Examining the Myths of the
SESSION 1 (TRANSCRIPT)
The Last Battle of the Vietnam War:
The Struggle for Understanding (Part I).
STEVE SHERMAN: Gentlemen, I want to thank you all for coming here to this outpost in Indian country. Having been brought up here, I am distressed that I have to think about Boston in that term rather than as the birthplace of liberty as Admiral Denton will shortly allude, but perhaps we can fire another shot heard around the world through what we say here, in its dissemination on the Internet as we speak and in the video documentation that we will make available after the event and by what we bring home with us and what we do with what we accomplish here.
The Kerry Presidential campaign has brought attention to the Vietnam War and reopened the debate in a national spotlight. Having been fairly quiet for several decades, we offer this forum as an opportunity to give voice to those who feel that the history of our war is being misportrayed by a culture that prefers to victimize the veteran rather than acknowledge that the culture itself was in the wrong. We hope to dissect and dispel the infamous Vietnam syndrome once and for all.
It should come as no surprise to any of us that CNN again got it wrong. In a recent program, they proclaimed that the final battle of any war is coming home. That is pretty close for CNN, the authors of the Tailwind debacle. But the true and most important last battle of any war is the writing of its history. For three decades that history has been written by partisans who opposed the war and wished to see history on their side. We, the veterans, answered John F. Kennedys call to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. We believed then, as we do today, that we were fighting an ideology inimical to our freedoms and way of life, and that our failures to do so would result in the repression of millions of people with whom we fought and spread to their neighbors and beyond. The final success or failure of our course rested in hands other than our own and those hands were willing to give up our allies and their neighbors to Communist regimes which hold them in their thrall even today. But the blood of our comrades stemmed the tide and our chief adversary now joins us to explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. We, tempered by war, have held steadfast to our views, yet we have been dismissed as revisionists by those of our generation who fail to heed the summons of national loyalty and demanded rather than ask that their country do for them what they refused to do for it. We are here in Boston today, to make one more effort to prevent the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.
My mother used to say, if you were not good for anything else you are always good as a bad example. In this light I would thank John Kerry for his inspiration to do the things that we are doing here.
Back in 1970, Lieutenant Kerry said at an anti-war rally in Valley Forge, we are here because we, above all others, have earned the right to criticize the war on Southeast Asia. I say that we are here in Boston in 2004 because we, above all others, were maligned by John Kerry 30 years ago and we have earned the right to criticize what he has done to this country.
It is not true that:
[1.] The Vietnam War was a civil war.
It is not true that:
[2.] Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist first and a Communist second.
It is not true that:
[3.] Ho had the support of the majority of the people in Vietnam, North and South.
It is not true that:
[4.] Ngo Dinh Diem was a puppet of the French colonialists.
It is not true that:
[5.] The National Liberation Front was a revolutionary movement independent of North Vietnam.
It is not true that:
[6.] The Viet Cong won the hearts and minds of villagers through humanitarian policies.
It is not true that:
[7.] The Geneva Declarations of 1954 legally bound Diem's government and the United States to unify the two halves of Vietnam through elections.
These falsehoods are almost universally discredited and deemed irrelevant today. But these arguments supplied the foundation of the anti-war movements opposition to the war. As part of the "Vietnam Syndrome," they persist into our own time, guiding reports and specials on television as so-called "history." Attempts at refutation previous to ours have been ignored, and we will see what happens to ours.
It is also not true that:
[8.] Most American soldiers were addicted to drugs, guilt-ridden, about their role in the war, and deliberately used cruel and inhumane tactics.
It is not true that:
[9.] American blacks constituted a disproportionate number of the combat casualties.
It is not true that:
[10.] The United States lost the war militarily.
It is not true that:
[11.] The Communist Tet Offensive of 1968 was a military defeat for the United States.
It is not true that:
[12.] It was a calculated policy of the United States to bomb civilian targets in North Vietnam.
It is not true that:
[13.] The percentage of civilian deaths in the Vietnam War was higher than in other wars.
It is not true that:
[14.] American POW's were treated humanely by the North Vietnamese.
It is not true that:
[15.] The press coverage of the Vietnam War was fair and balanced.
It is not true that:
[16.] The antiwar demonstrations in the United States shortened the war.
It is not true that:
[17.] The domino theory has been proven false.
It is not true that:
[18.] Life is better in Indochina now that the United States is gone.
It is not true that:
[19.] The teaching of the Vietnam War is free from political bias.
These are myths that have been foisted upon us by media pundits, filmmakers, and -alas-educators, initiated by people who did so willfully, based on a partisan approach to their subjects, and further disseminated by those who have not conducted their own research.
And finally the most heinous myth of them all. It is not true that:
[20.] The scars on the Soul of America will heal with time.
This last is the unspoken assumption of those that propagate and defend the false myths, that we, the veterans, will go quietly into the night, and die off, taking with us our bitterness about the pervasive misrepresentations of the legacies of the Vietnam war.
If the Vietnam realities of which we speak are censored out of the discussion, then Vietnam cannot be understood and if Vietnam cannot be understood then neither can any other challenges with which this country must contend. As political wiseman and media critic Walter Lippman once observed, He who only understands one side of the argument, understands little of that.
The Veterans here today cannot offer you a single plan to make all sweetness and light. We disagree amongst ourselves on many issues and many details. But we veterans agree that a fraud is being perpetrated on our fellow citizens and the myths they have created about Vietnam are dangerous because they lead to a false perception of America's past and Americas future.
We have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq that the torch has been successfully passed to a new generation of Americans, the heirs of that first revolution, who did not shirk from [their] responsibility of defending freedom in its hour of danger. We find that the servicemen and women today are much more articulate and focused than we were. We can only hope that they will return to continue their service to the nation, in public office, rather than be shunted aside by those riding an anti-war bandwagon. We need a government that is truly for, by, and of the people, people who serve the nation above their ideology.
We are here in Boston to offer a small voice to remind our fellow citizens of why we served. We are here to remind those who have forgotten that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God, but man must guard against having those rights forfeited through ignorance.
During our meeting here in Boston, we hope to contribute to a national understanding of the Vietnam experience and to the vision of what that experience can add to a positive national identity and outlook. The visibility of the Democratic National Convention which will feature much discussion of Vietnam and one man's experience we hope can assist us in placing a well-rounded interpretation before the American people.
It is our hope that individual citizens, teachers, and media pundits will learn much from this forum and that the resulting knowledge will be shared with future generations. When John F. Kennedy made his call to us for public service, we answered. Now, when our legacy is in the intellectual marketplace, it is important for us to serve again this time to overcome the various "myths" about the war. Through personal testimony and intellectual/aesthetic criticism, we hope to help redefine what the Vietnam experience was all about by those who loyally served their nation when it called.
The motto of my unit, Special Forces, is De Oppresso Liber, adopted before our patron John F Kennedy quoted Isaiah in his inaugural address. To let the oppressed go free is a challenge to us both spatially and temporally, abroad and in our own country, at this time and in the future. To counter the oppression of ignorance, we are here this week to conduct one more mission. To this challenge, let us remember the words of the real JFK:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
[Applause on tape]
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
[Applause on tape]
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
[Applause on tape; End tape]
STEVE SHERMAN: We had hoped to have Admiral Denton here for the keynote address. He went to California to deliver his speech on the 4th of July to the California Legislature and he was denied the opportunity to do that by the Democratic partisans in that legislature. He came back and his doctor grounded him, but he has made us a tape, which we will show here in a minute. In order to introduce him, I would like to introduce another hero who is Admiral Dentons Naval Academy classmate and unlike somebody else who just reached in the water and essentially pulled somebody out of the water, our next speaker had a fellow aviator go down and the other person was unable to get out of the aircraft, so our pilot went down and crash-landed his airplane in the snow banks of Korea and stayed with the pilot until our helicopters could and come pick them up. That is quite an accomplishment for which he received the nations highest honor and we are very pleased to have with us Captain Thomas Hudner.
CAPTAIN THOMAS HUDNER: Thanks Steve. I am delighted to be here this morning, but somewhat regretful that I am here instead of Jerry Denton. Jerry and I were classmates at the Naval Academy. We went into the Naval Academy in the summer of 1943 when World War II was really building up to a crescendo, and we graduated in 1946, a year after the war was over. Most of us had no idea after we graduated with the biggest war in the history of mankind now behind us; it did not take long for us to find out that the world was still unsettled in spite of the intensity of World War II.
I did not know Jerry as an underclassman and I frankly did not know him afterwards. Even though we both went into aviation, we either served in different fleets, the Atlantic Fleet, the Pacific Fleet and he was in what they called the attack community and I was in the fighter community, but Jerry was well known throughout the service even at that time when he was shot down while he was a commander.
Jerry was born in July 15, 1924 in Mobile, Alabama, and he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1946. His 34-year naval career included service on a variety of ships and in many types of aircraft. His principal field of endeavor was naval operations. He also served as a test pilot, a flight instructor and Squadron Commander. In 1957, he was credited with revolutionizing naval strategy and tactics for nuclear war as architect of what they call the Haystack Concept. In June of 1965, he began a combat tour in Vietnam as prospective Commanding Officer of Attack Squadron 75. Then on July 18, 1965, only a month after he reported into that Squadron as prospective CO, he was leading a group of 28 aircraft from the USS Independence in an attack on enemy installations near Thanh Hoa, where he was shot down and captured by local North Vietnamese troops. He spent the next seven years and seven months as a prisoner of war suffering severe mistreatment, becoming the first US military captive to be subjected to four years of solitary confinement.
A Commander when he was shot down, Denton was recommended for and promoted to the rank of Captain while a prisoner. I am quite sure that his promotion was not announced until after the war was over. We had a number of people in prison camp who were promoted, but they did not want the North Vietnamese to know it because there would be more attention paid to them and therefore more torture. He was confined him in several prison camps, in and around Hanoi, frequently acting as the senior American military officer in the camps.
His name first came to the attention of the American public in 1966 during a television interview arranged by the North Vietnamese in Hanoi. Prior to the interview, torture and threats of more torture were applied to intimidate him to respond properly and politely. Throughout the interview, while responding to the questions and feigning sensitivity to harsh lighting, Denton blinked his eyes in Morse Code repeatedly spelling out a covert message: "T-O-R-T-U-R-E". The interview, which was broadcast on American television on May 17, 1966, was the first confirmation that American POWs in Vietnam were being tortured.
Denton was released on February 12, 1973, when he again received international attention as the spokesman for the first group of POWs returning from Hanoi to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. I remember this very well because we had a number of classmates who were in prison camp. We were very curious to know who was going to be the first American to come down that ramp. As he stepped from the plane Denton turned to the microphones and said We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our Nation for this day, and God bless America.
In April 1973, he was promoted a Rear Admiral. In his last tour of duty, Admiral Denton served as the Commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, for three and a half years, and his decorations include the Navy Cross, the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, three Silver Stars, Distinguished Flying Cross, five Bronze Stars, two Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, Combat Action Ribbon and numerous theater campaign and occupation awards. Now, that was his Navy career and I think he is really to be commended for the efforts that he has put into to be just a great citizen since that time.
In 1977, Denton retired from the Navy and returned to Mobile. He founded and led the non-profit organization coalition for decency and served as a consultant to the President of Spring Hill College. He was elected to the United States Senate in November of 1980, and in so doing he became the first Republican ever elected by popular vote to the US Senate from Alabama. He was the first resident of Mobile elected to the Senate, the first retired military officer and the first Catholic elected to any statewide office in Alabama, and the first retired Admiral or General elected to the United States Senate by any state.
Among many other legislative accomplishments, Denton established a highly acclaimed international aid program now known as the Denton Program, and since inception, this program has transported over 20 million pounds of critical equipment and supplies to needy people throughout the world on a space available basis at no cost to the donors. In 1983, Jerry founded the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation dedicated to issues regarding the concept of One Nation under God, the institution of the family, welfare reform and peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts.
In addition to his leadership at the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation, Jerry presently lectures on national and international affairs while serving as a member of the Board of St. Thomas Aquinas College, the Advisory Council of Christendom College, the Board of Advisors of St. Augustines Academy and the Publications Community of Crisis Magazine.
He has also been awarded the highest awards in a number of organizations, political and civic and religious. He has been a credit to our class, a credit to the United States Navy and a credit to the United States of America. I hope you enjoy his presentation. Thank you.
ADMIRAL JEREMIAH DENTON: [on video] Hello veterans, distinguished guests. It is an understatement to say that we all share a sense of opportunity at this prospect of playing a part in eliminating the myth of the Vietnam experience. We know that the myth in its entirety and in some of its individual parts, resides in too many American minds, too many schoolbooks, too many documents, in archives of libraries, educational institutions, publishing houses and movie production companies. These and other opinion-forming forces in toto possess a huge capability to continue perpetuating the myth.
We represent the first gathering ever assembled with the sole objective of setting the record straight. This assemblage is composed of veterans who are also authors, scholars, and educators with personal experience with the issue. Before we proceed any further, I suggest we offer a round of applause as a symbol of our appreciation for the man who has worked hard and effectively to make this opportunity possible, Steve Sherman.
One more preliminary point: I deeply regret that a hopefully temporary heart problem prevents me from being with you in person. I wish I could be there to share the warm companionship with you in a locale noted for its history, its patriotism--a locale remembered for Lexington, Concord and the shot heard around the world which was a signal for our first war, the war which enabled the difficult birth of this nation and the best form of government ever conceived by the minds of men.
This historic area is an appropriate setting for our task. This areas prestigious history is matched by the quality of your courage and your gallantry, which appropriately represents the best of the men and women who fought in all of our wars. Our task is indeed formidable. Whatever we can do to establish the truth about Vietnam, the more likely it is that the present and future citizens of our nation will have truth, not fiction, on which to base their knowledge and opinions of the war and of the veterans of that war.
I shall feel we are successful if we get a better understanding on their part about the message of this poem. Blank verse; It is the soldier not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press; it is the solder not the poet who has given us freedom of speech; it is the soldier not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to organize. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath that flag and whose coffin is draped by that flag, who allows the protester to burn that flag.
I hope they can come closer to realizing that. It is also possible that our proceedings will constitute a means for identifying some of the events and people, which combined to cause such disastrous national disunity and produce such odious and tragic myths. Perhaps, we can even make recommendations that will render less likely that a similar anti-war movement and similar myths will develop in some future war.
Each of us brings to the table our unique set of exposure to the war from different kinds of observation points or perspectives, and of course, the more perspectives the better. I am sure mine is not the best but the more we can have, the more completely we can dispel the myths and outline the story that we want people to understand.
I will, as my talk proceeds, identify the particular perspective from which I observed something or formed conclusions about.
Overall, my own particular insights or present opinions on Vietnam came from the following perspectives. First, a year at the Naval War College 1963-1964 where the student body was made up of O-4s and O-5s and the planning of the war was a main topic for the students, both during and apart from classes, as well as a frequent subject of the high ranking officials and officers who were the guest speakers.
Then, my participation for an unfortunately short time as an Air Wing strike leader during the summer of 1965, before my bombs prematurely exploded. (An often-recurring problem that month with A6s using outmoded bomb racks until they fixed it--big operation, got to expect a few losses, right?).
Then seven years and seven months in North Vietnamese prison camps, which as you will hear was not an entirely blind perspective, but quite enlightening in a few important respects. I will leave that part of my talk til last.
Then after jail, I served three and half years ending in October 1977 as Commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College with the student body similar to the one at Naval War College and guest speakers a little more senior, whose more frequent subject was doing postmortems on the Vietnam War, and I not only heard them speak with an hour each of questions and answers, but hosted them for lunch everyday and often for dinner.
All these lecturers were in high commands during that war and didnt mind at all expressing their views at length.
Then I had six years in the Senate (80-86) as the only Flag or General Officer ever elected to that body. Vietnam in retrospect was even there a bitterly debated subject and some of my senatorial activities included the continuation from Hanoi of coping with confrontations we were having nationally with communists. I loved serving with Reagan because we won that Cold War.
Those are the places and circumstances, the various perspectives from which I was exposed to the Vietnam experience. I realize that each of your perspectives is at least as valid as mine or better. I will be delighted to learn from them and I hope Steve can get me the entire record of this meeting so that I can study it. Many of you have perspectives which will allow you to relate the differences between how such and such campaigns or incidents really happened and how they were reported. My unusual perspective limits my ability in that respect, but I can address some aspects of the war and the myth, aspects which I believe may have some relevance to our task.
Now, before I start on the meat of the myth, let me offer a thought on some factors that are not directly related to biased reporting or to treasonous anti-war activities. I believe that it is useful to consider some of those undesirable factors that made it more unlikely from the outset that reporters and large numbers of our citizens would continue their original feelings of support for that war factors that made it more likely that there would be biased reporting, more likely there would be an anti-war movement, more likely that there would be the production of many myths all those factors appeared very early in the war. After all, history including ancient history, is replete with examples that the people and the Parliament or Congress of all nations have displayed a similar loss of patience in long wars. It did not start with us.
Let us mull over a postulation though. Suppose the war had been conducted with a strategy that would have achieved victory in a matter of months. In other words, do we not agree that the long time passing, as the song said, was a major fundamental cause of diminishing support at home? Dont we agree that if the war had finished after a year or less of fighting that support for the war, strong at first, would not have had the time to dwindle away to the point where there was opposition starting to develop, thereby eliminating the proliferation of myths, which are our main subjects?
We simply should not gloss over the adoption of such a horrible strategy. In face of General MacArthurs leaving us his main legacy about strategy: Dont wage a land war in Asia, it is striking that the overall strategy of the war was wrong from the start, and that this flawed strategy was maintained for years when most of the military felt that it should have been changed early on. It is a condition we cannot dare to repeat and I believe we must do what we can with this conference to try to render that likelihood less likely in the future.
Here I would stress that among all of my previously listened points of observation comprising my perspective, one opinion was common among all those groups, almost one opinion only and that was that the war needlessly was taking or took too much time, and many in the military thought very early on that the gradual escalation strategy was wrong and should be changed. But for many long years it was not changed. We wonder why.
I believe that among our deliberations we should try to identify why and how the wrong strategy was adopted to avoid a likely repetition of that process in the future under circumstance we can even less afford. That line of deliberation seems just as necessary as considering what anti-war related events resulted from that erroneous and time consuming strategy including wrong reporting, myths, and so on.
Even before major hostilities began and certainly as soon as the initial strategy was found not to be productive, most military involved felt we should have shifted to something faster. Like using early on strategic bombers on strategic targets not tactical targets, aided by naval bombardment, mining, blockades to knock out North Vietnams relatively modest military-industrial complex by using our amply available means to do extensive damage to their ports, destroying their few existing surface-to-air missiles at the beginning of the war--taking out their ammo dumps, oil storage facilities, key transportation infrastructure such as bridges, key road intersections. Then after that preparation, add tactical air to clean up remaining air opposition and following that, introduce the army and marines to go into the north and virtually accept their surrender.
In other words, we should have done in 1965 what we did finally do in December 1972 and January 1973 in the Operation known as Linebacker II.
My overall snap summary of the war is that in spite of an initially flawed military strategy, we finally adjusted the strategy and inflicted on them total military defeat, fulfilling Sun Tsus requirement that the object of war is to break the enemys will. That accomplishment was subsequently and tragically trumped by the confused liberal majority in an anti-war Congress disgracefully forfeiting the militarys success. That is my summary of the naked facts.
A lesser included element of my summary of the war includes the point that in spite of the fact that the small arrogant group of old men running their show from Hanoi were for years perfectly willing to sacrifice overwhelming casualties in support of their own hard line, things changed abruptly when hundreds of bombs suddenly destroyed the Communist war-making potential, and bombs and crashing B-52s starting dropping around the leaders for the first time threatening them with death. The leaders caved in completely by January 1973, knowing and admitting to me that they knew they had lost and were anxious to settle on our terms.
But the myths have denied recognition on those facts, and America as a nation is ignorant of the facts, and will suffer from that ignorance. We must try to teach our country and its posterity the truths to replace the myths, so that they can learn the expensive lessons of Vietnam. We all can participate in that necessary program, and we must.
For my part, I will at the end of this presentation include some evidence of how intimately I personally came to know of shifts in the enemys confidence at certain phases of the war, as well as how they willingly revealed to me that the North Vietnamese will to fight was totally destroyed by those December 1972-January 1973 operations.
Many of you already know much or all of what I am talking about, and those in positions of high responsibility during the war agree with us about the myths.
After the war, General George Brown, and Admiral Thomas Moorer, each serving a tour as Chairman of the JCS, were the seniors to whom I directly reported during my tenure as Commandant of the Armed Forces Staff College. I already knew Admiral Moorer quite well and I got to know and respect General Brown. They both told me plenty, and stressed how they shared my conclusions of course from a broader perspective, a higher rank with more knowledge. Admiral Ralph Cousins, then SACLANT and General Brown kindly hosted with me a NATO conference at AFSC which was attended by top ranked NATO officers, as well as representatives of big industry, the media, academe, etc. Newsweek Magazine credited the conference with bolstering NATO unity, particularly relations between Greece and Turkey which had deteriorated. Vietnam was discussed in retrospect at many of the meetings.
Another example, on the day shortly after my release when I was heloed from where I was vacationing with my family to Washington primarily to meet with President Nixon who thoroughly agreed on our perspective, I was first dropped off at Admiral Tom Moorers (Chairman, JCS) office. When I stepped in the door, he hurried up to me and the first thing he said was, Jerry, I want you know that the month you went down, I had drawn plans from mining Haiphong Harbor (this was July 1965) and at the last minute the plan was called off by the Secretary of Defense.
I quickly assured him that I had known about that mining plan, because I had personally plotted the mine laying pattern in the harbor and was expecting to lead the flights to lay them since we were the only mine- laying capable squadron present in the South China Sea. I had told him I was shocked, shocked to the core, when it was called off. He had been more than shocked he had been infuriated by the over-ride by the civilians in the Department of Defense.
Admiral Moorer, General Brown, and many others shared hours with me telling me about the frustration of the military in trying to change Mr. McNamaras gradual escalation policy.
After all, the war as a gross mismatch; it should have been a pushover. We had to work hard to make it difficult by lousy strategic planning. Can we do anything to lessen the possibility of repetition of such poor strategic planning? It is relevant among all the different perspectives from which I saw the war that that one opinion was common in all those places, but the history books omit that factor. The war should have been won very quickly, without the erroneous gradual approach which was the key to the other problems we will discuss.
Before and early in the war, it was commonly believed that if we did commit to using major military force, our strategy should be based on going big time up front with offensive power with the intent to win it quickly. As we all know that is the opposite of what we did. The policy adopted could be termed gradual escalation, and you remember books being written read about that; and as it turned out it was extremely gradual, inhibited by rather overdone sets of rules of engagement in the air, on the ground, everywhere.
The strategy was finally corrected during the Nixon Administration when the President authorized plans to bomb massively with strategic bombers and to blockade their ports. The crowning coup de grace was the Linebacker II Operations starting in late December and stopping in early January. This immensely significant event is lightly dismissed in our history books as the Christmas bombings with the implication of our disgracefully inflicting numerous civilian casualties.
Even prestigious and unbiased authors failed to record Linebacker IIs significance. I recall my shock upon reading an extensive recount of the war by my friend, Arnaud De Borchgrave whom I had gotten to know very well, and greatly respected his writings. He was then the publisher of the Washington Times.
His treatise deals with the war, the end of the war, and the final settlement. He covers the Tet offensive, of course, and he covers it very well. He says they lost 50,000 men killed and at least as many wounded. 50,000 is the same number of men we lost in the whole war. They lost that in one campaign and yet it was presented to the American public as a big victory for the North Vietnamese and he says that that so-called victory was the point at which most support for the war ended, and actually it was pretty much over from that time on. Unless I missed something, he made little or no mention of Linebacker II.
He did make the point early on that General Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the anti-war demonstrations that ensued in America, had surprised him as the top General in the North Vietnam army. Giap said his confidence was immensely bolstered by our media and that they had caused a U.S. reaction which made it obvious that Americas resolve was obviously weakening, and he was able to see that the possibility of complete victory was now within Hanois grasp.
However, a bit later, because of Linebacker II, he and the rest of his officers and men totally lost that confidence and were more than prepared to end the war on our terms. They will now never admit that, but any of the American POWs can tell you it was true, and in this case our perspective was very good because we were in the center of the bombing in Hanoi and all of us observed the extreme reaction and defeatism shown by the North Vietnamese during and after the bombing. I had a unique insight into their sense of total defeat which will soon be related.
But the myths already had already had been established to the degree that Congress and even many our military did not realize that the North Vietnamese will had been broken (and they still dont). Perhaps even if they had, it is possible at that point, that nothing would have gone differently because the anti-war forces had had too much time and influence to affect Congress.
The anti-war forces were not searching for truth; their leaders were pursuing the subversion of the United States, forwarding the progress of Communism, and incidentally corrupting the greatest source of our strength which derives from the valid values and principles of government instilled by our Founding Fathers. Drugs, free sex, and the rest of the package of the cultural revolution were used to forward their political agenda of destroying our founding principles of democracy. That combination of tactics is still gaining ground in polluting our culture and weakening the moral structure of our culture.
Even if they had known the Vietnamese were militarily defeated, the liberal Congress poisoned by the anti-war pressure may not have been of a mindset to alter their long expressed view that the war could not be won; for they would have all been made fools of. So in the grim heights of ultimate irony, Congress ignominiously conceded to the enemy the victory our military had so valorously and truly won.
Now lets momentarily return to considering more details of the effects of an initially flawed strategy which set up the inevitability for a long war as well as setting up a logical expectancy that the media and the Congress could turn sour.
Again, one way to summarize the Vietnam experience is that from the start we were doomed by the strategy of gradualism to tax the well-known impatience of the American public and perhaps greater tendency toward impatience of the American news media and the US Congress. We entered the war with overwhelming support on the part of all those parties but the strategy was foredoomed to severely test that support and it would fail.
As laborious as this all may sound, it is worth carefully turning over in our minds that factor of flawed strategy in the whole Vietnam disaster context. We must not only, for example, revile and recommend ways to prevent the misuse of freedom of speech by the press, that they used treasonous means to forfeit the war, etc. We must not only identify traitors, we must look, I believe, for some ways to reduce the likelihood that such an inept strategy for a war is ever again adopted.
Although the excellent strategy used in Desert Storm could be taken as proof that we learned the necessary lessons, I am not at all satisfied that it cannot happen again. We had different personnel near the top doing the planning of Desert Storm. We had George Bush, the elder, and his crowd, rather than President Johnson and McNamara and other good and well-meaning men like Maxwell Taylor and so on, who didnt ever reach the right answer.
Johnson and McNamara were not experienced or well read on the subject of war. LBJ was well versed in social policy and Mr. McNamara was experienced in good management in the sale of Ford automobiles, but neither one of those qualifications were particularly adaptable to war. In spite of their relative ignorance, rather than rely on people with more relevant experience, they showed themselves from the beginning to be prone to micromanage and to regard themselves as self-sufficient, not needing to listen to military advice which differed from their chosen strategy. In other words, the highest civilian militarily authority disproportionately imposed its own conclusions and control.
It was a coincidence that both LBJ and Mr. McNamara had character traits most unfortunate for their roles. They both meant well, they both did their best, but it was a wrong combination and the procedures allowed them to start us off the wrong way, which became fatal.
One obvious fix for the future reveals itself right here, we MUST ensure that the presidential candidate who is elected to be President in this or any future election is qualified by demonstrated character and knowledge to serve at the highest level of responsibility in matters of war and peace with the job of Commander-in-Chief being the most difficult and he being the most powerful figure in deciding strategy for war.
In a democracy, the leadership is not solely responsible for national failures. After all, the citizenry votes the leaders into their offices, and is at least responsible for not making appropriate choices. Further, it does not bode well for a democratic nation to have poor turnouts of voters in elections.
The survival of the nation could now depend as never before upon the citizenrys selectivity in choosing our president. As bad as the penalty for having poor leadership was in the Vietnam case, another case of that in the future could cause infinitely more harm. We simply cannot afford to make similar mistakes in this era of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, with masses of people waiting to use them with all the savagery and inhumanity of todays and tomorrows terrorists. We can push an effort to educate the public to understand that.
We can also try to make it more likely that we can decrease the abandonment of accuracy and loyalty of the news reporting and the myth-making of the literary elite. Those institutions can misinform the public, denying them the truth, rendering the people unable to reach a truth-based perspective from which to judge issues or candidates. There was censorship during WWII maybe some use of it in the future should be considered.
We must try to correct a tendency of our citizenry can become so distracted by shallower interests that they become apathetic about national defense. Apathy and misinformation are now able to cause national disaster.
We might need to examine the existing balance of powers and responsibilities among the Commander-in-Chief, the civilian oversight conducted by the Department of Defense over the military and the Joint Chiefs of Staff is that power relationship okay? There is a need to ensure that more weight be given somehow to the militarys opinion regarding the strategy for dealing with a pending contingency. Perhaps, our group could unanimously urge the adoption of a concrete objective on the part of our government to improve the procedures used to make a national intelligence estimate along with the rest of the process to develop strategy with an eye toward correcting the way it was done for the Vietnam War.
I believe from some experience that the process of developing a national intelligence estimate and the other means of approaching the development of strategy was done rather well in the 1960s, but it has become somewhat slip-shod gradually since the Cold War ended. But now the growing and complicated challenge of the terrorism threat informs us that we must apply ourselves to the utmost with this new foe that is as formidable as the Soviets were. The process of high-level military decision-making is extremely difficult and even more important nowadays.
Let us take a closer look at a few other factors that could have contributed to the adoption of poor strategy. It has been suggested that some high-ranking officers expressed themselves within the chain of command as being in favor of changing the existing flawed strategy. Their expressions were unheard and unheeded, why? I dont know.
Further it has been claimed by some that among the Joint Chiefs, there were times when they agreed with the reservations of their subordinates, but felt they couldnt risk their jobs by taking such a hard stand to oppose the plans of the whiz-kinds of Mr. McNamara and President Johnson, and that they didnt express themselves as strongly as perhaps they should. I dont know about that either.
Mr. McNamara is reputed to have had extremely difficult personality and a hard sort of head about changing anything he came up with. Can we consider making these qualities disqualifying for a prospective SecDef?
Some books have held that the respective military branches were so intent on obtaining a dominant role for their service in the war that their bitter squabbling made reaching decisions within the JCS so difficult that the Secretary of Defense figured he had to make the major decisions himself. I dont know about that either, but we have got to look into it and find out how it happened and then try to take that out of the equation.
Many military officers and I myself believe that the Secretary and his advisors tried to apply management principles and computer techniques to military problems, which did not work because of inadequate input of uniquely military factors. I believe this tendency still exists. But I dont know about that either.
Overall on Vietnam my belief is that the main fault was overly independent micromanaging by the President and Secretary of Defense without adequate deference having being given to consulting with the military. I will be happy to learn new lessons about that, but that is my present impression.
I was told that President Johnson exercised himself in micromanaging early in the war, and I was personally connected with some of those incidents. The President surprisingly took the initiative to personally pick daily targets and designate the number and types of aircraft and weaponry to be used on specific missions. His choices were not always the best.
His perhaps most famous error was when we were going to demonstrate a step in escalation by making an air attack on Vinh. He went world-wide with his personal broadcast that we had just struck Vinh. He had been told that the strike had been launched (meaning launched from the carriers), and he mistook that to mean we had just hit the target. The Vinh air defenses were thus alerted about 45 minutes early and consequently exacted relatively heavier losses among our attacking aircraft when they arrived. Micro-management can be expensive.
President Johnson may have also shared the character weakness of some other presidents by having a tendency to emphasize personal interest in politics over military considerations in his choices of actions in the war. It wouldnt be the first time that has happened. Even great Presidents like Lincoln did not rule out political factors in war decisions. Perhaps few presidents can resist this temptation, but if they yield they can be called down for it.
There are vitally important lessons to be learned about our Vietnam experience, but we will not learn them unless we review the cards, and come up with the true history. We can be a leading factor in that move.
President Nixon is recognized by many in the military as having made the critically important decision to finally change the strategy in Vietnam and, in truth, his strategy won that war militarily. Yet, as a nation we threw the victory away partly in an orgy about Watergate, which I strongly believe should be re-studied in terms of correcting existing historical myths.
Whatever we learn in a study about the reasons for the poor strategy and some other war decisions, our nation must come to realize before any more presidential elections that a nations survival now depends on the character of the President and his ability to perform his most important duty as Commander-in-Chief.
In such circumstances, I believe the experienced military of our country today have an unusual duty. We must express ourselves to the public as best we can as men of military expertise, who have proven their devotion to protect this countrys security. If we are convinced of a lack of suitable leadership in character or lack of relevant qualifications in any of the candidates for the presidency, we should speak out.
Now, let us further justify our emphasis on the need to correct the myth or myths about Vietnam. Millions of our citizens, almost all of Congress, and many in the military still do not have a clue about how the war really went or what the media did to turn the truth into a string of lies constituting the stuff of the myth.
The general effect of what they did was to help cause our nation to betray the solemn pledge made by the United States of America to the South Vietnamese people that we would act to keep them free in the face of the Communist Norths commitment to conquer and subjugate them. That betrayal constitutes the greatest failure in American foreign policy, perhaps in American history.
But to list some of their most specific misdeeds: 1. They disgraced the profession of journalism by gross bias in their reporting on the war in Vietnam. 2. They so misled and aroused American public opposition to the war that the Congress eventually felt the anti-war pressure so much that they insanely handed victory to the North Vietnamese victory that, in truth, had already been won by the military. 3. They caused trauma among the men who returned home after a difficult tour of duty, watching many of their friends killed, who were greeted with disdain and insult by many of our misled citizenry. 4. They also caused many of these men to develop a traumatic consciousness that their service went for nil, as did the service of those who were maimed or died in Vietnam in that service.
At this point, I would like to offer a sort of consolation prize to any veterans who dont realize the prize already. In spite of our losing that thing politically, we did weaken the Soviets tremendously. We did cause them to spend a great deal of their treasure in helping the North Vietnamese win that war, and that paid off in spades later because the reason they failed was economic failure.
The reason they failed is that with the weakness of their governmental system, they couldnt keep up with the so-called arms race, which they started. The crucial point came when President Reagan said, okay, we are going to do Star Wars, they knew it was time for them to change. You know, the old saying about poker, you got to know when to hold em, you got to know when to fold em, you got to know when to walk away. They knew it was time to walk away because they couldnt have matched us in a race for technological military supremacy, especially because their economy had been so strained by their commitment to Vietnam.
That was really a major key to ending the Cold War and you guys have a lot to do with that.
More on the planters of the seeds of the myths: The media and academe elite lied about how well our military served and how successful their efforts were. They exaggerated the number of enemy civilian causalities without ever bothering to acknowledge that international law through the rules of land warfare permits attacks on a target that which is attacking you, even if there are civilians in the vicinity, and the Vietnamese took this to extremes by employing children to go on military missions.
In many cases there was no choice in taking the risk of killing some civilians. They made us the villains in spite of the fact that we had such scrupulous rules of engagement that we lost many of our troops and aviators because of it.
They filled the pages and TV screens with morale-busting photos of American body bags without mentioning the fact that the enemys body count in the same engagement or the same period of time was a multiple of ours. They failed to differentiate between a sensational, but fruitless attack by the enemy that knowingly was designed for the hungry medias exploitation against the American cause. They became the enemys main source of hope for victory.
All of these myths were heavily spread among our academic institutions. The same kind of myths are still being spread not only about Vietnam but about world affairs and our part in it. Our educational system must educate about the truth of our founding governmental and cultural system, not tell the students lies to support the progressive image of America they are trying to install.
Congress cut off all support for the war, indicating our surrender, and America lost the cause for which she had fought and won. That act was disgraceful and should be recorded as such.
Summarizing the reasons for our defeat in an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, General Tin made clear the anti-war movement in the United States was essential to our strategy. America lost the war because of that movement. Visits to Hanoi by the likes of Jane Fonda, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and various church officials, gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. America lost the war, concluded Bui Tin because of its democracy. Through dissent and protest, we lost the ability to sustain a will to win.
It is a truism that there is one curse of a democracy. According to the great historians and anthropologists, democracies cant last long because sooner or later the people misuse the freedoms they have, they start listening to guys who promise them anything they want to hear, and with those conditions they fail and render themselves vulnerable to an attack by a hungry country or just decay themselves out of existence.
A democracy without a sense of responsibility, a sense of limits as well as freedoms, is foredoomed to vanish, and we are formally discarding from our government our original self-identification as One Nation under God, and there is a growing movement to drop that phrase from our Pledge of Allegiance.
Our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights have been distorted, often by liberal courts, to the point that they would be unrecognizable to our Founding Fathers. The meaning of the First Amendment has effectively been perverted, almost reversed, in our modern version of the interpretation of the issue of Separation of Church and State. This cultural revolution and political/judicial revisionism is in my opinion the greatest threat to our national security. It eases the birth of more and more mythology, such as the Vietnam Myths.
On the other hand, the Rush Limbaughs, the Fox News, Ann Coulter, and independent bloggers, etc., have now started breaking the liberal monopoly on the media we now have two sides to the media. We can stress and support the right side. There are fewer and fewer educational institutions which have remained right or Right. Something must be done about that, and though you and I cannot do it, we can advocate it.
Another favorable factor is that people, including media and academics can convert from wrong to right. They are not all bad, they get sucked into a rebellious rut and then they stay in that rut until they do great harm. But they can reconsider, they can repent, and they can correct their ways. I happened to get to know two well known men who went through that process.
Their names are Peter Collier and David Horowitz. After the war, with great anguish, these two men came to realize how wrong they had been. Eventually they came to my office in the Senate, because I was the only guy that they thought might listen.
They wanted to confess their sins and be given a chance to make up for them. They asked me to believe them. After hearing them out, I did, and I tried to support them. I was never sorry for my efforts. With my son Jim doing much of the work, we formed a group of hundreds of men like them and formed a project under my Foundation called Second Thoughts.
These Second Thoughts men were made available to the media to take the conservative side, as former counter-culturists, in debates on TV and radio. They produced best-selling authors and publishers of influential periodicals.
I dont know what you know about them, but to make a long story short, they did just what they said they would. Collier and Horowitz are now nationally known as risk-taking members of the movement that uses the Internet, their own newspapers, every means they can to fight and to convert their former comrades in the radical counterculture. There are extremely effective because they know their enemy so well, because they were one of them, and they are not afraid of anything.
I am not optimistic about a speedy turn around by converting sinners, but it is not to be overlooked in terms of our educational and intelligence means and ends.
Perhaps even more fundamental than their effect on Vietnam, the media and academe helped to develop and support the counter-culture that poured in from among the fanatics of the anti-war movement. They and others like them have now largely succeeded in replacing the original and efficacious culture that brought us to greatness. We are in a cultural war that has already done more harm than the Vietnam War itself. That is the most important war we can fight.
I know I am speaking to the choir today, but the minutes of this meeting can be used with some folks who are not now in the choir.
My final remarks will be about insights I obtained in the prison camps about the state of mind of the North Vietnamese up to the point when they clearly exposed to me that our military had totally broken their will to continue to fight.
I will keep it brief and off the cuff. You, I am going to assume, know enough about the POW situation in Vietnam not to require me to tell you what it was like. An overview, very sketchy, is that they began torturing us in October of 1965 and they abruptly stopped torturing us in October 1969. I, being one of the senior POWs, acted for a lot of the time during the torture years as the Commander of all of the POWs. As hard as it was to lead, it must have been as hard to follow orders, always brief and often very altered as it passed through sometimes hundreds of walls by tapping. I was inspired by the follow-ship and the leadership of the vast majority of the POWs, as I have been by yours.
In that relationship, I was half killed by them but our captors got to know me pretty well and I got to know them pretty well.
Let me tell you about a few significant events that clearly expose the state of North Vietnamese morale at some key times during the war and expose how the political party members and Vietnamese army were not always necessarily a solid twosome. Just accurately publicizing these few events would blow huge holes in the wall of myths.
A few of you might remember the Hanoi march in 1966 which involved all the prisoners that could walk, perhaps 40, in a barbaric exposure to the North Vietnamese public. We were taken out of our cells into downtown Hanoi, were manacled together in pairs and paraded through the streets with the people having been raised to a frenzy of hatred for us. They were coming in and hitting, kicking us, knocking us down. By the time we got to the end of the parade, the planned demonstration had over-flowed its intended limits, and the guards were trying to protect us. They did not want us to be killed in front of the worlds TV cameras. We ended up crawling and kicking out way into a soccer stadium from which we were protected from the people and finally taken back to the camp.
After returning to the camp, I was beaten, then taken, along with Robbie Risner and Jerry Coffee, to be punished further for our bad behavior during the parade. They blindfolded us and handcuffed us each with our hands behind our backs to three separate tree trunks, each of which had an anthill at their base. We were there for three or four hours until about 3 a.m.
Then, they took us back to our cells. But in my case, in about five minutes the guard comes and takes me to the office where the interrogations normally took place. My interrogator, rank of Lieutenant Colonel, was the officer in charge of the whole camp and he gave me an unusual message, which is typical of the kind I received later during the rest of my experience there. Startlingly very polite, he invited me to sit down in front of his desk. He then ordered the guard to leave so as to prevent him from hearing what was said. The officer then said earnestly, Denton, I have some information for you and I request that you to listen to it and I ask you to remember it. It is important. His tone and attitude stunned me. His tone was that of man to man rather than the usual captor to captive.
He then asked me what I thought about the march. I was still angry, and gave him my lengthy opinion of how it was a display of barbarity that would backfire on them globally. He heard me out without comment, and after a long pause said, Denton, I ask you to remember that this march was not the idea of the Vietnamese Army; this march was the idea of the People, which meant Party. He then repeated himself, paused and asked, Do you understand me? I said yes and was dismissed.
An astounding event! Even at that point, there was enough uncertainty in the minds of the North Vietnamese Army that they were going to lose the war and would be punished for war crime trials, and they were trying to let me know that it was not their fault; it was the Partys fault.
Well, that kind of thing raised its head quite often, but I am going to skip a bunch of them to get to a couple of others that really count.
In the summer of 1967, I, along with 10 others, was blindfolded and moved from the main camp to at a wretched place we called Alcatraz; where we were to be isolated for over two years to ensure that the main body of prisoners would not be affected by our bad attitudes. Also there were James Stockdale and Sam Johnson who has been for many years the great Congressman from a district near Dallas, Texas, and eight other great guys who had been giving our captors fits and paying for it. We were living in mostly pairs except for three in solo including Stockdale and me (I was to complete four years total of solitary confinement in that place).
We were in semi-dark cells, 48 inches square of romping room, plus a stone bed to lie on at night when they shackled us and put us in those beds. We had no window but there was a steel plate with some holes in it near the top of the door, our only source of air. They tortured us periodically.
Well, we had always been tortured if we were caught communicating, tapping on the walls or whatever. So one night in October 1969, I was caught. The guard picks me up, takes me to the interrogation room, and I think, well, I am going to get it again. I go in and when I get to the door the officer says, sit down with an unusually friendly voice.
In an ingratiating tone, he said rather softly, Denton, you are not going to be tortured for communicating as you expect. (They had never used the word torture they used the word punish.
He paused to let me get over my amazement, then said, I am authorized to announce to you that our policy of treatment for you is going to change for the better. There will be no more torture. In a few days you will be given a full briefing for three weeks at the next camp by Col. Bai (whom we called Cat, who was the officer in charge of the entire POW treatment program). He will discuss with you all the details of the change.
He then had me returned to my cell.
Well, of course, it was all Greek to me after four years of steady torture Hell, and I didnt know what was really going on. Back in my cell, I started tapping out to my next door neighbor, George McKnight, what he had told me. I said he seemed to be sincere, but that I could not pretend to know what it all meant. After they all got the message, I knew they were incredulous; they thought that I was out of my mind, delirious.
Well, in about ten more minutes Sam Johnson was caught communicating. They took him in and told him a brief summary of what they told me. Sams report confirmed my sanity. We were all wondering, My God, what is going to happen, is it possible we are not going to be tortured anymore; what is happening, are we soon going home?
This occurred in October, 1969. Note that Ho Chi Minh had died on September 2nd or 3rd, 1969, so this interview occurred about a month after Ho Chi Minhs death. I began to suspect there was some connection between the treatment change announcement and Hos death.
We were soon moved back to the main camp where I took over again as the senior officer, and, sure enough, the next day I was called into the presence of the Camp Commander, Cat. He looked like a different man. He looked horrible and had dropped his characteristic arrogance. He had developed a tic, lost much weight, and had been demoted to Major from Colonel. He treated me to an amazing interview.
He got me seated very politely and said, Denton, I am going to take three weeks to explain to you a change in policy of the administration of the Vietnamese prisoner of war program. (They had always denied that we were prisoners of war we were criminals). He went through some of things the other guy had told me except he went on for over an hour. He informed me that they were going to let us exercise outside and asked me to tell him later what games we would like to play and whatever else we might want. We had never been outside for more than a few minutes to be taken by a guard somewhere, and; we had never gotten any outside exercise.
Over the next three weeks he had me in every day except on Sundays.
The offers and information he gave me became more and more amazing. He had responded favorably to my request for reading materials, especially bibles. He had approved basketball, ping pong, chess and checker sets, and a French brand of billiards, called Pier. Then one day he suggested we might like to go to the kitchens and tell the cooks what we would like to eat and how we would like it prepared, saying they wanted to defer to our American tastes and preferences.
I declined this offer. He exclaimed, But, Denton, that is where the girls are!
I said, I know. My men will not mix with the girls. Gad, most of the men had been there for two to four years, some for more I could foresee that kitchen scenarios were not advisable.
Finally he became very serious and told me we was going to tell me in detail why the treatment was being changed.
He narrated for an hour or so a fairy tale. He implied that the reason for the change was that Ho Chi Minh had been responsible for all of the torture, all of the breaking of the Geneva Convention with respect to the prisoners. Some officers and men had followed his orders many had not. He told me that they had punished these officers and men who had been torturing us, demoted them and had sent many back to the front. He went on and on about the promised new treatment: the food would be great, we would be treated to watching movies, even live ballet the more he talked the more mystified I got.
There was no question that Cat himself had been disciplined. In addition to his tic, he had obvious tremors, he had lost all his pride, and was speaking very quietly and carefully. I was convinced that indeed something had happened to Cat.
So again, I go back to my cell, with my new and, briefly former cellmate, my old friend Jim Mulligan. I brief him and then we get on the wall to tap the info to the others about what Cat had told me. This was now the main camp with scores, later hundreds of more POWs living there.
I kept going back to the interrogation room every day and Cat kept telling me more and more about this, and it was becoming increasingly obvious in fact that the treatment was changing in every way I had asked for, and more.
Of course I realized that the treatment change and the stated reasons for it were a scam intended to get most of them out of war crimes trials following the war. To me, it was a major sign that things were not going that well for them in the war, and possibly they had read Nixon as very different from Johnson in ways very foreboding for their war prospects.
Nobody believed the scam about Ho, but we kept our mouths shut and enjoyed the new and glorious way of life with basketball and all the other goodies, including receiving monthly mail and some packages from home, much better and more food with which they fattened us up, bringing me from l00 lbs. in 69 to 141 lbs. at my release in Feb 1973.
From then on when I could not get what I wanted, I called or threatened to call a hunger strike. Knowing that Sam Johnson was the only man still in solo, I demanded they give him a cellmate. Cat told me that Johnson, like a naughty nephew, still needed some correctional punishment and Cat the Uncle was applying it. I then told him that if he persisted in leaving Sam in solo, I would do something unpleasant for him.
The next day, I called a volunteers only Hunger Strike for three days. I knew they desperately wanted us to fatten up after years of starving so we would look good when we went home.
Some of the guys did not like this at all, but everyone participated, and soon Sam was brought to my cell to visit and then given a cellmate next door to me. I called an end to the strike.
We were later told by a sort of informer, a most intelligent guard, who sometimes gave us valuable and true information, that indeed he knew that a number of officers and men had been punished and that so-and-so had been returned to the front and had been killed, and that other officers had been demoted like Cat had. Some of that could be true for all I know, but I do not believe it.
The North Vietnamese began showing evidences of having all but given up, and never recommenced torture as a policy except to a few Linebacker flyers shot down in December 1969, whom we did not then know about.
I was now sure that the treatment change came because they believed President Nixon would do what it took to win the war in spite of the anti-war movement, and later they effectively acknowledged their final and total defeat to me just before my release, as I will shortly relate.
We were all soon moved into another part of the Hoa Loa Prison, the largest part, that we named Camp Unity. It was the largest enclosure in the Hoa Lo prison. There were over three hundred of us, communally living in about 12 buildings, ten of which held about 40 men. Most of the buildings were surrounding on three sides a big concrete courtyard. A few buildings, on the fourth side, were for rare and light punishment or isolation. Nine seniors, including me and some less senior from Alcatraz, were eventually separated from the rest in one of those, but we were not denied communality among ourselves or anything the others received. We had been getting outside exercise since Cats interview with me, good and ample food, bibles and a few other books to read. There was one occasion when about ten of the seniors were forced to go to their War Museum, but that was the only forced incident.
We all mingled in the courtyard often during the day. Finally, they offered us things like watching a large Vietnamese acrobat and dancing troop perform but we declined to cooperate with their effort to film us watching it. We knew this was to install the impression that we had been treated well all along, so they came in to perform anyway, and we all turned our backs and wouldnt watch.
Now, lets fast-forward to Linebacker II, and I will relate my final evidence that their will to fight was totally demolished by the time of my release in February 1973.
On the night of 18 December 1972 at about 2000, I heard a soft but growing humming noise, recognized it and shouted out, Boys, the war is over, those are B-52s! Soon, the planes were overhead all around us.
Sure enough that was the first night of Linebacker II, consisting of three waves each of 80 B-52s in clear sight overhead, bombing the living hell out of North Vietnamese military targets. The first night, the sky was lit up not only with searchlights and tracer A/A but with the glare of several B-52s coming down in flames every few minutes. Some of them crashed within two blocks of us, and when they went down the whole prison shook and the plaster would come down. Falling flak made holes in the ceiling. It was quite an experience, but we were cheering all the time. The bombing started on the 18th, paused for Christmas, resumed on the 26th and ended early in January.
The Commies named the bombings, the Christmas Bombing, so did our press, but as I said, there was no bombing on Christmas.
The first night those B-52s flew in there, there were scores of missiles going up towards them and we lost a good number of B-52s. The next night, there may have been half as many missiles, and we lost half the number of B-52s. By the third night, maybe one or two B-52s were downed and very few missiles went up. From then on there was little or no missile opposition, and the planes methodically continued to come back unchallenged to bomb all the bridges, all the ammo dumps, power plants, the missile sites etc. all of the infrastructure, military and industrial, of North Vietnam.
From the time the first B-52 raid took place, the North Vietnamese officers, enlisted, and the water girls looked like zombies, dogs who had just been whipped in the corner. They became utterly ingratiating. They took the attitude of, well, you remember me, I am a pretty good guy and I never did do anything bad to you remember?
They let us know that they thought that the war was over and I received my formal personal acknowledgement from them that they knew they had lost the war.
About two days before I was released, after they had read us all the terms of the settlement agreement, and we had been issued clothing for going home, I was called to the most unusual meeting I ever attended.
I was ushered into a lavishly furnished room about 60 feet by 25 feet, with a big desk in the center of the wall opposite the entrance wall, at which sat an imposing-looking individual. He wore no rank but was unquestionably in charge.
The wall behind him was blank, but the two walls to the sides contained rows of chairs with their backs to the wall, at which were seated, shoulder-to-shoulder about 35-40 Vietnamese senior officers and obviously high officials. Nothing like the crowd of colonels who were the most senior I had ever seen previously, except at the Blinking interview. You could see that these guys were IT!. They looked like a meeting of Chairmen of the Boards of big corporations, or like a meeting of the JCS.
As I walked into the room, I thought; Oh my God, WHAT IS THIS? Are they going to order me to do something that I can't do and I won't go home with the others.
I was ushered directly to the guy at the lone desk who stood and politely asked me to be seated facing him, calling me Commander Denton, I had never been addressed with my rank before. I knew I had already made Captain and that he didnt know that. I didnt correct him. Before I sat down I looked around and noticed that every man in the room was showing obvious signs of being extremely tense.
He said, We are going to have a very important meeting together. I know that in the past, you have never answered our questions but I am going to ask you to consider answering a question today and your answer will be very important to us.
After a long pause he said, We want to know what you are going to say when you get home about the treatment you received here?
I did not expect that question. Gad, I thought to myself, he of course knows I am just going to tell it like it was. What the hell is he up to? But then a light went on in my head, and I started to have a glimmer of what this was about.
He cleared his throat and asked me if I was going to answer. I said, Well, I may l answer your question if I can get permission from my seniors.
He frowned, paused, and finally told me I could go and get permission.
I returned to find my two available seniors Robbie Risner and Jim Stockdale engaged in intense conversation. I had to interrupt and said, Guys, they want to know what I am going to say about the treatment when I get back.
They laughed and said sure, say what you wish. I asked them if they had been asked the same question. They said, yes. I asked them how many others were in the room when each of them was asked and the both said two. They seemed to think my question was unimportant, and obviously wanted to continue their conversation, so I left them.
I returned to the big room and the same crowd. After I was seated, he asked me if I was prepared to answer. I said that my seniors had given me permission to say what I wished, and that I would answer their question if they would first answer two of mine.
He frowned, paused and with difficulty rearranged his facial expression and said, All right, what are the two questions you want to ask me?
I said, Well, first of all, I want to know why you are asking me, when they are at least six gentlemen out there senior to me. Why ask me?
After a slight pause he looked me straight in the eye and said, Denton, because we think you are credible.
He waited a long time, and then he asked for my second question. Before I answered I looked all around at the other men present and saw they were sweating, some visibly shaking, and all of them showing intense concern about what I was going to say.
I said, My other question is why you are all so concerned about what I am going to say when I get home, because you know I am simply going to tell them the truth.
He blurted out in rapid phrases, Denton, we are afraid that some of the prisoners will exaggerate about their treatment, get your public all upset and resentful, causing Congress to get upset. That could result in President Nixon not being able to bring himself to fulfill his part of the Settlement Agreement, such as the development of the Mekong Delta. That is not all, but that is the meat of what he said, and you get the drift.
When he finished he asked me if I would now answer.
I was now strongly convinced that I knew what this was all about. I said, Yes, I shall now answer.
At this point every man was leaning forward as if they were about to hear a judge render a verdict on his life or death. You could have heard a feather drop.
I began with, Here is what I am going to say. And I proceeded to summarize our terrible treatment in gross violation of the Geneva conventions, giving details of torture rigs and methods employed, beatings with fan belts, starvation, etc., ending with, We were treated worse than animals can legally be treated in the U.S.
Then, as I carefully scanned the reactions on the faces around me, I paused a moment, and slowly said, Then suddenly in October 1969. . . and as I said those words, they all exhaled at once, their faces exploded with relief and smiles, for they knew I was going to go on as I did relating that horrible treatment changed into much better treatment, almost equaling Geneva Convention standards.
As I went on I saw that they were hardly listening after the words October 1969, knowing that I would testify to the fact that treatment changed at a time consistent with the death of Ho, and consistent with the key gambit in their scam to get out of war crimes trials, as well as consistent with their hopes that President Nixon would come through with the agreement concessions.
Is that clear? All right. So gentlemen, they may have felt like they had it won after Tet or after Hue or whatever, but that when we departed Hanoi, I and every other POW will tell you that that was the way it was.
We must let the public and posterity know that and the other truths that will totally refute the Myths.
Okay. That concludes my remarks and maybe later we can have some questions and answers. I wish you guys well in what you are doing. I love you all.
Steve Sherman: Is this the only live mike here? Admiral, are you there?
Admiral Denton [on the phone]: Yes, sir.
Steve Sherman: Oh, how about this, sometimes this technology works.
Admiral Denton: The Lord is on our side, Steve.
Steve Sherman: We have a number of people here who have some questions and I would like to turn it over to them, but first I want to give you my thanks for an excellent presentation.
Admiral Denton: Your guy is asking me if I am on, I am on.
Steve Sherman: And we hear you here.
Admiral Denton: It sounds like they are having trouble with their end.
Steve Sherman: Can you hear me Admiral?
Admiral Denton: Yes.
Steve Sherman: Turn off your Internet feed because you are getting some feedback on it.
Admiral Denton: Yeah, okay.
Steve Sherman: Let us try and see if we can. . .
Admiral Denton: You relay the questions.
Steve Sherman: All right. Let us go try and hear first directly.
Admiral Denton: All right. Can they hear me one, two, three, four, five.
Bob Mathews: Yes, we can hear you, sir.
Admiral Denton: All right.
Bob Mathews: My name is Bob Mathews. I am a high school teacher in North Carolina and we have developed in our state a course on Vietnam and we have taught it for over ten years now. And one of our principal speakers there is a man named Bill Tschudy. Now I know you know Bill well and I told him I would be coming over to Boston to get some more information to take back to my students and he wanted me to ask you, any words you want to tell him. I am going to meet with him when I go back at Friday and maybe, say hello, because I know you know him very well and again I want to thank you for your talk. It was very, very informative and we are very proud of you.
Admiral Denton: Well, thank you. Just tell Bill I hope I see him in May; they are going to dedicate the SERE School to me in August and I would love to see him and his wife Nancy. Nancy and my wife, Jane, are great friends.
Bob Mathews: He has been very active with us. He sat down for a taped interview and we have used it all over the country and I will relay that message and again, I am honored to have sat through your speech and I hope one day to meet you.
Admiral Denton: Thank you sir, you are very kind. May I make a couple of points I forgot during my speech, Steve?
Steve Sherman: Yes, please go ahead.
Bob Mathews: Yes sir, please do so.
Admiral Denton: All right, in the interview with Cat that first time when they told me that the treatment was going to change and then they let me talk to him for three weeks. He also said, aside from admitting to me that he had been part of the torture program, he said he had to make a confession to the people, an apology to the people. Of course, that people word means the Party; they probably did that. They probably went through that formal rigmarole: setting these guys up to be scapegoats.
And I believe that the element of defeat, the fact of their defeat, their loss of will to continue the war, was made partly evident by the treatment change in 1969, finally confirmed by the interview conducted after Linebacker II are facts that America has not been permitted to recognize.
I have read quite a lot, like you guys have about this, and the weight of the literature on it doesnt make the point that Linebacker II and the mining of Haiphong Harbor broke their will finally, not that the ground forces did not do well as they could do under the circumstances on the ground. We used to pray for these guys every night, we would tap: GNGBGC, meaning Good Night, God bless the Gravel Crunchers. We do recognize their valor and effectiveness, but the fact is that those Linebacker II bombers finally came like they should have early in the war and finished off the will of those people.
After being willing to surrender, after signing the Settlement, North Vietnamese were amazed and could not believe it when Congress retroactively surrendered what 59,000 Americans and innumerable South Vietnamese had won with the sacrifice of their lives.
The Russians had to convince them that, when Congress cut off all funding for the war after we had truly won it, the victory was handed back to them. After the Settlement was signed, all that would have been required for us to accept their surrender and win the cause, would have been for Congress not to do anything.
That is the simple truth, an immense truth, which the Myth-makers have deceitfully blocked from being passed on to the U.S. and to the world.
Steve Sherman: We have another one coming up here.
Admiral Denton: All right.
Michael Lee Lanning: Yes sir, Michael Lee Lanning. I was with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. My question is: what is your opinion of the impact of the visitors from the United States and other countries that came in to observe the POWs and what was their impact on the care that you all received?
Admiral Denton: I am sure that there was impact on the care we were given. But anyone that was approached about having to see one of them like Jane Fonda. Most of them were panicked and refused and were pretty well hurt, some more were tortured to go see her and, of course this all had a terrible effect on our morale.
For example, at my interview in 1966 when I blinked torture, I also said the opposite of what they had tortured me to say. I prayed to die during the all night torture which they gave me after that interview.
My captors had been extremely embarrassed that at that interview there were many well known peace activists who were prepared to witness me forsaking our cause in Vietnam. Wilfred Birchett, an Australian anti-war, pro-Communist author and journalist also debated me on that occasion, in addition to the Japanese journalist who interviewed me. Other international guests were present, as well as many high ranking political and military officials of Vietnam.
I was lucky, because the Japanese guy had been publishing propaganda for them for years, taping forced confessions, etc. But that night he knew he had a scoop, sneaked out of Hanoi that night, and from Japan sold the tape to ABC which televised it in the U.S.
My experience was but one of many similar ones, and it hurt all of us deeply that many of our own citizens, and even some of our Senators and Congressmen back at home were taking the enemys side in all this. We were pretty much at a nadir in morale by 1967-68 but we never gave up.
During my speech I didnt say anything about it but I did a lot of praying and consider the Good Lord was the main reason we came home. Many POWs will tell you the same, and some share my view that it is disappointing to see how which One Nation under God is not as unanimous as it once was in cherishing that self-identification, and I am sure you know what I mean.
Mike Benge: Admiral, I am Mike Benge, one of your old colleagues who got captured down in the South. Would you remark, I know what the effect of John Kerry and his anti-war movement had on us in our camp, but would you repeat what you have previously ended up saying about the role of John Kerry and how it was used against us to end up demoralizing us?
Admiral Denton: How anyone in the United States can regard him as having credibly served his country, I dont know. I cannot understand why the stories that I have heard firsthand on the Internet are not appearing in the normal press. Of course, we know he became anti-war, they know that he lied about the way we served (with raping, torture, etc. a common practice) and was part of the betrayal Congress committed. I can't see how anybody could believe that a man, if you check the whole thing, check his record accurately, get into talking with the guys that served with him, that the truth will come out about him. I think you are going to do that at this conference, is that not so?
Steve Sherman: Right.
Admiral Denton: Are there Swift Boat guys there?
Steve Sherman: Jerry Corsi is here, who has written a book with the Swift Boat folks. He is here and I believe that some others are supposed to be here, but I havent seen them yet.
Admiral Denton: All right. But how do you feel, Steve, about the outlook, either by using his book and trying to get on the mainstream media or whatever else you could think of, is it going to be possible that this general public will never find out about him?
Steve Sherman: If we are unable to come up with some alternative means for bypassing the mainstream media, we are into some pretty deep kimchi over here. Most of us who are sitting here watching an MSNBC program last night watching Kerry in a sequence of half-truths and it was a distressing indication of what we are faced with, but we have a bunch of creative minds out here. We survived Vietnam, we survived what they have thrown against us since we came back, we put our minds to it. We will find some ways of dealing with it and the help that you have given us here and the record we hope to put together from this conference, may be we will have some the tools to do that.
Admiral Denton: Well, so far you are the main hope that I had that this is going to get aired. It seems we got Fox News and it looks like some of those guys would speak to you, if you will approach them and . . . .
Steve Sherman: Only if they had an equal amount of time for somebody to try to tear us down.
Admiral Denton: Well, I wouldnt worry about that. I think the Truth will prevail.
Steve Sherman: Well, I watched one program where they dealt with John ONeill and they had 3 minutes where he said his piece and nine minutes with people attacking him and they wouldnt go on the same block. So the woman from the Kerry camp who was attacking him, basically had 6 minutes to do her damnedest while he had already left the stage.
Admiral Denton: Well, if you were in our situation, you would have done the same: we heard propaganda from them 99% of the time, and at first we needed to have a new prisoner tell us what a lie something was. Later our experience taught us that we could believe precisely the opposite of anything they said and be very close to correct. I think truth versus fiction emerges. I believe that the spirit you guys have, the patience you have, the truth that you have is going to come out. I do trust you because you could not be more, as you say, well, it is years after the darned war and you are still single-mindedly trying to get straightened the American public minds and this presidential election is number one priority.
Steve Sherman: As my wife would say, Buong Binh, we are stubborn.
Admiral Denton: Yeah.
Steve Sherman: Oh, look, we have time for one more question over here and then I am going to have to try get back on schedule.
Admiral Denton: Yes sir.
Bill Laurie: Admiral Denton, thank you for your inspirational talk and your inspirational service to this country. Regarding the matter of prisoners, we know that Rocky Versace and Kenneth Roraback were among the American prisoners killed in VC camps in South Vietnam and Michael Benge is here. He can tell us about the missionaries that he buried. We know that the South Vietnamese prisoners were treated dismally by the communists. My question is, we know that Ed Atterbury and one other prisoner were tortured to death in Vietnam or died from this treatment or under treatment. Is there any estimate of the number of American or Allied prisoners who died or were killed in North Vietnamese camps? Thank you, sir.
Admiral Denton: Well, first of all, I am very much aware of the horrors the guys caught in the South endured. They were kept in much worse conditions than we were. We suffered that occasionally, but it was not anything like the way you did. I had been to the veterans affairs hearings on not only the prisoners in the South but the prisoners in Japan in World War II, in Germany, it depended where you were and so on. The prisoners who died in captivity in the North, I dont know the exact number, I have forgotten it, but they were right on the percentages that died in other places. I was surprised at how many did die.
A guy at home said that there are still prisoners over there. I dont know what use the Vietnamese would have made of those, but there are some people who think they are keeping some. Of course we should do all we can to find out. But in our group in Hanoi, there was no way that they could stop an American once they got to Hao Lo over the main prison from getting his name out, and we dont know of anybody who was deliberately tortured to death. The guy Atterbury that had escaped was brought back, and they beat him horribly and he died as a result. As I say, I think they valued us much more highly as hostages, something to get a quid pro quo out of than they valued us as sources of military info which they would torture us to death for. However some guys died as a result of torture and almost all were tortured.
One time I went in to be tortured and I saw blood around this metal door, around a spike of metal on the deck and I thought they had taken a chicken and put him down there and made it up with blood to scare me, but I found out later that the guy who was in there swinging around in the torture and he fell there and he cut his gut and almost died. They beat you up bad enough and frequently tortured enough to take you to unconsciousness, and you could be tortured a number of times in one session. I just used to love to see that little donut of darkness start forming around the rims of my eyes and close slowly and then you were saved, he couldnt hurt you anymore and I would fast to have that moment of unconsciousness come faster. But there is no doubt about the extensive use of torture. As the authentic book, Honor Bound, and the movie indicate, POWs in the North and South both took plenty of torture, and the South guys havent got as much publicity as we did. But I deeply respect and congratulate the ones who were in the South you had a hell of time I know that.
Steve Sherman: Well, thank you very, very much Admiral and we will do what we can to get the message out far and wide.
Admiral Denton: Steve, I know some guys, I know Morton Kondracke pretty well, I know the whole program, those four guys and if you have any trouble, Fred Barnes is like a son-in-law to me; he married my best friends daughter, and Morton Kondracke is a great guy, Brit Hume is a great guy, if they knew what you have, they would put you fellows on with your cause.
Steve Sherman: Well, we are faced with a lot of temporal challenges at the present moment and we have the material here and we will make use of it not only in the short term but also in the long term as well and I will be in touch with you as soon as can.
Admiral Denton: Okay, anybody thinks that I can help, I will try.
Steve Sherman: Thank you very much.
Admiral Denton: Thanks for having me on. Good-bye guys.
Steve Sherman: Bye.
 Admiral Dentons Navy Cross citation reads [in part] Under constant pressure from North Vietnamese interrogators and guards, Rear Admiral Denton (then Commander) experienced harassment, intimidation and ruthless treatment in their attempt to gain military information and cooperative participation for propaganda purposes. During this prolonged period of physical and mental agony, he heroically resisted cruelties and continued to promulgate resistance policy and detailed instructions. Forced to attend a press conference with a Japanese correspondent, he blinked out a distress message in Morse Code at the television camera and was understood by United States Naval Intelligence. When this courageous act was reported to the North Vietnamese, he was again subjected to severe brutalities. Displaying extraordinary skill, fearless dedication to duty, and resourcefulness, he reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces."
[SGS Comment:] Commander Denton was severely tortured, prior to the interview, to force him to condemn U.S. policy. He defied his captors by stating the following: "I don't know what is going on in the war now because the only sources I have access to are North Vietnamese radio, magazines and newspapers. But whatever the position of my government is, I agree with it, support it and will support it as long as I live. Afterwards, Denton was again severely tortured for his defiance. Such heroism is beyond our imaginings.