“Memories of Communist Hanoi: 1945-1966,” from James Freeman, Hearts of Sorrow, pp. 157-168.
This reading details the effective measures that the Communists used to “reeducate” Hanoi citizens. The narrator, a North Vietnamese Chinese-Vietnamese elder first explains why he and other elders were forced to confess to imaginary crimes of capitalism. The narrator also reports how people were coerced in elections to vote for pre-selected candidates.
“Liberation” and reeducation
This anecdote describes the period of time surrounding the Communist rise to power. Communists rose to power in 1945. Before the Communists, the Japanese and then the French were in control
Before 1945, there was a terrible famine
Japanese enforced martial order
People blamed the famine on the Japanese and the French
Many people lost their lives to starvation. Approximately 2 million died
City people had money and usually survived
Rural dwellers, mainly villagers, starved
Communists came to power through the August Revolution of 1945
The Communists did not say that they were Communists. Rather, they said they were patriots helping to gain independence. They hid their identity to gain the support of the people
In this way they topple the pro-Japanese government
They chose the right time for an uprising, using the power of the people
War of resistance against the French begins in 1946. Lasts until 1954. French control Hanoi. Viet Minh control the countryside
Hanoi comes under Viet Minh control in 1954. This is the beginning of the reeducation process
The Communist view is that urban dwellers were being liberated by peasants
The view of urban dwellers was that they were not Capitalists but were eeking out small and simple lives
Communists wanted to introduce a life-style totally different than the status quo
The Communist strategy was to turn people into a means of attaining Communist objectives. People lost most of their freedoms and became servants of the Party ideology. People were not even allowed their own ideas
Land reform 1953-1956, even though the north had not yet been liberated from the French in 1953
Major propaganda campaign through the press and the radio and also through speeches, conversations etc.
Land reform was best for the peasants
The land reform really worked. The narrator speaks of having his thoughts changed
Developed a fear of being called “reactionary”
Struggle against Capitalism 1957-1959
Time of the workers, who, according to the Communists, would take power and be the leaders
Communists said that Capitalism had no place in Vietnam
Wrote a new history that showed how Capitalism had been unproductive for 40 years
Property was confiscated
Reading books was a sign that one was a “progressive” element
Because of his intellectual bent, the narrator was turned into a discussion leader for Communist reeducation. He had to play the puppet for Communist ideology
Attend classes in the morning and afternoon
Learned about the new society, the truth of Communism
Most students were capitalists and entrepreneurs
Students were forced to confess how they exploited people. Families were split and inconsistencies between different family members were used to weaken family bonds that would have encouraged resistance to Communism
Fear was a large element of reeducation
Students were forced to admit their guilt, even if there was none. Forced confessions then led to the confiscation of property and the strengthening of the Communist juggernaut. Peasants benefited from this
This reading documents the oppressive nature of Communist reeducation and demonstrates the North Vietnamese opposition voice against Communism.
Censorship and control in North Vietnam
Communist North Vietnam was a world of censorship and control
People are supposed to idolize political leaders because political leaders are supposed to represent the party of the proleteriat
Party decides everything. The government carries out the wish of the Party. There is no space for discussion. Discussion only happens when something has already been decided
Elections were rigged
Each person was kept track of by party members so it would hard to avoid voting
Group leaders gave everyone a list of seven names from which they had to choose five
“Elections are based on a climate of fear”
Newspapers were rigged
Propaganda through mass media
Belonged to the Party, not to individuals
Despite the mandate of “freedom of speech, with no censorship” in the constitution, editors were already censoring their publications. Office of Propaganda and Education watched every word, so editors were paralyzed to do anything that would vaguely contradict the Party
One paper, New Times, was allowed to contradict the Party, but this was allowed only to give the false impression that the North Vietnamese press was free
Criticism was allowed but only as long as it was not directed at the Party
Communists used plainclothes to infiltrate villages at the level of individual people. Controlling individual down to the words they used was the strategy of the Communists
This reading documents the oppressive nature of Communist rule.
Graham Greene, The Quiet American (2002 edition, text issued by Miramax films to accompany the film, starring Michael Caine)
The Quiet American is a story set in 1950s French-controlled colonial Vietnam. The narrator, Fowler, is a British reporter. The other main characters are Pyle, the “quiet American,” and Phuong, a Vietnamese woman who is the third figure in a love triangle. I summarize the plot and then identify themes of the novel relevant to our course.
In the opening of the novella, we meet Fowler and Phuong, who are both waiting to meet Pyle. Pyle does not appear. Phuong acts as Fowler’s mistress, though we also learn that she is to marry Pyle. Phuong and Fowler are ordered to report to the French police in the middle of the night, at which Fowler learns that Pyle is dead. The French question Fowler, suspecting his involvement in the killing, but they and we learn nothing. Fowler tells Phuong later that Pyle is dead and Phuong returns to be Fowler’s mistress.
We move backward in time to when Fowler first meets Pyle. In Fowler’s weathered and cynical eyes, Pyle is an idealist whose ideas about Vietnam are based not on reality, but in books written by people with no firsthand contact with the situation on the ground. Fowler somehow finds himself responsible for Pyle’s introduction to the darker side of Vietnam. Pyle also meets Fowler’s mistress, Phuong.
While tracking a French mission in Phat Diem, Fowler witnesses devastating scenes of death. Unexpectedly, Pyle appears while Fowler is in the north; like a little boyy, Pyle announces that he has fallen in love Phuong and proposes to marry her if she chooses to leave Fowler. However, when Fowler returns to Saigon, Phuong chooses not to leave Fowler.
Pyle and Fowler meet on a trip to Tanyin. On the way back, there car runs out of gas, and they take refuge with guards of a warring faction. Viets ambush the post. While Pyle and Fowler manage to escape, Fowler’s leg is broken. Pyle saves Fowler’s life. However, when Fowler returns to Phuong, he tangles himself in a net of deception, when he lies to Phuong about divorcing his wife so that he can marry Phuong. Phuong leaves Fowler for Pyle. Fowler claims to need Phuong just for her body, to have someone to not be lonely. Pyle wants Phuong to give her a family, give her a better life, etc.
In the meantime, Fowler uncover a plot involving Pyle and Pyle’s naïve dreams of helping the people in Vietnam. Pursuing an unfeasible ideology, Pyle attempts to improve the political situation between the Communists, the warring factions and the southern government by inserting a third party. With the aid of mountain rebels, Pyle starts disrupting life in Saigon with plastic explosive bombing. He believes that this activity will help the Vietnamese people, though it is never very clear how this will help French or American interests.
When civilians are killed in a mistaken bombing on the part of Pyle, and when Fowler sees civilians needlessly killed, he can no longer actively avoid choosing sides. He goes to the Communists and reports Pyle’s activities, which he suspects are part of the O.S.S., a precursor if the C.I.A. Pyle is then killed.
At the end of the novella, Phuong has returned to Fowler and Fowler gets his divorce, but he feels uncertain about whether or not his choice effectively to order Pyle’s death was the right choice.
Themes of The Quiet American
The role of the Americans in Vietnam: was Pyle just a naïve and ignorant intervener? How does his role reflect the role that the US actually played in Vietnam?
The dynamic between Fowler/Pyle and Phuong. Beyond the contrast of Fowler’s cynicism and cold pragmatism, how do their ways of treating Phuong reflect broader conceptions of how foreign nations “acted on” Vietnam?
No Other Road to Take by Nguyen thi Dinh
The memoir begins with Dinh’s initial exposure to the terrible behavior of landlords in South Vietnam and her initial exposure to the revolution.. Her brother and father often had visitors and meetings in their home, and Dinh helped cook for the men in the meetings. Dinh had great respect for her brother and father, and after seeing her brother repeatedly tortured in prison, she joins the revolution. Initially, her tasks are small, and she successfully distributes leaflets to people on her way to the market. Dinh refuses to marry anyone because she wants to focus on working for the revolution, and upon hearing this, an intellectual (Bich) asks her to marry.
After Dinh gives birth to a baby boy, South Vietnamese authorities arrest Bich and bring him to a detention camp where he will die. After his arrest, Dinh leaves her child behind with her family to focus her work on the revolution. She is subsequently arrested, and deported to a camp. In the camp, the prisoners are subject to serious abuse by the authorities. After she is allowed to leave the camp, Dinh gains contact with the resurging Viet Minh in 1944. In 1945 and 1946, Dinh was elected to the Executive Committee of the Woman’s Association, through which she helped organize support for the troops in combat. During this time, she goes to Hanoi, meets Ho Chi Minh, and embarks on a dangerous mission transporting weapons from the North to the South via sea. From 1950-1952, Dinh writes about the strong attempt by the French to assert their control, and she describes this period as the most difficult of the nine years of resistance. In response, the revolutionary leadership had to spread out to avoid capture, and Dinh is almost captured and raped by French soldiers. In 1954, there is the cease fire bringing an end to the Indochina War. Dinh sends her son On to the North, but she and her second husband stay in the south.
Following the Geneva Conference, the heavy repression is now a result of Diem’s policies. The government policies include searching out communists and spreading propaganda supporting the regime. Additionally, the government allowed the corrupt landlords to return and reclaim their land. Peasants then had to pay “missed” rent and struggled under the government. In late 1959, and into 1960, the government attempts to set up agrovilles, but it creates a lot of resentment throughout the population because peasants are forced to do most of the work without pay. The leadership in the North decides to endorse the use of armed resistance as a supplement to political resistance, and Dinh helps organize the resistance in Ben Tre.
This is a second summary written by a friend a couple years ago…..
Written in November of 1965, this text is a form of Communist propaganda. In it, Dinh tells the story of her involvement in both the anti-French movement in her teens, and then in leading the 1960 uprising against Diem in the province of Ben Tre. She gears her writing towards the people in the North who have access to books, and one of her main arguments is that reunification must come before socialism.
Born in 1920, Dinh became involved in the anti-French movement in her early teens. She was born into a peasant family, and she would often times help row a sampan into town in order to help earn money. Throughout her writing, Dinh portrays the landlords as very oppressive, and she talks about how much the Communists “loved the poor.” She is very much inspired by her own older brother who gets her to distribute pamphlets for the anti-French cause.
In 1938, Dinh marries a man named Bich, who is another revolutionary. The two of them have a son who they name On, but then Bich is arrested. Shortly after Bich’s arrest, Dinh also gets sent to a work camp controlled by the French, where she remains for three years. In 1943, she becomes ill, so they put her under house arrest, and at this point she finds out that Bich has died. She laments her status as a widow at the age of 23, and she vows to always fight to avenge her husband’s death.
She continues to be active in the revolutionary cause, and in 1946 she has the privilege of meeting Uncle Ho. She describes him as a very warm and friendly man, and she informs him of the great need for weapons in the province of Ben Tre. She later risks her life to transport weapons to this province.
Throughout her writing, she states that the “American-Diem gang” were killing “patriotic people,” and she reiterates her own devotion to patriotism and “the indomitable spirit of a revolutionary.” She describes Diem’s land reform policy as devastating to the villagers, and she calls his 10/59 decree “an extremely fascist law.” This was a law that, according to Dinh, would allow Diem’s regime to send anyone who “entertained thoughts of opposition” to the guillotine.
As January of 1960 drew nearer, Dinh and her compatriots geared up for revolution. Their main demands were: 1) to end forced labor, 2) to receive compensation for damaged property and lost income, and 3) to be able to return to their old homes and farm in order to earn a living. Dinh helped get many women involved in the revolution, and in her writing, she glorifies their participation, saying “At the height of the ‘concerted uprising’ in Ben Tre province, the successful struggle of the women…initiated a new form of struggle by the masses which proved to be very effective.” She writes that the Americans and Diem were so intimidated by this new force that they gave them a special name: “the long-haired troops.”
After the 1960 uprising in Ben Tre successfully drove out Diem’s soldiers, Dinh describes the feelings of liberation, as people could now “laugh, sing and live” as they had before. She ends her memoir saying that she would continue fighting against Diem’s regime, since there was simply “no other road to take.” She urges her readers to continue fighting to liberate the South so that “the whole country could soon be reunited.”
Chapter 9 in McMahon’s Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War
Ho Chi Minh’s Appeal After the Geneva Agreements
Calls for a cease-fire, strengthening of peace, holding of elections, attaining of independence, strengthening of relations with Cambodia and Laos, the Soviet Union and China.
Trung Nhu Tang on the Origins of the National Liberation Front (1957-1959),
Says that Diem didn’t develop social and economic reforms to help the population. Instead, he made enemies that began to coalesce into the NLF. If Diem had proven to be a competent ruler, Tang believes that the people would have rallied around him.
Manifesto of the National Liberation Front, 1960,
Praises the struggle against the French and the Geneva agreement, but denounces Diem as an American puppet. NLF will fight to overthrow Diem, establish democracy, build a national culture, and defend world peace
A Vietcong Recruit Explains Why He Joined the Revolution (1961)
Recruit joins the revolution because a VM cadre approached him and explained that he was being exploited by the landlords. The recruit agrees, and decides to join.
A South Vietnamese Peasant Girl Becomes a Vietcong Supporter (c. 1961)
When republicans were searching for VC members, they took out much of their frustration on the villagers, creating significant resentment. Basically, the constant presence and contact and propaganda converted many to the VC cause.
Vo Nguyen Giap on People’s War, 1961,
War with the French showed that an insufficiently equipped people’s army fighting for a just cause can, with proper strategies, defeat an aggressive imperialistic army. Tbe successful, it’s necessary to organize and arm all the people of North Vietnam. Goals of the war were to overthrow imperialism (French with support of US) and defeat the feudal landlord class. Winning the war would take a long time, with many small battles over time. Using guerrilla tactics would capitalize on the heroism of the individual and would overcome technological deficiencies.
Nguyen Chi Thanh on Communist Strategy, 1963
The problems in the US’s plans to turn Vietnam into a democratic nation were: Sharp social differences between US imperialism and NVN socialism and a world that is not suitable for imperialism. The US did the wrong thing by invading another nation, so it met the resistance of the whole Vietnamese people. Also, the US forces are not invincible. Compared to other imperialistic nations they are stronger, but compared to a revolutionary movement, they are weak.
Ho Vows to “Fight Until Complete Victory,” 1966,
Radio speech by Ho Chi Minh in which he reports on the successes of the war. He shows hope and optimism. He states that the US could send in 1 millions troops and drop a million more bombs, but they will not break our iron will for national salvation. Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom. Ho wonders how Pres. Johnson can claim that the Vietnamese are at fault for not entering peace talks, because the US sent troops into Vietnam to massacre the Vietnamese people. Ho claims that if the US leaves there will be peace. The Vietnamese cherish real peace, not American peace.
Week 7: Charles Neu, America’s Lost War, Chapter 3: 48-70
JFK and the World
JFK eager to still “drifting” nation to action
Pursued number of ambitious programs such as the Space Program and Peace Corps.
Kennedy and crew (McGeorge Bundy, McNamara, Rusk) were young, confident and newly focused on non-Western world.
Challenge in Southeast Asia
First year crises in Bay of Pigs invasion and Berlin confrontation and success in Laos where sought diplomatic solution. Latter made taking firm stand in Vietnam more important to show resolve.
Kennedy responds increasing support of Diem regime.
Fall of 1961 Kennedy confused as to state of affairs in Vietnam and sends fact-finding mission of Taylor and Rostow who stress importance of conflict in Vietnam and urge expanded aid to S. Viet. Forces.
Kennedy takes moderate road, refusing Taylor and Rostow and refusing to negotiate with enemy and ups advisors and military equipment to ARVN.
Seeming progress in South Vietnam
As 1962 progressed, JFK and advisors more optimistic about war with McNamara reporting progress after a brief visit in May.
Optimism also related to launch of strategic hamlet program in early1962, which in theory was to protect peasants from the demands of NLF, but in reality never functioned as such and alienated population from GNV.
Head of MACV, Paul D. Harkins predicts war success in about a yea and McNamara more conservative with “safe bet” of three years.
Some high-level Vietnam visitors such as Mike Mansfield offer pessimistic reports of progress and status of Vietnam.
The New Advisory War
ARVN had much American provided technology to used against VietCong, though, sometimes not practical/effective as North fighting different type of war.
Leadership issues within ARVN; South Vietnamese commanders with little interest in war other than promotion.
Battle of Ap Bac
January 2, 1963: VC humbles South Vietnamese army against staggering odds, killing 80 ARVN, wounding 100 ARVN, and killing 3 American advisors.
Revealed ARVN leadership shortcomings and lack of communication as problem between South Vietnamese and Americans.
Illusion of Victory
Americans maintain overly optimistic view of progress and anticipated withdrawal by 1965.
Large discrepancies between American and North Vietnamese views of how war going and where headed.
The Challenge to Diem
Peasants, urbanites, and ARVN officers all becoming discontent with Diem’s corruption and repression.
Optimism in Washington re: Diem challenged both internally and externally by “young, energetic” American journalists in Vietnam.
Doubts reinforced with Buddhist crisis in the spring of 1963.
Reassessment in Washington
Differing opinions re: Diem persist throughout 1963, but with arrival of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a vacillating Kennedy moves toward supporting a coup.
JFK sends more fact-finding missions to South Vietnam, which come back optimistic and sure of American success as demonstrated by withdrawal of 1000 troops by the end of 1963.
The Fall of Diem
Threatened by Americans with selective economic sanctions and general coolness, Diem and Nhu faked plot against the regime by neutralist forces within the military and reached out to leaders in Hanoi.
Coup unfolds November 1, with ARVN troops assaulting the presidential palace. Diem and Nhu fled but surrendered in Chinese section of Saigon the next morning and were promptly assassinated.
Reactions to the Coup
Diem corrupt, bad leader but also patriot and nationalist and perhaps senseless for US to overthrow without great prospect.
Kennedy now worries about being drawn into an open-ended war and orders more visits and fact-finding missions.
Had he lived, likely JFK would’ve maintained middle of the road approach.
Week 7: Robert J. McMahon, Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, Chapter 5 “John F. Kennedy and Vietnam: Incremental Escalation”
JFK pursued a more activist foreign policy than Republican predecessor
Sought to avoid Cold War defeats and was even more resolve in this approach after a negotiated settlement in Laos in 1961.
Maxwell Taylor recommends the dispatch of US forces, 1961
Introduction of forces carries risks such as increased tensions and heightened risk for a major war in Asia, but also (and more convincingly) demonstrates US resolve.
Don’t need a ton of force but presence enough to raise morale, conduct logistical operations, conduct combat operations in self-defense, emergency reserve backup to ARVN, and act as advance party of additional forces as may be introduced.
Ultimate recommendation is to not exceed 8000 troops.
Dean Rusk and Robert S. McNamara’s alternative plan, 1961
Must put GVN in position to win war for self and should be prepared to introduce US forces if necessary to prevent fall of Saigon to communism.
Two part deployment needed: modest sized units for direct support and larger units with actual direct military mission.
Needed troops about 205,000 men in addition to local forces and SEATO forces which may be engaged.
Urge commitment to do it at almost whatever financial and troop cost.
An early US Army advisor remembers his experiences (1962-1963), 1981
No one initially knew what was going on in Vietnam—“rumors of some place with combat pay.”
American contingent sparse at first but with Buddhist demonstrations in 1963 American realized they were supporting “police state.”
Mike Mansfield questions American policy, 1962
Diem really capable leader? Diffusion of political power, democracy necessary for any success in Vietnam.
Emphatically does not recommend massive American commitment of troops—primary responsibility falls on Vietnamese people.
John F. Kennedy criticizes the South Vietnamese government, 1963
Walter Cronkite interview: JFK calls for Diem to get back in touch with his people or risk failure in war efforts.
Kennedy reaffirms the domino theory, 1963
Interview with Huntley and Brinkley: “China is so large, looms so high just beyond the frontiers, that if South Viet-Nam went”…
CIA coordinates with State Department and the Defense Department—does not make its own policy as charged.
Don’t want to exercise complete control/too much influence in South Vietnam as they have their own interests, etc.; US “can’t make everyone in our image.”
Henry Cabot Lodge discusses coup prospects, 1963
Gen. Don and Conein: former “seriously attempting to effect change in the government”
US shouldn’t thwart because 1) next government couldn’t be worse than present and 2) “unwise in the long range for us to pour cold water on attempts at a coup”
Gen. Don intends no religious discrimination
McGeorge Bundy expresses reservations, 1963
Coup may induce prolonged fighting
Don’s lack of experience/willingness in military planning
Take care to prevent coup from endangering US nationals
Need post-coup recommendations
Diem’s final appeal for US help, 1963
Lodge ambiguous about US intentions and Diem seems to sense the end is near.
Essay by Michael H. Hunt of UNC “The Perils of Interventionism”
Negative assessment of JFK as a person and leader who was “emotionally immature” and had a “shallow understanding of foreign policy.”
Kennedy crew driven by Cold War imperatives and eager, but sometimes JFK moved at a slow pace as in SE Asia
Kennedy confused by greatly conflicting reports given to him about state of Vietnam
Implications and consequences of foreign policy choices unpredictable and “potentially unpalatable.”
While Rostow argued to send troops to Laos, JFK ultimately opted for negotiated settlement.
Initially, decided to stand firm with Diem to prevent communist domination of SV, taking the middle of the road and quietly approving additional troops.
Kennedy troubled by “war that offered no easy answers and seemed to require ever-higher levels of U. S. involvement.” Eventually accepted McNamara-Rusk recommendations and sent operational units to SV.
Perfunctory approval of coup deepens concern and uncertainty.
Kennedy perhaps rethinking Vietnam policy, considering withdrawal with announcement of slow withdrawal of few troops?
If happened would’ve been arduous and dangerous.
Would again mean “quitting” vs. Communism and abandoning people vowed to protect.
Essay by David Kaiser, Army War College: “Kennedy’s prudent and cautious policy”
Kennedy rightly questioned how much support war would receive from variety of sources and wondered whether Indochina really the place to fight Communism.
Saigon nor the US knew how to deal with a guerilla war, so Kennedy right to avoid over-commitment or becoming trapped in an extended war.
Coup should be blamed on Diem and Nhu not Americans.
Kennedy continued to believe until the end the assurances of his advisors that the war was going well. Can we criticize his policy if he truly believed all was well and proceeding as planned?
Week 7: “Intelligence and Vietnam: The Top Secret 1969 State Department Study”
This reading is a collection of declassified Bureau of Intelligence and Research documents which stood out as tenaciously pessimistic with regards to US involvement in Vietnam. Their primary points of concern which warn against escalation are: the question of the viability of successive Saigon regimes; the Pentagon’s statistical underestimation of enemy strength; the ultimate ineffectiveness of bombing in the North; the persistence of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong; and the danger of Chinese intervention.
PART I: The Problem Confronted: January 1961-February 1962
Events during the last two years of the Eisenhower administration gave rise to concerns regarding the stability of South Vietnam under Diem. Viet Cong activity and inroads into areas previously under government control grew substantially. Evidence of growing discontent with the Diem regime in civilian and military circles. However within the US government there was no agreement upon the nature or causes of the threat let alone what to do about it.
All discussion within the government addressed issues of military strategy. The military felt as thought the main danger was in overt attack from the north and that conventional forces suited to defend against such would be sufficient to address the insurgency.
There was also a school of observers that recognized the chief problem as being internal security, and imagined a counterinsurgency plan which was more political than military in nature. This plan had been submitted to Diem in February 1961, and basically involved “preoccupation” of vulnerable territories.
US, under Eisenhower, made clear its support for the Diem government, but conditioned that commitment on good political/military performance. The level of US commitment was thus questionable/ambivalent.
The major questions as Kennedy admin took office were thus: Militarily, what were the nature and extent of Viet Cong capabilities; and what were the assets and tactics necessary to defeat them? Politically, what were the possibilities for improving South Vietnamese support of the present Diem government? And what should be the role of US support in all of this?
The Kennedy administration, when in office, reaffirmed commitment to Diem; indicated his consideration of committing US forces if necessary (May 1961). President Johnson had a visit to S. Vietnam in that same month, which resulted in additional military and economic aid.
PART II: Looking for Progress: February 1962-May 1963
In November 1961 Kennedy pledges an increase in military aid to S. Vietnam. In Jan 1962, a joint US-GVN program to improve living standards in the south is announced. Hamlet relocation project begins. INR analysis of these programs were greatly pessimistic, despite optimistic US public assessments.
US confidence in Diem also deteriorating. INR judged that while Communists could not overthrow GVN of seize power in the wake of a non-Communist coups; the Diem regime seemed incapable of halting the deterioration in security brought about by the accelerating communist insurgency.
INR also noted that the Diem regime and its advisers persisted in greatly overemphasizing the military aspects of the war. Furthermore, INR took note of a seeming breakdown between US advisors and the actions carried out by the Diem regime. INR developed the view that the conditions of the war required a small-scale, unconventional effort and that the large scale conventional units supported by air power which were in current operation were inadequate. While it supported the underlying idea of the Hamlet program, it expressed explicit doubts about its efficacy in practice. INR also expressed doubts concerning the validity underlying certain figures and statistics which were basic to estimates of a favorable trend in the US-GVN effort.
INR recognized the importance of US influence as a factor in the short-term political stability of S. Vietnam, but also saw the increasing tensions between Diem government and US advisorship as undermining that connection. IN anticipation of a possible non-communist coup against Diem, INR suggested that the US position in that circumstance be made clear.
PART III: Trouble with Diem: May-November 1963
Events during this period dramatically switched the focus of attention from military to political affairs in South Vietnam. On May GVN suppressed a Buddhist demonstration in Hue over religious rights under the regime; which sparked a rash of larger Buddhist dissent and demonstrations; in which several Buddhists immolated themselves in public.
This was a further source of tension between the US and the GVN, as the US could neither support religious intolerance, and it recognized the heightened political instability coming out of the event. Following the incident, the US suspended its commodity import program. Kennedy held press interviews in which he expressed increasing concern over the situation, finally noting that there was an urgent need for change in GVN policy and personnel.
On Nov 1, 1963, a successful coup was staged against the Diem regime, in the course of which Diem and his brother were killed. The outcome was the provisional Minh government.
INR analysis in this period emphasized the importance of coming to an agreement with the newly activist Buddhist, for the sake of the political stability of S. Vietnam. When Diem’s regime failed to do this, INR was in favor of change, but was convinced that a coup could only come from within the government.
Week 7: John Prados, “JFK and the Diem Coup”
This reading is a collection of declassified materials which document a taped meeting showing that US officials, including JFK, supported the Coup against Diem, though vastly overestimated their ability to control the South Vietnamese generals who ran it.
In the wake of the coup against Diem and the assassination of the Saigon leader and his brother, many observers have wrestled with the question of President Kennedy's involvement in the murders.
When the coup did begin the security precautions taken by the South Vietnamese generals included giving the U.S. embassy only four minutes warning, and then cutting off telephone service to the American military advisory group. Washington's information was partial as a result, and continued so through November 2, the day Diem died.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recounts that Kennedy was meeting with his senior advisers about Vietnam on the morning of November 2 (see Document 25) when NSC staff aide Michael V. Forrestal entered the Cabinet Room holding a cable (Document 24 provides the same information) reporting the death. Both McNamara and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a participant as White House historian, record that President Kennedy blanched at the news and was shocked at the murder of Diem. Historian Howard Jones notes that CIA director John McCone and his subordinates were amazed that Kennedy should be shocked at the deaths, given how unpredictable were coups d'etat.
Records of the Kennedy national security meetings show that none of JFK's conversations about a coup in Saigon featured consideration of what might physically happen to Ngo Dinh Diem or Ngo Dinh Nhu. The audio record of the October 29th meeting also reveals no discussion of this issue. That meeting, the last held at the White House to consider a coup before this actually took place, would have been the key moment for such a conversation. The conclusion of the Church Committee agrees that Washington gave no consideration to killing Diem.
The weight of evidence therefore supports the view that President Kennedy did not conspire in the death of Diem. However, there is also the exceedingly strange transcript of Diem's final phone conversation with Ambassador Lodge on the afternoon of the coup (Document 23), which carries the distinct impression that Diem is being abandoned by the U.S. Whether this represents Lodge's contribution, or JFK's wishes, is not apparent from the evidence available today.
A second charge has to do with Kennedy administration denials that it had had anything to do with the coup itself. The documentary record is replete with evidence that President Kennedy and his advisers, both individually and collectively, had a considerable role in the coup overall, by giving initial support to Saigon military officers uncertain what the U.S. response might be, by withdrawing U.S. aid from Diem himself, and by publicly pressuring the Saigon government in a way that made clear to South Vietnamese that Diem was isolated from his American ally.
In addition, at several of his meetings (Documents 7, 19, 22) Kennedy had CIA briefings and led discussions based on the estimated balance between pro- and anti-coup forces in Saigon that leave no doubt the United States had a detailed interest in the outcome of a coup against Ngo Dinh Diem. The CIA also provided $42,000 in immediate support money to the plotters the morning of the coup, carried by Lucien Conein, an act prefigured in administration planning Document 17).
The ultimate effect of United States participation in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem was to commit Washington to Saigon even more deeply. Having had a hand in the coup America had more responsibility for the South Vietnamese governments that followed Diem. That these military juntas were ineffectual in prosecuting the Vietnam war then required successively greater levels of involvement from the American side. The weakness of the Saigon government thus became a factor in U.S. escalations of the Vietnam war, leading to the major ground war that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson opened in 1965.
Week 8 Neu, America’s Lost War Ch.4: 1963-1965
Deterioration of the situation in South Vietnam
*Military junta that recently overthrew Diem was less competent than US expected*
1. they had no plan to get more support from SVN people, were more concerned in administrative positions, etc.
2. they wanted to taper off war, while US wanted to escalate
a. junta was even willing to negotiate with NLF by having “friendly competition for political power”
US wasn’t having that, so they orchestrated another coup by General Khanh in ‘64
however, new Khanh regime also was “more absorbed in political maneuvering than in running their nation”—didn’t work on strategies of how to unite people, or on how they should continue with war
US administration began to contemplate Americanization of the War: Rusk said “Somehow, we must change the pace at which these people move and I suspect that this can only be done with a pervasive intrusion of Americans into their affairs.”(74)
Gulf of Tonkin
-Two US ships were stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin; flawed radar indicated that they were under attack
-In response, LBJ ordered air attacks against NVN and proposed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to Congress; Congress passed it, with only two votes against it, giving LBJ blanket military authority to protect US forces in Southeast Asia (SEA) from future attacks and to “assist any member of SEATO that asked for help to defend its freedom.” (80)
-At the time, LBJ didn’t see the resolution as an opportunity to full out escalate the war in Vietnam, but rather as assurance of US public’s support of US presence in SEA and in SVN
-DRV agrees to commit troops to help NLF, with support from PRC and Soviet Union
-LBJ elected in 1964 on the platform of avoiding deeper American military involvement in Vietnam—one of his slogans, “We seek no wider war” (81)
Viet Cong Ups the Ante
-In Dec. 1964, Viet Cong launch offensives that “destroy many of ARVN’s elite battalions.”(82), thoroughly shaking the ARVN and the GVN—“the Saigon government, close to panic, prepared to evacuate it s five northern provinces. Without massive American intervention in 1965, The Republic of Vietnam would never have lived to see 1966.” (82)
-US responds with escalation: LBJ authorizes operation Rolling Thunder, continuous bombing of NVN, and sends in US troops—Khanh only found out US troops were coming two days before they arrived, and only learned about the US plans of “Americanization” of the war the day the troops arrived
-Westmoreland requests 44 more battalions LBJ administration faced with the conflict of whether to further escalate in order to win the war, or whether to stop and admit defeat; some (especially Ball) say to pull out, some (led by McNamara) say to go in very aggressively
-LBJ agrees to a middle course: sends in 125000 US soldiers, with more to follow
-US army take up control of war strategy, leaving SVN to step aside, hoping that the Americans know what they’re doing
Battle of Ia Drang
-First large battle after Americanization, lasted for nearly a month—both sides suffered high losses, but the NVA more than the US troops—death ratio of 12 NVA to 1 US
-Made it clear that it would be a long war
-For Westmoreland, these were good results—b/c he planned to lead a war of attrition—the war would be bloody, but communists would suffer more than allied forces
-For NVN, the battle was a learning opportunity, they still sought to learn how to best fight Americans; they planned, like Westmoreland, to engage in a war of attrition—to “wear down the American army and exhaust the patience of the American people”
-A stalemate then was inevitable, since both NVN and US planned to increase forces and assaults on the enemy in order to wear them down
Week 8 Neu, America’s Lost War Ch. 5: 1965-1967
-At beginning of 1966, US public was mostly in agreement w/ war, but as more American troops died in combat, more people began to evidence discontent—both w/in US gov’t (RFK, Senator Fulbright), and among students
Strategy of Attrition
-LBJ administration approves Westmoreland’s strategy of attrition, with LBJ hoping that the war won’t last for too long
-But Westmoreland’s strategy and US military technology and structure didn’t fit well with the nature of the Vietnam War
measure of progress, enemy body count, was hard to attain
guerilla warfare-- didn’t know where enemy was
-NVA has their strength and weaknesses:
weakness: better on the defensive than offensive
one of their chief strengths was indoctrination and maintaining morale
A War without a Front
-War proved difficult b/c US’s enemy was resilient, “By American standards NVA units took staggering casualties, but time after time they were able to withdraw and rebuild their strength.”(108)
-For US soldiers, daily pattern was one of haphazard contact with the enemy, and daily contact with booby traps, etc.
-Also, ARVN units were by and large unwilling to fight—one US soldier recalls wondering “Whose war was this, anyway?”(109)
-In addition, “combat had a circular quality: UST troops would often patrol the same territory, engaging in fleeting contacts with the enemy, or take an objective only to abandon it.” So after beating the VC out of an area, they would continually have to go back to reclaim it from the VC again b/c GVN “could not establish control in newly cleared areas”(109,110)
Confusion and Disillusionment
-For US soldiers, b/c they aren’t seen as liberators by the local people, as they thought they would be, they grew confused and disillusioned
-Plus they feel their day to day combat efforts are futile
Seeking a Steady Course
-In the midst of GVN drama and increasing disaffection of American public, LBJ increases number of troops and bombing in NVN in hopes of tiring enemy faster
Search and Destroy
-CAPS units offer an alternative military strategy—US troops team up with Popular Forces (local Republican Vietnamese troops) to protect hamlets from NLF—in order to overcome barriers and encourage positive relations between Americans and the people they’re supposedly liberating, with the further prospect of getting intelligence from villagers on NLF operations bases and plans
-Westmoreland rejects CAPS idea as an overall strategy, saying “the essence of the problem in Vietnam is military”(115)
Hopes for Victory
-LBJ continues to get positive reports from Us officials in Saigon, and continues to escalate,
but anti-war movement is gaining momentum, LBJ is losing US public support, and some in the administration begin to doubt war progress
Prospects for 1967
-Westmoreland gives a sobering report of war progress; enemy is suffering, but is not gone yet; he estimates they’ll need at least three more years till the end of the war with “an ‘optimum force’ of 670,000.
Doubts and Divisions
-Mounting anti-war sentiment; MLK speaks out publicly vs. war
-LBJ administration decides that they are winning the war, slowly, but steadily and give westmoreland more troops to end the war
The Order of Battle Controversy
-a CIA analyst researches structure of NLF and discovers that previous estimates of NLF members/ militarily were grossly low—e.g in one province, there were 50,244 soldiers while US military estimated there were only 4,668
-So Westmoreland’s calculations that the enemy will soon lose more troops than can be replaced might be entirely off, meaning that the war might last for much longer than Westmoreland thought, but the White House sides w/ Westy’s estimates
Illusions of Victory
-LBJ’s public support dwindles 2/3 of Americans disapprove of way he’s handling war
-LBJ seeks out negotiations, but Hanoi refuses to budge on its demands
-Meanwhile American combat deaths mount, as does the anti-war movement
-Westmoreland steps in, coming to US and speaks on TV saying that in 2 years, the enemy will be weak enough that the SVN can take over the war, which helps to appease the public
McMahon Chapter 6: Fear, Ambition, and Politics by Robert Dallek
General summary: LBJ was worried that Vietnam would mess up his domestic agenda; he was competitive and wanted to win, which eventually tipped the scale in his deliberations about whether or not to escalate the American involvement
-Taylor, Rusk, McCone, Wheeler were in favor of staying in Vietnam and not pulling out or decreasing involvement
-Sen. Mike Mansfield wanted to pull out and said it was a quagmire; Johnson agreed with assessment of situation but said US is doing what it must
-Generally, the hawks outweighed the doves among advisors
-Many compared him to Kennedy in order to pressure him into “having enough guts” to be strong militarily
-Believed in combating Communist threat
-Plan originally required as prerequisite a stable government in Saigon or recognition of sovereignty by NV; this changed to assuming those would happen only if plan were enacted first
-Johnson oscillated between viewpoints, and his advisors were not in agreement
-Didn’t want to encourage public debate about it so as not to distract from domestic reform agenda
-Ended up increasing troop levels by 50% in middle of June 1964
McMahon Chapter 6: Choosing War by Fredrik Logevall- included in sourcebook, refer to summary there
McMahon Chapter 7: A Critical Appraisal of American Strategy by Harry G. Summers, Jr.
Says a different strategy could have brought victory; there was no formal declaration of war so the American public had to outward sign declaring their support for the war, which caused some dissent as to legality of actions. US underestimated their opponent and relied on strategic offensive instead of strategic defensive. “Our political policy was to contain the expansion of communist power, but we did not wish to risk a world war by using military means to destroy the source of that power.” We should have taken the offensive along the DMZ across Laos to isolate battlefield and expanded the Naval blockade- this would have avoided invading NV and getting Chinese invovled
McMahon Chapter 7: A Different Kind of War by George C. Herring
Says a different strategy would not have brought victory, but is critical of US conduct and problems inherent in fighting a limited war. Problems: There was no real strategy, the different military branches did not work together and were therefore badly coordinated, idea of limited war made them want to deter aggression to avoid a major war, Johnson’s desire to avoid dissent stifled debate that could have produced a strategy and led him to choose military leaders who would not “rock the boat,” this led to a lack of discussion either in the military or in the public; Vietnam was also unique in its terrain and climate, the unconventional warfare, lack of a stable government to support, fanatical enemy, peace objectives weren’t coordinated with military objectives. All in all, “American policymakers thus took on in Vietnam a problem that was in all likelihood beyond their control.”
Robert J. McMahon, Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War,
chapters 6 and 7
U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States,
1964-1968, vol. III: Vietnam, June-December 1965, documents 26-35, 38-48,
66-73, and 93-97
McMahon, Chapter 6: Lyndon B. Johnson’s Decisions for War
Document 1 “Reassesment of US Policy in South Vietnam, 1964”
-from Sec. of Def. McNamara to LBJ
-approved by LBJ the next day as NSA Memorandum 288
a. independent, non-Communist South Vietnam
b. if communist, domino theory will occur
c. US involvement in SV is regarded as a test case to see if we can stop Communism
II. Present Policy
SV- defeat VC, generally not against NV
Laos- still within 1962 Geneva Accords
Cambodia- trying to make them stay neutral
III. Present Situation in SV
Generally doesn’t need supplementation, policy of reducing US personnel when they can use SV; Should still let it be known that we are there if necessary. Situation is getting worse, with VC in control of ~40% of land, desertion rates are up and morale is down
Show support by: increasing forces by 50,000, upping money, improving supplies (planes, etc), fly over borders, make a plan for “border control actions” to be ready with 72 hours notice
Document 2: LBJ and Richard Russell talk about Vietnam, 1964
-LBJ just weighing options; wants to get out but feels bound by treaty, doesn’t think Americans care about Vietnam, make political issue over relatively few deaths, doesn’t want China to get involved, “got to move in or move out,” Russell wants to put someone in power there that wants US out, ends unresolved
Document 3: Tonkin Gulf Resolution, 1964
-authorized President to use whatever force necessary in Vietnam because it is “vital to our national interests”, passed Senate 98-2
Document 4: LBJ Explains Why Americans Fight in Vietnam, 1965
- to secure our own freedom, NV has tried to conquer SV, China’s helping, wants Congress to approve $1 bill. “investment,” promise of hope for Vietnam, for security
-Speech given by LBJ at Johns Hopkins
Document 5: McNamara Recommends Escalation, 1965
Either cut losses, keep status quo, or escalate- chose third option ; expand military power there; look toward talks with Hanoi and Beijing, try to keep Moscow out; public should support it; USSR could increase participation, China probably won’t, NV will once it start losing, VC will continue guerilla warfare but less powerful; will help militarily, hurt politically, if it succeeds it could bring NV to negotiating table.
Document 6: [Undersecretary of State] George Ball Dissents, 1965
SV are losing already, we can’t win no matter how much we put into it- it will end up as either a protracted stalemate or cutting losses, so we should act now so we don’t have even more casualties, we should compromise; don’t add more troops than already allocated, negotiate with Hanoi and go through their Paris representative
Document 7: Johnson Recalls His Decision to Commit Troops (1965), 1971 (in memoir)
Shares concerns with Ball but worried about results of his plan- it didn’t account fully for global repercussions, instead would move diplomatically towards settlement but would increase military support; walking away would cause chaos domestically; China and USSR will take advantage of weakness and fill “vacuum of power”
Document 8: Philip Caputo Remembers His Idealism (1965), 1977 (in soldier’s memoir)
Kennedy’s challenge inspired him, shaped by WW2, image was proven wrong
McMahon, Chapter 7: US Military Strategy
Document 1: McNamara Urges Add’l Troop Deployments, 1965
-admits deployment might not guarantee victory, very little change politically, only militarily; NV is trying to infiltrate SV with a build-up, so we need to match it with increased troop deployments
Document 2: Kennan Criticizes American Military Commitment, 1966
-author of containment doctrine, sees no reason to be involved in Vietnam except that we already are entangled, thinks communist state in SV would be independent of China and USSR, thinks unlikely the assumption that if we try hard enough the other side will capitulate, could risk Japan liking us less
Document 3 : Westmoreland Reviews Military Operations in SV, 1966
Objectives: build up forces, gain trust, extend deployments, disrupt enemy, secure SV; Need to: restrict access to SV by NV, launch offensive operations
Document 4 : CIA’s Assessment of Bombing Campaign, 1967
Operation Rolling Thunder has hindered NV, but able to recuperate other than power systems; little lasting effect
Document 5 : McNamara on the Improved Military Outlook, 1967
Military commanders think situation is improving, reopened transportation lines in SV, night vision has helped, progress in pacification is slow, need to use existing personnel better, we have no 1.3 million men there
Document 6 : Westmoreland Reflects on War of Attrition, 1977
General strategies: 1)bolster SV with advisors 2)escalate pressure to get NV to halt 3)first commitment of ground troops with bombing of NV 4)protection of areas by US but fighting left to SV 5)gradual buildup of forces, emphasizing pacification to bring enemy to conference table 6)maximum expansion to pacify SV and build strong nation with aim to eventually withdraw. We needed to progress through all six
Sourcebook: U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States,
1964-1968, vol. III: Vietnam, June-December 1965, documents 26-35, 38-48,
66-73, and 93-97
26. Ball- cutting our losses in SV: we won’t win, the longer we wait, the more people die, so we should just get out soon and we need a plan to do so; no more land forces b/c there is no legitimate government in SV needing our help- we won’t keep helping unless they make a viable government that represents all people; will either improve government or make them form a new one; we should fight the Cold War somewhere where we can win
27. Memorandum from BundyLBJ 1965 Analyzes VC morale and motivation; hard core cadre- fought against French, nationalist; younger generation- against US, patriotic appeals, lack of opportunity; conditions are bad for both so defections occur but not b/c of ideological reasons; they are afraid of artillery fire; need to aid defectors
28. Telegram JCSWestmoreland 1965 We should augment forces, deploy certain battalions
29. Telegram Embassy in VietnamDept. of State Ky wants more ground forces, Westmoreland and Generals should decide if its necessary
30. Telegram NSC StaffBundy Meet in neutral capital city with NLF and DRV, agree to meet and willingness to talk; tell Moscow we don’t want Vietnam to be Communist, but we don’t want to fight with them, willing to let them save face and play peacemaker; pause air strikes in NV
31. Telegram WestmorelandJCS tactical discussion
32. Telegram Embassy in VietnamDept. of State Ky seems legitimate about getting support of country, VC keeps attacking and disrupting communication, need to work on economic restructuring
33. Memorandum from BundyLBJ 1965 if France:Vietnam::US:Vietnam works? Difference in colonial/non-colonial aim, France was more committed with % of $; difference in political factions within country; France was politically unstable and war was really unpopular and therefore lacked will to continue>> different than US; generally not a good analogy
34. CIA Memorandum comments on McNamara’s suggested expansion- they are losing now, proposal is too broad, political gestures are good but previous efforts have failed, could work but not likely
35. Memorandum from BundyMcNamara raises objections to McNamara’s plan, says there needs to be an upper limit and more analysis
38. Memorandum from McNamaraLBJ re-states plan for expansion and supports it as necessary
39. Paper by Rusk we need to deny VC a victory, basically agrees with McNamara
40. Paper by Ball Restates document 26, analyzes possible outcomes
41. Memorandum by Bundy proposes ‘midway’ course of action’- prepare to deploy additional troops and make plans for negotiations but don’t commit, basically prepare but wait to strike completely
42. Memorandum from BundyLBJ wants to keep dissention in inner circle
43. Memorandum from BundyLBJ McNamara will be willing to scale down, Rusk agrees with McNamara, Ball doesn’t, listen to all of them and consider points of each carefully
44. Editorial Note describes LBJ saying US should initiate talks, military look at what’s necessary, diplomats see what talks can be arranged
44. Memorandum from CIA Deputy Dir.Bundy yes, we should talk to NLF
46. Telegram Dept. of State Vietnam Embassy ditto, but should be careful of leaks, and be aware of their perception of situation
47. Telegram Dept. of State Vietnam Embassy think NV would be willing to talk, reviews position of each side
48. Memorandum from BundyLBJ S. Vietnamese like US troops and view them as necessary
66. Memorandum from Ambassador LodgeLBJ agree with McNamara
67. Memorandum from McNamaraLBJ repeats proposal already given
70. Memorandum from BundyLBJ debate over who should be sent to Saigon as under-ambassadors, suggests Sullivan and Meloy under Lodge
The following documents only repeat points already discussed in previous documents
71. Notes of Meeting debates different proposals, rehashing of #43
72. Memorandum for the Record notes of meeting
73. Memorandum NSC StaffBundy
93. Summary Notes NSC mtg.
94. Memorandum mtg. w/Joint Congressional Leadership
95. Memorandum from BundyLBJ
96. Memorandum from Senator MansfieldLBJ says to be mindful of international reaction, should not bomb NV, should get out, country only supports LBJ because he is President, should go through international channels to negotiate
97. Editorial Note LBJ announced in press conference he would escalate troops and would be ready for discussions with all sides; his decision was later implemented