war inspite of my limited language skill.  After the presentation, each of the panelists was asked one question. The film features a North Vietnamese veteran named Bao Ninh who says that there was no winner during the Vietnam War. The moderator asked me to comment on the interviewee’s statement.

    To me, in order to determine who won and who lost the war, one needs to answer three fundamental questions: (1) What was the goals of the involved parties? (2) What price did they have to pay? (3) The overall assessment of the war.

A- Goals of Involved Parties

   1. According to the Pentagon Papers (Pentagon Papers is a nearly 4,000-page top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1967. An American activist and former United States military analyst, Mr. Daniel Ellsberg, released it through the New York Times in 1971. The document was declassified on May 5, 2011, and has been on display at the Library of President Nixon in California. ), the US got involved in the Vietnam War was to encompass the Communist China, not to help defend South Viet Nam's independence, which was the ruse for the US containment strategy at the time.

   2. The North Vietnam’s goal was to "liberate" South Viet Nam by force and to use it as a springboard to spread International Communism throughout Southeast Asia, which was also Ho Chi Minh’s goal since 1932 when he was the leader of the Indochinese Communist Party. Le Duan, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), who was believed to have said, "We fight the Americans for the USSR and China", must have followed this goal to the letter. If so, the statement represented the true mission of the Communist leaders.

   3. On the contrary, the goal of the South Vietnamese leaders was to defend the country’s independence and sovereignty. Since the North Vietnamese Communists enjoyed maximum supports from the USSR, China, the Eastern European Communist Block, and even Cuba, South Viet Nam had no other choice but accepted assistances from the United States and other capitalist countries to fight against the Communist invasion.

B. Casualties

   1. US casualties included 58,307 KIAs, 1948 MIAs, 303,604 WIAs, and $168 billion spent ($1,020 billion according to some other estimate) for the war. At the peak of the war, the number of the US forces in Vietnam reached 543,000. The other sad thing about the outcome of the war was that the very people who had welcomed the US soldiers who had taken part in other foreign wars would turn around and showed their disdains for the ones returning from Vietnam. Lately, efforts have been made to rectify the wrongs of the past, but the wounds that the Vietnam vets have endured are never going to completely heal.

   2. The NVA casualties included 950,765 killed in action, nearly 600,000 wounded, and an estimated 300,000 missing in action. During the war, North Vietnam was one of the five poorest countries in the world. The war also killed two million civilians in North and South Vietnams.

   3. The Republic of Vietnam’s casualties included 275,000 soldiers killed in action and about 1,170,000 wounded. The number of missing persons could not be tallied because the RVN had surrendered on April 30, 1975.


   1. From these observations, I concluded that the United States was the winner because she had achieved the strategic goal of containing Communist China, even by bargaining away the lives of others, including her own servicemen and women.

   2. From the same observations, I told the audience that North Vietnam was definitely the loser. After having spent a tremendous amount of human resources including the death of nearly one million soldiers, two million civilians, and almost six-hundred thousand soldiers wounded in action and three-hundred thousand missing North Vietnam ended up dragging the whole country down the poverty pit after the war had ended. Moreover, they lost because their attempt to help China subvert the whole Southeast Asia had failed.

   3. The Republic of Vietnam was the loser because it had surrendered unconditionally on April 30, 1975. According to an interview with General Frederick C. Weyand on June 12, 2006, however, the war had been lost not because of the incompetence of the ARVN, but because of the political leaders in Washington D.C. In other words, the RVN had won the battles but lost the war because of the Allies’ betrayal.

   4. In conclusion, I told the audience that both North and South Vietnamese people were the losers. The Vietnam War was actually a Communist proxy war initiated by Ho Chi Minh, an internationalist, who had played the role of an enforcer of the Communist ambition of world domination. The war caused unspeakable suffering to the Vietnamese People and deep wounds to the country that have not healed 42 years after the war had ended.

   To a participant’s question about the current psychological consequences of the war, I simply answered, "Forty-two years after the war has ended the winning side still considers the conquered their enemy."

    Despite the purported time spent on researching and collecting materials, the film still comes across as worn-out Communist propaganda. It still shows the picture of Major General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting the Viet Cong (VC) Bay Lop on the street of Saigon, the incident in which Lieutenant William Key ordered the massacre of 128 civilians, and the villagers burnt by Napalm bombs.

    My question is why didn’t the filmmakers show the scene of the VC shelling on March 9, 1974, that had killed 200 pupils of Cai Lay Elementary School and the massacre of almost six thousand innocent people of Hue during the VC ‘Tet’ Offensive in 1968? To the film’s claim that Napalm bombs produced by Dow Chemical Company were used to kill innocent villagers, my answer is that that was the unfortunate but unavoidable casualties of the war, any war. The Kim Phuc incident is not unlike the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo in 1999 or the "friendly fire" that killed the US and Allied forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria etc. In other words, mistakes in wars, though regrettable, are inescapable. The US mainstream media has chosen to ignore that fact and shamelessly piled on one lie after another. No wonder President Trump disdains them so much.

    After the seminar, historian Bill Laurie talked with me about the fact that Bay Lop had been a terrorist who had killed six relatives of General Loan’s subordinate just before the "execution" incident. To him, General Loan action did not violate the Geneva Convention.

    It would have been possible for the US to withdraw her troops from the Vietnam Theater before 1969 if the then Commander in chief of the US forces, General Westmoreland, had not applied the "search and destroy" tactics. Military commentators criticized General Westmoreland ("the General Who Lost Vietnam by the media) for his use of massive forces, tactics that are only effective when the enemy accepts the confrontation, to fight an elusive enemy who avoided large operations by moving deeper into the jungles or across the borders of Laos and Cambodia.

    Had skillful commanders such as General Harold K. Johnson and General Frederick C. Weyand been in charge, perhaps the American troops could have been repatriated sooner without more casualties, and the US would still have succeeded in the attempt to contain Red China. If that had happened, the casualties that both Vietnams suffered would have been less and the hatreds would not have lasted as long.

    Military aid for South Vietnam also reflects the US "washing off the hand" policy. The aid package that had been at $2.8 billion in 1973 was wound down to $1 billion in 1974 and $300 million in 1975, at a time when SVN more than ever needed all the helps it could get to fight against the NVA invasion. The story did not end there. In December 1974, the US Congress decided to cut off all aid, and the Republic of Vietnam, without means to continue the fight, succumbed to the enemy on April 30, 1975. Except for the Communist "Liberation Army" myth bragging about its soldiers "catching" the US airplanes with bare hands, no army in the world that I know of could win a war without necessary weapons and resupplies.

    No one can change the history. Those who waged wars on behalf of the international Communists must accept their responsibility for the destruction of the country. History will judge their actions and our descendants will know the truth despite the Communists’ efforts to skew the historical facts.

    In order to fight against China’s aggression, the Vietnamese Communists must harness the national strength by reconciling with the people as a whole, and their victims, in particular. Otherwise, they will be a party to the demise of the country.

    In conclusion, this is a one-sided, half-truth documentary unworthy of watching. My observation had been posted on Yahoo but was removed 15 minutes later. Let us hope that Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick would have a change of heart and be more factual in their next project about the Vietnam War.

 Mr. Ngoc Kim Trinh’s email was passed onto me by R.J. Del Vecchio (my second cousin, a founding member of Vietnam Veterans for Factual History). He began his comment with a quote from William Lloyd Stearman’s column Facts ‘The Vietnam War’ left out, which appeared in The Washington Times on 4 October 2017. Stearman served on the National Security Council under Nixon, Ford, Reagan and G.H.W. Bush. See: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/oct/4/the-vietnam-war-documentary-left-out-certain-facts/

    Stearman: "Shortly after I arrived, I learned that in a nearby village two young women, a nurse and a teacher, had just been murdered by the Viet Cong. This convinced me that our cause was just. This was part of the Viet Cong’s intimidating all those who, like the two young women, represented a government presence. By 1972, more than 37,000 people in this category had been murdered by the Vietcong. This was never reported by our news media nor covered in the series."

    Mr. Ngoc Kim Trinh’s Story:  My father and 2 Uncles were kidnapped by VC from our village at the same night, Sept 14th, 1965 (by lunar calendar), and they murdered them, buried them at the same hole in the sand dunes in our village. I lived in a coastal village in Tam Ky, Quang Tin, about half way between Chu Lai and Da Nang.

    I was a little boy back then but still remember vividly that night. The VC came to our house, they told us: Invite my father to learn the policy of the revolution in few days and will be home.

    In Vietnamese: Mời Bác ̣đi học đường lối của cách mạng vài ngày rồi về.

    We knew they killed my father and 2 Uncles because of my father's jaw and his teeth, and the prescription of the wife of my uncle were found on the sand dunes in our village by a lady walking thru the sand dunes.

    Later by Chiêu Hồi, the VCs were caught, we learned that they killed my father and my 2 Uncles at the night they kidnapped them, and our 3 families discovered their remains.

    They did not shoot them, they beat them to death, and buried them in a shallow hole.

    My father and 2 Uncles, and many more civilians in the village, were murdered for intimidation reason. My father was just a merchant. My 2 Uncles were just farmers, but they were well-to-do in the village by local standard.

    As usual, I will broadcast/forwarding your emails/articles about this Vietnam War film that is so biased, very negative, and can be said: pro-commy!

     We need more articles like this in English, so we can educate our younger generation.

   I think this film has no effect on Vietnamese folks at our ages since they know very well about Communist and Communism, and core reason of conflict in VN from 1955 to 1975, but we are worried about our younger generation being brain washed in school by leftist teachers/professors in liberal schools/colleges. [my emphasis]

The following comments are from Mr. Hoi B. Tran. Mr. Tran “…fought in both Viet Nam wars. From the Dien Bien Phu battle in the North to the long war in the South, in various capacities…” One should note the passion of his critique of the Burns/Novick series. This is common amongst those who escaped the tyranny which befell the region.

To my dear Brothers-in-Arms, Vietnamese & American Veterans of the VN War, Ladies & Gentlemen,

    In mid-September 2017, I was extremely excited turning my TV on to watch the new Viet Nam War documentary directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that my son informed me the previous week. Sadly, after watching only the first episode, I already had real bad impression with this new documentary film and wanted to quit. But I realized it would be unfair if I rate the entire 10 episodes through only the first one. So I tried hard to overcome my disappointment and to stay patient to watch the remaining 9 episodes in order to have a full understanding of this VN War film before expressing my feeling/opinion of its contents. After having watched all 10 episodes, I feel comfortable now to make some honest comments on this film.  I’ll be happy and ready to discuss with anyone, Vietnamese or American, who wants to refute the facts cited in my comments below including Ken Burns or Lynn Novick.

Comments on the new VN War series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick through the eyes of a veteran of the Armed Forces of the Republic of (South) Viet Nam.

Hoi B. Tran – Oct 1, 2017

    It is no secret that the Viet Nam War was the most controversial and misunderstood war that the U.S was involved in. It was a war that deeply and bitterly divided the America. It was also a war that U.S veterans were denigrated and mistreated when returning home from Viet Nam after their tour of duty.  I remember that the late U.S Pres. Richard M. Nixon said in his book No More Vietnams published in 1985 as follows, and I quote: No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Viet Nam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. Rarely have so many people been so wrong about so much. Never have the consequences of their misunderstanding been so tragic. End of quote.

   As a soldier, I fought in both Viet Nam wars. From the Dien Bien Phu battle in the North to the long war in the South in various capacities. Now as a living witness, I feel compelled to refute the shameless lie by this Viet Nam War series when they praised and glorified Ho Chi Minh as a dedicated nationalist patriot. Additionally, I also want to erase the unjust stains smeared upon the U.S military annals by the bold-faced Vietnamese communist propaganda machine in North Viet Nam stupidly backed by the ignorant, left leaning news media and film makers in the U.S.

1 – Was Ho Chi Minh a true Vietnamese nationalist patriot who fought and ousted the French & restored independence for VN?

   On March 9th, 1945 Japanese Imperial forces in North Viet Nam staged a coup d’état and ousted the French Colonists, not Ho Chi Minh. The following day a Japanese envoy met Emperor Bao Dai and granted Viet Nam her independence within Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Following this joyful event, Emperor Bao Dai appointed Prof. Tran Trong Kim to form a legitimate government. While the Vietnamese were enjoying their independence, the US dropped two atom bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki in early August 1945 forcing Japan to surrender to the Allied forces unconditionally on August 14, 1945.  The capitulation of Japan created a political chaos in North Viet Nam.  Ho Chi Minh promptly exploited the chaotic situation and used his armed propaganda units embedded in Ha Noi to seize power.  On Aug 28, 1945, he formally declared the country to be the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV), an independent nation & proclaimed himself President and Minister of Foreign Affairs concurrently. The following week, he and his cadres convened a meeting at the Ba Dinh Square to introduce his government and cited the Declaration of Independence. During this time I was a naïve 10 year-old Vanguard Youth Troop in Ha Noi, North Viet Nam. Along with my group I was very happy singing patriotic songs as indoctrinated by communist cadres to praise Ho Chi Minh in many events. 

   After becoming President of the DRV, Ho showed his true colors as a vicious communist and a boldfaced traitor. Ho overzealously followed Maoist’s doctrine and launched the inhumane Land Reform Campaign that slaughtered at least from 60,000 to 150,000 landowners that they labeled as wicked landlords and about 50,000 to 100,000 were imprisoned.  And with his death squads, Ho liquidated all political opponents if these people were nationalists or non-communist patriots.

   The above facts shows that Ho Chi Minh and his ragtag militia forces, the Viet Minh, and his so-called armed propaganda units in North Viet Nam contributed absolutely nothing in expelling of the French forces from Viet Nam and to end French colonial rule in 1945.

2 – Ho Chi Minh was a traitor, a treacherous egomaniac, not a patriot!

    A few months after extorting power from Tran Trong Kim’s government Ho showed his traitorous, egoistic character. On March 6, 1946, Ho compromised and signed an agreement allowing French forces to return to Viet Nam for five years and, in return France would recognize his DRV government. 

    Through this wily move, nationalist Vietnamese people considered Ho a traitor to the cause of revolution. If Ho Chi Minh did not sign that agreement, of course, French forces were not allowed to return to North Viet Nam.  If French forces were not in Viet Nam, there would have been no Dien Bien Phu battle in 1954 and Viet Nam was not divided at the 17th parallel after Ho’s forces, the Viet Minh, defeated French forces at Dien Bien Phu garrison. The fall of Dien Bien Phu garrison was because Gen. Henri Navarre, Commander in Chief of the French Expeditionary Forces in the Indochinese Theater, was not aware that the ragtag Viet Minh forces received two hundred heavy artillery pieces and the deadly Soviet built rocket launchers “Stalin Organs”, military advisors, technicians, gunners and troops from the PRC (People’s Republic of China).  

    The reason Ho Chi Minh received substantial military supplies and manpower from the PRC was because Ho kowtowed to Mao Zedong since Mao won the war and established the PRC in mainland China in October of 1949. Ho Chi Minh wasted no time and immediately sent his representatives to China asking for support and assistance. By January 1950, the PRC and Russia recognized Ho’s government and the PRC began to help Ho with military advisors, weapons and troops to ensure their satellite in Viet Nam would survive.

    The bottom line is: If Ho Chi Minh had been a true nationalist patriot, he should have contented with the independence that Viet Nam inherited bloodlessly at the departure of the Japanese after they were defeated by the US.  Ho must have known that he was very lucky to be at the right place at the right time to, all of a sudden, become president of the DRV.  Under the circumstances, he should live peacefully in North Viet Nam and committed all resources into rebuilding the war ravaged country as well as the dying economy in North Viet Nam at the time. He must have known that if he did not allow French forces to return to North Viet Nam, there was no Dien Bien Phu battle. Without the Dien Bien Phu battle, Viet Nam was not divided at the 17th parallel. Even after Viet Nam was divided, if he had a decent conscience, he should have recognized the RVN in the South as a separate, independent country like East and West Germany or North and South Korea. He should not be too egoistic, too greedy wanting to gobble up the South to satisfy his hegemonic dream. But as a devout communist and a power-hungry man, Ho Chi Minh fervently wanted to take over the South and place it under his control to satisfy his big patrons, the PRC and Russia.    

 3 - Sullied the United States and the Republic of Viet Nam (RVN).  

    During the war to conquer the RVN, Ho Chi Minh and the apparatchiks in North Viet Nam employed this motto incessantly on their propaganda machine to push people to go to war: “Fighting the Americans to save our country” and “Liberate our people in the South from the neo-colonial rule of the American Imperialist”. They smeared the RVN government and its Armed Forces as puppets or servants of the “American Imperialists.” They always portrayed the RVN government as a despotic and corrupt regime and the U.S as imperialist. In summary, the North Vietnamese communist leadership had endlessly tried their utmost best to vituperate, sully the U.S, the RVN and people in the South.

    Fortunately, history has eyes and time has certain way to bring truth to the surface.  Although the long overdue truth could not heal the profound psychological and physical wound the RVN and her ally, the U.S., had to suffer. But the truth did prove that the RVN and the U.S. were not as bad as propagated by the communist and distorted by the liberal U.S. news media and film makers.

    Only a few years in the post-war era, the world had a better understanding and a clearer judgment about the ability to govern, the morality and virtue of the North Vietnamese communists after they dropped their mask and exposed their true evil color. After the end of the war they could not survive with their communist doctrine and their dying economy and they shamelessly begged the “American Imperialists” for help.  At the present time in shopping malls, travel agencies, restaurants and hotels in Viet Nam most advertising signs are written in English, not in Chinese or Russian.  In Viet Nam, girls and boys everywhere, from the metropolitan area to the rural countryside, are mixing in their day to day conversation with the words OK and Bye-Bye to be in vogue.  They also celebrate Valentine Day and sing Happy Birthday in English to be fashionable.    

    The communist propaganda machine and the left leaning U.S news media always accused the former RVN as a corrupt regime. To be fair and honest, no one could deny that every country on this planet earth does have certain form of corruption. But if we compare the corruption between the former RVN and the communist party members and their cronies in the post-war years, the RVN appears amateurish.  The communist party members are much more skillful in bringing corruption up multifold through foreign aid and investments, kickbacks from newly authorized businesses and land expropriation!  They are much better than the RVN in that they invented the super human trafficking networks.  Under the skillful management of the communist regime, Viet Nam is now known as the largest source of providing girls and women to neighboring countries as sex slaves.  They sneered at the culture, all form of literary arts, books and music in the South as depraved and were aggressively scouring everywhere to confiscate these materials to discard and destroy them.  Sadly, after they took over the South, morality, good old Vietnamese traditions and virtues went into extinction!  Prostitution, pornographic materials, venereal diseases, HIV and drugs went rampant in this amoral, depraved society!  Communist members are no longer poor communists.  They have all become Red Capitalist!  These Red Capitalists and their children are living an ultra-luxurious life over their miserable and poor people in Viet Nam.  Never in the former RVN did I see politicians and high-ranking generals have multi-million dollar mansion or vacation houses like today’s Red Capitalists.  Never did I see children of high-ranking officials of the RVN driving cars that even in the U.S. only some affluent people could afford like Rolls Royces, Ferraris and Maseratis!  Just out of curiosity, I was wondering where are those journalists of the 1960 era?  Why don’t they come out to criticize the current cruel communist dictators, the corrupt and immoral Red capitalists like they did during the Ngo Dinh Diem or Nguyen Van Thieu government?  Where have these hypocrites been hiding? 

    Now, as a veteran of the former RVN who partook in the war, I want to say it clear to all my Vietnamese and American brothers-in-arms that the U.S. were never defeated militarily by the ragtag army of the North Vietnamese Communist. Through political negotiation in Paris our politicians settled with major world powers and the parties involved to end the war in Viet Nam politically.  Following orders, you must withdraw from Viet Nam. The last U.S. military unit left Viet Nam in March 1973.  The final collapse of the RVN occurred on April 30, 1975.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the U.S. did not lose the war in Vietnam militarily. You have fulfilled the call of duty admirably and you have fought gallantly.  We salute you.  We thank you for your service and for helping us in Viet Nam.  Ironically, politics dictated the outcome.  Don’t be bothered; only ignorant or misled individuals would buy into the notion that America lost the war in Viet Nam militarily.  I clearly remember President Richard M. Nixon had said in his November 3, 1969 speech about the Vietnamization of the war: “Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”  I cannot agree more with the late President. 

   It is outrageous to see some unconscionable people who reaped benefits and opportunities America afforded them to become rich and famous, yet for one reason or another they turned anti American. To these sick people, everything America does is wrong and the enemy is always right. The last advice I wish to convey to my younger generation is: “Never trust the Vietnamese Communists!!!  They have been proven to be evils of the worst kind all through the last half of the 20th Century until the present! They have changed their name from the Vietnamese Communist Party to the Vietnamese Workers Party and from the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.  They have transformed from poor peasants before 1975 to multi-millionaires and billionaires through plundering and stealing after April 30, 1975.  In the bottom of their soul, they have not changed.  They are still the inhumane, immoral, deceptive, dangerous, cruel and unpredictable communists. Don’t ever trust or believe them regardless of how sweet or conciliatory they try to convince you.

 Additional columns and presentations of interest:

A searing essay by Phil Jennings: http://www.nysun.com/national/justifying-betrayal-of-vietnam-emerges-as-raison/90094/.

Video of the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association Meeting – Oct 3d, 2017. Every presenter makes significant points. Of particular interest is veteran, now attorney, Cary King. His talk about “stacking witnesses” begins at 9:30. http://www.pba.org/veterans/.

A forum discussion from the Center for Strategic and International Studies may be found at the following: https://www.csis.org/events/discussion-landmark-documentary-vietnam-war-ken-burns-and-lynn-novick. Of the eight panelists three worked as advisors to the film. The discussion reveals a very diverse set of comments, some highly supportive of Burns, some very, very critical of the bias of the presentation.

This column by the daughters of President Nixon will give the reader a more balanced view to his presidency and war policies than those presented by Burns/Novick. Students might wish to compare these arguments with those of presenters in the CSIS video above who explain how the presidential recordings from JFK to Nixon were highly selective.  https://www.nixonfoundation.org/2017/09/letter-tricia-nixon-cox-julie-nixon-eisenhower/.

The Vietnam War Documentary: Doomed And Despair  is an analysis of the series by Bing West. https://www.hoover.org/research/vietnam-war-documentary-doom-and-despair.

Going beyond analysis of the series, Roger Canfield here explains “Why” these discussions are important: http://www.capoliticalreview.com/top-stories/why-ken-burns-vietnam-on-pbs-matters/.

And finally, the site for Vietnam Veterans for Factual History. There are hundreds of articles, documents and commentaries on this site: https://www.vvfh.org/index.php/news-and-events/burns-documentary.

Please like, forward and share this essay.  For the earlier essays, or for more on the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/ .

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.

Burning History: The Fallacy of Inevitability and The Truncation of History

Final Thoughts: Paradigm shifts regarding the meaning of unwinnable, and the phrase the war ended, are imperative.

 By John M. Del Vecchio

At the home of one of our interpreters in 1970: “Ronnie” with his eldest son, his beautiful daughter with his youngest son. Twelve years later--11/11/82: Me, my wife Kate and eldest son Nate during the dedication of The Wall in Washington, D.C.  At Ronnie’s home we were served steak and shrimp fondue, paper thin slices we cooked in boiling alcohol and sugar. It was delicious. Few of the Americans appreciated the great sacrifice our host made—likely costing him a month’s wages. This, perhaps, was symbolic of American attitudes throughout our involvement.

At the home of one of our interpreters in 1970: “Ronnie” with his eldest son, his beautiful daughter with his youngest son. Twelve years later--11/11/82: Me, my wife Kate and eldest son Nate during the dedication of The Wall in Washington, D.C.  At Ronnie’s home we were served steak and shrimp fondue, paper thin slices we cooked in boiling alcohol and sugar. It was delicious. Few of the Americans appreciated the great sacrifice our host made—likely costing him a month’s wages. This, perhaps, was symbolic of American attitudes throughout our involvement.

The Fallacy of Inevitability

The war was unwinnable. This is the underlying motif in every episode, the main message of the entire series. And it is a fallacy. The theme begins with episode 1, Déjà Vu which ends with the devastating loss by the French at Dien Bien Phu, but never tells us why the base is there in the first place or that the North Vietnamese and Chinese communist were attacking in Laos in an attempt to widen the war. Déjà Vu is meant to be an omen that what happened in 1954 will inevitably reoccur in 1975. Burns hammers at this point through the following nine episodes, sometimes subtly other times blatantly, through four American presidents, through edited clips showing only their fears, skepticism, pessimism and duplicity.

But to claim inevitability and the un-winnability of the war for the allied side is to also infer that the communist side with all its aggression, coercion and tyranny somehow had a moral superiority or a mandate from the fates.

The theory of the unwinnable war rests on the fact that the war was not won. Because it happened this seemingly gives one arguing from that perspective the right to claim inevitable, but a change in any precursor might have produced a very different history. After the fall of Vientiane, Phnom Penh and Saigon, one may claim the war was unwinnable but at any point prior to the actual collapse that claim is untrue.

And if politicians didn’t see the possibility of winning the war, thousands, perhaps millions of American and South Vietnamese soldiers did. In the aftermath of the fall of Saigon, it became common to hear American veterans say, “We were winning when I left.” Think about what that means, about the significance it represents. Men knew the area in which they fought. They knew when it was “hot,” when there were large enemy forces present, and when that presence had been subdued.

Camp Eagle (101st Abn Div basecamp) sat close to Highway 547, the main road from the populated coastal lowlands to the mountains and jungles of the A Shau Valley. The first firebase west of Eagle was Birmingham. Through the spring of 1970 Americans only went to Birmingham via 547 in armed convoy. By late summer of that year the trip was often made by two guys in a jeep. Or recall Hue during the Tet offensive of ’68. Two and a half years later we would sightsee in Hue and the surrounding villages, and because it was peaceful GIs not on duty were not allowed to carry their weapons.

Imagine if the North Vietnamese communists had ameliorated their aggression in 1956; if they had realized their overly zealous slaughter of “land owners” was counterproductive to a healthy society; if they understood that fostering factions of the Indochina Communist Party and promoting wars of national liberation throughout Southeast Asia was not speeding the end of colonialism but was inducing the west, America in particular, to react to this spreading tyranny. Imagine if they stopped.

What would have been the reaction of the United States?

Imagine had the communists stopped in 1960 shortly after declaring war on the South, and after opening Routes 559, 759 and 959 which carried men and materiel—terrorists, assassins, political community organizers, and assault weaponry—because they realized this violent approach might create massive destruction in both North and South, and that recognizing the South might lead more quickly to reconciliation and unification— nationalistic goals versus dominance and hegemony by the party which were international communist goals.

What would have been the reaction of the United States?

Imagine if the North Vietnamese politburo had concluded after Tet 1968 that the price paid was not worth the desired aim, that a different approach might work better and not be as costly in blood and treasure; imagine had Le Duan said, “We have suffered too greatly, we must now seek reconciliation with the South and with the Americans. Imagine that same decision after the NVA offensives of Mini-Tet, the summer offensive of 1969, or the Easter Offensive of 1972?

Imagine had they not re-instigated and elevated their aggression after the Paris Peace Talks were concluded in 1973, but instead had withdrawn their 145,000 troops back to the North. [Burns talks about ceasefire violations by both sides as if this created a moral parity, but fails to mention that no South Vietnamese unit attacked a city or village or military installation in North Vietnam.]

At any of those times had the North stopped and sought reconciliation with the South and with the United States, and had asked for aid to rebuild their country, what would have been the reaction of the United States?

When you are imagining all this recall how the United States treated Germany and Japan after WWII. Would America have agreed to rebuild and reconstruct the infrastructure in the North if that nation had been open and no longer a threat to all other nations in the region?

Imagine also, at each step along the way, that the American “anti-war” movement, with many of its leaders having ties to the international communist movement, had not garnered its high degree of influence over the American media; and imagine too that JFK, LBJ, Nixon and Ford were not continuously reacting to public pressures created by the incomplete and slanted narratives these groups produced.

Imagine in ’67 or ’68 or ’70 had riots not erupted in American cities and on American campuses. Would LBJ, and then Nixon have been so defensive? Would they have developed their bunker mentalities? Would Nixon have ordered the break-in to the DNC headquarters in the Watergate complex? Regarding war decisions, would they have better reflected the realities on the ground and in the skies of Southeast Asia, and might they have been less based upon internal politics and provoked public opposition?

Any one of the above items and thousands more, had they happened, would have changed the outcome of the history of this war. Nothing is inevitable until after it has occurred.

Now also imagine the homecoming for veterans had they not be tarnished by skewed press stories leading many Americans to believe that Vietnam had turned them into savages, that they were all baby-killers, that they burned villages, raped women and young girls, and committed repulsive atrocities.

Imagine totally different homecoming scenarios and general attitude toward their service; and imagine the effect on the development of Post-Traumatic Stress disorders.

Truncated History

After Saigon fell one of the voices in the Burns documentary declares, “The Vietnamese people could finally live normally.” What?! Hello!!! Also said, “…no blood bath.”  How many people have to be executed for a documentarian to label an action “a blood bath”? I guess 60,000 murders in the first 90 days after the fall does not qualify. If one adds in the number of people who died in the gulags of re-education, does that push it into the category of blood bath? Some 1.5 million South Vietnamese men and women were treated to these communist camps—approximately 10% of the population of that country. Many were tortured. Many were starved. Many were worked to death.

Can we add in the South Vietnamese who attempted to escape the tyranny by sea—the boat people? More than a million tried to flee. Tens of thousands died in small, rickety coastal craft not designed for ocean voyage. Many more were captured and killed by pirates. Can we add any of them to the “no blood bath” equation?

What about the deaths in Cambodia and Laos. In both countries Ho Chi Minh was instrumental in establishing communist insurgencies. In both countries, long before the “end of the war,” Hanoi’s troops and agents controlled great tracts of land. Pol Pot’s faction of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge was born from Ho’s Indochinese Communist Party, but broke from Hanoi like a rebellious teenager from domineering parents. 1.7 million of 6 million Cambodians died after “the war was over.” Not a bloodbath, Mr. Burns? Francois Bizot, in his 2003 book The Gate “…understood the true nature of the Khmer Rouge long before other outsiders. Decades later, his frustration remains: ‘What oppresses me, more still than the unclosed eyes of the dead who fill the sandy paddy fields, is the way the West applauded the Khmer Rouge, hailing their victory over their brothers in 1975. The ovation was so frenzied as to drown out the protracted wailing of the millions being massacred…’”

This is a personal side bitch: Burns show American veterans returning to Vietnam years after the war, hugging and reconciling with North Vietnamese soldiers who had opposed them on the battlefield. The occasions are joyous, friendly, healing. All-well-in-good, BUT what about showing Americans reuniting with ARVN soldiers who were their allies? That’s not shown. And it’s not shown for a reason. ARVN vets are still second class citizens in Vietnam. There are numerous accounts of U.S. charities attempting to aid these men, many of whom still suffer physically from war wounds. Communist cadre always take a percentage of whatever is donated. Sometimes they take it all. Medical equipment meant to help these men is diverted to hospitals for communist party members. Americans who have pushed for fairness have become persona non grata.

And these nations, which we might have helped become Asian economic miracles, languished amongst the most politically repressive states on the planet with low per capita income and high per capita rates of disease and death. Religious and ethnic minorities are still repressed. Only a month ago two bloggers were arrested and jailed for posting items uncomplimentary of the party. The list of human rights abuses, for anyone following them, seems to be unending.


From the very first fallacy of accepting communist propaganda portraying Ho Chi Minh as a nationalist, then repeating it in multiple variations to make it a “fact,” this series has been intellectually dishonest; slanted toward a fake left-wing narrative for what purpose I do not know? Just a quick reminder: a true nationalist does not murder all his nationalist allies because only his sect of nationalism is acceptable.

Now I think, “Thank God that series is over.” But it’s not over. This series will likely be picked up by thousands of school districts and colleges across the country and around the world, and used to indoctrinate the next generations of young minds. This should be opposed. The series is offensive not only to millions of American veterans who served honorably and with pride, but to anyone who still believes in truth and academic integrity.

The war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos did not end in 1975. More Southeast Asians died in the following ten years due to fighting and communist tyranny than died during the ten years of active American involvement. The repression in all three nations continues to this day.

With all the promise and potential, with all the wonderful presentations, the incredible photography and the moving musical scores, the slanting by choice of material and by massive omission renders this series not history but propaganda.

This is the eighth in a series of eight essays on the Burns/Novick program. Please like, forward and share this essay.  For the earlier essays, or for more on the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/ .

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.

Burning History: Slogging Through…

Twilight Zones, Alternative Dimensions, Truth, Justice and The American Way.

 By John M. Del Vecchio

Firebase Whip: On the southern edge of the A Shau Valley October 1970. Photo by the author.

Firebase Whip: On the southern edge of the A Shau Valley October 1970. Photo by the author.

Perhaps I live in an alternate dimension, or perhaps the film makers of this series (and many of those they have chosen to interview) live in the twilight zone. Of the 60 or more events portrayed in episodes 7 and 8, I’ve opted to address three using passages written years ago. I believe they’re pertinent. They also demonstrate the duration of divergence of thoughts on issues and narratives. With all the scholarship that followed the “end of the war,” the repetition and reinforcement of disproven narratives is disturbing. Worse, it opens old wounds.

Before we jump into some nit and grit, I wish here to openly thank leaders and commanders of 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) units from platoons to brigades for their leadership which was so vastly superior to what I’ve seen portrayed by Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick. Surely I was blessed to soldier under such NCOs and officers. Then again, perhaps others, in other units, had experiences like mine. The video at this link (made in 2012 for the 30th Anniversary edition of The 13th Valley) explains my education in this regard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUxlt_-qEhI . Note, when I first wrote The 13th Valley I was writing strictly about the 101st. I had been appalled by news reports I’d read describing American troop activity in Vietnam, and I was out to set the record straight for the 101st. After publication I received thousands of letters… well, watch the video. It’s about two minutes.

Hamburger Hill, The Truong Son Corridor and Ted Kennedy: The below passage is from the Author’s Note to the 1988 edition of The 13th Valley. Please note the last line (emphasized). Burns/Novick have been beating the drum continuously that the war was unwinnable. It is true that some politicians believed this theory, or were at least skeptical about the chances for success. Others were more realistic, and less fatalistic. Success or failure were not predetermined but would hinge upon definitive actions of the various parties. American actions were affected (and finally perverted) by the building false narrative.

    The strategic importance of the battle at Khe Ta Laou along with all the other battles fought in that expansive area of operation beginning in 1962—Ta Bat, A Shau, Lang Vei, Khe Sanh, Dong Ap Bai (Hamburger Hill), Ripcord, and so many others—lies in blocking and/or cutting the enemy’s logistical lifeline to communist units fighting in South Vietnam. Americans who fought there understand, but politicians of the time had different agendas. In 1969 Senator Ted Kennedy (D, Mass) criticized battles in this region in a speech before Congress: “I feel it is both senseless and irresponsible to continue to send our young men to their deaths to capture hills and positions that have no relationship to ending this conflict.”  (my emphasis)

     Contrary to Kennedy’s assessment, these battles had everything to do with potentially ending the conflict. Disrupting the flow of men and materiel through the Truong Son Corridor from North Vietnam meant the enemy was harder pressed to threaten security and tranquility within South Vietnam. With the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the corridor, and the ensuing withdrawal of U.S. economic support for the South Vietnamese Army, the NVA moved unchallenged and unobstructed into the South—extending gasoline and oil pipelines down from Lang Vei, through the A Shau Valley (past Khe Ta Laou and beneath Hamburger Hill), south through Kham Duc and Dak To, all the way to Loc Ninh. This gave them a super highway with no cops and no speed limits along the way.

    Mobility along this western corridor… gave the PAVN the ability to mass forces against comparatively sparsely defended points. In late ’74 and early ’75 the northern army stormed southward down this road, using hundreds of Soviet-supplied tanks and artillery pieces, and 18,000 military trucks transporting arms, ammo and supplies for 400,000 troops. This represented a logistical operation larger than most Axis movements of World War II, and it paved the way for North Vietnam’s Final Offensive in 1975. Without that corridor a PAVN victory was impossible; with it, conquest was inevitable.

My Lai, American atrocities, and the making of a narrative: Nothing in the passage below should be construed as an excuse for the actions of the Americans who perpetrated the crimes at My Lai, or those who covered up those crimes. The following passage is from Chapter 32 of my novel Carry Me Home. In this chapter the veterans at High Meadow have staged a mock trial as an educational exercise. The chapter is titled: Opening and Closing Arguments and Highlights of The Great Media Trial. It was written in 1991.

    After the break the Myth Busters altered their tactics.  “Americans were animals at My Lai but that incident was minor in the scope of the war. Yet of a total of 9,447 network evening news stories about the war that were aired between 1963 and 1977,” Al Palanzotestified, “473 dealt with the atrocity at My Lai. The media focused and fixated on this single incident which represented three of every one hundred thousand war deaths. The NVA assassinated six thousand Saigon government civilian personnel in 1970. That did not receive one minute of American television air time. Not one minute!

      “The ramifications of this reportage are the labeling of allied soldiers as baby killers, and the dissolution of the moral rightness of the cause. By the way,” Al added, “these media figures have never been made public, and are not now in the public record. They have been derived from an internal network report.”

      That caught Sherrick and the defense off balance. He questioned Palanzo at length about the source and how the information had been obtained. Then he requested that the evidence be declared inadmissible.

The numbers, indeed, are exact, and were derived from an internal report produced by ABC, NBC and CBS which listed and graded every story aired on evening news broadcasts from 1963 to 1977 that in any way involved the war in Vietnam. Important, but not said in the novel, the revelation regarding My Lai do not break until November 12th, 1969, approximately six years from the first story listed in the report, and less than six years from the fall of Saigon. Those 473 stories about My Lairepresented approximately 10% of all TV evening news coverage from the moment of revelation to the final collapse. There are other major communist offensives, communist atrocities which dwarf the numbers at My Lai, Paris Peace Talks, POWs, communist offensives in Cambodia which lead to over 40,000 civilians being locked in gulag-camps that were precursors to the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Holocaust, yet ABC, NBC and CBS continued to focus on My Lai. Story builds narrative. My Lai became a plank in our national narrative far beyond its actual significance, and it is still a plank with extensive personal, social and political ramifications.

Cambodia prior to the Menu Bombings: The following passages are from Historical Summation, Part 1, in the novel For The Sake of All Living Things. The title of the work was derived from the Buddhist vow: I will become enlightened for the sake of all living things.These paragraphs were first written in 1986.

    Sihanouk also controlled the national “Buddhist-oriented system of voluntary contributions”—that is, taxes. To earn merit and achieve a better station in the next life, a Buddhist must be charitable. Sihanouk argued that because the rich were all devout Buddhists their contributions would support the poor and the state. In reality, the rich gave little to the poor and almost nothing to the state. The merchant or middle class, though taxed, was tiny, and state income from it amounted to little. This left only farmers to support the state, and they were heavily taxed, even though farmers as a percentage of the population had shrunk from nearly 80 percent to about 50 percent. Payment from them was usually in rice, which the government sold on the export market. By 1966, two thirds of the peasants were burdened by indebtedness, loans which carried interest rates of 12 percent per month. New population pressures, the tax-caused indebtedness, and the feudal order combined to create unstable land tenure conditions. In 1950, only one in twenty-five Khmer farmers rented his land; by 1968 the figure was one in five.

    Without broad-based taxes the government had no money with which to modernize the state, to improve or maintain the transportation and telephone systems, or to raise, equip and train a viable national army. Cambodia, from 1954, was an ever-increasing low-pressure area—a power vacuum—a nation unable to ensure domestic tranquility, much less the integrity of its borders…

    There were four major Communist factions operating in Cambodia in the late 1960s—the Viet Cong… the North Viet Namese, the Khmer Viet Minh, and the Khmer Krahom.  … By 1968 the NVA, by far the strongest force in Cambodia, had transformed the Northeast—Ratanakiri, Mondolkiri and portions of Stung Treng and Kratie provinces—into their own uncontested base area. In a different manner, they also controlled large portions of the South and Southeast. They were entrenched—through bribery, through corruption, through threat of force, and through assassination—in every area along the Sihanouk Trail from Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) northward to Phnom Penh and eastward along coastal Highway 3 through Bokor and Kampot, to the border regions. Indeed, in many of the villages in Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Kandal, Kompong Speu, Takeo and Kampot provinces the North Viet Namese maintained at least a parallel governing administration to that of Sihanouk’s government. In portions of the southeastern provinces, especially along the border, they controlled the economy so completely they printed their own currency and forced local inhabitants to us it instead of the Cambodian riel. In addition, the NVA had established a (military) front headquarters just outside Angor Wat in Siem Reap Province in the Northwest.

These were the conditions in South Vietnam’s neighboring state—conditions brought on by the launch of Hanoi’s War of Hegemony over all of Indochina. That war, as mentioned in an earlier essay, was initiated in the late 1940s and reinforced every year in Laos, Cambodia and beyond. Without Vietnamese communist tutelage there is no Khmer Viet Minh, no reactionary Khmer Rouge, no Cambodian Holocaust. Declarations of neutrality were at best ripples in a vast lake. We heard less about this from Burns than I had anticipated. Treating the topic of the war as if it only involved North and South Vietnam and not all of Southeast Asia leads to many misunderstandings. The reaction on college campuses to the Cambodian Incursion occur in a knowledge vacuum, not unlike the power-vacuum created by Prince Sihanouk. Nothing good came from either.

I feel compelled to return to my opening thoughts. I recognize all the America troops—soldiers, Marines, airmen, etc.—interviewed for this series by Mr. Burns and Ms. Novick. I don’t mean individually. I mean I knew men like them in Vietnam. And I’ve known vets like them in the years after the war. But it seems to me, in general, this is not who we were in Vietnam. This is a small and skewed fraction. So who were we? In so many ways we were the best of the generation, the ones willing to meet the challenge, to repulse an enemy, and to secure the land of a people we barely knew. Many of us, even if we didn’t wear this on our sleeve, were willing to “bear any burden… oppose any foe…” in support of liberty… willing to die in support of the right to peace, to freedoms and to self-determination free of communist tyranny. Believing we were betrayed, angry at the government or the command, or believing in the cause, our discipline differed from many of those portrayed in the documentary. That’s just who we were. The most basic characteristic of the American soldier was his unexpressed support for Truth, Justice and The American Way.

[Corrections to essay BH#6: The family assassinated in Saigon on 1 Feb 68 identified as that of Gen. Loan’s brother should have read a friend of Loan’s; the woman visited by Bill Ehrhart at Hue may not have been a professional, but more tragically a young mother pushed by circumstances to trade sex for c-rations.]

Please like, forward and share this essay.  For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.


Burning History: Symbols, Symptoms and the Derangement of Thought

Once again omissions and juxtapositions create and convey a skewed reality.

 By John M. Del Vecchio

Fighting Fires:    This one at the POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) point at Camp Eagle. Photo by the author.

Fighting Fires: This one at the POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) point at Camp Eagle. Photo by the author.

Early September 1970: I edge down the short, narrow ramp into the large underground bunker which serves as the 1st Brigade TOC (Tactical Operation Center) at Camp Eagle. Outside it is blistering hot; inside it is cooler, dank, abuzz. Half a dozen officers and NCOs are conferring at the Action Report board. Elements of our sister unit, the 1st ARVN Division, have discovered another mass grave on the outskirts of Hue. The estimated number of new remains, individuals murdered during the communist Tet Offensive of 1968, has now reached 1000. The significance of this will become apparent below.

Let’s take a step back in time.

Episode 6: Things Fall Apart (Jan 68 – Jul 68) begins with a brief segment on Khe Sanh, which Burns/Novick identify as a side show, a communist diversion while the NVA slips men and materiel past allied defenders and stow the arms and munitions in lowland caches in preparation for the attacks which they believe will lead to a general uprising of South Vietnamese citizens against their government. Close, but no cigar!

NVA documents reveal a dual-pronged strategy during Tet, and Mini-Tet which was based upon the winning strategy at Dien Bien Phu. We mentioned this in the last blog when we talked about the “gnat swarm” technique of many small, dispersed, simultaneous terrorist attacks. But a key component in 1954 was to overrun the large remote base and capture as many of the defenders as possible. And to film it! It was the films of the captured French soldiers which swayed French public opinion against continued operations in Indochina. That was the communist goal for Khe Sanh and later for Kham Duc. The NVA had camera teams at both battles with the intention of repeating their public opinion victory. In this they failed.

Episode 6 also treats us to the many political promises and boondoggles of LBJ and his administration. We again see pols putting positive spin on the situation in Vietnam, despite privately being uncertain and skeptical. The viewer knows thegenerally outcome, so watching Johnson or Westmoreland deliver these statements, one knows that they are lying. Our government has lied to us. We’ve seen this in every episode, and it is getting worse. At the time it carried over into a general dissatisfaction in America, and added to a growing polarization of the people. Riots begin in 1967. They get worse in ’68.

Then the Tet Offensive explodes upon the screen. On Day 1, 84,000 VC attack. There are attacks at Bien Hoa and Long Binh, inside Saigon, at the U.S. embassy, in large and small cities from the Delta to the DMZ, and especially at Hue. And it is a slaughter! We’re shown layers of bent, burned and broken bodies stacked up… VC and NVA bodies mostly. The narrator intones, “Everywhere the enemy was suffering terrible losses.” Not said: Nowhere did the South Vietnamese citizenry rise up against their government and support the communists. They could have. They didn’t. This is significant; a meaningful non-occurrence. It shows more clearly than any poll ever might that the population, even if it was dissatisfied with the Thieu government, far preferred to be part of an independent South Vietnamese state, than to be subjects of the North Vietnamese communists regime.

Throughout the first days, everywhere the communists attack they are repulsed and destroyed. The offensive has been a disaster for the enemy. Only in the university City of Hue have they established a foothold. Everywhere else they are losing, and losing badly.

Then, on February 1, 1968 (the second full day of the offensive) photographer Eddie Adams captures a picture of Saigon police chief, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, blowing the brains out of the captured and cuffed Viet Cong soldier Nguyen Van Lem. The picture “goes viral” or whatever the equivalent was at the time. Every media outlet carries it. It is very dramatic. Commentators and pundits talk about it being symbolic of the brutality of the allied side, and symptomatic of the repulsive and immoral leadership that America backs. There is no background story given to the events which lead to the photo, but wedo see the elation of communist officials. To them the photo is more important than all the failed attacks, all the stacks of bodies of their dead and wasted comrades.

Here’s the back story: Terrorist attacks and firefights were still active in Saigon. VC terrorists at times hit indiscriminate targets, but most often they attacked assigned, specific targets from a prepared and premeditated lists. The terrorist seen being shot had been assigned to murder the family of a friend of General Loan. Which he did! The photographs of the slaughtered family in their Saigon home —eight women, children, toddlers—are heart wrenching. The man was captured in the act of preforming these assassinations. He was brought to General Loan who was only blocks away. The battle for Saigon was still ongoing.

Years later, upon General Loan’s death, the photographer who took the picture said: "Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapons in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.’”  [Eddie Adams (1998-07-27). "Eulogy: General Nguyen Ngoc Loan". Time Magazine.]

"Having “gone viral” in the free world press, it immediately became an iconic photo of the war, and it stimulated a pivoting point in American public opinion. Always cognizant of free world public opinion, Communist propaganda agents rejoiced. Burns/Novick admit Tet was an allied military victory, but also say it turned into a victory for the communists. How? Isn’t it a matter that the press narrative turned reality upside down? Once again, let’s remember that none of this happens without the North attacking the South.

Compare this event and its media coverage with the mass executions of civilians by communist troops during the battle for Hue. The battle lasted 26 days. It was often house-to-house. There was a reason for this. Hue was a university city. It’s population, prior to the battle, was politically polarized. Many students and professors were critical of the Thieu government, and their sentiments were parallel with elements of the “anti-war” movement on American campuses. Clandestine communist cadre kindled resentment and resistance, and Hue was known to be the sanctuary of many South Vietnamese draft dodgers. As the Tet offensive began, the first infiltrators were welcomed by naïve citizens unsuspecting of the violence about to be unleashed. The welcoming also meant that the clandestine-cadre were now unmasked.

The battle and the heroics ofU.S. Marines crossing the Perfume River and breaching the walls of the citadel, along with the heroics of the ARVN in holding a tiny corner of the citadel against overwhelming odds, are covered [although oddly this is given about equal air time with poet Bill Ehrhart’s angst about visiting a prostitute]. What is not covered is the fact that the VC/NVA had entered Hue with a predrawn, premeditated list of men, women and families to be eliminated… just as they had in other towns and cities, and as Nguyen Van Lem had done in Saigon. To be murdered were all officials of the Saigon government, all prominent civic leaders, all doctors and teachers unless they were part of the clandestine element. The killings began on the first day of the occupation of the city, not only as the VC/NVA are being routed and decide to flee (as episode 6 indicates).

When people talk about the Hue massacre, they are usually referring to the civilians marched out of the city by the escaping communist force, and about the mass graves found within months after the battle was over. Burns/Novick put the figure at 2600. More graves were found in the ensuing year raising the number to approximately 4,000. In September of 1970 an additional 1000 bodies were found—buried alive, shot in the back of the head, executed in family groups. A full accounting, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done, however some reports add in the individuals assassinated while the communists held Hue. These reports suggest the real figure of the massacre at Hue should be 8,000.

Now here’s the rub. The dramatic photo of one assassin being shot on impulse while a battle was on has taken on more significance than the premeditated murder of up to 8000 civilians. People who tout the significance of the one photo also somehow claim the mantle of moral superiority over those who believe defending against communist attacks was right and just. Public opinion affects government policy, and elected officials dictate military policy. Deranged thoughts have severe ramifications.

Yes, we were lied to by our government and our politicians, as this and the next episode aptly show. But we were, and are being, lied to by the information branch of our society, the news media, with equal or worse consequences. Much of the lies of the latter have become part of our historical narrative. A paradigm shift is mandatory. Our current ambient cultural story and worldview has been skewed from reality and is leading us, as a nation, down a road we may find leads to a place we never intended going.

Next blog: Episodes 7 & 8.

Please like, forward and share this essay.  For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.

Burning History: Preparing the Battlefield; Preparing the Viewer’s Mind

Story creates self-image, and cultural story creates cultural self-image. Behavior is consistent with self-image. If you can control the story, you can control behavior.

 By John M. Del Vecchio

When a typhoon hit the northern part of South Vietnam in late 1970 many of the combat operations in western I Corps were suspended while troops from the 101st Airborne Division aided villagers in the lowlands. Photo by the author.

When a typhoon hit the northern part of South Vietnam in late 1970 many of the combat operations in western I Corps were suspended while troops from the 101st Airborne Division aided villagers in the lowlands. Photo by the author.

Let’s jump right in to the anomalies of Episode 5, This Is What We Do (July 67-Dec 67) . Then we’ll look at how this is being used to set up Episode 6, Things Fall Apart (Jan 68-May 69). Errors of omission are immense; interpretation of the limited story told is erroneous.

The reason for leaving a hill or a battlefield after the battle is over, is not “to give” the hill back to the enemy. The declaring that abandonment of the terrain makes the combat losses in vain shows zero understanding of the dynamics of the conflict. NOTE: The NVA also left virtually all these battlefields after the battle was over. It would have been virtually impossible for allied troops, even with ten times their numbers, to maintain a presence on all territory. Again, this is also true of the NVA.

Think of it this way: In a high-crime urban area do police forces continually cover every house and every business establishment, or do they patrol areas in the hopes of deterring crime by their intermittent presence or stopping violence if they can reach it as it occurs? In Vietnam, particularly in the border regions, we patrolled. This, or course, became necessary when LBJ and McNamara rejected Westmoreland’s Op York strategy (see previous blog) and force ARVN and allied troops to interdict only after enemy troops infiltrated into South Vietnam.

We did not have a Maginot Line; we policed the neighborhood. We did not occupy all spaces at all times. The criticism [we’ll see it repeated for Dong Ap Bai, Ripcord and other battles] about leaving a hill after a battle, and claiming the battle thusly being in vain is invalid. Criticizing the strategy that forced these tactics is valid.

In Episode 5 we were told that Le Duan’s strategy of late ’67 and going into ‘68 was to have the NVA instigate a series of border battles to lure Americans away from the cities, thereby leaving the populated area vulnerable to attack. This indeed is the proper set up for what’s coming at Tet ’68. Not said, however, is that this is the repeat of the strategy used in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. The part of that strategy not explained in Episode 1 is that coupled with pulling French troops to that remote outpost, the communists then instigated hundreds of terrorist incidents in the population centers of the North. General Giap referred to this part of his op plan as a “gnat swarm” technique designed to drive government officials and citizens mad. The Tet Offensive (Jan-Feb 68) and the Mini-Tet Offensive (May 68) both follow this pattern. Khe Sanh was to be the Tet Dien Bien Phu; and Kham Duc the same for mini-Tet.

One major difference that North Vietnamese planners did not fully appreciate was that American mobility was far superior to French mobility. That does not mean that the battles were not fierce. It means the Northern strategy, not adjusted for new realities, was flawed.

Significant resultants of the flawed NVA strategy—overlooked by many historians—are that the attacks caused adjustments in American military strategy, moving it a step closer to what Westmoreland conceived. From mid-68 forward American forces were more heavily concentrated in the northern provinces south of the DMZ and along the Laotian border, in order to more effectively interdict troops and materiel coming from North Vietnam. When Abrams takes over for Westmoreland he continues and expands this strategy. This disposition of forces allowed for greater use of South Vietnamese Regional and Provincial forces to secure lowland population centers, and lead to the most peaceful period in South Vietnam. There are still nasty battle to come, but both better American strategy and the continued development of the ARVN, produce conditions unfavorable to the North and cause the North to question its commitment to continuing the war. The American political atmosphere and Soviet and Chinese pressure keep them going.

Let’s take a quick look at how Burns portrays American vs. communist troops. In battle, in defensive positions or pinned down while patrolling, Americans are seen crouching in foxholes or bunkers or depressions in the ground. They are the bait the command has used to attract an attack in which enemy forces can be destroyed by artillery or air power. The picture is grim. American troops are embittered. Certainly there were times when this was accurate. Being shot at or bombarded with artillery is scary. But note how NVA soldiers are portrayed as they prepare a battlefield to lure Americans to attack their temporary position (as said, they didn’t hold territory either), or while the battle is in progress. They also hunker down, but they’re eager to engage the fight. They are not bait used by their commanders, but are courageous.

First, know that all film from North Vietnamese sources was taken by NVA “armed propaganda teams” not by members of a free press. Secondly, realize that these NVA soldiers were very often scared, that they often felt forced to be where they were, that many were disheartened, and that very many disliked their command--particularly hating the political officers which were attached to all NVA units. [Kind of sounds like troops in any war, huh?] During the war some 20,000 northern troops defected to the south. That is a very significant number and should tell the reader more about NVA morale than Burns projection of happy patriots willingly and eagerly entering the maw. As to insurgents indigenous to South Vietnam (the VC), so disenchanted with the communist side, and so convinced the allied side was winning, some 180,000 defected to the South! American defections to the North are single digit; and ARVN defection to the communist side are minor (although, it was a problem for the ARVN that troops left their units to “go home” where they often served with either local Regional or Popular force units.)

Why, Mr. Burns, have you not shown this? To portray NVA soldiers, Asian boys, as happily and willingly giving their livesfor “the cause,” as if Asians don’t value life in the same way Americans do, is subtly racist.

The first week is complete, the second week is about to start. It feels like we’ve had a semester break (and personally I’d like to get back out climbing). Episode 5 has been the set-up for where we’re going—the Tet Offensive, The Paris Peace Talks. Will we see the realities of what happened on the ground in Vietnam, or will we see Vietnam mostly through the eyes of U.S. and world politicians, and the anti-war movement?

Things do fall apart in 1968, but militarily they fall apart far more for the NVA and VC than they do for the ARVN, Americans and allies.

Please forward and share this essay.  For more on this, and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.

Burning History: Understanding The Roots of Perversion

Op Plans York, El Paso 1, El Paso 2… If you don’t have a clue to what went on behind the headlines, you have no moral authority to produce a cultural-story altering documentary. Shame on you!

 By John M. Del Vecchio

Photo by the author: Interdicting  Infiltration—from this hilltop in western I Corps one could look across the northern end of the A Shau Valley and into Laos.

Photo by the author: Interdicting  Infiltration—from this hilltop in western I Corps one could look across the northern end of the A Shau Valley and into Laos.

Where to start? Episode 4, Resolve (Jan 66-Jun 67), was by far the most emotional. Toward the end, one would have to be awfully hardhearted to watch the resolution of the Denton W. Crocker, Jr. storyline and not be in tears. A master storyteller sets these things up, and Burns has been setting this element up since at least episode two. We’ve come to like and admire not just Denton but his mother and sister. More than like and admire, we identify with them. By his demise Denton has become our son, our brother, our friend. This is very powerful. Exactly what is needed to convince a viewer who might be skeptical of Burns’ historical perspective, to essentially throw in the towel. Don’t! Just as Burns wants you to empathize with the plight of American troops yet despise American involvement, I’m asking you to honor the courage and sacrifices of American troops, but also to understand the greater story and thereby not deny meaning to their courage and sacrifices.

I am no fan of Lyndon Johnson or Robert McNamara. Their strategic handling of the war—both in the war zone and on the home front—reeks of irresponsibility and ineptitude. Their meddling in day-to-day tactical decisions was ludicrous. And most upsetting to me, and not a word of this in the Burns documentary other than a very general statement that it was denied, was their active ignorance of General Westmoreland’s clear-sighted op-plan to stop Northern infiltration and turn over in-country fighting of domestic terrorists (VC, though this is not fully accurate as we’ll see below) to the Army of The Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

As early as 1965 Westmoreland recognized the interdiction inadequacies of the system he’d inherited, and he’d surmised the war could not be won by simply defending South Vietnamese territory and killing invaders thereof. He knew that to control a defensive border—a line running from the tip of the Mekong Delta north along the borders with Cambodia and Laos then east across the DMZ to the South China Sea, a distance of over 700 miles—would take upwards of 1.5 to 2 million troops. He summed up his solution, laid out in Op Plan York, as such:

I continued for long to hope for an international force to man a line below the DMZ and across the Laos panhandle… From the first I contemplated eventually moving into Laos to cut and block the infiltration routes of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and in 1966 and 1967 my staff prepared detail plans for such an operation.

Below the DMZ, from the South China Sea to the Mekong River and border with Thailand is approximately 125 miles. This is approximately one sixth the length of border Johnson’s strategy required defending. It would have required approximately one sixth the troops, somewhere in the order of 300,000 to 350,000. Johnson, McNamara, and other’s in that administration turned the general down. Westmoreland repeated his request with Op Plans El Paso I and El Paso II. U.S. Ambassador to The Republic of Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker, backed Westmoreland.

Politically-imposed restrictions on military operations were not just casing inefficiencies and increasing casualties, they were perverting the operations themselves. Sweep and destroy missions in or close to population concentrations were Plan-B expediencies. Think of it this way: a group of armed crazies forms up outside your condominium complex. They enter the property. They kill your neighbor’s dog. They demand that all owners support them with food and funds. You are restricted by law from physically opposing them. Then they enter your  neighbor’s unit. You hear violence, panic. They break into your house, begin raping your wife and daughter, and are about to kill you. At this point the restrictions are lifted and you are allowed to shoot. The problem now is how to shoot without harming your wife and daughter, and without collateral damage going through your walls into adjoining units of even burning the complex to the ground.  

Johnson and McNamara enforced the use of Plan-B and attempted to offset it with a bombing campaign in the next town over. Combat roles became twisted.

Westmoreland continuously attempted to convince LBJ that it was better to meet the horde before they entered the property. “…it was essential for me to plan ahead,” he wrote in A Soldier Reports, “to develop contingency plans… A staff section known as J-5 developed multiple plans… I was particularly pleased with three plans developed for Laos. I am convinced two, and probably the third, would have succeeded, would have eliminated the enemy’s steady flow of men and supplies through the Laotian Panhandle, and would have materially shortened American involvement in the war.”

In 1967, to account for increased enemy infiltration, Westmoreland modified the York plan. As the year progressed, activity levels and intelligence reports indicated a new enemy offensive was about to unfold.

“The enemy’s aggressive tactics…” Westmoreland wrote, “...at Dak To (3-22 November) and elsewhere contrasted sharply with an article by (NVA) General Giap published in September 1967… in an official North Vietnamese journal. Giap proclaimed (the need) for a protracted war of attrition and urged conserving forces.” Westmoreland, matching the article with captured enemy documents, recognized Giap's use. By the end of the year he was anticipating a major offensive, the communist’s “long heralded ‘final phase’ of the war.” Still Johnson kept Westmoreland’s strike plans in limbo. Anticipating approval, and hoping to preempt the suspected enemy offensive of 1968, Westmoreland ordered his staff to update Op Plan York. 6000 Marines loggered at or near the Special Forces camp at Kham Duc near the Laotian border because the base had the best air field—equipped with all-weather radar and navigations aids—in the border zone of the northern provinces. Approval for the operation never came.

Critics might scoff at Westmoreland’s York planning, but two additional factors should be considered before one decides. 1) A modified form of York was the basis for Operation Lam Son 719 launched  in January 1971 under General Creighton Abrams (Westmoreland’s successor) and approved by President Nixon; 2) North Vietnamese commander Bui Tin, after the war, stated that what the Northern leaders feared most was a strategy which would permanently cut the trail. At the time Lam Son 719 (also called the Laotian Incursion) was approved, American forces were being withdrawn from Vietnam. All of the ground fighting was turned over to South Vietnamese troops, although they were transported into battle on American helicopter, had American air cover, and were supplied up to the border by American convoys. North Vietnamese intelligence had discovered the plan, and massive troop movements brought men and materiel not only from all over Laos, but units that had been stationed in South Vietnam, Cambodia and North Vietnam joined the fight.

One must wonder: What if?! What if Johnson had backed Westmoreland’s plan in 1965? Or 1966? Or 1967? What if there was never a need to count bodies because territory was being held? What if only the ARVN (plus RF/PF forces) dealt with indigenous insurgents? [As to the claim of being indigenous—by 1970 Northern troops comprised 95% of all VC unites, and from years earlier, 100% of the VC political cadre and military command was Northern.] That situation did, by the way, pretty much come to pass by 1970, and the indigenous insurgents proved to be no match for the ARVN. In fact, and this is a major flaw in episode 4, the ARVN which every year became a more accomplished fighting force, is only mentioned in a few negative incidents.

There is so much more real material on the events covered in the last episode it will take a book, or many books, to cover in any sort of depth.

Mr. Burns and Ms Novick, shame on you! You either don’t have a clue to what went on behind the headlines, or you have chosen to present a very lopsided story designed to alter a far more accurate cultural-story.

Please feel free to forward or share this essay.  For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.

Burning History: Deceptions and A Teaspoon of Sand

Errors or abuses in the pursuit of freedom are not justifications of the abandonment of that pursuit.

 By John M. Del Vecchio

Monday’s episode, Riding The Tiger, was wonderfully produced propaganda. It was technically better than episode one, but it was also far more manipulative. I’m trying to be nice here. Other words come to mind. If I did not have a bit of more background info from years of studying and writing about Southeast Asia, Burns would have me convinced that Diem, the autocrat, was far worse to his people than Uncle Ho. Diem, the Catholic strongman ruling a gentle Buddhist nation, cracked down on Buddhist homes of worship. Ho, the sweet old man, who, despite other leaders in his faction having gotten a bit out of hand by murdering between 50,000 and 500,000 of their countrymen, was far more a gentleman. Socialist excesses aside, Ho was beloved, Diem was despised.

Photo by the author: Confucian Order

Photo by the author: Confucian Order

Burns is very convincing. I cannot imagine anyone other than those with relatively deep subject knowledge, not being completely taken in by everything shown. We were softly set up by episode one, in episode two the filmmaker skillful weaves the story and sucks us further in. Episode three was worse yet. Those with original sin became narrators crafting stories to forever cover their tracks. Even with some depth of background in the subject, I had to recheck some of my sources to make sure I wouldn’t overstate my case because I found the programming so convincing. After spending hours rereading, my anger at his omissions and skewing of story grew to near rage. My working sub-title for today’s essay was: The Art of Lying. Perhaps I should have retained it.

Let’s quickly grab some balancing trends, and look at some real numbers:  Not shown--life, freedom and prosperity in the South from 1955 was on the rise. By 1962-63 the South was blooming. The following passage is from Lost Victory by William Colby:

…political legitimacy of the Diem regime was growing. The development of a Constitutional form, the loyalty of the Army and the bureaucracy, the regime’s success at extending its administrative writ throughout the countryside, growing international acceptance and support, and the visible progress of the economic and modernization programs were all roots feeding that growth.

Diem had successfully taken the political initiative against the divisive forces in South Vietnam while the North was diverted and not yet ready to contest him. By Tet of 1959, it was plain that a nationalist and non-Communist Vietnam was firmly established. It was also becoming apparent that its future was, if anything, more promising that the gray and regimented society in the North. The potentialities of this contrast did not escape the watchful men in Hanoi.

Or this passage from The U.S. Department of State’s 1961 Blue Book report titled A Threat to the Peace: North Viet-Nam's Effort To Conquer South Viet-Nam:

The years 1956 to 1960 produced something close to an economic miracle in South Viet-Nam. Food production rose and average of 7 percent a year and prewar levels were achieved and passed. While per capita food production in the North was 10 percent lower in 1960 than it had been in 1956, it was 20 percent higher in the South. The output of textiles in the South jumped in only 1 year from 68 million meters (in 1958) to 83 million meters. Sugar production in the same I-year span increased more than 100 percent, from 25,000 metric tons to 58,000 metric tons.

Despite the vastly larger industrial plant inherited by the North when Viet-Nam was partitioned, gross national product is considerably larger in the South. In 1960 it was estimated at $110 per person in the South and $70 in the North. Foreigners who have visited both North and South testify to the higher living standards and the much greater availability of consumer goods in the latter. (my emphasis)

Economically, the North, under draconian rule (alluded to but only the South’s Diem was “autocratic”) is often described as “gray,” a society on life support. What Burns shows of life in the North are clips from the North’s military propaganda films made to convince their captive population that things were better elsewhere in the country, and that improvements would come to all. In the South improvements were tangible to all.

Diem and the Pagoda Raids:  Let’s put some figures to what Burns portrayed as a near universal Buddhist uprising against Diem’s government, and Diem’s crackdown raids against Buddhist pagodas. Let’s also establish some characteristics of Vietnamese social and economic culture from 1955 to 1963 so as to understand this segment.

Vietnamese culture was Confucian, then Buddhist, or Catholic or any of various other sect religions. Confucianism is a philosophy and basic system of ethical and moral beliefs which does not restrict adherents from belonging to an additional religion, or religions or no-religion at all. It is a philosophy compatible with many religions, and certainly one compatible with traditional democratic principles. Vietnamese Buddhism generally is Mahayana (greater vehicle), versus Khmer and Lao Buddhism which tended to be Hinayana (lesser vehicle). Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes deep intense self-discipline. Hinayana is generally more laid-back (the Buddhism popularized by the hippie movement). Confucianism and Mahayana Buddhist, like Christianity, are ‘active’ religions in the Western sense, compatible with science, commerce, personal freedoms and economic progress. The importance of this is apparent in the economic growth, once colonial restrictions were removed, cited above.

Numbers: The Pagoda raids of August 21st, 1963 hit Xa Loi temple and other key locations in the Saigon area, along with “many” pagodas in the city of Hue. “In all,” writes historian Dr. Mark Moyar, “government forces seized thirty of the nation’s nearly five thousand pagodas, and arrested a couple of thousand people, most of whom were returned promptly to areas from which they had come… In an after action report… General Dinh (in charge, at the tactical level, of the Saigon raids, Dinh, like many of Diem’s top commanders, was Buddhist) …noted that government forces had discovered weapons and Viet Cong documents in several of Saigon’s pagodas, which he said proved the Buddhists had been colluding with Communists.” (my parenthetical and emphasis)

Thirty of nearly five thousand! Approximately 6/10th of 1%! Moyar again: “Militant Buddhist activity fell off dramatically after the clearance of the pagodas on August 21, and during Diem’s lifetime it did not regain its force.”

The raids were conducted mostly by Buddhists troops, led by Buddhist officers, against a radical and ruthless fringe element that had taken over a tiny fraction of the Buddhist community. Lyndon Johnson and some of his key advisors put great credence into reports by international journalists regarding the origins and depths of “the Buddhist uprising.” Listening to Neil Sheehan tell the story during the show, I could not help but think the fox was telling the story of his raid on the henhouse.

Next there was a thematic chorus repeated by Burns in various ways: The Geneva Accords… The Agreements… The Elections were not lived up to by Diem or the Americans. This myth has been a mainstay of the narrative established by left-leaning elements going back at least to the early 1960s, and it is a lie. The Agreements were essentially two documents; and yes, they were written. Free elections, to be supervised by the UN, are mentioned. The division between North and South at the 17th parallel is laid out. Much like the Korean Peninsula, two nation-states were recognized. However, the first document, The Accords, were only signed by a French general and a representative of the Viet Minh. The second, The Final Document, was not signed—by anyone! The U.S. was not a party to it; nor was Diem or his government; nor were the Viet Cong; nor was Ho Chi Minh. Not mentioning this pertinent fact is a major lie by omission. Not being signed means it was not agreed to. There was no agreement! No agreement for free elections, no agreement to seek reunification. This being the case, North Vietnam’s assault upon the South by sending thousands of troops and political cadre, plus tons of war materiel, into the south to run a terror campaign designed to overthrow the government of the South and to gain rule over that land, can only be seen as an attack upon a sovereign nation by another nation.

More elements, more skewed history: It’s easy to agree with Burns’ presentation of Lyndon Johnson. Many people I know consider him to have been the worst war-time president ever. The 3d episode, The River Styx, reinforces this perception. But Johnson being venal and inept does not negate the evil of the bastards on the other side. Obviously a similar statement should be made about Diem and Ho. Diem as autocratic does not negate Ho has butcher. Diem’s crackdown on agitprop agents who had infiltrated some pagodas does not negate Northern pogroms against ‘rich landowners.’

Additional thoughts and omissions: 1954-56: 900,000 refugees came into the South between 1954 and 1956. This is the equivalent of 25 million refugees settling in the U.S. in the past two years.  Approximately half of these refugees were settled in the Central Highlands on the lands of the indigenous peoples (Montagnards) or in the Mekong Delta on lands of the Khmer Krom (Lower or lowland Cambodians) who populated the Delta long before Vietnamese expansion into the area. The resentment fostered by this resettlement played into the propaganda of the communist agents as they encouraged all blame be placed on the Saigon government without acknowledging that there would have been no refugees and no resettlement onto those lands had Hanoi’s terror campaign not instigated attempts by nearly one in ten Northerners (only 900,000 were successful, an equal or greater number many have been killed while attempting to escape) to flee their homeland.

More on Diem vs. Ho Chi Minh and use of the word autocratic: This is classic manipulation. Diem and his regime are referred to at least four times as autocratic. The word is never used with Ho Chi Minh. The documentary does mention the communist party instigating a ‘land reform campaign’ and the ensuing annihilation of ‘rich landlords’ (many who had supported the communists against the French, and many who were not rich). Also mentioned is the 5% quota the communists set for elimination. This was a classic form of communist cultural memory destruction. Still, somehow, Ho got a pass from Burns on the autocratic issue. The inference is that Diem was an illegitimate ruler in the South, but kindly Uncle Ho, although far, far, far more ruthless, was legitimate in the North. Go figure!

Paradigm Shifts: Understand that none of this happens… let me repeat that, NONE OF THIS HAPPENS… if communist leaders in the North do not send agents and troops into the South. The Battle of the Ia Drang doesn’t happen. Plei Me doesn’t happen. The agitprop resistance against Diem doesn’t happen. The self-immolation by Buddhist monks don’t happen. Most of the difficulties, most of the violence, most of the killings do not happen. The problems that first Kennedy and then Johnson faced, and as Burns accurately portrays did not solve or solved poorly, would not have happened withoutHanoi’sleadership first murdering not just those Northerners opposed to them but those most capable of passing on cultural memory.

There is the repeated theme that Hanoi’s communists were motivated by a desire to reunite the country.  We mentioned earlier that viewers of episode 1 should be on the outlook for this as it would be a set-up for expanding a falsehood. Now we must again ask, “Reunite what country?” Recall, Indo-China was not one country, or even three countries, under the French. It was administered as six regions (Laos, Cambodia, Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China and the Crown Dominion Lands). Vietnam was not one country before the French. In the previous millennium it was united for perhaps 30 years. Most of this unification refers to unifying the area north of the Red River with that of the area south of the Red River—all of that territory being within what became known as North Vietnam. It does not refer to the area from the border with China in the north to the tip of the Ca Mau peninsula in the south or west to the mountain border areas with Cambodia and Laos. That had never been one country. There was nothing to reunify. This is not analogous to the American Civil War. This was not a nation that was split by colonialism, by war or by agreement.

Here, one properly should make a paradigm shift. Instead of calling it the Vietnam War it should be recognized as Hanoi’s Communist War of Hegemony to Rule All of Southeast Asia. The planning goes back to the 1920s; the implementation begins as WW II ends and accelerates for the next thirty years. As we will see later, it does not abate in 1975 but morphs into heightened terror, death camps and genocide in Cambodia, Laos and the new nation of Vietnam. The concepts reunification and Vietnam War are political constructs produced to enable and enhance propaganda, to justify losing the will to oppose tyranny, and to burn history.

A teaspoonful of sand: Does anyone recall the Jim Roan anecdote about achieving a good life, where he compares it to baking a cake. One, he said, should put in all the very best ingredients: the best eggs, the best milk, the best flour; and if possible they should be included in perfect proportion. The oven is preheated just so, so cooking time can be precise. But then, at the very last moment before popping the pan into the oven, some people put add to the batter a teaspoonful of sand. The results turn out to be something completely inedible. This is what Burns has done with his series. There are many good elements included, many accurate stories told, but it is as if into every episode he has added a teaspoonful of sand.

Please feel free to forward or share this essay.  For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on: Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com.

Burning History: Covering Up Original Sins

The Ambassador, The Newsmen, and the Imperative for American Conventional Military Intervention.

By John M. Del Vecchio

#VietnamWaronPBS; # VVFH-Burns.

In the late 1990s at a dinner sponsored by actor Charlie Pfeiffer, I had occasion to talk with David Halberstam at some length about mechanical issues of the writing trade. At the time I was correcting transcripts of interviews with survivors of Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak, a battle which took place in May 1968, just prior to the opening session of The Paris Peace Talks. KD/NT was the core battle of the Communist offensive often referred to as Mini-TET. To say the least I was terrible frustrated with the transcriptionist.

Photo by the author: Sampans on the Perfume River: In 1963 few Americans understood Vietnamese culture.

Photo by the author: Sampans on the Perfume River: In 1963 few Americans understood Vietnamese culture.


As a historical novelist I have always been sensitive to the ers and ahs, the pauses and jumps in speech. One might consider them to be the metadata connecting or disrupting connections in thoughts or story patterns… perhaps telling as much about the speaker as the words themselves. So, I want to see these blips noted in a transcript. The KD/NT pages, however, contained none, and indeed were much worse. Not only was the metadata missing, so too were many negatives. That’s right—flipping the meaning of the sentence 100%.

In response to my plaints, Mr. Halberstam offered: I don’t have that problem.

I said something like: Oh, you must have a great transcriptionist.

Halberstam: No. Just my secretary.

Me: She must be very good to get the transcript right.

Halberstam: I don’t use a recorder.

Me: Then you must take careful notes.

Halberstam: No. I just jot down keywords. Then she types up the list of the words I’ve jotted.

It was hard for me to imagine that this man, this newsman and historian, worked from nothing but a list of keywords he’d scribbled on a pad. What license?! I thought. What freedom to recall conversations and to quote officials however one wish! Perhaps he was lying to me. I took him at his word. After reading the below, you can gage for oneself the relevance of this anecdote.

Airing tonight, Riding The Tiger, episode two of the Burns series, covers the years 1961 through 1963. We’ll recap and grade episode one at the end of this piece, but first let’s think about what’s coming.

I have not seen episode two, but the most relevant occurrences of the period are the assassinations of Ngo Dinh Diem (11/1), and John F Kennedy (11/22).  I’ve a feeling Mr. Burns will bring this episode to a crescendo around these events. The build-up to these deaths should exposes original sins.

Late evening, August 22, 1963, newly appointed Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge deplaned at Tan Son Nhut airbase. He ignored General Paul Harkins, commander of MAG (the precursor of MACV), and other officials, “and headed straight for a group of U.S. newsmen.”  [A detailed story of the days preceding this moment, and the following seventy-two days leading up to the demise of Diem, can be found in Dr. Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965. Quotes here and below are from Chapter 10 of that book unless otherwise noted.] The significance of this action cannot be overstated. The U.S. newsmen that evening, and at a following “lengthy dinner” arranged by Lodge, included Neil Sheehan, UPI’s Saigon Bureau Chief, Malcolm Browne, AP’s Chief Correspondent for Indochina, and David Halberstam, a full-time reporter for the New York Times.

The situation into which Lodge deplaned was one of apparent chaos, at lease according to news reports. The focus of episode two should be on the South Vietnamese, on their society, economy, government and security in the period leading up to the assassinations. Recall that South Vietnam was dealing with the terrorist equivalent in today’s U.S. of approximately 400,000 killed and another one million “disappeared” in the preceding three years. [Just for exercise, imagine if you can 8,000 people in your state, and in every other state, killed by militants from 2015 to today. How would you react? That’s what South Vietnamese society was dealing with.]

Along with the killings and disappearances communist cadre were running a successful agitprop campaign. The term agitprop dates back to 1917 Russia, and is a combination of agitation and propaganda. It is a method of sowing dissent and dissatisfaction in the general public, originally through the arts (literature, film, plays), but later expanded to what we might call interest groups from unions and religious sects to social clubs and academia. Agitprop mechanisms and machinations include cadre (or true believers) gaining influence and leadership of traditional cultural organizations, then covertly steering those organizations into a coalition aligned with the communist cause.

 If the Burns’ analysis emphasizes this theme we’ll be watching history. On the other hand, if episode two focuses on an interpretation of culture seen through the eyes of a few influential newsmen, once again know you are watching a skewed and flawed presentation.

1962 and 1963 are the years of Buddhist unrest in South Vietnam. Other segments of society were also being agitated. The conventional and flawed narrative talks about President Diem, a Catholic in a Buddhist country, ruthlessly suppressing the Buddhist uprising, and suggests that had he ceded to the political demands of this and other interest groups, all would have returned to normal. In Diem’s words, “I cannot seem to convince the (U.S.) embassy that this is Vietnam, not the United States of America.”  His reference is to long-ingrained cultural norms: in the U.S. over 200 years of democratic processes at local levels versus in Vietnam not simply a hundred years of colonial rule, but a thousand years of subservience to various forms of autocracy.

Diem also could not convince the American newsmen that this was not Kansas, that inherent factionalism and communist scheming were tearing the nation apart, or that only strong and fair leadership could keep it from splintering further. Nor could he convince them that the Buddhist Movement was a small yet vocal agitprop faction within the Buddhist community.

From Triumph Forsaken:

      American reporters in Saigon would contend that Nhu (Ngo Dinh Nhu, Diem’s brother) had alone master-minded the pagoda raids, a claim that the journalists would use first to promote a coup and then afterwards to justify their promotion of the coup. Opposition to the government, Hlaberstam maintained in his dispatch, “is acknowledged to be extremely widespread.” In addition, Halberstam claimed to have received reliable reports of mass defections among troops of the Vietnamese Army’s Second Corps because of the “attacks” on the Buddhists. All of the foregoing information from Halberstam’s August 22 reporting came from unnamed sources in Saigon whom Halberstam had been too eager to trust, and all of it was false. (my emphasis)

This is just one example of many, many incidents of fake news from that time influencing political events; and only one example of many showing Halberstam and other journalists were more interested in promoting a political agenda than in reporting without bias. The cumulative weight of this false reporting, and Lodge’s complicity, led to tragic consequences.

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the new American ambassador, his motivations, proclivities, and political placement. Henry Cabot Lodge, the vice presidential running-mate of Richard Nixon, came out of the 1960 national elections as a potential contender to oppose President Kennedy in 1964. Kennedy’s political instincts were to marginalize this opponent, and how better to do so than to exile him to a small nation on the other side of the earth where he would be unable to consolidate a political organization. Lodge likely understood the double-bind of the ambassadorial offer: accepting could side-line him, yet declining might prove he had little interest in supporting U.S. foreign policy or American allies threatened by the creep of communism. His decision to accept this great responsibility must be qualified by his political motivations, his pandering to the press, and the resulting calamities which ensued. These misdeeds and errors need to be added to the list of original sins.

When I said in the earlier blog post that the standard narrative covers up sins of the left, this interaction between Lodge and the newsmen is to what I was referring.  In the 72 days from the time Lodge landed in Vietnam, he and the newsmen pushed hard to oust Diem. When South Vietnamese generals finally responded by arresting the president and offering him to Lodge to be flown out of the country, Lodge declined. That’s when the generals had Diem killed.

 What followed the coup and assassination of Diem was more than three years of political and military turmoil within South Vietnam. This event signaled the North that the South was vulnerable, and it triggered Hanoi’s sending of conventional units (battalions/divisions) to the southern battlefields.  It was these large conventional units that were first encountered in the Ia Drang Valley (see: We Were Soldier… Mel Gibson movie). The point is that the disruption caused by the killing of Diem threw SVN into chaos, destabilized both military and civilian/government entities, invited in enemies, and created the imperative for American conventional military intervention. Had Diem not been assassinated, chances are there would never have been the need for the massive U.S. build-up in ’64-65 to keep SVN from falling under communist control.

Thus one wonders, had the newsmen not succumbed to the communist agitprop of the time, and had the ambassador not played to the newsmen but instead had focused on American State Department and military advisors, and on the South Vietnamese officials in the trenches combatting the insurgents and terrorists, how differently the next twelve years might have been.

An aside: Are we in a relatively similar situation domestically today?  Do we have politicians playing to the press, the press pushing an agenda driven by false narratives, and a loose coalition of issue-oriented interest groups agitating for the removal of a president? And are there enemies lurking at the gates, looking for openings to come in and wreck havoc? 

Episode One Report Card: Ken Burns, Lynn Novic

1)      Ancient State: Was this covered?  No. Series begins with French colonization.

2)      Mention of Crown Dominion Lands?  No. Also very little mentioned about Laos, Cambodia.

3)      Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism?  Overstated. All communist terrorist activity shifted to other communist leaders to preserve Ho’s purity, but communist terror is mentioned.

4)      French attempting to regain Empire?  Very one-side presentation; some of the accusations against the French are well deserved, other factors ignored.

5)      Dien Bien Phu and Laos terrorism? Nothing mentioned about Chinese and Vietnamese communist attacks in Laos being reason DBP was established. Myth of Vietnamese bringing guns to DBP by selves—as Chinese labor was parmount.

6)      ’54-’56 Land Reform Pogrom?  Surprise, this was covered. But not quantified! No analysis of extent or equivalence to today’s U.S. population. Viewer may believe this was minimal.

7)      Geneva Accords and Elections? Standard flawed narrative. No mention that U.S., S VN, ­and N VN did not sign the agreement (i.e.: there was no agreement).

8)      Hanoi’s 1959 Declaration of War on South and ensuing terrorism?  Surprise again! This is mentioned, but again not quantified. Shown is a photo of three terrorist negotiating a very difficult section of jungle trail. It took a lot more than three to kill 18,000 officials.

Prior to seeing the episode I was prepared to give Burns/Novickan ‘A’ for cinematography and an ‘F’ for history.  The program was better than I’d expected, but the filming was worse. To me the most offensive segment was showing one American Marine from 1967 talking about how much he hated the Vietnamese. Nothing is offered to balance this perspective. As a novelist, one recognizes inclusions like this as set-ups for future elements of the story. Look for it to be replayed in later episodes when talking about American atrocities. Report Card: for Cinematography: ‘B’; for History ‘C-“.

 Please feel free to forward or share this essay.  For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com





Burning History: Ossifying the False Narrative

Pretending to honor those who served while subtly and falsely subverting the reasons and justifications for that service is a con man’s game.

By John M. Del Vecchio

The Vietnam War, a new 10-episode, 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, will begin airing on PBS stations in less than a week. From a cinematic perspective it will be exceptional. Burns knows how to make great scenes. But through the lens of history it appears to reinforce a highly skewed narrative and to be an attempt to ossify false  cultural memory. The lies and fallacies will by omission, not by overt falsehoods.

The Little Dragon: Detail carved into a column at the sepulcher of Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1841). Photo by the author.

The Little Dragon: Detail carved into a column at the sepulcher of Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1841). Photo by the author.

Here’s what to look for in Episode 1: Deja` Vu (1858-1961):

·         If the episode indicates the ancient state of Vietnam was one nation prior to 1858, it’s not history; it’s a set up for skewing the story. Although there were periods (totaling approximately three decades) when North and South were united, what was then North and South included limited coastal and river population centers, and did not include the Mekong Delta, the highlands, or any of the territory that became border lands between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Wars between North and South dominate Vietnamese history, but many of the wars are between the area north of the Red River (Haiphong/Hanoi) and south of the river. The ancient capital city of Hue was established at approximately the same time as the ancient city of Philadelphia.

·         If the episode mentions the French colonial administration of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China but does not include The Crown Dominion Lands, it’s not history, it’s a set up for skewing the story.

·         If it mentions Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism, his quoting from the American Declaration of Independency, and the allies arming “his” Viet Minh at the end of World War II; but does not mention that the allies armed resistance movements in virtually all countries occupied by either Germany or Japan during the ‘40s, and that in all those countries (including Italy and France) the nationalistic resistance groups attacked the occupiers while the communists attacked the other resistance groups, it’s not history, it’s a set up for skewing the story.

Regarding Ho’s nationalism, this paragraph is from VN scholar William Laurie: “In 1945 Ho Chi Minh launched a veritable pogrom against any anti-French, non-communist nationalist groups. Hundreds were killed. Members of nationalist anti-French parties such as Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang, Dai Viets, Dong Minh Hoi, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai were all targeted. Ho Chi Minh, a Stalinist adherent, even had VN's Trotskyites killed. Non-political, moderate, anti-French independence people such as Bui Quang Chieu and Pham Quynh were also assassinated. This political blood-lust is not the hall mark of a ‘nationalist.’”

·         If the episode mentions that the First Indo-China war was fought to preserve French colonialism, but does not mention France granting Cambodia de jure independence in 1949 and full independence in 1953, or why that is relevant, it is not history, it is propaganda. The war in Vietnam was pursued by the French in a manner consistent with fear of genocide in the international communist prevailed. Recall that much of Eastern Europe fell behind the Iron Curtain in the early post-WW II years, and that China fell to the Red Chinese in 1949. In an attempt to forestall a repeat of the human rights abuses and mass execution reported from all countries which fell to communism, the French opposed the Viet Minh. In Cambodia, where that threat did not exist, France pursued a far more peaceful reversion of power to legitimate native administrations. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, the man who, in 1975, received the surrender of Saigon, and who had been a cohort of Ho Chi Minh’s from the 1940s, lamented a few years ago in an interview published in a Vietnamese language paper in France, that independence could have been achieved earlier and with much less bloodshed had Ho Chi Minh been willing to work with non-communist anti-French groups.

·         If the episode mentions how France lost at the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, but does not mention the Chinese army and artillery being the deciding factor, it is not history, it is propaganda. In 1952 the French established the base at Dien Bien Phu along the main road from Hanoi to Vientiane, Laos because a year earlier Vietnamese and Chinese communist armies had begun a terrorist campaign in northern Laos with the intention of overthrowing the Lao government. The supply route from the Hanoi, through Dien Bien Phu and south through Laos later became communist Route 959 (see relevance below).

·         If the episode mentions Ho consolidating power in the North after 1954 but does not mention the murderous Land Reform Campaign of 1954-56, it is not history but is propaganda. Historians have debated the number of land owners and merchants killed during this period, some claiming 50,000, others doing their best to reduce the number to 5,000. The prior number was confirmed by North Vietnamese scholars during the short period in the late 1980s when their archives were open, but even if one chooses to use the lowest estimate that needs to be placed in context. At the time North Vietnam’s population was approximately 12 million, 1/30th of today’s U.S. population. The atrocities would be the equivalent of 150,000 (or up to 1.5 million) farm and home owners being summarily executed in America in a two-year period.

·         If Burns mentions that the Geneva Accords were not lived up to by America or South Vietnam without mentioning that neither government signed those accords (indeed no party from either sidesigned the Final Declaration), it’s not history, it’s propaganda. How often have we been told that the U.S. blocked the proposed 1956 election to reunify the country as if that had been a previous agreement? No agreement existed. That the North, by 1956, was a closed, highly controlled and completely terrorized society was of paramount concern.

·         Finally, if the episode indicates the North sought unity, but does not mention the tacit Declaration of War produced during the 1959 winter-spring session of Hanoi’s Politburo, it is not history but is propaganda. It was during this session that infiltration routes 559, 759 and 959 were authorized. The numbers indicate the date of inception: 559 being May 1959, etc. Route 559 came to be called by most western sources the Ho Chi Minh Trail; 759 was the sea route to bring men and materiel along the coast from Dong Ha down around the Mekong Delta all the way over to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville; and 959, as mentioned above, was the route west through Dien Bien Phu and south along the Mekong River through Laos into Cambodia. In 1960 insurgents (today we’d call them terrorists) began an assassination campaign which murdered approximately 18,000 South Vietnamese hamlet, village and province officials by the end of 1962. Another 50,000 individuals were “disappeared.” Government officials included hamlet chiefs, school teachers, and often their families. Again using equivalent U.S. population figures, this would equal nearly 400,000 terrorist murders in three years, or 1.5 million if those who were abducted and never heard from again are included. This was the situation that the U.S. responded to at the end of the Eisenhower and beginning of the Kennedy years. Not understanding the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis may lead one to assume all justifications for American intervention were neo-colonial. That’s a set up worthy of a great scam artist not a great filmmaker.

A few thoughts; a few questions:

                Why have Mr. Burns and his backers chosen to present these events in this manner? What is their motivation? What is behind that motivation? Who is behind that motivation? Who financed the work? What do those who created or backed this series gain, or seek to gain, by slanting history via massive omissions?

                Is the purpose of burning history a desire to ossify an existing, highly-skewed narrative, and to cover-up the “sins” of the “anti-war” left? Or might it be more? Without the skewed base-narrative the rationalization and justification for much of the left’s agenda at the time and since, simply falls apart.

I believe that few people who support that agenda are cognizant of the covert motivations at its very foundation; nor do they recognize the unseen machinations that driving it forward. Most people are motivated by the positive messages. Most people want to do good. They are not looking to destroy freedoms or the American dream. Indeed, they believe they are doing the opposite. They believe they are enhancing freedom for all, and that they are opposing people, organizations and/or movements that are anti-freedom. But factors driving the agendas—as we have seen in all countries taken over by fascist or communist regimes over the past century—may be something quite different than hyped or broadcast. One must ask: Why destroy history? Why destroy cultural memory? Why supplant that which is verifiable with that which is partisan? One does not honor the sacrifice of those who served by supplanting the meaning and justification behind that service with falsehoods. Why, Mr. Burns, have you chosen to go this route?

False narratives create aberrant behavior and cultural complications. For more on this and for the need for paradigm shifts in the way we view history and many other aspects of our culture, visit: www.peakingat70.com/lets-talk-america/

John M. Del Vecchio is the author of The 13th Valley and other works on Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and veterans issues. He is currently working on Peaking At 70: Rediscovering America and Self. www.peakingat70.com; also video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0slD-jQr8w&feature=em-subs_digest.


Mt. Baker: Wonders, Crevasses, Beneath the Surface, Paradigm Shifts, Charlottesville and 1 November 1963

Looking into a deep crevasse; note collapsing ice bridge.

Looking into a deep crevasse; note collapsing ice bridge.

Our Peaking At 70 mission is not to just create paradigm shifts within ourselves, but to offer new perspectives, and to stimulate similar shifts in others.

Staging: The Airbnb we rented turned out to be a funky, aged and sagging cottage, but the site on Samish Island was ideal, and was a perfect place to recuperate after the climb.  

Cara at dawn taking photos of the blue herons. We staged at Samish Island.

Cara at dawn taking photos of the blue herons. We staged at Samish Island.

Approach: We cannot see the mountain. To the north, in British Columbia, 840 wildfires are burning 426,000 hectares (1,052,668 acres). We ride north on Rt 9 to 542, cross the North Fork of the Nooksack River, head down Mosquito Lake and Middle Fork roads to National Forest Road 38. As we approach the trailhead the sky is hazy; the air smells of wood fires. It will give vista photos interesting shading, and be a factor as we climb.

As we broke above the treeline the ridge was a tapestry of wildflowers.

As we broke above the treeline the ridge was a tapestry of wildflowers.

Ascending and Mid-camp: On Thursday we ascended through the lower forest, above the treeline, and onto a rock strewn ridge with waterfalls and wildflowers. I made a serious error at the end of the last post saying Baker should be easier than Shasta as it isn’t as steep. My misinterpretation—I took the total trail distance as one way when it was round trip. Baker is similar to Shasta but stepped—that is, longer gentle sections interspersed with steeper climbs. Adam’s video gives one a sense of the conditions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0slD-jQr8w

For a short time the wind shifts and the smoke dissipates. We cross to the next zone, the lower edge of the glacier, pause to put on crampons and to rope up. This section is quite steep. The crevasses here, though deep, are narrow slits.

Up, up. Looking from below Black Buttes looks close, but the size of the crag is deceptive, and the climb to our mid-camp site at 7900’ takes much longer than expected. Black Buttes is a weather-beaten volcanic arc, the remnant of an ancient volcano which eons ago encompassed Mt. Baker and much of the surroundings, which blew its top, and which, for millennia, has been eroded back by the Deming glacier.

On the way up we saw only a few hikers on the trail—only one other group going to the summit. Uphill from our camp there’s a small tent with two people (we’ll cross paths the next day—father and teenage son), and a very large tent with what appears to be a dozen climbers (certainly a guided group). Below us is the group we passed that was setting up at a lower site… six or seven adults and four children ages 6 to 8! That’s it. Spread over this side of Baker it means we’re seldom in view of another climbing party—so unlike Shasta which by comparison was crowded. Ninety five percent of the time we are alone. It makes the deep upper crevasses more serious.

Smoke from over a million-acre wildfire in British Columbia painted the vista in varying shades of gray.

Smoke from over a million-acre wildfire in British Columbia painted the vista in varying shades of gray.

On breathing: Climbing. My breath is short and my lungs feel tight. I pause to do a modified Wim Hof exercise—five deep breaths with forced, full exhalations. I’ve been doing this since Zach introduced me to the technique four months ago. By breathing in deeply and forcefully blowing out the CO2 your body re-oxygenates. But it’s not working on Baker. I can’t take in a deep breath because of the smoke. Deep breathing only produces coughs. Pause over… time to move... shallow breaths or not.

Adam beside a crevasse with more behind him. Note the striation of the glacier.

Adam beside a crevasse with more behind him. Note the striation of the glacier.

Crevasses: These slits and chasms are phenomena of gravity (glaciers are always moving downhill), of the properties of water and ice across the bandwidth of temperature change, and of the underlying terrain. They develop above rock ledges and cliffs. Motion, melting, refreezing, refilling with new snow each winter, they collapse, close, reopen, develop anew. In late spring and summer snow bridges spanning the gaps collapse into the abysses. Melt runs through, into and under the glacier; trickles converge to form under-ice rivers. A friend of Cara’s, an experienced mountaineer, was boarding down Mt. Rainier on 3 July; crossing an ice bridge that collapsed he fell in and was swept under the glacier. His body has not been recovered. It is a reminder to us that the magnificence is not without peril.

Roped up and ascending somewhere below the peak.

Roped up and ascending somewhere below the peak.

Paradigm Shifts: Perhaps I’ve said this before—in everyday life we tend to live in a geometric plane of the two physical dimensions of width and depth. Indoors the plan is a slab perhaps eight to ten feet thick, the distance between floor and ceiling; outdoors the plane may be rolling, may be thicker, sidewalk to treetop, road surface to overhead signs. Of course we look up. There’s the sky, the sun, clouds, birds, passing planes; but we don’t live there, and we often keep our head down and nose to the grindstone. Climbing adds another dimension.

It is more than just going up high, more than just adding the dimension of height, as not perceived properly height by width is just a vertical plane, the side of a building, a glass pane; or height and depth equals the view down a narrow canyon. Height by width and depth changes the plane into a volume. A’, so what?

So What?! Paradigm shifts require us to think in volumes, to change from thinking along lines (lineal, bi-partisan, left-right), or worse from dots (single point perspectives), or even in sheets (areas, planes), to thinking in spaces, volumes, spheres. Paradigm shifts require us to abandon the chess board and move into the realm of 3-D chess in a 3-D world. And we must add the fourth dimension of time. That is, volume considered across time reveals meaning. Only then can we make the paradigm shifts to improve ourselves, our lives, our families, culture, and nation. It is more than saying go up, go down. Our thoughts, our explorations, contests and arguments need to be in volume, in space.

It seems to me one of the root problems we have right now as a nation is that so much of our social and/or political conversation is along lines—one end or the other, a dialectic, left-right, rich-poor, black-white—where even mid-line tends to be inane. When the line is our model of thinking we close off the vast possibilities of the volume, and adopt blinders to potential thought, feelings, observations, interpretations. In our last blog post we looked at the healthcare debate and the superficial national discussion (screaming match) about how to pay Big Pharma, corporate hospitals, Big Insurance, etc. Today, let’s jump topics.

Inspirations and Generations: This is an aside, a quick time shift before we look into the crevasse. As I climbed with Adam and Cara I made this note: If you inspired your children when they were young, they will inspire you as you age. That’s pretty self-centered. Let me change it to: If our children were inspired when they were young, they will inspire us as we age. Or better yet: If we inspired the younger generation, we will be inspired not only by their contribution to humanity, but by their vigilance in preserving the fundamentals which have given us the ability to explore, to seek wonderment, to accomplish and to benefit from accomplishment.

An old friend suggested I adopt Tony Bennett’s 1956 recording, Climb Every Mountain, as my theme song. I’ve liked it since I was a kid; and Bennett is actually Anthony Benedetto. Family lore says he’s Castlefranchese--from the same town in Italy as my paternal grandparents. I mention this to Cara. She responds, “Boring!” and suggests Avicii’s The Nights with the lyric, “My father told me… Live a life you will remember… Don’t let it slip away.” The music is lively, fast-paced, fun. Yeah, why not? Audible paradigm shift!

In the days since the climb, events have caused a far more serious paradigm shift to build in the back of my mind.

Adam on peak with Yeti and Sasquatch (friends of his kids!).

Adam on peak with Yeti and Sasquatch (friends of his kids!).

On the peak: You cannot see evidence of it, nor hear it on the YouTube video (it’s there on the raw footage), but the wind is howling. We’re on top! Feels like the top of the World. There’s a small, weather-tight box here. Adam opens it and we record our names on the notepad inside. I add, “…and happy 70th birthday to me.” It feels great to be here. Despite the smoke the multi-shaded views in every direction are… well… cool. I’m tired. We have been climbing for eight hours. This was not an easy climb; at least not for me. It is now two in the afternoon. Tired or not, this is only the halfway point. It is a long way down, and the stop at mid-camp will only to be to pack up the tents before continuing down to the trail head. We set out on our descent.

A personal journey with paradigm shifts: Sometimes I feel like Saul of Tarsus. “The things I once loved, I now hate; and the things I once hated, I now love.” But different. The things I once trusted, I no longer trust; and the things I distrusted, I now find loathsome, abhorrent, dangerous!

I’m not new to paradigm shifts. My views and understandings of the realities of events in Southeast Asia shifted dramatically during the five years I spent studying the Cambodian Holocaust and the actions, policies and procedures of the communists, while writing For The Sake of All Living Things. For decades now I’ve been writing about the ambient cultural story (or national narrative), and how flawed and skewed it was from reality. (see: The Importance of Story: Individual and Cultural Effects of Skewing the Realities of American Involvement in Southeast Asia for Social, Political and/or Economic Ends) But for most of those years I stayed close to my core focus. 2007-10 brought a new paradigm shift. I began a book on the mortgage crisis and found the self-serving narratives developed by Wall Street, the Big Banks, and associated governmental departments to be as skewed fro reality as were the facts regarding American involvement in SEA. The more one looks the more one finds that in many fields we’ve been sold a bill of goods, a national narrative that simply is flawed and/or false, skewed by omissions of data or purposeful distortions, designed to benefit some elite group or some special interest.

When we’re talking about paradigm shifts we’re talking about how our beliefs and worldviews are created by the stories we’re told or have been exposed to throughout our lives, about how those stories create our self-image, about how beliefs, worldviews and self-image control behavior—essentially about how story is a primary element in individual and cultural behavior. The mechanics of this were well understood by Pol Pot and Mao Zedong as the Year Zero and Cultural Revolution campaigns were designed to wipe out cultural memory and replace it with the society of the new socialist man.

Charlottesville and 1 November 1963: This moment in time, in the history of The United States of America, feels very much to me to be paralleling events that happened 54 years ago and half a world away. It feels as if we are descending into a crevasse from which we may never be extricated.

Allow me to jump forward to August 16th, 2017. What follows is an email I sent to my local Congressperson, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, in response to a video she sent out to constituents about the events at Charlottesville, VA.

--8/16 @ 0820: Although I agree with everything you said, your omission of facts and the shallowness of your statement are appalling. Both the neo-Nazis and the Antifa "counter protestors" (an absurd euphemism) were bussed in from afar. The Antifa group came armed, looking for violent confrontation. The police were withdrawn on higher orders from standing between the groups. This was a well-planned, well-staged event. Who paid for the busses? Who was behind organizing the actors--whether they believed in what they were doing or not, they were playing a role in a directed play. Were any of the actors paid? If so, by whom? Who ordered the police to stand down and allowed the clash to go forth? There is no love in polemics. Please give us an in-depth report.

She has not responded.

Back to 1963: Sixty four days before the fateful day, Henry Cabot Lodge landed in Vietnam and took over as the new American ambassador. Lodge had been Nixon’s running mate during the 1960 election, and had come out of the fray as a possible contender for the 1964 Republican nomination. By offering him an ambassadorship to this remote corner of the earth, Kennedy was essentially exiling him, sidelining him so he wouldn’t or couldn’t begin developing a campaign organization. Accepting that challenge, Lodge, upon arrival, immediately responded by ignoring General Harkins (commander of the Military Advisory Group) and other top American advisors, and turned his focus and attention instead to the elite of the American news corps. He would play to that group, which included amongst others Karnow, Sheehan, Halberstam, and Brown, for he was an ambitious politician and he saw them as his press outlet to America. Unfortunately these newsmen were convinced that South Vietnam’s Premier, Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, was unsuited to run a largely Buddhist and Confucian nation. Others reported different facts. President Kennedy skeptically questioned Lodge’s adherence to a seemingly skewed narrative.

Communist agitators had established numerous social groups with narrow, righteous causes, and had thereby fragmented traditional culture.  Most notable was the dissatisfaction of segments of the Buddhist population. Major Buddhist protests broke out early in 1963. The newsmen focused on the violence. Recall the staged self-immolation of Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc. The powerful and emotional photos and the film by Brown were published worldwide. They have since become part of the iconic images of The Vietnam War. Lodge and others, both in VN and in the U.S., believed the stories represented the views of most Buddhist in SVN. They blamed the Premier for the fragmentation of Vietnamese society. No matter what Diem said or did, they were against him. Some journalists and commentators pointed out that many groups were being used as pawns in this upheaval, but those voices were muted. This has been a consistent pattern of both far right and far left insurgencies since at least 1917. The current pattern in not more sophisticated, but it is more digitally and technically capable. Details of Diem’s demise can be found in Dr. Mark Moyar’s history, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Diem’s assassination on November 1st came close to toppling the Republic of Vietnam as it ushered in both years of governmental turmoil, and was the catalyst for the North Vietnamese government (and supporting communist nations) to escalate from guerilla warfare to conventional warfare. In Saigon coup followed coup; in the countryside leaderless military units lost vast tracts of territory to communist insurgents.

In response to those developments President Lyndon Johnson (JFK had been assassinated three weeks after Diem) found it necessary to send in the first U.S. conventional forces… all this leading to the early battles between battalion- or brigade-sized units in the Ia Drang Valley, as made more famous by the film We Were Soldiers…, and to the ever increasing commitment of American conventional forces from 1965 to 1969, and then the painful withdrawal to 1973.

Why should one tie Charlottesville in 2017 to Saigon in 1963: Whether you believe historic monuments that are offensive to some should be removed or you believe this is a form of book-burning; whether you believe the alt-right was 100% wrong or you believe the antifa group was at fault; whether you believe the police were incompetent, left too early thinking the demonstration was winding down, or were purposefully told to stand-down—MAKES NO DIFFERENCE.

Arguing about who was at fault or whether President Trump condemned the alt-right soon enough and harshly enough is linear thinking.

No belief above is as important as the fact that the planning for this event began at least 100 days prior to the onset of violence, and that the event was purposefully designed and managed to be violent and to attract massive media attention. Why? What is going on behind the scenes that we don’t see, that we’ve not been told?

Forget the groups: Who or what are the sources, and resources, behind these groups? Forget the polemics: Who was behind the rabid attempt to instantly establish a homogenous national narrative slanted to one end of the polemic? Slanted national narratives have ramifications. What or who has the power to produce that virtually lock-step narrative across a broad spectrum of mainstream media outlets, to do it instantly, and to coerce others to collaborate or be labeled racists?

True understanding requires an additional dimension, an expansion into space, into volume. To answer the above questions requires deep, broad, bottom-to-top analyses, and that mandates a paradigm shift from the absurd polemics playing out in the national press.

The lack of true understanding of both the culture and the people of Vietnam, the manufactured dissent and manipulated dislike for the government, the premier and the cultural-social norms of the time, plus the organizing of resistance groups representing small demographics, and the tapping into the natural generational rebelliousness of youth looking to establish their own identity, all lead to the atmosphere in which Diem was murdered. All these elements are present in American politics today.

Right now our media seemingly is foisting disenchantment by publishing stories and broadcasting news with highly limited scope—what I call skewing the story, what Trump calls fake news. What we all must realize is that a governmental collapse here similar to what happened in Vietnam in 1963, with or without assassination, will result in chaos, and in fertile ground for all enemies of American and western culture. AND THERE IS NO ONE CAPABLE OF BAILING THE U.S. OUT, no LBJ to reluctantly send in the Marines.

The end game of those sponsoring events like Charlottesville is not the removal of President Trump from office, any more than the end game for the communists in Vietnam was to remove Ngo Dinh Diem from office. The end game for those behind our American violence is complete upheaval of the government and our culture, and the replacement of both with forms that will benefit but the hidden elite.

Descending: We cautiously descended from the peak of Mt. Baker. The day has been relatively warm and by mid-afternoon surface snows are soft. Where the morning crossing between two deep crevasses had been on firm footing, the afternoon crossing was on what skiers might call wet corn. Slush quickly balls up under crampons making them useless until cleared. The slope became slipperier.

Ascending and descending took 23 of the 36 hours we were on the mountain. Certainly the kids could have done it quicker without the old man, but I was fairly close to maxed out.

Today, I fear we are on a different kind of slippery slope descending into political and cultural chaos… and all I can do is whisper, “Caution. The crevasses to each side are deep, and quick rivers course in their depths.”

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