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.