the Myths of the Vietnam War
SESSION 16 (TRANSCRIPT)
Aid and Comfort to Our Enemies
TIMOTHY LOMPERIS: My name is Tim Lomperis. I was in the 525 MI Group in Saigon in 1972-73, and then I worked for the Defense Attaché Office after the ceasefire of 1973, Paris Peace Agreement, in which I was an intelligence liaison officer working with various ARVN organizations. I currently teach at St. Louis University, strange to say in the City of St. Louis, where I chair the Political Science Department and teach courses in international relations. I actually wrote a paper here, so I am going to pass this out so you can follow along. I will not be reading it word for word but you can sort of figure out where we are.
I am going to say a few preliminary things before I jump into my assignment itself. As an academic, I have been to lots of conferences over the years of my career. This is profoundly different in two respects, so this made it particularly interesting at least for me. I pretty much go to academic conferences where people purvey various academic theories. This has been mostly a military conference. I have frankly learned a great deal from it. That has been unique, the war stories were tremendously insightful in developing a larger mosaic of the war, so that has been something from which I have gotten a great deal. It has brought me back in ways that other conferences had not, shall we say. Also, secondly, this is mostly so far at least pretty much a fairly compatible conference; that is, this has been a conference of fellow believers. I am mostly used to far more contentious conferences where people are more at each others throats. I particularly recall a conference that I attended at the Asia Society in New York 10 years after the Fall, on the Vietnam War, in which people were literally at each others throats. There was crying. There were practically fisticuffs, in fact, it was nearly post-traumatic stress syndrome all in itself. So I actually wrote a book on that conference, basically designed to help veterans and help the country heal, and it has actually, I think, served to help people some. The book is called Reading The Wind taken from Michael Herrs dispatches about reading Asian faces was like reading the wind. Then we noted, as Bill has noticed frequently, the missing element of the Southeast Asians in most conferences on this topic. There has been a lot about this that I found as a good kind of overarching reminiscence/looking to the future for this. I felt the 20 myths at the beginning were a good organizing tool for all of our brains as we listen to the various panels. I felt that was a very good way to begin this. In my own career, I served, as I mentioned, two tours in Vietnam. For me, my war stories were cerebral. Ironically enough as an intelligence officer, I fought the war in my head and in fact I escaped the war by spending most of it as an interior experience in a way it was an intellectual struggle, it was a dynamically fascinating intellectual struggle and in the sense of trying to figure out what the other side was trying to do, that was our whole objective. It was a heady experience, but it was in terms of my life, it was just, and maybe Bill can relate to the same things, as we were doing much of the same work there at least in his first tour, a desperately bewildering experience. I felt I did not know what was going on, the whole time I was pretending that I did know what was going on for superiors who I thought were often easily conned into thinking that I did know what was going on, which frightened me often that they actually believe that I really do or those with us who were analysts knew what we were talking about. The intelligence business is very humbling and when the public as a whole today is looking for black and white answers, I remember the pressures for those black and white answers and we always only gave shades of gray. So I feel sorry for those in the business where the whole nation is now demanding and extracting this nonexistent black and white information.
But it drove me to academics and I spent my whole academic career literally trying to fathom out this war, Both [my] Masters degrees and PhDs and really all of my writing has been about Vietnam. As an academic, since I had this intelligence background, my focus was on the other side and most of the research on the Vietnam War, like 80% of it focuses on what the US did. Naturally, of course, that the US was doing wrong and 90% of it was all about which was the most critical mistake, which was the most immoral of all of the deeds, and I began to realize that, however true all of these various missteps were, it did not mean that the other side was axiomatically right in everything that it did; and I was a little troubled, for example, by our good Colonel on the telephone basically assuming that the other side had done everything right. Just for example, in my own studies, I realized that Giap was a pretty big blunderer. I do not revere him as a great military strategist. The Tet Offensive was a disaster from even the military point of view. Well talk later more about the political side. The Easter Invasion was a debacle beyond a disaster. In fact, Giap was basically fired or kicked upstairs, and that the final 1975 campaign was not his. He did not even get to write the official account of it. Van Tien Dung wrote it without even reference to Giap. So I am sorry that todays military officers had this misunderstanding of the strategic efficacy of our adversaries because of the fact -- we can go into in the Q&A -- that for all the mistakes we made, they made an equal number, or the war would not have gone on so long. That is, not that it was a comedy, it was a tragedy of errors on both sides for its long point. But of course, as Robert Turner mentioned, that you read the other sides stuff and Max did it too ,you end up learning an awful lot. That is, this is a group, the Coms, are very intellectual folks and the Vietnamese were more intellectually than practically anybody else and they carried many of their battles out in all of their official journals and magazines. You do not even need classified stuff. You could learn an incredible amount and one of the things that became my eureka moment in the middle of my dissertation research is that I began to realize, you know, after Tet of 68, they were not even doing what they said they were doing. This revolution was a fraud and that the Tet Offensive was not just a military defeat, which every body acknowledged, more than that it was a political defeat. It was a revolution that was totally destroyed and the only thing that saved them is that we walked away from it. We did not realize what we had accomplished. Thats what my book [is about], based on my dissertation, The War Everyone Lost And Won. That is the heart of my contribution to this. In fact, the dissertation won the (APSA) American Political Science Associations Reid Award. That was both my doing and my undoing. Alright, in that, obviously with this award, I did get a job but there were many people who held this award bitterly against me, and I was denied tenure at Duke University in a controversy that went on over 5 years. It was a long bitter struggle. I felt in St. Pauls terms that I fought the good fight. In fact, the title of my book is The War Everyone Lost and Won and I concluded with a party with people after I left that I felt that we had won by the way we lost, and the other side had lost by the way we won.
I just want to say a little bit about political science. I think I am the only political scientist here. Whatever the vagaries of my own career, and, in fact and at least for the ensuing history, history is a range of battlefields -- where Robert is out there fighting the good fight. There are lots of historians out there who do advance a conservative position. There is a huge range and a tremendous debate within History. Political Science is a little bit different. There are many different approaches to Political Science, and Political Science is a battle of approaches. It is actually in the middle of a revolution now called the Perestroika Movement over this whole battle of approaches, and you all should know that within Political Science and especially International Relations as one of the subfields, there is a strong branch known as Realism to which I subscribe. From the perspective of this audience, Realists focus on military affairs as the driving force of International Relations and so, naturally, Realists have a rather conservative orientation in general, although they split over the Vietnam War in that Vietnam becomes one of their big debates. My great guru and mentor in this business -- who I consider to be the worlds greatest living political scientist (probably living and dead) is Samuel Huntington. Just up the road here, and I had post-Doc at Harvard, I was known as one of Huntingtons Hawks, and that there were three others at that time working on Vietnam books. Huntington, actually you may not know that he has written significant pieces on everything but he has also written some big pieces on Vietnam. Indeed arguing that there were grounds for a political democratic future in South Vietnam and he wrote an article in Foreign Affairs laying out the constituencies that could be the foundation of a democratic Vietnam. Anyway, the three of us, Doug McDonald at Colgate, Jim Wirtz at the Naval Postgraduate School, [and I] all wrote books out of this, and [we] called our books the Huntington Trilogy. I only mentioned this so you should know that the patronage networks of academia and especially in Political Science does maintain a full scale debate over the Vietnam War and for those of us that teach courses on Vietnam. My great goal and my own course on Vietnam is to sow confusion wherever I go. As the first step to such a creative discovery for the students themselves, I taught a course last fall in which I had some of the leaders of our campuses antiwar movement and my greatest claim to fame was that I disarmed them. There were no demonstrations because these leaders were so confused about this that they could not take to the streets when I had screwed their minds up so bad. I did not change them over but at least I kept them off the streets by screwing their heads up royally. So, as opposed to sometimes lighting the light bulbs in peoples minds, I turn them some time -- their preconceived light bulbs -- into dull brown. Its a spark anyway. Actually my sin and I just mentioned this is that I do not really argue the Vietnam War from a Realists perspective. If I had, I probably would have been left alone, but I transgressed into the field of the enemy, that is, I argued my stance on the Vietnam War as an intelligence officer looking at the war from a societal underpinnings of Vietnamese society from, in political science, what is known as Political Culture. Political Culture is the kind of citadel of liberals and radicals who see that as their primary venue of scholarship. The fact that I would argue from their perspective was the unpardonable sin because in so doing I tainted Political Culture with this conservative perspective but I always like that taking things to the lair of the enemy, which is partly why I also support the war in Iraq. You go right to the heart land of the issue and not battle at the peripheries. So we are in a mess but we are in the mess at the right place and we need to fight the good fight.
My scholarship has been labeled as Revisionist and I was told by others, after writing three books on Vietnam, to leave it behind and to move on, lest I would be known as a kind of Johnny One Note, and so I had basically left this behind me. I thought that it was mostly a superseded topic in national dialogue, but I have been extremely disturbed at the way Vietnam has been resuscitated and manipulated by folks who are obviously out to use Vietnam to destroy the war in Iraq, and I realize it was too dangerous to be left in this, what shall we say, mistaken condition. So, it was at this moment that Steve interposed himself in my life and asked me to present this paper, and, as he recalls, I was initially rather reluctant to do it. I was full of many, many excuses as to why I should not do it, but I actually found it to be a kind of very, very -- I mean I had a lot of fun doing it. I mean it got me all back into world I had left behind. Partly, you will notice a lot of my footnotes, I actually brought back my scholarship to the attention of the reader to see where I concluded things earlier as I thought about relating this to Iraq. I was asked to look at the legacies of Vietnam as applied to [Iraq]. Since in a way this as a whole topic of a new class that I introduced last fall at St. Louis University on what I call asymmetric warfare in two eras Vietnam and the Cold War, and Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf. In a way, this was the whole thing we explore in this class and so I decided this paper represented an opportunity to put my own thoughts down for what I was doing in the class and I acknowledge this on footnote 22 on page 10, that is, the impact of my students on this paper itself, so I mention this only because this is a case where teaching and research go hand in hand. The idea that these are separate enterprises has never been true for me, so much of what I have done in the class is summarized in this paper.
Well, the title of my paper is the heart of what I am arguing. Iraq, the Vietnam War We Cannot Afford To Lose and there is two overarching points to what I feel is critical in applying Vietnam. My first point is that Vietnam has been a ghost that haunts our national soul. However, as a ghost, it is wrong. All right, my first point is to acknowledge that Vietnam dogs us, haunts us at every step of way and is this ghost and in terms of what we draw from this ghost, what we are drawing from this ghost by and large is wrong. Vietnam is a ghost of error.
Second, I argue that international conditions now are such that the domestic and international politics are no longer separable as they once were in the Cold War, that is, whatever we think about Iraq and Vietnam, this time, we cannot walk away from this one. There is no walking away from Iraq, whether you think it was a mistake or not, unlike the previous era when we could. And that is essentially what I will tease out of these two arguments in this paper as well. I wont read it all but I will read the introduction. Those of us who grew up in the Cold War faced to life-threatening dangers. One was nuclear war. This was obvious and all was immediate. Everyone devoted their treasure and intellect in strategizing to avoiding that. When we avoided it in the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the world celebrated it. Indeed, one scholar even proclaimed it to be the end of history. But the other danger, an insidious one, still ticked on as a time bomb under the rug. This ticking bomb was the aspirational deficit between the rich industrialized worlds prosperity that affronted the emerging but still relatively impoverished third world as these two parts uncomfortably joined in a globalizing world. One of the most spectacular eruptions of this revolution of rising expectations was the Vietnam War. In this struggle, the American intervention to bridge this deficit, this aspirational deficit, through nation building rather than revolution failed, but the effects of this failure were localized. For a while, it did not spread but it simmered on in flickering apparitions in the West and new sources of angst in the third world. The most virulent of these new revolutions and rising expectations arose in the 1980s amongst Islamic radicals who saw the failure to engage in the global Jihad or Holy War against foreign infidels as a neglected duty of morally bankrupt Islamic regimes. This duty Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization took up with a vengeance on 9/11. The time bomb simmering under the rug during the Cold War detonated in Washington D.C. and New York and this time engulfed the world in a Global War on Terror.
The worlds initial response to these attacks, however, has been shaken by a subsequent and controversial war in Iraq. For some, to the neoconservatives and those supporting President Bush, the war in Iraq was a preemptive strike to prevent a fusion of these two dangers of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. To others, to the French, the Germans, the Russians and the American war opponents, the American assault on Iraq was a mistake, a deed of arrogant hubris and a quagmire that has become another Vietnam. There it is -- the split metaphor, Pearl Harbor versus the Gulf of Tonkin, which is the true guide?
I will argue that Iraq and Vietnam do subsume many eerie parallels. Vietnams murky Gulf of Tonkin does have its echoes in Baghdad but so does the fiery inferno of Pearl Harbor in World War II. Whichever the apt metaphor, this time the stakes are far more grave. Vietnam, we could walk away from and did; Iraq, however, is the Vietnam War We Cannot Afford to Lose, the nutshell of that is what I argue.
I talk first about the ghost and argue that every country has its ghost, an image of terror from the past that whenever a country confronts a crisis, it either frightens us to stumble over to the brink or to shy away and run away in horror.
One way or another for America, Vietnam is this ghost and it has been haunting us for a long time. Indeed on page 3, it haunted us before the war was even early or even over. In 1965, a group of scholars got together, in an book edited by Marvin Gettleman, proclaiming Vietnam as a looming disaster even before the troops deployed. Interestingly enough, the American Academy of Political Science has just published a volume of Leading American Political Scientists who had predicted Iraq will also be a disaster. So maybe another ghost is on the way, in the making. But the Congo, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc., were all seen as another Vietnam and the upheaval of all of these had the effect of chilling our interventionists impulse. For those on the left, this was a good thing. Vietnam was celebrated as having a healthy consequence of making, for example, interventions in Nicaragua and El Salvador almost furtive and illicit. For those on the right, however, this was a terrible thing. In former President Nixons words, it had reduced the United States to a pitiable helpless giant and he urged his countrymen to purge ourselves of the Vietnam syndrome because it has tarnished our ideals, crippled our will, and turned this into a military giant and a diplomatic war.
In the end, world politics is not frozen in time. It moves on to other things and exigencies and politics and crisis arise and even pitiable giants are needed once again. This became for all embarrassingly obvious in the debacle of Desert One. Even liberals understood that having a totally incompetent military with a will that could not be mobilized was not a good thing. Ironically enough, a combination of liberals and conservatives joined together to produce the Military Reform Movement. Gary Hart, interestingly enough, and Pat Schroeder of Colorado teamed up with people like Nichols and Barry Goldwater to produce the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. It was designed to overcome many of the ills of the Vietnam War and I think in large measure it did it. It was a major example of a proper, and I think profoundly prudent, application of lessons of Vietnam. In particular, three things relate, I think, arise out of Vietnam. One is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff became the Presidents chief military advisor, allowed to speak freely. Secondly, the Joint Chiefs were freed from the unanimity principle in which they were forced into bland prescriptions, which basically meant and made their advice impotent by this unanimity rule because they were not allowed to come up with a decisive argument one way or another. You get four different service cultures, all having to say the same thing and are not going to say much of any use and that is probably what happened and of course, the third was giving the CINCs of the unified and specified commands, actual control over the units under them from planning and budget, I mean they were real theatre commanders as, unfortunately, Westmoreland was not.
It calls to mind the debate between Westmoreland and Lewis Walt. Westmorelands A Soldier Report versus Walts Strange War, Strange Strategy outlines a tremendous controversy over the command of forces in I Corps. One also recalls Henry Graffs book, A Tuesday Cabinet, in which you have this, even to untutored civilians, this weird, Tuesday lunches in which a group of civilians with the generals as literally servants there, getting their marching orders on the weeks target list with all sorts of, to put it mildly, extra-military considerations brought in hampering [and] making things like Rolling Thunder the debacle that it was. At the end of the 1980s (on page 5), Americas military establishment had formed itself into a veritable Werhmacht with a Blitzkrieg Strategy, translated elegantly into English this means this was the Air-Land Battle strategy. One should just note in contemporary parlance that this Air-Land Battle was a military trained for preemption as a strategy before it became wholly such, shall we say. It was this Werhmacht then that went to the Gulf and kicked rear ends all over and the interesting post war [analysis] that was more about [Vietnam] (although one should note just parenthetically that in one of the first misreadings of the Vietnam War, Saddam Hussein in February 1990 invited a delegation of North Vietnamese advisors to sort of pump him up and he drew a false lesson there that he was so contemptuous of the physical size of these Vietnamese officers that if these little twerps, whatever the translation in Arabic of this is, could kick the Americans butts, this is not going to be a difficult at all. In a way, [it was] the first misreading of Vietnam in the part of Saddam). But for George H. W. Bush, in particular as we all recall, crowed about Vietnam more than anything else. By God, we have kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all. But one should know that even as he kicked the Vietnam Syndrome in Kuwait and in the deserts of Iraq, as he approached the Euphrates River, like a rattlesnake under a horses hoof, Saigon emerged and once again Vietnam made him shy away -- The rattlesnake of Vietnam. And he quailed over this ghost and he withdrew. Vietnam was far from finished as a ghost in the Euphrates River.
Its most spectacular reincarnation was in the streets of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. With two Black Hawks down and eighteen Army Rangers dead (on page 6). Bill Clinton was spooked out of this country into a precipitous withdrawal. Ironically enough, Mogadishu and the Tet Offensive are too painfully similar, in that Tet was not only as I have argued, a massive military defeat for the Communists, it was more than this -- a destruction of their revolution in political terms, and yet it was Lyndon Johnson who resigned his Presidency over this offensive and began the slow drum beat of troop withdrawals to final defeat in 1975. But similarly in Mogadishu 25 years later, despite the fundamental success of Task Force Ranger in capturing the two key lieutenants of Mohammad Farrah Aidid, which was its mission and 70 other leaders, the eighteen casualties were too much for Clinton and he bowed out. This despite the fact that this Task Force on the ground, of only 100 soldiers, had killed 500 Somalis and wounded over a 1000. The warlords forces, Aidids forces, were decimated and used up all of their RPGs, which was the weapon of choice for these armed forces and, indeed, in the first aftermath of this assault, arrangements were underway for the surrender of Aidid. This was like Tet, a victory but these arrangements were hastily shelved with Clintons withdrawal. Somalia ranks as the ghost of Vietnams proudest achievement.
It was more muted in Kosovo, but if you read General Wesley Clarks account of Kosovo, there are references throughout to his frustration over the failure to put a ground option in place and he notes constant references to Vietnam as being the source of the US militarys quailing back from this, just like George Bush at the Euphrates River. 9/11, of course, banished all of this in that there was at this time not a ghost but a flesh and blood adversary image that came out of the smoke of the towers around this demonic figure of Osama bin Laden, and suddenly the snarling plumes of black smoke arising from the Twin Towers look a lot more the black inferno engulfing the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. And for a while the ghost of Vietnam slunk into a cave to hibernate.
But the hibernation was very brief. It returned with a vengeance in Iraq. The neoconservatives in support of the administration, of course, desperately sought to deny its relevance and to quickly send it back to its cave. Richard Perle basically tried to reassure the President in a statement that Saddam Husseins regime was a house of cards that would collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder, and that there would be no Vietnam lurking in Baghdad. Paul Wolfowitz also saw no Vietnam in Iraq. His advice to the President was there was nothing to stop you from seizing it. Bush, interestingly enough, [if] you read all the accounts, was not so easily persuaded that we were looking at a cakewalk or even that Vietnam wasnt relevant but he never lost his resolve in saying that two enemies is difficult but we will do it. In a way, this was not a refutation of Vietnam but an intention to go forward anyway.
Despite these denials, of course, the anti-war movement pounced on the Vietnam analogy like vultures on a dead cow. Because its value to them lay in the simple message that it can say defeat. That is all it meant and that was good for them. Indeed to Maureen Dowd, the June 28th transfer of power, she wrote in a column, the withdrawal of Paul Bremer on a cargo plane was a reminiscence to her of the rooftop extraction of helicopters over the embassy of Saigon in 1975. Of course, the very invocation of this image was intended as an implicit prediction. As a ghost, the Vietnam War, then, has become a talisman of defeat.
Now, what I want to point out is that there are ways in which Vietnam and Iraq are similar. There are many ways. I want to point out just four that I see as particularly dangerous in terms of those of us who want to avoid Iraq becoming another defeat like Vietnam. So of all those that you can think of, I have just surfaced four that I think do pose a danger of making this ghost true, which is obviously what at least some of us do not want to do.
First of all, there is the danger certainly true in Vietnam and also somewhat true in Iraq of an overemphasis on the geopolitical rationales that bring us into an intervention but rationales of all too often blind us to the other side of the political realities on the ground. I published an article last year called Perils of Seduction that laid this out in particular, looking especially at the Bay of Pigs, and actually Ethiopia, as examples of the perils of not looking at these politics. The second danger I think is a more philosophical one but a serious one. Bob Turner mentioned Gelbs and Betts book, The Irony of Vietnam. I think it is a profound book. It won the APSAs Wilson Award and was an award that sort of stuck in the craw of the received wisdom. There was the very central point about a message of Vietnam, other than the American public being the essential domino, was the dangers of an over-reliance of a deductive approach to problems, that is, entering problems from the perspective of your previous ideological positions that makes the facts on the ground to be forced into conforming to your ideology, rather than looking at them fresh and through the other tradition of American pragmatism. One gets blindsided by local Iraq. In the case of Iraq, of course, the notion of bringing Iraq to a democratic society seeing ourselves as liberators, there was a tendency to gloss over the fact of nationalist sensitivities on the ground that I think we did see subsequently, but there was a danger in assuming the result without walking through the politics on the ground. The idea that we would always be seen as liberators was a dangerous assumption to operate on, as we have found.
Of course, the other ideological blinder on the other side, is that all of this was just about drilling rights for Halliburton, Blood for Oil, etc., is too absurd to comment on but actually my own course on this is that I really had students a look at this in great detail, especially those of an anti-war inclination, and they begin to realize that there is actually nothing there once they get into it, so taking these ideological blinders off is a very important and a very difficult thing to do for people on both sides of the perspective. It is one thing to say it and it is another thing to go in this cold hearted, and I think what helped me a lot was being an intelligence analyst in Vietnam where I realized that if you had already made up your mind with the facts where you got your self, [you could call things] badly and it is not just writing bad papers, you could lose your job over that.
The third danger, unfortunately, is the mantra of numbers. Numbers are really dangerous in this business because people who are simple minded or who are not interested in all of the nuances and details, if you throw numbers out, that is what they run away with. They carry too much freight with them because if you give people numbers that are simple, that is what people hold on to for meaning. Obviously, Vietnam ran into many numbers problems. Those of us in the intelligence business can talk about lots of them. Unfortunately, one of them was the famous 206,000 troop request in the middle of the Tet Offensive. It came in during the wisemens deliberations. One of the Generals briefings on casualties had Arthur Goldberg note that if these casualty rates were true, that would mean there were no forces left in the field. Now, the General was wrong on that but unfortunately it had a devastating impact on the fate of this request; and, ultimately the failure to meet it, I think led directly to Johnsons announcement two weeks later of his abdication.
In Iraq, of course, this created a never again syndrome on numbers. We would not provide numbers anywhere. We did not in the Gulf War, we did not in Grenada, we did not in Kosovo; but we started back into the numbers game unfortunately in Iraq a little bit. A year ago, the Pentagon reported that insurgent forces have 5,000 men. Over the past year, they also reported that they had killed or captured nearly 20,000 insurgents, that progress was being made, and then they said that we think the insurgents have about 5,000 men. Unhelpfully, the editorial of a major newspaper, that is my own dear Post-Dispatch, said the delusion continues. The problems with numbers arise when they are married to overly optimistic reporting, they combine with the lethal fourth similarity and that is a credibility gap. They came to Lyndon Johnson with all of these numbers combined with the optimistic sighting of a light at the end of the tunnel, promises to bring the boys home by Christmas and that most spectacularly, in November 1967 at the National Press Club, Westmoreland, on the Eve of the Tet Offensive declares to the Nation we have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view and, bingo, we have the Tet Offensive.
Now in Iraq, we have President Bush under assault for two out of the three arguments that were the rationale for the war in [Iraq]. The weapons of mass destruction and the linkage between Al-Qaeda and Saddams regime, a linkage that would give Osama binL aden an even more devastating capability for follow-on attacks in the United States if it were true. We should just simply note that the third point of the brutal tyranny of the Baathist regime remains unchallenged, that is, one of the three points. I am not talking about that essentially because they do concede this point. The controversy swirling around these first two points is leading us to this similar credibility gap that existed in Vietnam. In my own State of Missouri, former Senator Thomas Eagleton has just written a huge op-ed piece on the eve of the Democratic Convention explaining that assumption, exaggeration and pandering have created a fiasco in Iraq. And ever the shrill one, Al Gore has even called the President a liar, as LBJwas frequently [called].
While the weapons of mass destruction issue is still a very, very unsettled business, since the intelligence of all of the worlds intelligence services said Saddam Hussein had these weapons. One has to recall in the Fall and Spring of 2002 and 2003, Saddam and his minions were extremely uncooperative with inspection forces and never provided any evidence of the destruction of these weapons. Interestingly enough, probably the most pivotal event that Bush has been called a liar for was the uranium visit in Niger, which is interesting to note that the 9/11 Commission and Senate Intelligence Committee have actually pointed out that the Butler Report in Britain is probably right that this was actually well founded and that the Wilson trip was an anti-war charade. So suddenly we have one of the major points coming back only to suggest that this is a far from a settled issue.
The linkage between Al-Qaeda and Iraq also swirls in hot controversy. Interestingly, the 9/11 commission inserted a key variant word to their original leak that there was no evidence of a collaborative relationship. Bingo, all of a sudden in the final report, there are all sorts of evidences conceded of a collaborative relationship so they have backed into this now what they consider to be key phrase, there was no evidence of operational collaborative evidence but they certainly acknowledge a whole lot of others. Indeed, Laurie Mylroie, a friend of mine and a former professor at Harvard, and Douglas Feith, of course, suggest that there was a meeting between Mohammad Atta, the Emir of 9/11 as he is sometimes called, and agents of the Mukhabaratin Prague in April 2000, so this [matter] swirls around. Tenent was questioned pointedly on this by Sam Levin as to whether this meeting on April 9th took place and what is the intelligence communitys final word on this and Tenent said our final word is we do not know, we do not know, whether it did or did not take place.
One of the things that I just want to note as a personal comment that is not in this paper but given the tremendous kind of shark-infested waters looking for scapegoats that one finds in both the 9/11 and the Senate Report that has everyone is looking for somebody to blame here, and if you look at Bush, I think Bush was certainly right in his speech before the UN on September 12, 2002 to call this a gathering danger. Certainly, it was also a gathering danger for his own political fortunes, to be blunt about the stakes [involved]. If Bush had done nothing about this, alright, and a second strike had been visited upon us that did contain an Iraqi and Al-Qaeda linkage, he most assuredly would have been impeached. And if you look at it from that perspective, one can say that prudence or a cautionary approach would be to have attacked Iraq rather than stay back just for sheer political survival, and one proof of the wisdom of this strategy is that Lee Hamilton, in his opening statement before the 9/11 [Committee], said, we have reached a new age now where our foreign policy must be one of offense, not a containment defense of the Cold War. To what, it strikes me, Lee Hamiltons own opening statement would commend to us that in the war in Iraq, the attack was actually prudent in this new era.
Nevertheless, with two of the three arguments for Iraq pulled down in controversy, anti-war opponents have now summoned the ghost of Vietnam to deliver this war its deathblow. As a talisman of defeat, Vietnam has advanced this proof positive that America cannot win third world wars. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, just to cite a very recent example, an article published in the middle of July, one of the many of these defeatists, Christian Appy, published his list of the defeats of Vietnam as opposed to your myths. We failed for many reasons but mostly because the noncommunist government we supported never had the widespread support of its own people and because our military policies which included the dropping of more bombs than it ever been dropped on any country and the ultimate killing of at least 2 million Vietnamese only served to stiffen the opposition to our intervention. This of course is a very common cant of the conventional wisdom. I would submit that obviously this list offers inspiration to Baathist insurgents and Al-Qaeda bombers in Iraq, even as they urge Americans once again to quit. The only problem with this list is that -- and this almost sacred received wisdom -- is that it is wrong. There is no denying that the fleet of American civilians that were plucked from the rooftop of the American Embassy in Vietnam was a defeat. We were defeated okay. But we were not defeated for the reasons that gave birth to Vietnams mistaken ghost. In all of the list of failures, for example, none of them cites Vietnam as a military defeat.
1. We were not [militarily] defeated, whatever the ghost may say.
2. Secondly, it was not the bombing that created all of these casualties. I spent a lot of time looking at bombing in my previous life. Most of the bombing actually fell in South Vietnam in direct support of combat operations. It was not a bombing of cities and temples.
3. Another third of the tonnage, 2 million of the 6 million tonnage was dropped along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos in the jungles to disrupt convoys and supplies. For all of the publicity of the bombing in North Vietnam, total casualties in the North from all sources were only 65,000 of this overall war total and it indeed in the Christmas bombing itself, the North itself, only claimed 4,000 civilian deaths, so this notion of 2 million image of the bombing is just false. The other thing is that politically, despite what Appy and others said, we were successful in putting in place a fairly healthy political system, a constituent assembly was popularly elected in 1966, local and legislative elections were held, President Thieu won two presidential elections, one in 1967 and one in 1971. None of this occurred without problems or controversies but the point is that a noncommunist political system was firmly in place in the South. In the face of the continuing insurgency and two massive conventional invasions in 1968 and 1972, it did require sustaining American support but, as I said before, the Tet Offensive in particular was more than a military defeat, it was a massive political defeat for Communist forces in that as a revolution, the Communist cause was lost. In brief, the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973 represented a genuine opportunity for a stable political and military arrangement in the South and US forces honorably fulfilled their mission in Vietnam. But in two short years, the American Public and Congress were tired of this war that continued on in South Vietnam and, as Robert Turner pointed out, Congress blocked further use of American warfare [funds], we need to note especially that the Executive Branch, often capable of independent action, was crippled by Watergate, the scandal of Watergate. For those of us who supported the war, [it was] one of the worst, worst things to have happened.
I have my own little war story about Watergate. All political capital for the Presidency was eroded by that [event] and the successor Gerald Ford was unable to bestir either the American public or US Congress, deliberately on recess over Easter Break, to consider a rescue package to stage any kind of rescue for a crumbling Saigon regime to a relentless, ironically enough, final Communist Shock and Awe Offensive in March and April. Ironically, because the United States is supposed to be the expert on Shock and Awe, not the other way around. It led me then to conclude in my first book, something that I got in big trouble with, with my fellow academics, I think partly because it was true and they did not like it, but I concluded with this phrase, thus in losing a Peoples War, the Communists went on to win the war itself (it is on page 17), but in adopting a conventional war strategy, they won by a means they should have lost. The Unites States on the other hand won a war it thought it lost, that is the Revolution and lost by default what it could have won. Thus, the failure of Vietnam did not lie in any of the lists so religiously invoked by the anti-war community (on page 18). The defeat in Vietnam was a self-inflicted wound.
My final argument is that the difference, beyond the fact that Vietnam is a cruel and dangerous mistake, is that the difference in international relations between the Cold War and the post 9/11 era makes this the war we cannot walk away from. What I think is one of the most prescient journal articles on the nature of the Vietnam War was Andrew Macks article in World Politics of 1975. The title of the article was Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict. Mack makes the point that the asymmetry lies in the fact that for the target state, the war is the totality of their national existence. It is the only and single show. However, for the intervening state, it plays the war out on two arenas. One, of course, is the target state but also in their home society, and it is the home society that is the Achilles heel for the intervening state. In fact, Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars lay in the dynamics that the more vigorously the intervention is prosecuted, the more likely it would evaporate the political will at home in the home society but the less intervener did because of this the more likely it would be to lose in the [target] society. This is why of course, according to Gelb and Betts and others, that the American public was and is the essential and ultimate domino to this. The only way to make sure you win in that first thing is to not let this popular support erode. The difference is simply this: Vietnam and the other interventions of the Cold War were ventures, unfortunately for those of us from Vietnam because I think we still are mired in guilt over this war, were ventures we could safely abandon. We could leave the target a wreck in terms of Secretary of State Colin Powells Pottery Barn metaphor without suffering any consequences at home. After all the falling dominos of Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane, they did not follow us home, and one can argue actually that they did in a lot of ways but anyway in any defeat or withdrawal from Iraq, however, we will face consequences at home. In Iraq, there is another analogy operating besides Vietnam, namely Pearl Harbor. Both ignited world wars and in world wars, as President Bush correctly warned us, there are no safe harbors.
Now, whether the invasion of Iraq was a mistake leading to a quagmire like Vietnam in terms of the controversy surrounding the rationale for war, I submit this is now a tactical matter. The tactical questions can be very interesting. There have been all sorts of interesting tactical questions in various wars. Was it a mistake for the British to invade Gallipoli in World War I and the Dardanelles? Probably. Should the United States have opened up a second front earlier in response to Stalins plea in World War II? Maybe, maybe not? Should we have invaded Japan in a ground invasion rather than resort to the atom bomb? All of these tactical questions have endless studies spilled over them but ultimately the plain truth is that Iraq has been strategically engulfed by the War on Terror. Whatever the questions were at the start of this war, the regime of Saddam Hussein did harbor mass congeries of terrorist groups from the Abu Nidal Network to those responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking to Hezbollah cells, to financial payments to all of the martyrs in Gaza and the West Bank, to harboring cells of Ansar Al-Aslam, a clear Al-Qaeda affiliate. In the current fighting in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian confederate of Osama bin Laden, the New York Times article lays out that, if there is not a linkage with anybody else, there is definitely a linkage and Al-Qaeda has joined to play full force, that is, now we are fighting both Al-Qaeda and Baathist remnants simultaneously. These wars have strategically fused.
What was asymmetrical in Vietnam has become symmetrical in Iraq. There were two separate arenas to the war in Vietnam. By the collapse of American will in Vietnam, the American intervention was lost over there. but Iraqs nebulous Gulf of Tonkin was preceded by the Pearl Harbor of 9/11, the dominos in New York and Washington D.C. fell at the beginning. The dominos had already fallen when we got to Iraq so that there is no over there to this war. In this war of preemption rather than the Cold Wars containment, the defense lines of Boston lie in Baghdad. From Saigon, there still stirs the haunting ghost of the memory of a collapsed American will. This ghost, however, must rapidly evaporate because Iraq has become the Vietnam War We Can Not Afford to Lose. Staying the course means seeing this war through to some form of home-grown representative government in Baghdad. It is only from such a frontal up the middle campaign that terrorism can be dried up and the ghosts that swirl around it ultimately dissipate. Thank you.
Tim Lomperis: Okay, we have got plenty of time for Q&A. This is the part that I like the most, so. . . .
Bob Turner: I just want to say it was an absolutely superb presentation. I really loved every word of it and I think that there are parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, one of the biggest ones is that the domestic political opposition lied about LBJ having tricked us to going into Vietnam, you know, by somehow engineering or provoking the Gulf of Tonkin incident and now they claim that the justification for going into Iraq was based upon a lie somehow to promote oil interest or something like that. I think there are number of parallels but they are parallels. I would say we need to pay attention and look at the facts, and I agree with you completely that it is very important that we prevail in this operation.
Max Friedman: I like this. I like it for a lot of reasons, the way you are looking at it not just from a point of history but you are also bringing in what we call the geopolitical aspects and you are looking whether there are parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. I see a lot of parallels that I think this conference is unintentionally beginning to answer. We looked at the myths of Vietnam and yet we are also addressing the myths of Iraq. I see the terrorism in Vietnam what Congressman Schmidt called the pulping of the people happening in Iraq. The Baathist and the terrorists are now attacking the infrastructure people in Iraq and we are getting a reaction to it now just as the South Vietnamese who had been neutral, especially Tet, began to turn against the Viet Cong. I see the issue of the lies. Modern media today, as television did in Vietnam, is being used to spread the Big Lie. Michael Moore is the Big Lie and the Big Liar, but we can answer back if we can get people to use the same media and do something just as visual against him. But we also have the internet and the internet is faster than a speed of light, it is great. I have seen how one person will do something one day and its all around the country, the world, the next day, which enables people who have our views who want to get interested to address it instantaneously, provide insights, provide information, to write. I had somebody write me a column in five minutes -- which is great -- and I think that this is where importance of the collective knowledge and experience of the people here from Vietnam can be applied to helping analyze what is going on in the Middle East and even in other areas of the world.
You saw the intelligence documents in Vietnam. Theres a ton of stuff. There is a ton of stuff in Iraq. I dont think theyve even begun to check all the, to read all the documents theyve seized. I have seen the photographs of it and what was found in COSVN and other VC hideouts gave us a view of the war from the Communist side, what is in, what you call, the archives in Iraq are going to give us a greater view of what Saddam Hussein was doing plus the fact that Qaddafi has opened up quite a bit of worms that the media has largely ignored here is another factor and this is going to be very, very important.
So, your analogy is essentially lets get rid of the ghosts of Vietnam and face the reality of today which is good because you dont want that monkey hanging on your back when you got to confront 9/11. I wanted to say two things because I think theres something here should be looked at, you know, and they tell something that nobody else even knows within the 10207 _____lied or verified, personally I dont think Richard Perle was a neocon. I knew him back in the 70s when he worked for Scoop Jackson and was writing on negotiating tactics with the Communists -- both the Soviet Union and Red China -- and he was looking at -- he came out of a school we call the geopolitical school or the Fritz Kramer School -- looking at the world. Perle worked for a liberal moderate Senator Henry Jackson who was very strong on defense. He knew that he had to protect the Nation and under that protection we could do the social programs that had to be done to help the country. But he never forgot to who the enemy was and the fact that he had to face them. As I remember Richard Perles early works on one of the subcommittees on National Security in the Senate, it was devoted towards addressing these issues and coming up with strategies and, as far as I know, Dick Perle was the father of the anti-Soviet .what is the fact that I would say.
Timothy Lomperis: It was the Committee on the Present Danger.
Max Friedman: Yeah, with Nitze and some of the others who were liberals. On this he has always been a liberal. They came up with not only a containment but a rollback by challenging them on areas that the Soviets could not match, especially high technology. So, Perle has been with this for 30 some years. A neocon is a new guy on the block. Wolfowitz is an old timer, Feith is a newcomer and you have Krystal and others in between but their ideas are not new. Their ideas are old and just adapted to the time, so I think if somebody ever does a paper, if it is neocon concept to say that this is an amalgamation for clarity.
Timothy Lomperis: Great dissertation on the actual roots, the intellectual roots of the neocons.
Max Friedman: The legacies that came out of these people were great.
In 1973 I attended a conference in Germantown, Ohio. Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden had just come back from Paris talking with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. The conference had been delayed for a week for them to continue on their talks with the Communists. When they came back they said, This is what the North Vietnamese and the PRG want us to do in the United States in terms of launching a campaign to cut off aid to South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. And those were basically the exact words. I attended two to three days there. There was a going to be a Senate investigation by the Senate Internal Security Committee of that conference. Senator Eastman officially was the head of it. Dave Martin from the Senate Internal Security Committee told me that I was going to be one of the witnesses because they wanted to nail Hayden and Fonda on violation basically of the Logan Act -- negotiating with the foreign policy or being agents of a foreign power under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Watergate happened; it killed the investigation. It never got off the ground. If they had held that, it was a chance for all of the intelligence people to bring in all the information on the Communists contacts around the world with the US Peace movement. It would have been devastating, because it would have also included Senators and Congressmen and identities of some of the Senators and Congressmen may have been made public for the first time. So, I see 9/11 commission. You knew it was going to fail as soon as I saw that Gorelik was going to be on there and Ben-Veniste -- who is a little crap head. You knew it was stacked against getting the truth, so no matter what the Butler report said or other things were saying, they were not willing to address the key issues behind 9/11. They were looking, as you said, for the scapegoat and this is going to be another issue for historians. They have to look at how Congressional hearings and government commissions are set up and see whether they are doomed to failure with preconceived notions or preconceived conclusions that mandate, you know, so that all they are doing is blowing smoke up somebodys nose because they do not give a damn about the truth and your paper, I think, is looking at it that way. It does more to foreign policy and world events than what we are getting and was it the Appy . . . .?
Timothy Lomperis: Christian Appy, yeah. That is classic, you know.
Max Friedman: It is got to be a classic. This conference is challenging the Vietnam Appy.
Timothy Lomperis: Right, yeah.
Max Friedman: Now you need people to challenge Appy on Iraq and everything else because this conference 10705_____ starts can be devastating because you see what the people in this room today had done to the myths of Vietnam. That is going to be a feature of _____ two strikes and these guys are discredited with the third strike ____________Michael Moore would be guest.
Steve Sherman: As Tim points out that we cannot deal with the myths of Iraq until you kill the myths of Vietnam and, you know, weve got to get that out.
Bill Laurie: Yeah Tim, yeah it is good seeing you again after lo -- these many years. Your talk sent a shiver down my spine because we are all, and I do not think any of you would explain why, feel like we are desperately trying to convey very important information to the American public which is not getting and consequentially policy decision will ultimately be affected and quite adversely. You mentioned that equation numbers plus optimism equals loss of credibility -- a very good one. Another equation is an ill-informed public which feels itself not really threatened, misinformed by a media which is ignorant, magnifies the difficulties so large that it becomes a political obstacle that constrains policy options and strategic options that the government is willing, the politicians are willing to follow, thereby reduces the effectiveness of what is being applied magnifying the difficulties and it starts, and the word was used before, snowballing.
Now, another thing you mentioned. Here is the power of the myth being transplanted today insofar as the Vietnam myth is being applied to Iraq and quite falsely so. If I am wrong on any of this, I will be gratefully corrected by anyone that can provide information to the contrary of what I am about to say. But the often cited request for 206,000 troops for Vietnam is not quite the way it was; that was basically the idea of Earle Wheeler, not Westmoreland, and those 206,000 troops were not to go to Vietnam and those that were, were possibly to allow Westmoreland to exercise Operation El Paso which would have cut and held the Ho Chi Minh trail. As portrayed here, usually is perceived, or misperceived, that 206,000 were needed to desperately to stave off defeat and that is not true. Here is another thing -- really scary. Goldbergs mathematics on the casualties and the VC strength Ill run through it real quick. Lets say for the sake of numbers you have got on your Order of Battle youve got 300,000 bad guys. So, in November of 68, Goldberg said while we killed 80,000 bad guys -- we know that -- and the wounded to killed ratio is 3:1, three times of 180 or 80 is 240 and 80 dead, why they are all gone. This type of ignorance at the highest level of government is absolutely frightening. He had no idea of the fundamental dynamics of the war and that is number one, the wounded to killed ratio has to be distinguished between wounded and returned to battle or wounded and out of commission. Our own military records say the vast majority of our people who were wounded were returned to duty in Vietnam -- the vast majority. That doesnt make being wounded fun. But that 3:1 ratio is bullshit. It is more like 1.2. So you start with 300,000 and instead of subtracting 240+80 which is more than 300,000, you see -- wow -- there is not that many guys, we did not eliminate all of them. Plus at that time the best estimates that can be had -- and it is probably order of magnitude correct -- that the VC were recruiting about probably 1000, 1500, maybe 2000 a month in Vietnam at that time. They had 10,000 coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail, if not more, in any given month. Then you wire in the dynamic and you say that way short. We chopped a hole in the bottom of their bucket but they kept the faucet on because Westmoreland could not go into the Ho Chi Minh trail because the American public thought, Holy hell! We are winning the war, now he wants 206,000 more that he did not want or ask for because the New York Times misreported it, because it was leaked by some pseudo-liberal. I use pseudo-liberal because they are not liberal, they are dogmatic druids of revealed truth and you cant accept anything is different. So you have this whole dysfunction dynamic producing a failure that did not otherwise need to occur. Your comments are welcome.
Timothy Lomperis: Let me just quickly respond on that. I think youre basically right on the numbers. I think what it illustrates, what I, and another I wrote an article called Giaps Dream, Westmorelands Nightmare looking at the Tet Offensive and actually what I think what was the tragedy of Tet is that we were talking about graduated escalation and that were tightening the screw, we were walking up a ladder step by step and tragically what really happened in the 206,000 troop request is that, embedded in that was actually as I pointed out in the article an old contingency plan in 1954 which was to help the French out at Dien Bien Phu by a four-phased US operation and this is where the enclave strategy came, not for the US involvement but actually for the French involvement, that the US would first move in forces to set up enclaves around Saigon, Tourane and Haiphong and then in Phase Two move in country gradually and then Phase Three of this was to move north with a nine-division force and what the 206,000 troops and Westmoreland, in his initial planning, he had three public phases that we all know to sort of turn the war around but then there was a Phase Four that was classified and the Phase Four was to go north, cut the Ho Chi Minh trail and go into the panhandle and what the 206,000 force represented -- and the North knew it, alright -- represented Phase Four. What was interesting in terms of the intel is during this debate, because it was leaked through the New York Times on March 10th, that the wise men were having this debate, that was a 206,000 request and, youre right, it probably came in from Wheeler because this was the old contingency plan of 1954 and the North knew it and said, Oh, shit! They are going north and the NVA withdrew divisions to the North and basically betrayed their comrades in the South because they were sure that the request was going to be [approved] and they were to get ready for the amphibious invasion that never happened. And so what really was behind the 206,000 request was actually its denial. The tragedy is that we were the ones that fell off the escalation ladder, not the other ones. That to me was the pivotal event where the war was lost.
Unidentified Audience Member:11431 INAUDIBLE ____ going on literally said ____ another war ____. That was understood _______ as they were the first lot because their own wanted like that. All we got to do is the US Congress to struggle _____
Timothy Lomperis: And thats why, thats my point, we defeated ourselves.
Steve Sherman: Microphone is over there, everything you said got lost. [Inaudible] Well, he has got the mike. Go ahead.
Scott Swett: Excellent presentation, I very much enjoyed it. It seems that one clear-cut dissimilarity between Vietnam and Iraq is the absence of -- in the larger War on Terror -- the absence of the great bipolar patron of the equivalent to the Soviet Union which greatly inhibited if not prevented the United States from contemplating the idea of simply taking Hanoi and throwing out Ho Chi Minh in prison as we had in Iraq. Would you care to comment on that?
Timothy Lomperis: Yeah, that is an enormous difference and actually one thing that has not been brought out in this conference but I think is worth pointing out. Qiang Zhai with University of North Carolina Press published a book in 2002  called Vietnam and China [China and the Vietnam Wars 1950-1975] and apropos of what you said, I mean you know it is like we did not know how much weapons of mass destruction Saddam actually had, we underestimated etc., while another area where often you know where intelligence is often we know sort of exaggerating points essential actually, in terms of Vietnam what we underestimated was the truth there was the extent of Chinese and Soviet involvement in China [Vietnam]. The Cold War History project that the Woodrow Wilson Center has gone through KGB archives and unearthed massive, both Chinese and Soviet intervention in North Vietnam and what is not fully understood in this ghost of Vietnam is actually a point I actually did make in my book is that Vietnam was both a national war and an international war and the international dimensions to this war, you know, are basically forgotten. I mean one of the things, I mean I do not think it was true but it is worth for pursuing in this book Qiang Zhai talks about several threats conveyed by the Chinese to the United States about that. If you go north we will make sure this is a global war and we will hit you with everything we have. Basically, remember in terms of fighting the last war there was a tremendous fear, I mean the problem with Korea being the forgotten war, is that we failed to see the many ways in which Korea had strong influences over Vietnam and remember the Korean War only ended in 1953, so when you are talking 1964-65, this is a war that was only 10 years old. I think understandably Johnson and his cohorts were always worried about the flash point, alright, and the flash point was what would trigger a Chinese intervention and they were not really were and then you have this communication of the threat delivered by Chou Enlai that I think where Johnson was wrong, alright, where he should not have worried about a Chinese intervention. I think it is understandable that he did but where he should not have worried was that just at the time of our escalation was when the Cultural Revolution kicked off and China was on the tip of a civil war there, was so distracted by that, that we really could have gone unhindered into the North because of this preoccupation but I think it is a fair, I think it was a fair fear, shall we say, an inappropriate fear but a fair fear, and that is something that your point is well taken. Vietnam was an international war and the fact that it was an international war stalemated us in ways that we should not feel stalemated at all by the Iraq War. I mean that is a real difference in our favor at this time -- a very good point.
Steve Sherman: Somebody has to make decisions and that is why they get paid the big bucks and that is why they do not choose me to do the job. In re-reading the history, I think one of the turning points that is important is our failure to use nuclear weapons in Korea. If we did that as Big Boy on the Block way back when, we would be Big Boy on the Block at other places. But that may not be a sensible solution to things and that is why nobody chose me to be President. So we can argue about these things. . . .
Timothy Lomperis: And it is that critical point which was why MacArthur was fired. I mean that is, I mean you actually raised the central issue because, I mean that is not bandied about, but when you read the Korean War history that was the reason MacArthur was fired because that was what he was about to do.
Steve Sherman: But it is also the fact that everyday when we read the paper we have columnists -- and actually we have people writing news articles -- who are assuming those powers -- that they know all the intelligence, they know what is right and that whatever was done yesterday was wrong because they have got the right answer. It dont work that way. If you had me for President, youd really would be in trouble.
Mike Benge: Ill end up voting
for you, Steve.
I believe that there was a Time Magazine article where China admitted to having 500,000 troops in North Vietnam during the course of the war.
Timothy Lomperis: Yes, they had 300,000 at a given time at the height.
Mike Benge: Right, right, something like that. . .
Timothy Lomperis: Just all you folks in Laos. One of the big mysteries of the Laotian War was the anti-aircraft artillery units and road building operations, to Lord knows what apparent reason, in Laos. Somebody should write a dissertation exposing what the hell those units [were] up to. People thought they were building roads down into Thailand to support insurgencies there or hooking into India but anyway they had 30,000 anti-aircraft artillery troops there and you know I remember we always had little warnings that US forces had to stay the hell away from these Chinese. There were like big red things in the maps in two places in Laos where there were these Chinese troops -- up to Lord knows what -- throughout the entire war. They just sort of sat there building these roads to nowhere, or somewhere. Anyway I interrupted, you go ahead.
Mike Benge: One of the roads that they did build is to the foot of Lima Site 85. They walked there right up to the thing for weeks and months on it. We watched them build this road then bring in reports go run the damn place. Now whose idiocy not to defend Lima Site 85 was, I do not know. Someone was an idiot on that, but anyway going back to your [comment] one of the things that often glossed over in the war and the Tet Offensive is that it was a strategic plan of North Vietnam to wipe out the leadership of the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive and they used them as cannon fodder to go in ahead of it for the very purpose of knocking off the leadership so they could then take over and there would be no South Vietnam resistance. I also believe that during the course of the war when we were negotiating if we would have negotiated to recognize the Viet Cong, I mean the real Viet Cong, okay, that they would still be frightened of the damn Northerners who they hated. It may have only ended up in a Confederate flag in the end, I mean you know there is South Vietnam flag but nevertheless they would still be fighting the war.
I want to go on to a point of one of the comparisons in the war that I think has been overlooked, and I do end up taking exception to one statement that you made -- the press was not ignorant. They did a lot of dumb things and did a lot of reporting out of the bars in Saigon rather [than] out in the country, but many of the press reports was not ignorance and they very definitely misrepresented much of the war and this is happening now in Iraq. We see the same thing and this is a comparison between what happened in Vietnam. You see the atrocities that happened in Vietnam like when the North Vietnamese came in and barbecued an entire Montagnard village, men, women and the kids and it barely made the news. Another one is what happened up in Tet [Hue] where they systematically as a policy executed somewhere between 3500 to 5000 people. Again, it was something that was unreported, the beheadings and other things that happened. Now we see over in Iraq we had the incident at the prison where some Americans, lower ranks, went a little whacko there and if you saw some of the pictures, they had to be a little whacko. That made the press and the television week after week after week. The beheadings lasted one day on the Press. So you see this imbalance in reporting that is happening in Iraq which also happened in Vietnam.
One other thing about it is we created a myth in Vietnam about the North Vietnamese, that they were unrelenting, like little yellow ants, dedicated to the revolution, that they were unbeatable and this came out from very early reporting. Even Douglas Pike reported that type of an incident that these people -- just great dedication. They were invincible. We build up an invincible thing. They never lost. They won that time, but then you are seeing the exact same thing in misrepresentation over in Iraq. The Press, even our own administration, refer to Jihad. Jihad is not a holy war against the infidels, it is an internal struggle between right and wrong and the word, what is being conducted over there according to the Islamic scholars, many of the Islamic scholars is, and I am going to mispronounce, just pardon my French, haraba. That is an unholy war and why we continue to fall into this trap of glorifying the terrorists and calling them that it is a holy war is beyond my comprehension, plus the fact is that the people that are conducting it are unholy warriors and according to it, it is called Shaitan. These are unholy warriors who are blasphemous and are condemned to Hell for the unholy war. Yet we keep glorifying them by saying this is a holy war and these are holy warriors, and I think that that is the comparison.
Steve Sherman: As Dolf pointed out before, we have a media that does not consider themselves to have our troops [interest] anywhere.
Dolf Droge: That is right.
Timothy Lomperis: Let me just answer okay?
Dolf Droge: Yes, sure.
Timothy Lomperis: Just two quick responses and I think first about Tet. I mean one of the things that requires subtlety and nuance here is that it is certainly true, alright, that the PRP and the PRGs were creatures of the VWP, the Vietnam Workers Party in Hanoi, and they were appendages, but that does not mean there was not a kind of rebellious Southern streak and perspective within that movement. You are absolutely right, and this was the problem with Kissinger, frankly, conducting the negotiations from Washington and frankly ignoring all of us on the ground, as we tried to, you know, insert some local provisions into the agreement to make sure that it could be enforced. And one of the things was a fascinating book, Truong Nhu Tangs Vietcong Memoir. It is about the defection of a leading Vietcong cadreman who basically points out, and reemphasizes your earlier point, that many Southern Communist regarded the Tet Offensive as a betrayal, that the North had betrayed the South by their abandonment of them, by using them as cannon fodder and then, at the ultimate moment, retreating north, alright, to the Great Socialist Rear leaving the South exposed and the Vietcong lost virtually all their fighters, you know, in the Tet Offensive and, if you read Tran Van Tras Memoir, the B5 [Front], the bulwark theater, you find that for two years you got a movement that is lost, alright, does not know how to continue the struggle as they cope with this whole thing. I mean in other words we did not appreciate just how much we had them on the ropes, you know, as you said and then it was only Lam Son 719, you know, the operation in the Laos in 1971 that rekindled the hope of the North. That was a disaster more than we are willing to give credit because it re-solidified the strategy of the North and your second point is well taken and it dumbfounds me how we are not in a way taking up the cudgel of the propaganda war over Iraq and pointing out, you know, profoundly what a violence this is, in terms of the War of Iraq, to fundamental moral tenets of Islam. We should be pressing this point home, you know, home to the enemy because this time, you know, I decry this whole ethic of the bombing making us look like the bad guys. I mean the anti-war movement beat us over the head with the bombings and it was a crock, alright, but it was a little bit, you know, at least the imagery, was a little bit hard to deal with. This time with all of the images of the beheadings, these bombings of civilians, I mean this is enormous affront to Islam and why we are not driving this point home, you know, I mean and it is not just the media here. I do not understand why the Administration and its minions is not pushing this line out because it is a powerful point in terms of winning hearts and minds in Cairo, in Cairo, Egypt and in Cairo, Illinois.
Dolf Droge: In the Koran sense, the only Jihad permitted is the Jihad when you are born with your heart having good and evil in it and you strive for the emergence of the good and the suppression of the evil, and those people who do glorify what we have seen with Osama bin Laden, they are blaspheming the Koran and therefore they get that word blasphemy, the Shaitan or
Timothy Lomperis: It is Satan in English.
Dolf Droge: And what gets me is that then we are using the terms the terrorists give us for the Islam situation. One Islam scholar told me when you had banks robbed in Oklahoma in the 1930s by Bonnie & Clyde you did not have headlines in your papers that said Angry Evangelical Baptists strike again, machine gun twelve People and they take the money from the bank. Why do not you get the Koran as the guide and then you can see the blasphemy [that] is going on. And I think we did the same thing with the Marshalls doctrine and with the Vietcong because when the guides were there to bring the people in from the Delta into Saigon, the guides got them to the local points that they were supposed to destroy. But when the offensive was over, there were no guides to let them get out of the city and none of them knew how get out because they did not even know how to get in without the guides. That was treachery that was being talked about by the South to the North after that Tet Offensive. For them it was not a victory except for the psychological effect on Washington DC.
Logan Fitch: It is always enjoyable to listen to a learned and eloquent man reinforce what one believes or thinks himself, I do appreciate
Timothy Lomperis: It does not always happen. This is a unique experience for me.
Logan Fitch: I wanted to make two points, one of which is you talked about the final domino, I believe was the terminology being
Timothy Lomperis: The ultimate or central
Logan Fitch: Ultimate, yeah. When I have the opportunity to speak in public I talk about the battle for the hearts and minds and those of us in Vietnam were always, we got to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. I think the battle is a real battle and we did that. But what we failed to do in Vietnam was win the hearts and minds of the American people and I think that is the real ultimate battle. I do not have any doubts whatsoever about the capabilities, our military capabilities, what our troops can do against enemy, any enemy, but we lost the battle and perhaps are in danger of losing it now is the battle for public opinion, the ultimate domino as you call it now, incorporate that phrase if you dont mind. But any comment there and I do have one other issue.
Timothy Lomperis: Yeah, I think that my basic message is that the front lines of Iraq are here and in conferences like this because in other words what the big lesson of Vietnam is that we need to stiffen the back of that domino and keep it un-fall-able, and of course we need leaders that mobilize us and you know stay the course, etc. because that is the only thing from Vietnam that was at the heart of the failure is that the American people collapsed. And that is the heart of it, and that is the only thing we have to be sure we do not do this time is that we cannot fall. What I think makes it good historically is that we cannot fall this time because the dominos fell before the Iraq War began. They had already fallen, and so in a sense that when you always talk about that everybody will defend you know, home and hearth, I say this a lot for the media and it is a tragic thing but I do not think this ultimate truth of the War on Terror has fully sunk in here. It certainly hasnt to our folks in St. Louis. Every time I am interviewed on the radio or TV, and I am a lot over this thing, when we are off camera they always ask me, Do you really think they are going to strike again? I mean this real deep skepticism and even though the 9/11 Commission is saying we are going to get hit again, I do not think the vox populi believes it and the truth of everything that I have just said is not going to sink home until the second shoe falls. Then, then it will be, then I think the domino will stand firm, but we are in that kind of interregnum and I fear, you know, -- I should not say this out loud, you know, -- but I fear that that second shoe wont fall until after November. If they are in any way smart from the other side -- hopefully they are not -- they wont drop [the second shoe on] us before November and we wont get a back stiffening result.
Logan Fitch: You sort of led into my other issue that I wanted to get an opinion on and that is that, I think the gentlemans name is Cohen at Johns Hopkins.
Timothy Lomperis: Elliot Cohen, yes.
Logan Fitch: I do not remember. but James Woolsey has also written on this issue and that is the notion of World War IV and I have spoken on that.
Timothy Lomperis: Right, right.
Logan Fitch With the idea that the World War III was actually the Cold War beginning during, or immediately after, World War II and probably ending, well obviously ending with the fall of the Soviet Union and that Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola, etc., etc., etc. were but mere battles in the context of that larger war and the enemy there was Communism. Now, we are in World War IV and, I am sorry, one other characteristics of World War III was the fact that it lasted several decades as opposed to World War I and II. World War IV then is a War on Terrorists, and terror or an opposing religion rather than an opposing ideology, and probably the opening salvo was the Iranian situation in which I was involved but will likely continue for a number of decades beyond this. I agree with you that I do not think most people understand it. They are still treating it as a legal issue rather than a national defense issue, particularly the opposing political side and I think that is the simpler message that has got to be out, and it may take some unfortunate event such as you described to see that happen. But how do you, in your studies on Vietnam, do you perceive it or regard it to be one battle and that Afghanistan, of course, in the 1980s was perhaps the climax of all that. Is that in your mind a valid postulation that that was World War III?
Timothy Lomperis: I mean, yeah, I mean I actually teach a basic introductory course on international relations and I have always, from the moment I taught the course, and I started teaching this course, gosh, in 1981, I have always thought the Cold War as World War III and nobody -- it is interesting to watch the resistance to that -- during the 1980s nobody believed me. After November 9, 1989, everybody believed me and so it is a simple way I pointed out and I put Vietnam and Afghanistan as battles in that larger war. The other thing though that I say about Vietnam is that I talk about it as a systemic international war and that we may have lost the national war but we actually won the systemic war. Alright, in terms of this larger war we contained the damage of that war by basically defeating the revolution and defeating Vietnam as an example for further emulation down the road. Unfortunately, American liberals undermined our victory, they tried desperately to undermine this victory by squelching further interventions, but I basically treat Vietnam in this larger study as a localized defeat because the nature of the Communist victory was destructive to wider Cold War applications. So, that is the way I presented it, and sowed confusion in the ranks of the Nations young.
Unidentified Audience Member: Yeah, I would agree with that because a lot of the ARVN soldiers basically repeat what Lao Tzu said: if you are going to win the war, be prepared to lose the battle, and Vietnam as they see it, of course a lot of them felt that of course the Americans abandoned them, but they also felt that they were merely a pawn in the middle of things and it kind of make us feel very small but you know that was the way things were. My question is about Chinese involvement and there was speculation about this deal that Nixon made when his visit to China that would stem Chinese intervention as Americans withdraw their troops and if anybody has information on that and also on the psychological warfare had we emphasized more on what the Chinese did, you know, the propaganda would have been because the Vietnamese people were a lot more gung ho about, you know, Chinese than Americans, you know. We love the Americans being there but of course we do not want to see any Chinese in Vietnam and that is why you know you rarely saw the Chinese going down to the South with the NVA troops. The Nixon one was the first question. The second one was you mentioned Lam Son 719 and it revived the hopes of the North and can you clarify that a bit more?
Timothy Lomperis: Well, I mean to take reverse spin on Lam Son 719 or Dewey Canyon, which was what it was, Dewey Canyon I and II, in terms of the US. I mean it was a military disaster. It was supposed to have been the kind of showcase piece of Vietnamization. In fact, 50 UShelicopters were shot down in two weeks; it was the largest single loss of helicopters at the beginning. US forces were not allowed to cross over into the Laotian border which was stupid. You had one of the best ARVN divisions, the First Division, was supposed to have been the premiere front piece case of, and in a way it is too bad in terms of what Bill had talked about, for had it been, I mean in a way it was the right thing to do, and the Trail should have been cut and had it been successfully cut it would have been a good thing but it was an ill-conceived mission. I mean you needed to have sent at least five divisions, more than that to have done that. They only sent one over and, hey guess what, I mean, the North Vietnamese were determined to throw this back because it was going at the heart of the matter and this was kind of meant to be in the US it was just kind of showcase it and the problem is that the debacle that it turned into basically disproving, seemingly, the validity, you know, of ARVN. I mean interestingly enough just a year later that same ARVN fought tenaciously and did showcase Vietnamization, not everywhere, I mean both you and I were there for that so it was a mixed record alright? But at least there were certain, you know, Ngo Quang Truong, for example, established himself as a real heroic general and if you want to play with history a little bit, what would have happened if Quang, there was speculation that he was mounting a coup, in fact that is why in 1975 when Ngo Quang Truong was trying to tie down a defense line in the north and really hold it off, Thieu suspected Truong was trying to mount a coup and he ordered the Airborne Division down south, alright, in a way (a) to protect his skin but )b) in a way to destroy the political chances of Truong from forming a coup. And Thieus paranoia at the end was as much responsible for the disaster of the last, it distracted a little but certainly the other thing about the Chinese, unfortunately, I mean those of us in the intel business you are right. RVNAF was desperate to show the Chinese involvement in the South and was determined to get the Americans outraged with this and unfortunately there was just a lot of wild exaggerated intelligence coming from the South Vietnamese that made everything they said about the Chinese involvement seem incredible. It is too bad because a lot of it was good but they used to talk about, I used to see reports about capturing Chinese forces in II CTZ with nuclear hand grenades in their hand; no such thing, alright? So unfortunately it was a kind of tomfoolery, you are right, that was you know the extent of the Chinese involvement, was unfortunate. I think there was a deliberate thing in the US to downplay this on two scores, right. Number one, you know, you did not want to spook the United States public into a second Korean War and to the idea, I mean, if you are talking about an escalation ladder on a 200,000 troop request and if we were going to fight the Chinese and people were fighting the war of attrition looking for crossover points of enemy casualties and not even able to show mathematically that you could do this against the North, I mean, what are you going to do with 800 million Chinese and so the idea is that, that is what created a total withdrawal mystique or, alternately, Rusk in his memoirs worries about hyping up a kind of a Cold War frenzy because if we are going to have to take the Chinese on, the only way that is going to be done is with nukes and we were back to the Korean War and were back to the grounds for the firing of MacArthur and so you have, you know, everybody just not wanting to touch that one with a 10-foot pole. Right or wrong, I think you can see the reasons for it, but there might have been a different story certainly had that, that is another, you know, one of the might-have-beens. It is an interesting one to surface.
Steve Sherman Let me add a couple of my old little pet theories, herewith, since you bring up the topic of Nixon and China. I always felt that two nations really cannot ignore each other very well, just the way two people who are having argument cannot do that either, and to a great extent the Vietnam War to me was like two children in the kindergarten sandbox that arent talking to each other. So they sit back to back and they swing, hit each other, and the place they are hitting each other is in Vietnam. When Nixon went to China, the need for Vietnam disappeared. Now, as far as the deal with China was concerned in that trip, I do not think it was necessary. I know I have another, you know, absolutely unproven fact in my mind which was on the Son Tay Raid. United States saw the spoor of the Spetsnaz all over the world. We saw it in Alaska, we saw it in Central America, we saw evidence that Spetsnaz had shown up on the beaches of the Philippines. . . .
Timothy Lomperis: It was Special Forces, the Russian Special Forces.
Steve Sherman: Russian Special Forces, and we gave them a great deal of respect for their ability to do something. We do not know what they were up to, but they must have been up to doing something that was really interesting. Because they were there and they were Spetsnaz. Well, the same thing holds true on the other side. When we did the Son Tay Raid and we crashed into the wrong place and we killed a whole bunch of Chinese, or what we believe were Chinese, who were training the next generation of anti-aircraft gunners for the North, the Soviets and the Chinese couldnt believe we did that by mistake. They had to believe that our intelligence was right on the button and we were signaling that we were prepared for the long war. We wanted to get rid of the next generation of people who were going to be shooting at our aircraft and, when Nixon went to China, when Nixon shortly thereafter went to Russia, when Nixon mined the harbors, he did not to make any deals to justify himself. It was an unspoken fact of life and things changed as a result. That is totally an unproven assertion on my part.
Max Friedman: Okay, I would like to get back to the Red Chinese issue for one minute. I will provide to Scott Swett the article from the Washington Post about the 340,000 Red Chinese troops that had served in Vietnam because what they did was basically up at the Mu Gia Pass keeping it open and helping supplies come down in North Vietnam. They freed up North Vietnamese regular troops and the logistical troops to go down south, so they freed up maybe two, three, four divisions especially over a period of time. So it is almost irrelevant what Nixon did in Red China because those troops still stayed there and we just kept bombing the hell out of them. I was in Vietnam at Son Tay and then I was in Cambodia a couple of weeks later and the Cambodians came up to me and said, "We killed a Red Chinese soldier." I said, "Okay, where is your proof?" They said, "But we buried the guy already." I said, "Dig him up." As an anthropologist I should be able to look at the teeth to see if he is Asian, if he has different teeth then the Cambodian because they were a different racial group. They say it has been pretty bad shape but they showed me his military buttons and they showed me his diary that was in Chinese and it was a map coming through Vietnam down to Cambodia. The question I posed to the American interpreter was, was he a local Chinese from Cambodia or Vietnam who had gone north and was acting as a guide for North Vietnamese and VC troops or was he a Chinese from North Vietnam, a local indigenous Chinese who was in the North Vietnamese Army or was he a Red Chinese advisor/commissar. Nobody was able to answer that. The same with the North Korean transmissions, but if it was true it is still minor. But it is one of the little sidelights.
But, Dr. Lomperis, you raised an issue about the media. Dolf knows, as we go back thirty or some years on this. It is not the writers in the field in Vietnam who were necessarily bad. I remember being in JUSPAO under Joel Freid and they said Joel Freid was the best writer on Vietnam. He did not have to get out of that little box there in order to get information because he had sources. Finally he got off his backside and went to Laos on Lam Son , but there were a lot of good writers who knew what they were doing. It is the editorial writers back home who had not been to Vietnam, who were reflecting the ideological agenda of the owners of the paper, that were making the statements that often and in the Washington Post is great to read them. They would go against what their writers in the field were saying that they are failing in Vietnam and this is and that. Kaiser and Osnoe and the others were saying, no, here were the improvements, so this is doing the same thing now with Iraq. It is the commentators and the idiots who are sitting here who know nothing about an area which they are making comments that are doing the negative aspects of this, and they are the ones who are demoralizing. The anti-war movement has little power here but the liberals in Congress are following the media and it is the blind leading the blind, leading the fools and that is where the danger is.
Timothy Lomperis: You know, okay I just wanted to, I think I am supposed to . . ., I think there are ways in which things have somewhat changed and that one of the things is that we do have a military now that is much more media savvy than the military of the Vietnam War era. I mean that is one of the lessons that I taught at West Point before I was at Duke and this notion of cultivating the Hill, cultivating the media is a real big mantra amongst the military right now. Just to give you a little vignette to close this off, my father lives in an assisted living facility in Pennsylvania, and the drumbeat of the national news had turned all of those folks in their 80s and 90s against the war. But one of the old ladies had a son that had been a colonel in Iraq and he came to the home as part of his leave, when he was home for two weeks. He was a colonel and Dad told him he was a missionary. I grew up in the mission field in India and when my folks came home on home leave, we went on deputations around, visited all the churches to carry the story of the mission field. Well the military has become missionaries in a sense. This colonel used this two weeks to go around Pennsylvania, explained the mission in Iraq, and he went to this old people's home, gathered them altogether and gave them the story of the progress that was made, and my father who had turned against the war, to my fury I might say, this colonel turned that whole group around and they all think that the war in Iraq is great. In other words, the military has learned lessons here and I think one of the big differences that helped them at least initially in Iraqi Freedom was embedded reporting. That was a stroke of genius and we can take comfort from that. We still have a problem when we talk about editors in the home office but this embedded reporting is the mark of a much more politically savvy military that the Nation surely needs in addition to its obvious military confidence, so thanks.
Steve Sherman: We are going to break it off here and be back punctually at 11 because I am hoping that at 11 o'clock on the button John ONeil will call in.