A large segment of living veterans are Vietnam veterans, and they have never been truly properly, publicly honored or recognized except through the USA Vietnam War Commemoration or Vietnam magazine. People often give lip service about honoring our veterans, but this frequently excludes Vietnam veterans. Vietnam was no less a justified war than any other U.S. war. The U.S. fought the Vietnam War to contain Communist expansion throughout all of Southeast Asia. It was a legitimate and noble war sanctioned by Congress and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.
I am a Vietnam veteran, and I am proud of my service and my country’s policies to try to prevent the spread of Communism throughout all of Southeast Asia. It was after we got a peace treaty with the north, left Vietnam, and Congress abandoned South Vietnam that the North Vietnamese were able to successfully invade the south. After that came the atrocities, the re-education camps, and the “boat people”.
In fact, the Vietnam War was more justified than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as current events painfully demonstrate. This is difficult for many to honestly accept as fact. As a Vietnam veteran, I won’t damn the “warrior”, but I do damn “the (Iraq) war”. While military service in Vietnam is viewed negatively, more recently, the “Profession of Arms”—once associated with chivalry, honor, and courage--has morphed into the tactics of invasion, occupation, kidnapping, torture, indiscriminate use of sniping, drones, and paid mercenaries (assassins in polo shirts)—all under the guise of “fighting for freedom” and combating “terrorism”. We used to be the “good guys”.
I don’t want to hear any more lies about “fighting for freedom” in Iraq and Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Middle East until we set the record straight about the Vietnam War. I recognize that many will honor and defend the service in Iraq and Afghanistan irrespective of the disasters of those wars. They liked the slogan--“support our troops,” and either did not understand or they ignored the consequences of American actions in the Middle East.
Some politicians are already re-justifying and talking about renewing the “war crime” that was the Iraq invasion and occupation. Some uninformed people may say, “We don’t want another Vietnam”. How about, “We don’t want another Iraq”? Blame the WAR—not the “warriors”, but BLAME the WAR. I just can’t pretend that we went to Iraq to “fight for freedom” when my fellow Vietnam veterans and I actually went to Vietnam to fight for freedom. Many of us knew that. Some of us didn’t.
All wars are political--Vietnam was no different. So, how is it that the Vietnam War was the “bad war” and all the other wars were righteous? The term “Vietnam” is a dirty word in our society, today. Why? Is it because many avoided service in the war and they are ashamed? Is it because of a national shame for the way an entire generation of American veterans was treated by its own country? Is it because so many lies were told about the war that it is too complex and embarrassing to tell the truth about the war, now? The line from “A Few Good Men” says it well--“You can’t handle the truth!”
If any of these observations are offensive—remember that many Vietnam veterans have had decades to be offended. They honorably served in the last legitimate, major war where they valiantly and effectively fought experienced surrogates and elements of Communist China and the Soviet Union in conventional war, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism. They stopped Communist expansion until called home, and their service was misrepresented, misinterpreted, and maligned. They should not be treated as villains or victims. They should be treated as heroes.
In July 1954, the Geneva Accords partitioned Vietnam at the 17th parallel with the northern territory governed by Viet Minh (a Leninist-controlled front group with members in North and South Vietnam) and the South becoming the Republic of Vietnam in 1955.
The 1954 Geneva Accords also required elections to be held if the Viet Minh returned to the North and allowed free elections. The Viet Minh did not comply. There was still intimidation and terrorism by the Viet Minh on the populace in the South. There could not be free and fair elections as long as Viet Minh operatives were still in the South. In addition, Hanoi had the largest population and had refused to agree to UN supervision.
In September 1954 the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was signed in Manila, Philippines. It was an international organization for collective defense in Southeast Asia created by the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, or Manila Pact which had concern about Communist expansion throughout all of Southeast Asia--the “Domino” theory.
On January 20, 1961 John Kennedy was inaugurated as President, and he declared “…we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to insure the survival and the success of liberty”. Privately, outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower, told Kennedy, “I think you’re going to have to send troops…” to Southeast Asia. Due to the United States government’s Cold War-era policy to prevent the spread of Communism abroad, economic aid and hundreds of military advisors were sent to South Vietnam.
In the early 1960s, the U.S. presence in Vietnam escalated with over 16,000 military advisors and a tripling of the financial support. Insurgent speed boats attacked two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, and in August 1964, Congress enacted the Southeast Asian Resolution by a combined vote of 504-2.
The speed boat attacks and the United States’ obligation to defend the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) against Communist aggression under SEATO contributed to the U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Communist China and the Soviet Union were supplying men and material and technical support to the Communist North Vietnamese. The aforementioned is NOT “revisionist history”—it IS history.
Myth: The Vietnam War was illegal because it was not a “declared” war by Congress.
Fact: The Vietnam War was legally authorized by SEATO (an international treaty) and the Southeast Asian Resolution (Gulf of Tonkin) by Congress. SEATO authorized the use of armed force to defend any member or “protocol state” requesting assistance. The Republic of Vietnam requested assistance from the United States and the other signatories against the Communist North Vietnam. The protocol states were [South] Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. When U.S. forces were ordered into Cambodia in 1970 to attack North Vietnamese and Viet Cong sanctuaries, that action was also fully consistent with the Congressional authorization.
Myth: The conflict between the North and South was just a civil war and U.S. involvement into the conflict was unjustified.
Fact: In the May 1984 issue of Vietnam Courier, Hanoi bragged about the once “absolute secret” decision taken twenty-five years earlier (1964) to open the Ho Chi Minh Trail and start pouring countless tons of supplies, weapons, and troops secretly into South Vietnam for the purpose of overthrowing its government by armed force. That was more than five years before the U.S. responded seriously with U.S. forces. The Communist armed aggression was covert. Hanoi ran a truly brilliant political warfare campaign to convince the American people our cause was dishonorable.
Myth: Ho Chi Minh was a “freedom fighter” and the George Washington for his country.
Fact: Official Communist Party histories have acknowledged that Ho spent two decades as a paid agent of the Communist International traveling around the globe doing Moscow’s bidding. Nationalist Vietnamese patriots who resisted Ho’s demands were often either murdered or—prior to the French withdrawal in 1954—betrayed to French colonial authorities for French francs.
Myth: The Vietnam War protestors were right to protest to “end the killing”.
Fact: Tragically, when they finally got their way and the Communists seized power throughout the former French Indochina, more people were killed in the first three years following “liberation” than died in combat during the previous fourteen years throughout Indochina. As the Yale Cambodian Genocide Program has documented, more than twenty-percent of the people of that peaceful country were killed by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge henchmen, or roughly 1.7 million people.
In a January 2003 story on the Cambodian “killing fields,” National Geographic Today noted that—to save bullets—small children were simply picked up and smashed against trees until they stopped quivering. During the same time period in the former South Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of others died from executions or in “reeducation camps” and “new economic zones”—or as “boat people” trying desperately to flee the tyranny the American Congress imposed upon their country. That’s part of the legacy of the American “peace” movement.
Myth: The Vietnam War protestors were right to protest violation of human rights by America’s involvement in the war.
Fact: As for improving “human rights” by abandoning America’s historic commitment to defend the South Vietnamese from Communist aggression, for decades following “liberation” the respected human rights organization, Freedom House, consistently ranked the Hanoi regime among the “dirty dozen” of the world’s worst human rights violators, declaring it to be among “the worst of the worst.”
Myth: The Communist forces won the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Fact: The 1968 Tet Offensive—portrayed by most of the media as a great Communist victory—in reality was a disastrous blunder that even North Vietnamese Defense Minister General Vo Nguyen Giap admitted was a Communist “defeat.” It cost them virtually the entire Viet Cong infrastructure and most of their guerrilla forces. In later years almost all of the major fighting had to be done by North Vietnamese regulars.
Myth: The Vietnam War was unwinnable.
Fact: Many scholars and experts have long recognized by 1971 or 1972 the war was essentially won in South Vietnam, and by December 1972 Hanoi’s will was broken in the North. The U.S. and the South Vietnamese allies were victorious in the 1968 Tet Offensive. When Congress in August 1964—by a combined vote of 504-2 (a 99.6% margin)—enacted a law authorizing the President to use military force to oppose Communist aggression in Southeast Asia, it did not even mention “South Vietnam” but rather authorized the use of armed force to defend any member or “protocol state” of the 1955 SEATO Treaty requesting assistance. Like the Tet Offensive, the Cambodian incursion was in military terms a tremendous U.S. and South Vietnamese success as it ended serious Communist military activity in most of the Mekong Delta. American forces were not defeated on the battlefields of Vietnam--they won every major battle.
Myth: The American military—Vietnam veterans—lost the Vietnam War.
Fact: In December 1972, after several years of hard fought warfare, massive U.S. bombing of North Vietnam compelled North Vietnam to sign the Paris Peace accords in January 1973 ending the war. The US and its allies won the war then--it got its POWs returned--rights for the South Vietnamese were established. The U.S. promised to replace any logistical supplies the South needed if the North attacked again. US troops came home in 1973.
In June 1974, President Nixon was involved in the Watergate scandal and resigned from office. In November 1974, it was a Democratic landslide in Congress. Many of these Congressmen were part of the “anti-war movement”. In 1974 Congress cut off all funding to support South Vietnam in violation of their promise and threw away what America had won. Two years after the vast majority of U.S. military left Vietnam in 1973, and Congress cut off logistical support, Saigon was overrun by the North Vietnamese Army on April 30, 1975.
Myth: The so-called “greatest generation” of WWII had better soldiers than those who served in Vietnam.
Fact: The infantryman in Vietnam saw far more days of combat in one year and never lost a major battle with the enemy.
How Did the Media Affect the War and Its Aftermath?
Just as the media was complicit in the misinformation to the public about the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, it provided even more misinformation and disinformation about the whys, wherefores, and progress of the Vietnam War a half a century ago. Vietnam was the first ever American televised war with nightly news coverage. People watched the blood and napalm as they ate their dinner. The draft in America was immensely unpopular with many college-aged men burning their draft cards, leaving for Canada, or getting out of the duty claiming to be a drug addict or “queer”.
Walter Cronkite added his opinion right after the Battle of Hue during the Tet offensive of 1968:
“Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”
Not all Americans were against the war, but the Battle of Hue and the Tet offensive of 1968 was the turning point, and Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, contributed to the negative perception of the war.
In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had a team of Department of Defense analysts prepare a classified study of the United States political and military involvement in Vietnam from the end of World War II until the present day. The study would later become famous as the Pentagon Papers.
Daniel Ellsberg, who had served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer from 1954 to 1957 and worked as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation and the Department of Defense, had been an early supporter of U.S. involvement in Indochina and had worked on the preparation of the 1967 study. By 1969, however Ellsberg had concluded that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable. He also believed that the information contained in the Pentagon Papers about U.S. decision-making regarding Vietnam should be more widely available to the American public. After secretly photocopying large sections of the report, Ellsberg gave portions of the report to Neil Sheehan, a reporter at The New York Times.
Beginning on June 13, 1971, the Times published a series of daily articles based on the information contained in the Pentagon Papers. The Department of Justice got a temporary restraining order against further publication of the material, arguing that it was detrimental to U.S. national security. The Times and the Washington Post joined forces to fight the court battle. On June 30 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the government had failed to prove harm to national security. Publication of the papers was justified under the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press. In addition to publication in the Times, Post, Boston Globe and other newspapers, portions of the Pentagon Papers were read aloud in the public record in a Senate subcommittee hearing.
What did the Pentagon Papers reveal? They revealed that the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson had all misled the public about the degree of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, from Truman’s decision to give military aid to France during its struggle against the communist-led Viet Minh to Johnson’s development of plans to escalate the war in Vietnam as early as 1964, even as he claimed the opposite during that year’s presidential election.
Ellsberg was indicted on criminal charges including conspiracy, espionage and stealing government property. The trial began in 1973, but ended in a dismissal of the charges after prosecutors discovered that a secret White House team (dubbed “the plumbers”) had burglarized Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in September 1971 to find information to discredit him. The Pentagon Papers were published when support for U.S. role in the war was steadily eroding. They confirmed that the U.S. government had built up the conflict. In short, several Presidents did not fully disclose details about their conduct of the Vietnam War. What a newsflash! It was “much ado about nothing”, but aided the anti-war movement.
General William C. Westmoreland v. CBS
CBS aired the program which attempted to damage the reputation of General Westmoreland then Commander-in-Chief of U.S. forces in Vietnam. The program--The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception--which ran January 23, 1982 sought to prove that General William C. Westmoreland deliberately misled President Johnson, the Pentagon, and Americans as to the actual strength of the VC/NVA just prior to the 1968 Tet Offensive, thereby giving the false impression that the U.S. was winning the war. It was the first big smear of a public figure attempted by CBS. History has shown that even if true, such a deception didn’t matter as the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were victorious over the Communist forces during Tet 1968.
Produced by George Crile and narrated by Mike Wallace, the program was based on allegations by former CIA analyst and well-known left-winger, Sam Adams, whose claims had already been investigated and dismissed by the House Select Committee on Intelligence in 1975.
CBS went ahead with the production anyway knowing their source had been discredited. It featured paid, coached, and rehearsed “witnesses” and Dan Rather deliberately provoking General Westmoreland to make him angry and appear “guilty” under his questioning.
After its controversial airing, TV GUIDE ran a major article titled “Anatomy of a Smear: How CBS Broke The Rules and 'Got' Westmoreland.” Professor Leonard Magruder, then teaching at Suffolk College, wrote a detailed analysis of what he knew to be a pack of lies. He and his students made sure that CBS executives, reporters, other networks, and major newspapers received copies.
General Westmoreland received a copy of Professor Magruder's work and sent it to his lawyers, who were working on a $120 million libel suit against CBS. The general received tremendous support from Americans across the country and from fellow Vietnam veterans, who organized “The Veterans for Westmoreland Committee” which raised many thousands of dollars for his defense fund. Westmoreland stated he’d give money he received from a settlement to charities helping veterans and their families.
The general had made a public statement on December 27, 1983 in which he listed some of the exhibits in his lawsuit. They were extremely damning of CBS. Because the cost of a lawsuit was prohibitive, General Westmoreland settled for an apology from CBS, much to the frustration of many veterans and supportive Americans. He was a magnanimous gentleman saying that “I do not believe it is fair to judge the media by the isolated actions of some of its irresponsible members.”
Once again, even after the war, the media disparaged the Vietnam War; but this major attempt at smearing a commander-in-chief failed miserably.
Media photos were often propaganda for the anti-war movement
Gen. Loan executing the Vietcong officer
During the war the media published photos without explanation which supported the anti-war movement. The famous photo of National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing the Vietcong officer on February 1, 1968 was taken by Eddie Adams who later explained the circumstances of the photo. General Loan “shot him in the head and walked away,” Adams said. “And walked by us and said, ‘They killed many of my men and many of our people.’”
For Loan, the shooting is an act of justice: The Viet Cong lieutenant had just murdered a South Vietnamese colonel, his wife and their six children. The American anti-war movement adopted Adams’ photograph as a symbol of the excesses of the war. But for the rest of his life Adams was haunted by the photo and felt it was misunderstood. “If you’re this man, this general, and you just caught this guy after he killed some of your people…How do you know you wouldn’t have pulled that trigger yourself? You have to put yourself in that situation…It’s a war.”
The “napalm girl”
The “napalm girl, Kim Phuc, was the naked girl running from an airborne attack in the devastatingly iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo shot during the Vietnam War. It was June 8, 1972, when Phuc heard the soldier's scream: "We have to run out of this place! They will bomb here, and we will be dead!" Seconds later, she saw the tails of yellow and purple smoke bombs curling around the Cao Dai temple where her family had sheltered for three days, as North and South Vietnamese forces fought for control of their village. Part of the propaganda was that the U.S. Air Force dropped the bombs when it was the Vietnamese Air Force conducting the mission.
Present Media Distortions
On patriotic holidays, the media emphasizes WWII veterans or Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. If they recognize Vietnam veterans at all, they often stereotype with a “down and out character” as a representative “Vietnam veteran”--homeless, jobless, a “biker”, a “crippled” or otherwise suffering person, or a vocal complainer at the VA hospital. The media perverted the concept of “hero” by making POWs the “heroes” of the Vietnam War while those who did their jobs, accomplished their missions, and came home were the “losers”, “baby killers”, or “war criminals”. The media and the public create their heroes and villains. I do not accept that no matter the illegitimacy of any military action, we must “support our troops”. Our policies and troops can do wrong.
The lexicon of the media often uses “Vietnam” as a pejorative--“We don’t want another Vietnam”. The point is often made that during the ten years of the war 58,000+ lives were lost in Vietnam. Why not make the point that in only four years of WWII over 400,000 lives were lost? Liberal commentators frequently proclaim how the U.S. “lost” the Vietnam War almost with a hint of glee or a tinge of arrogance. It is as though they are saying, “See, I was right to protest the war” and omit the fact that the U.S. Congress threw away what our American military had won. The shame and arrogance of the Congress, media, and anti-war protestors cloak the truth.
Why Vietnam Veterans Should Be Highly Honored Now
- They served their country when others avoided military service.
- Two-thirds of service members volunteered for Vietnam while two-thirds of those who served in World War II were drafted.
- They were the best educated forces our nation ever sent to combat. Seventy-nine percent of them had a high school education or better.
- The “grunts” should be especially proud since the average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year while the average infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days in four years.
- Their service in Vietnam developed the air mobile concept—the extensive use of helicopters for troop transport, logistical support, medevac, reconnaissance, and fire support.
- During their service, new and improved procedures in medicine saved lives. Less than 1% of all Americans wounded, who survived the first 24 hours, died. New tactics, weapons, and means of communications were developed during the Vietnam War.
- Their service in Vietnam prevented Communism from taking over ALL of Southeast Asia. The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand stayed free of Communism as a result of their service in Vietnam. They won the war to save most of Southeast Asia.
- In December 1972, after several years of hard fought warfare, massive U.S. bombing of North Vietnam forced North Vietnam to sign the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 ending the war, but in 1974 Congress cut off all funding to support South Vietnam and threw away what was won. The South Vietnamese fought as long as they could without the promised and needed U.S. logistical support.
- Two years after the U.S. military left Vietnam and Congress had broken its promise, Saigon was overrun by the North Vietnamese Army on April 30, 1975 as the South ran out of supplies and ammunition.
- Vietnam veterans have honored the service of veterans of the other wars while their service in the Vietnam War was ignored or maligned.
I am unapologetic about my views on this matter. Many living veterans are Vietnam veterans, so let’s honor their service for the right reasons other than just to exploit their service for a personal agenda. We’ve waited 50 years to get appreciation for our service.
I am personally offended by people who say they want to do something for veterans while excluding “Vietnam veterans”. I have no use for the fakers, the wannabes (those who dishonestly claim to have been Vietnam combat veterans), and the exploiters of veterans for personal gain (those who want to sell a product allegedly to support Vietnam veterans). By the way, a Vietnam era veteran who may have served in Germany, Korea, or in the U.S.—and not in Vietnam-- is NOT the same as a Vietnam veteran who served in-country.
All Vietnam veterans did not serve honorably or are proud of their service. They do not, and should not, represent those who honorably served. Some may damn their own service or distort historical events out of ignorance, hubris, machismo, ego, a personal agenda, inter-service rivalry, or unit pride. Others claim to be Vietnam veterans or combat veterans, and they are not. Some REMFs may have a complex about their service.
My issue and goal is to honor those (including our Vietnamese allies) who honorably served in Vietnam and are proud of it. Educating the public about the truth relating to the Vietnam War is not “revisionist history”—it is the “orthodox history”—it is the true history. I wrote a book—“Dear Mom and Dad, Love from Vietnam” based on my diary and letters sent home from my tour in Vietnam during 1968. It is a time capsule. IT is history.
Colonel Joseph E. Abodeely USA (Ret) 7-8-14