The Vietnam War: A conversation with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick


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Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Sep 23, 2017 - 10:40pm PT
Ken Hughes' article on Nixon colluding with a foreign government (South Vietnam) to influence the outcome of the 1968 presidential election...

“This is treason”: Nixon, Vietnam and the “sordid story” of the Chennault Affair.

Social climber
Southern Arizona
Sep 24, 2017 - 08:42am PT
I rather liked Pilger’s essay. His complaints brings one to possibly consider the same thing that Pogo (the comic strip) uttered many years ago: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

It’s not too difficult to blame people individually for not standing up to what seems like evil intentions of politicians and governments (liberal and conservative alike, according to Pilger). But that seems to fall short of explaining how it is that such “evil-doing” continues to occur again and again since the beginning of recorded time. It’s the “us” that is difficult to challenge and change.

The humanities would have us consider that evil is part and parcel of the human condition. “Evil” is endemic, intrinsic to our nature—especially in all those forms that socialize and institutionalize us into nationalized states, cultures, communities, and even families. Ditto for “good”; it, too, seems to be a part of “us.”

It strikes me as highly doubtful that anything anywhere will really change externally in the world. Why should it? It doesn’t seem possible.

What does seem possible is simply learning to see what one is. Each of us could write about ourselves as individuals rather than about others. “Us” vs. “them” never seems to lead anywhere but into a spiraling, escalating circle.

Larry Nelson

Social climber
Sep 24, 2017 - 10:47am PT
Some stats I found interesting at this link:

Edited for quotation
88.4% of the men who actually served in Vietnam were Caucasian; 10.6% (275,000) were black; 1% belonged to other races.

86.3% of the men who died in Vietnam were Caucasian (includes Hispanics); 12.5% (7,241) were black; 1.2% belonged to other races.

Vietnam Veterans are less likely to be in prison - only one-half of one percent of Vietnam Veterans have been jailed for crimes.
85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian

82% of veterans who saw heavy combat strongly believe the war was lost because of lack of political will.

Nearly 75% of the public agrees it was a failure of political will, not of arms.

97% of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged.
91% of actual Vietnam War veterans and 90% of those who saw heavy combat are proud to have served their country.

Isolated atrocities committed by American Soldiers produced torrents of outrage from anti-war critics and the news media while Communist atrocities were so common that they received hardly any media mention at all.
The United States sought to minimize and prevent attacks on civilians while North Vietnam made attacks on civilians a centerpiece of its strategy.
Americans who deliberately killed civilians received prison sentences while Communists who did so received commendations.

From 1957 to 1973, the National Liberation Front assassinated 36,725 Vietnamese and abducted another 58,499.
The death squads focused on leaders at the village level and on anyone who improved the lives of the peasants such as medical personnel, social workers, and school teachers.

Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Sep 24, 2017 - 01:32pm PT
Let's not forget the Phoenix program that was designed, coordinated, and executed by the CIA to neutralize the NLF. It included kidnap, interrogation, torture, and targeted assassinations.

The [Phoenix] program was in operation between 1965 and 1972, and similar efforts existed both before and after that period. By 1972, Phoenix operatives had neutralized 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom between 26,000 and 41,000 were killed

The normal procedure would be to go into a village and just grab someone and say, 'Where's Nguyen so-and-so?' Half the time the people were so afraid they would not say anything. Then a Phoenix team would take the informant, put a sandbag over his head, poke out two holes so he could see, put commo wire around his neck like a long leash, and walk him through the village and say, 'When we go by Nguyen's house scratch your head.' Then that night Phoenix would come back, knock on the door, and say, 'April Fool, motherf*#ker.' Whoever answered the door would get wasted.

Extraordinary Rendition that originated under Clinton and continued through the George W Bush & Obama administrations would be a modern analog of the Phoenix Program.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Sep 24, 2017 - 04:32pm PT
On a lighter note, do you not find tat offensive?
Credit: mouse from merced

Social climber
carmel, ca
Sep 24, 2017 - 06:08pm PT
82% of veterans who saw heavy combat strongly believe the war was lost because of lack of political will.

Nearly 75% of the public agrees it was a failure of political will, not of arms.

Does it every occur to you that they believe precisely what they have been told to believe?

What kind of understanding do Vets and the general public have of the larger issue, that was preventing full scale Chinese involvement rather than narrow concerns on the ground?

Do you think China would have tolerated an American occupation of North Vietnam?

The series makes perfectly clear that the American leadership feared another "Korea" when the Chinese came over the border and kicked our asses on the ground as soon as we approached their borders and with potentially the start of WW3...Precisely how we would react if foreign invaders had a beachhead on our borders. I suppose you are familiar with the Monroe Doctrine?

And this idea that somehow "the commies were just as bad" justifies the murder of over 1 Million North Vietnamese civilians as "collateral damage" to bombing campaigns that accomplished nothing is deflection of one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century.

Yea dude, I have heard the Vets argue we just should have nuked North Vietnam you an idea of the mentality.

Vietnam is a nation of 35 Million human beings. Nothing short of genocide would ever "pacify" really, conquer the country with a few hundred thousand US troops. And the more you bomb, the more you unify the survivors against us and the more likely China becomes involved with ground troops that we could never defeat. China would just play the long game and win by attrition. You can't beat one billion Chinese on the ground either bro.

Here's a pro tip: Never get involved in a land war in Asia.


Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Sep 24, 2017 - 06:12pm PT
TT, please read an unbiased history of Op Phoenix. That's all I'm gonna say.

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Sep 24, 2017 - 07:15pm PT
I have read quite a few first hand accounts from Phoenix operators. Mosty gung ho shooters proud of their actions describeing routine kidnap and murder as well as torture based on sketchy intel. A few of the accounts that I have read the operators realize that local politics and personal vendetas played a big part in the intel they recieved. They all knew the ARVN officers and political leaders were corrupt and incompetent but many were so gung ho they did not make the connection that what they were doing was wrong. It must be hard for young highly trained and motovated operators to make the connection between what they do in a strange far away land and home here in the USA... Would you kick in someones door in your home town and light them up based on this level of intell???......

The Hot Kiss On the End of a Wet Fist
Sep 24, 2017 - 07:43pm PT
^^^^^^ Yeah, like Ed Lansdale and his buddies taking a couple of perceived VC sympathetic villagers up in Huey's and questioning both. The intimidation tactic was that when one answered in the un-affirmative he was tossed out of the helicopter from 400 or 500 feet so that the "other guy" got the message..

War at 14,000 miles away from the "Homeland": such fun and games; fun and games. GODF*#KINGBLESSAMERICA!

Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Sep 24, 2017 - 07:53pm PT
Reilly: even one of CIA's own assessments of Phung Hoang was that it was a failure.

Wayne L Cooper's report "Operation Phoenix: A Vietnam fiasco seen from within" in the Washington Post in 1972. Interesting that Cooper (a Foreign Service Officer and Phoenix advisor in the Mekong Delta) blames the failure of this CIA operation mainly on the Vietnamese...the South for being incompetent and corrupt and the Vietcong for spreading disinformation about the assassination program. According to Cooper, an estimated $80M was spent (no one really knows how much was spent) on OP from Jan 1970 to Mar 1971...for what? To "neutralize" about 27,000 Viet Cong but even these numbers cannot be verified. What Cooper refers to as the "Bureaucratic Body Count" Westmoreland's primary performance metric.

Cooper ends the report with this question...
Given the Third World as it is, with its venal but unavoidable realities, can any advisory counterinsurgency succeed at all?

Wow that question could easily be applied to Afghanistan.

EDIT: here's what the CIA website says about Operation Phoenix...

The Phoenix program is arguably the most misunderstood and controversial program undertaken by the governments of the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was, quite simply, a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Lao Dong Party (hereafter referred to as the Viet Cong infrastructure or VCI) in South Vietnam.

Unfortunately, there have been few objective analyses of Phoenix, and it still is looked upon with a great deal of suspicion and misunderstanding by many who study the Vietnam War.

RE the Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs)...
These forces went to the villages and hamlets and attempted to identify the named individuals [Viet Cong] and "neutralize" them. Those on a list were arrested or captured for interrogation, or if they resisted, they were killed.

Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Sep 24, 2017 - 09:42pm PT
Here's a report written by Tom Buckley "Phoenix: To Get Their Man Dead or Alive" NYTimes 1978

Operating in small groups of six to 12 men, they quietly penetrate into contested or Vietcong-contrtolled territory to carry out their missions. And despite whatever denials are being made now in Washington or Saigon, their mission is to get their man, dead or alive.

and the PRUs...
who were quicker to take their money [from the CIA], get drunk and go off on their own robbery and extortion operations...

Larry Nelson

Social climber
Sep 25, 2017 - 12:16am PT
Hey King Tut
I should have put all of my text in quotations, it came right from the website I linked to and not from me. The website was on the first Google page for my search.

However, I do believe the war was lost because of a lack of political will. That's why we pulled out and the funds to South Viet Nam were cut off a couple years later.

I also believe that war should be the last option.

I spent most of 1969 into 1970 in the III and IV corps zones, North, West and South of Saigon as a spec5 radar technician.
I was in the Army, on a radar contact team for ground surveillance radar.
(Target positions would be radio'd to batteries of either 105 howitzer, 155 self propelled howitzer, mortar, or snipers, depending on the site).

Spent a third to half my time on the Cambodian border, from the 7 Sisters area South, to the Plain of Reeds, the Parrots Beak area and up North to Muy Bai Den (sp) mountain.
Spent another third to half my time in various fire support bases of the 1st infantry, 1st cav, 25th infantry and several ARVN compounds...Traveling extensively by Huey. Took a couple boat rides up some river near the border...mighty spooky river ride (It was just me, my 16 and a Papa San in his skiff).

Hollywood owns that war now, and they can have it. My experiences are only relevant to me and I'm lookin for peace.
Here's a couple photos my sister found that I thought I lost.

Somewhere on the Cambodian border. Navy PBR base.
Somewhere on the Cambodian border. Navy PBR base.
Credit: Larry Nelson
I took this photo leaving the Navy PBR base near the border. The M-60 door gun is visible left and the radar dome sits on the wooden tower.
IIRC, PBRs were 30' plywood boats with twin 50 calibers. Those rivers and canals were smaller so the PBR was as big a boat as you'd want. This was the base I took boat rides to a couple of times.
EDIT:Other than a UDT team in the Plain of Reeds, those were the only Navy guys I interacted with.

1st cav fire support base
1st cav fire support base
Credit: Larry Nelson
Climbed the radar tower to take this shot of a 1st cav fire support base. 105's visible, with mortar and M-60 placements around the compound, some APC's also visible.

Got a couple more photos, but, alas, my mug is in them ;-)

Last month I read the obituary of Werner Lange, a man I never had the privilege to know.
Some of my San Diego friends knew Werner and I learned in the obituary that he was also a radar technician in Viet Nam, near the same time in country as myself.
I feel like we lived parallel lives and just want to shout out for Werner, a fellow climber and veteran I wish I had known.
paul roehl

Boulder climber
Sep 25, 2017 - 07:50am PT
Watched last night and good god what a horror show 1968 was. As I look back at that period I'm struck by the misinterpretation of the collapse of colonialism for a perceived communist menace that would never manifest itself and was impossible economically. A tragic political error that led to incredible waste.

Mountain climber
Sep 25, 2017 - 08:00am PT
I was in my last year of college(1976), and took a class in Geopolitics. The professor displayed a map showing the dominoe theory.
If one were to believe the propaganda, we would all be reading the Communist Manifesto, now.

Social climber
Wilds of New Mexico
Sep 25, 2017 - 08:14am PT
The first hand photos you guys have been posting on this thread are amazing.

Sep 25, 2017 - 08:29am PT
Same st00pid large-scale mistakes are still being made to this day as back then.

Because Americans are still too comfortable sitting in their cars driving around in circles
listening to their corrupt propaganda brainwashing from their corrupt controlled st00pid media outlets ....

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Sep 25, 2017 - 09:25am PT
The first hand photos you guys have been posting on this thread are amazing.

Yes, and the stories.

Neebee.... thanks for the one you told.

Watching the documentary makes me very sad. A lot of old buried emotions come welling to the surface.

The whole war was such a waste.

but then again, I guess that is the true definition of war.

Social climber
carmel, ca
Sep 25, 2017 - 09:28am PT
@Larry Nelson

I am sorry that our Nation's leaders put you and so many others (not connected politically or wealthy) through the war in Vietnam. I am glad that you made it home.

Fundamentally, killing more of them, than they of us will never win the war of National Liberation that the Viet Cong were fighting. This I have some experience myself with as an aid worker in Central America in the 1980's.

Our own Revolutionary War was a closer parallel to what the NLF were fighting, as compared to our believing we were contesting "the red menace". As far as the NLF was likely concerned they were assassinating "Tories" or "Loyalists" to King George.

The fundamental illegitimacy of the SVN Gov is not in dispute.

Eventually even reasonable men seek peace, only achievable by driving the foreigners out. No amount of ordnance can win that fight over time unless you follow the "Americas" model: Genocide for 95% of the original inhabitants, then the colonists live there forever more, until they seek independence themselves.

That is the tide of human history. There is no "winning" of the war that would make any sense to an American and the current situation in Vietnam is utterly proof of that: The country knows relative peace and we are friends with the commies...just think how different history would be if we had gone this route in 1962...and the millions of lives saved instead of wasted for nothing.

But the MIC won't let peace happen. They will always tell us the answer was more bombs...

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 25, 2017 - 10:46am PT
What would we have won....certainly not an increase in world stability.

Sport climber
Sep 25, 2017 - 11:51am PT

A bit of history:

America made the first atomic bomb
America dropped the first atomic bombs on civilians
America threatened to drop atomic bombs during the Korean war

And now: stupid is repeated by a Korean hothead...

And still:

Long live the American and the Korean people. It's not facts that are dangerous, it's atomic bombs...

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