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 Post subject: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 5:36 pm 
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A review of our Vietnam Tragedy may be in order considering our present War on Terror situation.

"... the tragedy of Vietnam is not that the United States intervened when it should not have, but rather that the intervention was bungled so badly and that the Vietnamese who believed in us were ultimately betrayed."
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How I began to teach about the Vietnam War

Keith W Taylor, Cornell University
Michigan Quarterly Review. Ann Arbor: Fall 2004

In January of 1972, about six months after I returned from Vietnam and was discharged from the U.S. Army, I began my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, specializing in Vietnamese history. The immensity of the war at that time was too much for me to press into an academic framework, and so I focused on ancient times, which was a comforting escape from the confusion of my personal experience of the war in Vietnam. In later years, as I taught Vietnamese history, I inevitably had to spend two or three lectures on the U.S.Vietnam War, but I always dreaded doing so, because talking in public about the war usually produced in me a sensation of nausea. It was 25 years before I began to understand that this nausea came from the dissonance between the interpretive grid I had acquired for the war and what I felt in my heart. This essay is about how I began to teach about the war and how my ideas about the war changed to become my own.

I will discuss three axioms in the dominant interpretation of the U.S.-Vietnam War that were established by the antiwar movement during the late 1960s and subsequently taken up by teachers at most schools and universities as the basis for explaining the war. These are that there was never a legitimate non-communist government in Saigon, that the U.S. had no legitimate reason to be involved in Vietnamese affairs, and that the U.S. could not have won the war under any circumstances. It took me many years to step free of these axioms and to see them as ideological debris of the antiwar movement rather than as sustainable views supported by evidence and logic. What enabled me to do this was that I finally came to terms with my own experience.

I received my B.A. in May 1968, and within two weeks of graduation I received a notice from my draft board to report to the nearest induction center for a physical examination. After the so-called Tet Offensive of that spring, the draft quotas were especially high, and many of us who expected our student deferments to last longer than the possibility of being drafted suddenly faced the war personally. As I recall, there were five options that came to mind. One option was to find a way to fail the physical examination, and there were many ways to do that. I dismissed that immediately because it violated my sense of honor. Another option was to apply for exemption as a "conscientious objector," which required one to argue that one's religious beliefs did not allow military service. I dismissed this because my religious beliefs were not of that kind.

Another option was to go to jail, and I could see no point in doing that, for I did not believe that the war was at a moral level sufficiently low to require civil resistance. The war, as I understood it then, was not in itself an evil; if there was evil, I thought it was in how ineptly it was being conducted and in the consequences of this ineptitude. At the age of seven, I had seen my brother-in-law return from Korea in a coffin, and I had acquired a sense of civic duty to my country that was not deterred by the vicissitudes of poor leadership. When I looked into myself, I knew that I would remain faithful to a code of personal honor attached to what I understood as the ideals of my country's form of government rising above the confusions of political and military leadership. This became explicitly clear to me when I was interviewed by an army officer in the procedure to obtain a security clearance. He asked me what I thought of the war, and I recall telling him that I thought it made no sense to try to defend South Vietnam so long as the border areas of Laos and Cambodia were conceded to the enemy. I had no quarrel with resisting the spread of communist governments, but I could see no strategy being applied that had prospects of success. Nevertheless, I remember telling the interviewer that my patriotism was stronger than my unhappiness about poor leadership. I did not see why I should go to jail because I disagreed with how the war was being fought, particularly since I had no argument with the general purpose of the war itself.

A fourth option was to go to Canada, which was at that time still being encouraged by the Canadian government. This was the option taken by my best friend in 1967, and I gave it serious consideration because of him, even visiting the Canadian embassy and speaking with someone there who encouraged me to emigrate. But, for reasons I have already mentioned, I did not find this option attractive. Even if I might have imagined some selfish advantage in doing it, I nevertheless knew that such a choice, my own convictions aside, would bring much embarrassment and pain to my parents, and I was not prepared to do that.

The fifth option was to serve my country and to accept my civic duty as I had been taught to do, and this is what I did. But, probably from the conceit of having obtained a certain measure of education and from the sense of pride and the illusion of autonomy that arose from that conceit, I had a strong desire to retain as much control over my life as I could, and I did not like the feeling of powerlessness that came from the prospect of simply being drafted and sent wherever to do whatever. So when a recruiter explained that instead of being drafted I could enlist and in doing so could choose my job assignment in the army, I decided to seize whatever vestige of control I might be able to exert over my life in this situation and I applied to enter army intelligence.

I spent the next two years in training: basic combat training, intelligence training, and Vietnamese language training. Until I was assigned to study the Vietnamese language, I had entertained hopes of avoiding the war altogether. After all, I had friends and acquaintances who were assigned to Alaska, Korea, Germany, and Panama. But once I was sent to study the Vietnamese language, my only hope was that the war would be finished before my year of study was completed. It was not, and I was finally sent to Vietnam in 1970 with the rank of buck sergeant.

What I encountered in Vietnam was an army in process of demoralization. After public opinion turned against the war in 1968, the antiwar movement penetrated the army in Vietnam. All the stereotypical problems of drugs, racial conflict, atrocities, fragging, and insubordination were in evidence and were affecting the morale of the army, and these were, at least as I understood it, related to the fact that, as a consequence of poor leadership, the country no longer supported the war, yet we were still being expected to fight it. Army leaders, both uniformed and civilian, realized the necessity to "redeploy" the army out of Vietnam as rapidly as possible to prevent this spirit of disaffection from spreading to other commands around the world. Meanwhile, we were being asked to take our chance at being "the last man to die in Vietnam."

(Continued)
http://www.viet-myths.net/taylor.htm

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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Feb 09, 2015 8:05 pm 
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Good article.

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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:23 am 
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Soviets were always good with their misinformation campaigns and rising West's population against itself.

No wonder the first thing Putin did was to ban all foreign media and make lists of "foreign agents" so he can control whatever information is being fed to his people, unlike the West which is open for attacks from foreign intelligence services psyops.

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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:18 pm 
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http://documentaryaddict.com/battle+of+ ... 8-doc.html

Aussies in Vietnam

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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 7:06 pm 
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Still sour about Vietnam. :roll:

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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 9:48 pm 
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The tragedy of Viet Nam is that the USA did not back Ho starting in 1945, rather than trying to aid France in the maintenance of its vicious empire.


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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 9:49 pm 
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nero wrote:
Still sour about Vietnam. :roll:


+1 if I could.


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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 10:22 pm 
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Think of the fun you two clowns could have had throwing bags of dog shit at soldiers from behind police barricades.

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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 10:45 pm 
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That doesn't sound fun.

Fun would be something like being an E4 at regimental HQ and transferring you to Guam, and then sending your paychecks to Italy. ..l.,


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 Post subject: Re: How I began to teach about the Vietnam War
PostPosted: Mon Mar 16, 2015 11:54 pm 
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I took an excellent "History of the Vietnam Era" course as an undergraduate. One of the only undergraduate courses for which I can say I really consumed outside reading voluminously.

It seemed pretty clear to me at the time that the main problem was that it was not treated as a war: there was no clear sense of what victory would look like much less how to get there, there were too many reservations about prosecuting the war with the utmost ferocity, and there was simply not enough commitment to achieve even the piecemeal goals that were partially explicated, even at the height of the commitment. For many years, I thought that: 'had Vietnam been handled the way WWII was handled, victory would have been a foregone conclusion.'

In hindsight, I'm not so sure any more. Had the north been invaded, or at least bombed more vigorously at an earlier stage, the Chinese may well have sent a 2 million man army in to upstage the 1 million they had sent to prevent the defeat of DPRK in Korea and force an armistice in that earlier proxy war. If the Chinese chose to intervene as they did in Korea, then the only options we might have faced were an armistice, or nuclear weapons to drive back the human waves of Chinese. Even if that didn't happen and we had the north on the ropes/ occupied and the Chinese didn't intervene, certainly a terrible insurgency would have persisted for years, decades maybe. 50 or 60 years of that probably would have defeated Communism in Vietnam; but 5 or 6 years of it was probably about the most the U.S. could sustain.

Given Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for the NLF/NVA, but also an unmitigated 'media' disaster for the U.S. I think it is clear, we could not have sustained a long-term occupation to combat a guerrilla insurgency any better at that time than we can now. Had we "suffered" too many more great victories like Tet, we might have abandoned the South Vietnamese to the mercies of their communist "liberators" even sooner than we did.

We Americans are comfortable being "heroic liberators," and can stomach quite a few casualties, and quite a bit of barbarity for the sake of that. We are not comfortable being in the ambiguous role of occupier/policeman/counter-insurgent. This is probably a trait so common to us Americans that our grandparents would've felt it as much as we do today. Even if we are not, as a nation, a true exemplar of the lofty values written down in our founding documents, we almost universally believe in those values and wish only for progress toward them. We feel a great unease at any suggestion that there is retrogression away from those values.

In order to have won in Vietnam, we would have had to be far, far more brutal and callous than we have the inherent capacity (as a population) to stomach. Unfortunately, our would-be enemies in "Communist" police states, had our national culture dialed and knew exactly how to push the right buttons. They still do. Putin is a master of making the West look bad in its own eyes, and feel bad about its own guilt and insufficiency. Combine this with the seemingly unavoidable reality of the media coverage, you have a perfect recipe for exactly what happened, a disaster.

If you take every emotionally heart rending image or video from the Vietnam war: elderly villagers lamenting that U.S. troops are burning down their buildings because NLF fired a few shots on U.S. troops from there; the burnt child walking naked down the road; the insurgent being shot in the head by the police chief during Tet; the young women with children crying because their village is in flames, etc. etc. . . . take very single one of those images, and transpose it to WWII.

Suddenly they are not ambiguous. They may be no less tragic, but they are fairly easy for the majority of Americans to comprehend as part of an awful but necessary undertaking. Given the whole reason to be there was to prevent Vietnam becoming communist (which of course happened anyway and doesn't actually seemed to have led to anything like a "Domino effect") we would have never been able to gain the sort of "moral clarity" in Vietnam that we had in WWII and even to a considerable degree in Korea.

Semi-literate peasants, particular in a place like Vietnam which had literally experienced external occupiers on and off for thousands of years and had some how retained a sense of "Vietnamese" identity, make excellent insurgents and are very difficult to distinguish from "innocent" civilians when they are not holding a rifle and/or shooting at you. They hold no reservations about using every dirty trick, every lie, every form of ruse, deception, and malice to fight the external invader. Whats more "they," meaning the Vietnamese as a people, take pride in this form of 'warfare.' Watch the interviews with Vo Nguyen Giap and other former leaders of the communist forces in Episode 11 of the "Cold War" series and tell me that these men are not duplicitous at such a deep level in their psyches that it is virtually incomprehensible to any Westerner. They sent literally hundreds of thousands of their soldiers to death, with no clear agenda other than to 'not lose;' expending easily 20 if not 30 of their own soldiers to kill just a single American soldier, and often times killing one or more truly innocent Vietnamese civilians along the way.

To any "sane" person those are simply not acceptable lose ratios, but to the North Vietnamese leadership and their Soviet and Chinese benefactors it was not only an acceptable rate of carnage at the time, it remains a point of pride, simply because they won.

Had there actually been some clear and present danger posed by Vietnamese communism against the actual sovereignty or sanctity of the U.S., we could've matched or exceeded that same sort of will to fight. But in the ambiguous role we found ourselves, we were uncomfortable with ANY U.S. casualties and with any hint that we were somehow culpable in the suffering of innocent Vietnamese civilians.

On the one hand, we have much to be proud of. Or moral compass is perhaps one of the most laudable on Earth, but we also have a problem with feeling a simultaneous and contradictory need to play the role of global policeman, and it is that contradiction which beats us.

As such, I'm gonna have to agree (in part) with Diehl: the best strategy we could have adopted in Vietnam was to coopt Ho Chi Minh as a "communist" puppet and "bought" him into Capitalism. I realize the man truly was a deeply philosophical communist. But he was also a very smart man, and smart people know the value of money and power, not to mention the capacity to use money and power to promote their nation and their people and thus gain even more money and power.

For whatever reason, it was perhaps inconceivable for the U.S. to play it that way, but had we been able to do it, it clearly would have been the winning gambit. Course, Ho may well have proven to be the mid-twentieth century of Saddam Hussein, and eventually proven to be a thorn in our side.

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