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Saturday, September 09, 2006

What war? They have nothing to do with each other

Iraq is NOT Vietnam. Iraq is NOT Vietnam. Iraq is NOT Vietnam. Iraq is NOT Vietnam. Iraq is by occams hatchet Fri Sep 08, 2006 at 09:36:03 AM PDT

Iraq is NOT Vietnam.

In fact, in case you weren't paying attention, our President made it clear earlier in the week that not only is it not Vietnam, it's more like Normandy. Or maybe Bastogne. But definitely NOT Vietnam. No, no - not Vietnam.

Since we're battling the same kind of fascists we battled in World War II - well, not exactly the same kind of fascists; I mean, Mr. Bush didn't mention Tojo, but he did prominently mention Hitler - and Stalin, too! - I guess that means Iraq is a lot like, well, maybe, el-Alamein, or the Battle of Britain. Hmm, but not so much Stalingrad, or Kursk. No, not so much those - fascists on both sides of those. Maybe more like, umm, Normandy! Yeah! But not Dunkirk or Dieppe, definitely not those - or Kasserine, forget Kasserine. Anzio? A little. But definitely not Tarawa, or Iwo Jima, or Guadalcanal, or - sorry, Marine Corps! - Kwajalein or Saipan.

But for sure - for sure - Iraq is not Vietnam. In fact, just to make sure you fully understand this, we're going to make it easy for you.

This is Iraq: . . . and this is Vietnam:

See? They're nothing alike.

Hmm. Perhaps another way to demonstrate how vastly different Iraq is from Vietnam would be to take a look at the history of the Vietnam War. It so happens that I've recently been re-reading Stanley Karnow's excellent 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. In reading it, I was struck repeatedly by how not-at-all alike Iraq and Vietnam are. Not at all. Not even a little tiny bit. Not even a teensy bit. A teeny-weeny, itty-bitty bit. Not. At. All. Yes, reading through that recounting of the dismal 16 years of America's longest - and first losing - war, I was not at all struck by how exactly alike Iraq and Vietnam are.

And to prove it, I've taken some excerpts from the book. (Unless linked otherwise, all citations are from the 1983 hardcover edition.) Please, join me, so I can show you, with words and pictures, how much Iraq is not Vietnam:

First of all, the decision-makers in Washington made it very clear to the American people that The Very Future Of Democracy On The Planet depended upon the outcome of the war - unlike in Iraq:

The joint chiefs prefaced their plan with an inflated version of the "domino theory." South Vietnam was "pivotal" to America's "worldwide confrontation" with Communism, and a defeat there would deal a blow to U.S. "durability, resolution, and trustworthiness" throughout Asia as well as erode "our image" in Africa and Latin America. Given its importance, the conflict could not be confined to South Vietnam, where "we are fighting ... on the enemy's terms" and under "self-imposed restrictions." The United States should undertake "increasingly bolder" measures . . .
- Chapter 9, p. 326

...More was involved than just South Vietnam or even Asia, the national security council document asserted; a Communist victory would damage the reputation of the United States throughout the world. The conflict was a "test case" of America's capacity to cope with a Communist "war of liberation," and the whole of U.S. foreign policy faced a trial.
- Chapter 9, p.342

Unlike in Iraq, Lyndon Johnson overstated the threat posed by communist insurgents in Vietnam:

On his return home from a visit to South Vietnam, Johnson echoed domino theorists, saying that the loss of Vietnam would compel the United States to fight "on the beaches of Waikiki" and eventually on "our own shores." [Diarist's note: Of course, anyone who knows anything about the Vietnam War knows that Johnson was wrong about that, because Charlie don't surf.]

A Matter This Serious could not be left to just anybody - unlike in Iraq:

Johnson and his advisers shared the fundamental assumption, inherited from Eisenhower and Kennedy, that an independent South Vietnam was vital to the defense of Southeast Asia - and, more important, to America's global credibility. In short, they clung to the domino theory . . . The top priority must be, they concluded, to stabilize the South Vietnamese government and redress its military position in the field. That objective was to be unattainable. Therefore, despite their awareness of the pitfalls, Johnson and his aides took over the management of the war. If the recalcitrant natives could not be prodded, they would have to be supplanted. As [Secretary of State Dean] Rusk put it: "Somehow we must change the pace at which these people move, and I suspect that this can only be done with a pervasive intrusion of Americans into their affairs."
- Chapter 10, pgs. 377-8

. . . [Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot] Lodge made it clear that his management of events fit his own concept of "nation building": "My general view is that the United States is trying to bring this medieval country into the twentieth century. . . . We have made considerable progress in military and economic ways, but to gain victory we must also bring them into the twentieth century politically, and that can only be done by either a thoroughgoing change in the behavior of the present government, or by another government."
- Chapter 8, pgs. 300-301

So, naturally, the United States government once again insisted - loudly and repeatedly - that it would stop at nothing in its efforts to export its own brand of democracy to another culture, including installing its own ersatz leader cooked up with the White House Seal Of Approval - unlike in Iraq:

. . . "We shall stay for as long as it takes to . . . win the battle against the Communist insurgents," [Defense Secretary Robert McNamara] pledged as he landed in Saigon on March 8 [1964]. In addition to giving the usual briefings and conferences, he stepped out of character to stage a public relations act designed to put America's imprimatur on [South Vietnamese General Nguyen] Khanh [who had just taken over leadership of the country in a coup, and whose leadership the U.S. was backing], and the theatrical performance dramatized the absurdity of the U.S. role in Vietnam. Here was McNamara, the quintessential American businessman incongruously barnstorming this strange Asian land in an attempt to promote Khanh to his own people. Heavily protected by troops and helicopters, they toured the Mekong delta and flew up to Hue; McNamara, fumbling with the difficult tonal language, uttered memorized Vietnamese phrases extolling Khanh as the country's "best possible leader."
- Chapter 9, pgs. 341-2

But claims that the new, improved regime brought an improved security situation to the country proved somewhat, well, premature - unlike in Iraq:

. . . Khanh began to thump for an offensive against North Vietnam. . . Calling Khanh's threat to invade the north "sheer stupidity," Ho Chi Minh asked, "How can he talk about marching north when he cannot even control areas in the immediate vicinity of Saigon?"
- Chapter 9, p. 342

And it's not as if the United States didn't have plenty of chances to rethink its course of action before plunging into the war. But - unlike in Iraq - the White House was hell-bent on taking action based on its beliefs, no matter what The Facts said:

. . . [G]iven the U.S. mood of the period, an American withdrawal was unthinkable.
Robert Kennedy floated that notion at a White House meeting in September [1963]. He wondered aloud whether a Communist takeover "could be successfully resisted with any government" in Saigon, and if not, perhaps "now was the time to get out of Vietnam entirely." As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. [presidential speechwriter and special assistant for Latin American affairs] recalled, however, the speculative question "hovered for a moment, then died away, a hopelessly alien thought in a field of unexamined assumptions and entrenched convictions."
The idea had also been raised at a national security council session on August 31 [1963] by Paul Kattenburg, a perceptive State Department veteran of Vietnam. He had just returned from Saigon . . . [P]erhaps [he said,] it was preferable now "for us to make the decision to get out honorably." His view stunned the assemblage. Rusk asserted that "we will not pull out . . . until the war is won," McNamara affirmed that "we have been winning the war," and Lyndon Johnson added, "We should stop playing cops and robbers [and] go about winning the war." That took care of Kattenburg, who was to terminate his government career at the U.S. embassy in Guyana - not far from Devil's Island.
- Chapter 8, pgs. 292-3

[National Security Chief McGeorge] Bundy recoiled at [escalation of the war], terming it "rash to the point of folly." Not only was an extravagant campaign against North Vietnam preposterous, but putting a huge American force into Vietnam was "a slippery slope toward total U.S. responsibility and corresponding fecklessness on the Vietnamese side." What, Bundy asked, was the ceiling on the American liability? Could U.S. troops wage an antiguerrilla war, the "central problem" in South Vietnam? And above all, what was "the real object of the exercise"? To get to the conference table? If so, "What results do we seek there?"
The younger Bundy was not being gratuitously tough on McNamara, one of his close friends. Nor was he a cut-and-run type. He shared the assumption that Vietnam was vital to America's interests. But as chief of Johnson's national security staff, he wanted the president's cabinet - and the president himself - to ponder the crucial questions. The questions were posed, but they were never deeply examined.
- Chapter 11, p. 424

On July 27, 1965, in a last-ditch attempt to change Johnson's mind [about escalating the conflict], [Senate majority leader Mike] Mansfield and [Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Richard] Russell were to press him again to "concentrate on finding a way out" of Vietnam - "a place where we ought not to be," and where "the situation is rapidly going out of control." But the next day, Johnson announced his decision to add forty-four American combat battalions to the relatively small U.S. contingents already there. . . As he would later explain: "There are many, many people who can recommend and advise, and a few of them consent. But there is only one who has been chosen by the American people to decide."
- Chapter 9, p. 327

Unlike in Iraq, the White House decided to circumvent the constitutional requirement for a declaration of war from Congress:

Bundy focused on an issue that until now had been overlooked. To launch operations against North Vietnam, he noted, would "normally require" a declaration of war under the U.S. Constitution, and that might spark domestic controversy. Yet to proceed without legislative endorsement would be "unsatisfactory." The "best answer," therefore, was a congressional resolution of the sort that had freed President Eisenhower's hands to act in 1955, when the Chinese Communists menaced the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu.
- Chapter 9, p. 344

Rigorously respecting the Constitution, America's early presidents obtained congressional approval for such ventures abroad as the naval skirmishes with France and the pursuit of the Barbary pirates. Gradually, though, their successors stretched the rules. [snip]
This trend toward unshackled presidential power in foreign affairs was spurred throughout the 1950s and early 1960s by congressional, academic, and media liberals whose minds had been molded during the Roosevelt era. [snip]
. . . [Johnson] spelled out his position on the floor of the Senate in February 1953: "I want to make absolutely sure that the Communists don't play one branch of government against the other, or one party against the other. . . . The danger is they'll think we're fat and fifty and fighting among ourselves about free enterprise and socialism and all that. We might mislead them so they'll think these Americans are just the country club crowd. That's a mistake our enemies have made before. If you're in an airplane, and you're flying somewhere, you don't run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only president we've got."
- Chapter 10, pgs. 359-60

Unlike in Iraq, the risk to American security - indeed to Western democracy itself - and the ultimate scope of what the White House intended to do in the war, was misrepresented to Congress and the people of the United States in order to whip up patriotic fervor against a people whose skin color and culture were alien to most Americans:

. . . [Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs William Bundy] emphasized the need for the [war] resolution to gain rapid approval "by a very substantial majority," and proposed a major promotional effort . . . [H]e even prepared a "scenario" of suggested replies to the "disagreeable question":

Does this resolution imply a blank check for the president to go to war over Southeast Asia?
The resolution will indeed permit selective use of force, but hostilities on a larger scale are not envisaged and, in any case, any large escalation would require a call-up of reserves and thus a further appeal to the Congress . . .

What kinds of force, if any, are possible under this authorization?
No force will be used if the president can avoid it. If the continued aggression of others should require a limited response, that response will be carefully aimed at installations and activities that support covert aggression . . .

Does Southeast Asia matter all that much?
Yes - because of the rights of the people there, because of our own commitments, because of the far-reaching effect of a failure, and because we can win if we stay with it.
-Chapter 10, pgs. 361-2

The resolution was ready by the beginning of June [1964] - and so were the administration's top civilian and military officials. Relying on high-altitude reconnaissance airplanes and other sources of intelligence, Pentagon planners had pinpointed ninety-four bombing targets in North Vietnam; they had also made provisions for suppressing flak, rescuing downed pilots, and coping with other tactical problems. Aircraft carriers, poised to cruise into the Tonkin Gulf off the North Vietnamese coast, had been instructed to brace themselves to stage "reprisal" raids within seventy-two hours of receiving orders, and the diplomatic apparatus was prepared to explain the actions to governments around the world. [snip]
Years later, when American casualties in Vietnam had finally aroused Congress, McNamara still blandly denied to a Senate committee that the Pentagon had drawn up a bombing program as early as the spring of 1964. And, in subsequent testimony, William Bundy dismissed his elaborate preparations for the resolution as "normal contingency planning," adding that he was "not sure that my drafts were even known to others" - as if he had improvised them in the solitude of his office in his spare time. The fact is that by the summer of 1964 Johnson had a document that Nicholas Katzenbach, then acting attorney general, was later to call the "functional equivalent of a declaration of war." It required only approval by Congress, and a dubious incident assured its endorsement.
- Chapter 10, pgs. 362-3

. . . Though [Johnson's] information was sketchy, he announced to key Democratic members of Congress on the morning of August 4 [1964] that the U.S. destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf had definitely been attacked. This time, he said, he would retaliate against North Vietnam - and he would ask Congress for a resolution of support. Not a congressman present demurred.
Johnson [and his advisers] agreed that Johnson was "being tested" and would have to respond firmly to defend himself against Goldwater and the Republican right wing. As [one of his advisers] later wrote, they felt that Johnson "must not allow them to accuse him of vacillating or being an indecisive leader."
Yet Johnson was anxious for some verification of the incident - if only to guard against possible future charges of having acted precipitously. He leaned on McNamara [and those further down the chain of command] to "confirm absolutely" that the attack had taken place. Again [the captain of the USS Maddox canvassed his officers and men, but they could produce only inconclusive fragments from their memories of the frantic night.
In Washington, however, the need for a major move was generating its own momentum . . . [A]dministration officials . . . drew up arguments to be presented to the United Nations. . . At six o'clock in the evening, while [the captain of the Maddox] was still struggling to furnish additional evidence, a Pentagon spokesman declared that "a second deliberate attack" had occurred. Just before midnight, nearly an hour after the carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation had sent off their jets on the first U.S. bombing mission of North Vietnamese territory, Lyndon Johnson appeared on television screens across the nation, his manner sober and solemn: "Repeated acts of violence against the armed forces of the United States must be met not only with alert defense, but with positive reply. That reply is being given as I speak to you tonight." [snip]
Subsequent research by both official and unofficial investigators has indicated with almost total certainty that the second Communist attack in the Tonkin Gulf never happened. It had not been deliberately faked, but Johnson and his staff, desperately seeking a pretext to act vigorously, had seized upon a fuzzy set of circumstances to fulfill a contingency plan.
- Chapter 10, pgs. 371-3

Unlike in Iraq, the White House fabricated a devious subterfuge to justify a full-scale war in Vietnam:

. . . [A] Pentagon officer telephoned a startling tip to [Oregon Senator Wayne] Morse. The officer, whose identity Morse would never divulge, revealed that the Maddox had indeed been involved in the covert South Vietnamese raids against North Vietnam. Thus the administration had been disingenuous in describing the Communist attack against the destroyer as "unprovoked." But at the joint committee meeting, when Morse suggested that [that was the case] . . . McNamara gave him a steely glare and a duplicitous answer: "Our navy played absolutely no part in, was not associated with, was not aware of, any South Vietnamese actions, if there were any. . . . I say this flatly. This is a fact."
At fresh Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings in 1968, challenged by documents that disclosed a different story, McNamara awkwardly amended his earlier denial. The Maddox captain had known about the clandestine South Vietnamese operations, he conceded, but was not aware of the "details." But at the same hearings, McNamara and General Earle Wheeler suffered memory lapses when asked about the Pentagon's plans to bomb North Vietnam, which had been drawn up in early 1964. McNamara said he would "have to check the record," while Wheeler opined evasively that "to the best of my knowledge and belief . . . there was no thought of extending the war into the north."
- Chapter 10, p. 375

In the end, only two senators voted against the resolution - unlike in Iraq:

His colleagues ignored Morse, as did the full Senate when it convened on the afternoon of August 6, 1964, to debate Johnson's proposed resolution. Speaking to an almost empty chamber, Morse asserted that "the place to settle the controversy is not on the battlefield but around the conference table." He was joined in opposition by only one other senator, Ernest Gruening of Alaska, a veteran liberal who warned that "all Vietnam is not worth the life of a single American boy." But their voices were drowned out by a din of patriotism. Even Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, who had long harbored reservations about the U.S. pledge to Southeast Asia, cast aside his doubts. "Our national honor is at stake," he intoned. "We cannot and we will not shrink from defending it." [snip]
So the Senate approved the resolution with only Morse and Gruening dissenting, while the House of Representatives passed it unanimously. . . The outcome of the vote pleased nobody more than it did [the State Department's Chairman of the Policy Planning Council,] Walt Rostow, who had originally conceived the idea. Looking back on the Tonkin Gulf incident and its aftermath, he remarked, "We don't know what happened, but it had the desired result." [snip]
- Chapter 10, pgs. 375-6

For a soldier on patrol, the war in Vietnam - unlike in Iraq - often devolved to a high-anxiety game of chance, with sudden death or dismemberment being the price for losing:

The Communists invented an extraordinarily lethal arsenal of mines and booby traps. The "Bouncing Betty" was so called by GIs because it leaped out of the earth, exploding as its firing device was triggered. More destructive were mortar and artillery shells hung from trees, nestled in shrubbery, or buried under the mud floors of Vietnamese huts. Others included booby-trapped grenades tripped by wires and fragmentation mines detonated by enemy guerillas crouched in the jungle; and there were primitive snares, like sharpened bamboo staves hidden in holes. Cautious and fearful, GIs constantly attempted to second-guess the mines, as Tim O'Brien wrote in his memoir of the war, If I Die in a Combat Zone:

Should you put your foot to that flat rock or the clump of weeds to its rear? Paddy dike or water? You wish you were Tarzan, able to swing with the vines. You try to trace the footprints of the man to your front. You give it up when he curses you for following too closely; better one man dead than two. The moment-to-moment, step-by-step decision-making preys on your mind. The effect is sometimes paralysis. You are slow to rise from rest breaks. You walk like a wooden man . . . with your eyes pinned to the dirt, spine arched, and you are shivering, shoulders hunched.

It was less a feat of death that nagged the American soldiers, as one of O'Brien's buddies put it, than the absurd combination of certainty and uncertainty - the certainty that the mines were everywhere, and the uncertainty about how to move or sit in order to avoid them. The Vietcong had so many ways to plant and camouflage mines, he mused. "I'm ready to go home," he added.
So were many GIs as the war floundered, and their original sense of purpose became clouded by doubt. Looking back, [Marine Sgt. William] Ehrhart spoke for others:

After a few months, it began to seem crazy, but you didn't dare to draw conclusions that might point in terrifying directions. Maybe we Americans weren't the guys in the white hats, riding white horses. Maybe we shouldn't be in Vietnam. Maybe I'd gotten my ass out in these bushes for nothing. Still, it never occurred to me to lay down my rifle and quit. Instead, you develop a survival mentality. You stop thinking about what you're doing, and you count days. I knew that I was in Vietnam for three hundred and ninety-five days, and if I was still alive at the end of those three hundred and ninety-five days, I'd go home and forget the whole thing. That's the way you operated.

- Chapter 12, pgs. 472-3

And it wasn't just the grunts who learned the hard way about the realities of the war. Unlike in Iraq, the real news from the battlefield often wasn't what the White House wanted to hear:

. . . [I]ntelligence estimates [in summer 1966] showed that infiltration into the south had risen since the bombing began and could continue to increase . . . As for the effect of the air offensive on the morale of the North Vietnamese leadership and population, the report's observation simply underscored the testimony of nearly every foreign visitor to Hanoi within the past year. "The bombing clearly strengthened popular support of the regime by engendering patriotic and nationalistic enthusiasm to resist the attacks."
- Chapter 13, pgs. 499-500

McNamara['s] confidential comments again bore little resemblance to his public remarks. He told reporters that the U.S. forces in Vietnam were inflicting "increasingly heavy losses" on the Vietcong, but he informed Johnson privately that conditions were "worse than a year ago." . . . Then he gave Johnson the bad news. By early 1966, he said, [the war in] Vietnam would [require] mobilizing the reserves and the national guard - putting the country on a war footing, in effect. Otherwise, America could not meet its global security responsibilities.
- Chapter 11, p. 425

Meeting those "global security responsibilities" was proving - unlike in Iraq - more and more nearly impossible as the Vietnam war went on:

[General Earle Wheeler, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] and his colleagues . . . had long brooded about Vietnam's effect on America's global security obligations. . . . [B]ecause [Johnson] had refused to call up the reserves, army units in Europe and elsewhere, their officers and noncoms sent to Vietnam, were skeletal. The only combat-ready division defending the United States, the 82nd Airborne, had been stripped to one third its strength to provide troops for the war. The marine corps could not attract enough recruits. Draftees could be conscripted to replenish the ranks, but they lacked the experience to serve as leaders and technicians - and enlisting them in large numbers also posed domestic political problems. Ironically, Wheeler and the joint chiefs essentially concurred in [North Vietnamese] General Giap's assessment: the conflict was bleeding America.
- Chapter 14, pgs. 550-51

Because of the White House's fiscal irresponsibility, the war's devastation - unlike in Iraq - also could be measured in dollars:

The economic costs of the war were climbing . . . In July 1965, [Johnson] had calculated that the conflict would require roughly $2 billion for the year ahead. But the real figure ran to four times that amount - and worse was yet to come. [McNamara for 1967] estimated that annual expenditures on Vietnam would range from $11 billion to $17 billion. As it turned out, the war consumed $21 billion that year, and the price continued to rise.
[Johnson] wanted to wage the war without paying for it just as he repeatedly refused to admit that he was escalating the conflict whenever he raised the troop level or stepped up the bombing. So he procrastinated, juggling and faking and concealing the statistics in a desperate attempt to avoid increasing taxes, the only way he could foot the bill. . . [T]he budget deficit, which had soared to almost $10 billion for fiscal 1967, skyrocketed to triple that figure the following year.
- Chapter 13, pgs. 487-8

But the White House figured that it could spin the news about the war by lying to the public - unlike in Iraq:

In October 1966, back in Vietnam for the first time in nearly a year, McNamara again lapsed into divergent public and private statements. Progress "has exceeded our expectations," he assured the news media - but, he informed Johnson confidentially, he was only "a little less pessimistic than he had been on his last trip because "we have by and large blunted" the enemy initiative. Still, he added grimly, he saw "no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon." Though they were suffering huge casualties, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong could "more than replace" their losses through recruitment and infiltration, which had not been slowed down by the bombing. The Saigon government seemed more solid, yet the "pacification" effort had "gone backward." The Communist presence had spread, so that its political apparatus "thrived in most of the country," and "full security exists nowhere" - not even in areas supposedly under American control.
- Chapter 13, p. 500

Johnson summoned Westmoreland home in mid-November [1967] to revive the country's flagging spirit. . . His tour schedule was meticulously planned to give him broad exposure - except to critics who might pose pernicious questions. Carefully steered away from Senator Fulbright and his ilk, Westmoreland met with the more sympathetic Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and he attended a White House banquet to which Johnson had invited the tamer members of Congress. . . "The ranks of the Vietcong are thinning steadily," he assured a gathering at the Pentagon, and he promised a National Press Club audience that "we have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view." And he defied the Communists to stage a massive attack. "I hope they try something," he told a Time interviewer, "because we are looking for a fight."
- Chapter 13, pgs. 513-14

Sometimes the media - unlike in Iraq - were willing co-conspirators in the charade, but sometimes they got it right:

The Vietnam drama at the time was a journalist's dream, but a nightmare for U.S. officials, who feared that accounts of events in Vietnam would turn the American public against the war effort. Censorship was still ruled out, but without censorship it was difficult to control dynamic young correspondents in Saigon like David Halberstam of The New York Times, Neil Sheehan of United Press International, and Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press . . . Even Lodge, who could be as devious as any Vietnamese, leaked information . . . Kennedy tried to have Halberstam transferred, but he was rebuffed by the publisher of the Times. Carl Rowan, then director of the U.S. Information Agency in Washington, instructed the U.S. mission in Saigon to steer the news media away from events that "are likely to result in undesirable stories." Like so many other embarrassing documents, his classified memorandum on this subject found its way into print.
The nastiest diatribes against reporters in Saigon, however, came from journalistic purveyors of the official line. Joseph Alsop, for example, accused his young colleagues of carrying on "egregious crusades" against Diem, and he compared them to Chiang Kai-shek's press critics, whom he blamed for China's fall to the Communists. An equally vitriolic assault was inspired by Otto Fuerbringer, then managing editor of Time magazine, who commissioned an article charging the Saigon press corps with pooling its "convictions, information, misinformation and grievances" to distort the truth. Charles Mohr and Mert Perry, two Time correspondents in Vietnam, promptly resigned, protesting that the article had been cooked up in New York.
- Chapter 8, pgs. 296-7

Frequently . . . the magazines distorted the dispatches of their reporters and relied instead on guidance from the White House, State Department, and Pentagon officials - and from the President himself. . .
[Time and Life magazine publisher] Hedley Donovan went to Vietnam in late 1965 to see for himself, and his reactions were predictable. After the usual round of official briefings and a look at the battlefield, he wrote in Life that "the war is worth winning" and that victory was within sight. Eighteen months later, following another trip, his views began to alter. He now observed the widening gap between the official U.S. claims of progress and the realities of the situation, and his doubts were further intensified by what his correspondents told him [snip]
Then, under his direction, the magazines took a quantum leap. In October 1967, a Life editorial enunciated a new corporate policy toward the war . . . No longer was the conflict "worth winning," as Donovan had written. On the contrary, the commitment was "not absolutely imperative" to the defense of strategic U.S. interests - and thus a difficult challenge "to ask young Americans to die for." "Hedley Donovan has betrayed me," complained Lyndon Johnson, as if the magazine had assaulted him personally. Two years later Life's editors were to illustrate the Vietnam tragedy even more starkly by publishing, in a single issue, the portraits of some of the two hundred and fifty young Americans who had died in Vietnam in one routine week; the faces staring out of the pages were a dramatic reminder that anonymous casualty figures were in fact the sons, brothers, and husbands of neighbors.
- Chapter 13, p. 489

. . . [After the January 1968 Tet offensive, public approval of Johnson's] overall performance dropped from 48 percent to 36 percent . . . The country's trust in his authority had evaporated. His credibility the key to a president's capacity to govern - was gone.
More important, perhaps, Johnson was being abandoned by the vocal elements of the population - the media commentators, business executives, educators, clergymen, and other "elites" . . . Closer to the corridors of power, they had been slower than the public to lose confidence in the president. Once they changed, however, their influence weighed heavily on politicians, administration officials, and Johnson himself. [Johnson] and his aides . . . were traumatized by the evidence that the administration had become isolated in an election year.
The Tet offensive stunned Johnson. Having swallowed most of the reports claiming that the Communists had been defanged, he had never imagined that they could attack the U.S. embassy in Saigon or assault the cities of South Vietnam. . . [H]is first reaction, typically, was to orchestrate a public relations drive designed to promote optimism. He ordered Westmoreland to hold daily briefings for U.S. correspondents in Vietnam in order to "reassure the public here that you have the situation under control," and he told the White House press corps that the Communist operation had been a "complete failure." He also instructed Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, and other prominent aides to thump the same theme in newspaper and television interviews during the ensuing weeks.
Art Buchwald satirically flattened the news-management campaign from the start. His syndicated column of February 6 portrayed a confident General George Armstrong Custer boasting that "the battle of the Little Big Horn had just turned the corner," and the Sioux were "on the run."
- Chapter 14, pgs. 546-7

Here is an excerpt from the column:

Dateline: Little Big Horn, Dakota: General George Armstrong Custer said today in an exclusive interview with this correspondent that the Battle of Little Big Horn had just turned the corner and he could now see light at the end of the tunnel. "We have the Sioux on the run", General Custer told me. "Of course we'll have some cleaning up to do, but the Redskins are hurting badly and it will only be a matter of time before they give in."

Unlike in Iraq, the emperor in the White House didn't like being exposed as having no clothes:

. . . The United States, declared [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator William] Fulbright, was "in danger of losing its perspective on what exactly is within the realm of its power and what is beyond it." In displaying an "arrogance of power," he went on, "we are not living up to our capacity and promise as a civilized example for the world." Johnson, who believed Fulbright had personally smeared him as "arrogant," riposted by labeling the senator and other foes of the war as a bunch of "nervous Nellies" who lacked the courage to drive on to victory.
. . . Johnson resorted to snide and salacious remarks about [newspaper columnist Walter] Lippmann, even accusing him of aiding and abetting the enemy, and Lippmann responded with equal rancor, privately calling Johnson "the most disagreeable individual ever to have occupied the White House." He also delivered an unusually angry tirade against Johnson in his column of February 3: the president had "never defined our national purpose except in the vaguest, most ambiguous generalities about aggression and freedom," he wrote. "Gestures propaganda, public relations and bombing and more bombing will not work." He predicted that Johnson would eventually find himself "in a dead-end street" unless he revised his Vietnam policy.
- Chapter 13, pgs. 486-7

Some White House officials were, um, particularly touchy about it - unlike in Iraq:

In May [1969], however, an enterprising New York Times correspondent, William Beecher, revealed the bombings in Cambodia. His scoop aroused no public reaction, but it outraged Nixon and Kissinger. They consulted J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, and wiretaps of dubious legality were placed on the telephones of four journalists and thirteen officials, including members of Kissinger's own staff. Hoover quoted Kissinger as saying that the administration "will destroy whoever did this." The first abuses of authority, later to emerge as the Watergate scandal, had begun.
Officially acknowledged in 1973, this clandestine bombing campaign was also to fuel the clamor in Congress for Nixon's impeachment. In testimony before a Senate committee, several distinguished lawyers agreed that Nixon had exceeded his constitutional prerogatives, and they supported proposed legislation to curb the president's ability to wage war.
- Chapter 15, p. 592

. . . [Nixon] told his aides, "We've got those liberal bastards on the run now, and we're going to keep them on the run."
To spare Nixon the appearance of indignity, the job of pursuing the "liberals" was entrusted to Agnew. The vice-president began by assailing the news media as "a small and unelected elite" that "do not - I repeat not - represent the views of America." The Democrats counterattacked, Hubert Humphrey denouncing this diatribe as an appeal to the public's "baser instinct." Television network executive howled, but, fearing the administration's possible influence on the issuance and renewal of station licenses, caution became their guide.
- Chapter 15, p. 600

But not long afterward, when several senators nearly succeeded in restricting [Nixon's] military activities in Cambodia, he decided to stop "screwing around" with his congressional adversaries and other foes. He order the formation of a covert team headed by Tom Huston, a former army intelligence specialist, to improve the surveillance of domestic critics. During later investigation into Nixon's alleged violations of the law, Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina called the Huston project evidence of a "Gestapo mentality," and Huston himself warned Nixon that the internal espionage was illicit. Nixon afterward contended, however, that "when the president does it, that means it is not illegal."
- Chapter 15, p. 612

. . . Vice-President Spiro Agnew, acting as Nixon's lightning rod, flailed the opposition senators as "radical liberals" . . . What especially rattled [Nixon] was a growing disaffection among conservative politicians, the pillars of his support in Washington and in county courthouses across America, who were worried that the interminable war would go against them in the congressional elections in November. He was not disturbed by the McGoverns and Hatfields; they had nothing better to suggest, he said, than a "bug-out." "But," he confided to Kissinger, "when the Right starts wanting to get out, for whatever reason, that's our problem."
- Chapter 16, p. 626

. . . [Nixon believed] he could use the [Pentagon Papers] flap to discredit leftists, liberals, and other adversaries of the Vietnam war - and, by extension, Democrats and everybody else he deemed inimical. Egil "Bud" Krogh, an earnest young White House assistant, put it succinctly: "Anyone who opposes us, we'll destroy. As a matter of fact, anyone who doesn't support us, we'll destroy."
- Chapter 16, p. 634

But even before he became distracted with hunting down and destroying his enemies, the president and his war advisors - unlike in Iraq - knew that they wouldn't finish the job:

Nixon had no intention of retreating entirely from Vietnam - not, at least, during his presidency.
- Chapter 15, p. 593

And - unlike in Iraq - those who counseled prudence - those who questioned the wisdom of "staying the course" - were shunned and mocked, or worse:

[Presidential advisor Clark Clifford] wrote to Johnson [that McNamara's plan for disengagement from Vietnam, circulated in late 1967], would "retard the possibility of concluding the conflict rather than accelerating [the war]" . . . "[T]he chortles of glee issuing from Hanoi would be audible in every capital of the world. Is this evidence of our zeal and courage to stay the course? Of course not! It would be interpreted to be exactly what it is - a resigned and discouraged effort to find a way out of a conflict for which we had lost our will and dedication." [McNamara was sacked as defense secretary shortly thereafter - and replaced by Clifford.]
- Chapter 13, pgs. 510-11

As the war dragged on, the president - unlike in Iraq - pushed the envelope with respect to the powers granted him:

. . . [T]he deeper issue [of the Cambodian invasion of 1970] revolved around Nixon's constitutional prerogatives, a matter that in different guise was to spell his ultimate downfall. . . [I]t was doubtful if Nixon had the authority to broaden the war without congressional authority - just as it was doubtful that he had the power to begin, in secrecy, the bombing of Cambodia the year before. Almost as an afterthought, he assigned the task of preparing a legal justification to William Rehnquist, an assistant attorney general, who came up with the arguments that the law mandated presidents to deploy troops "in conflict with foreign powers at their own initiative."
- Chapter 15, pgs. 608-9

But ultimately - unlike in Iraq - Congress demonstrated its delight in being used as a constitutional doormat, and its utter lack of collective spine in refusing to stand up to the White House and its illegal war:

[T]he U.S. news media trailed behind public opinion - and Congress lagged even farther. The legislature's main instrument was its constitutional authority to appropriate money for the war, but senators and representatives repelled by the Vietnam conflict consistently balked at using that prerogative, lest they be charged with shunning their patriotic obligation to furnish funds to the fighting men in the field. The president could also penalize them by withholding federal grants from their constituencies or denying federal jobs to their friends. . . For all their qualms about the war, members of Congress were long on rhetoric and short on action.
- Chapter 13, pgs. 490-1

Unlike in Iraq -

the Vietnam War eventually ended.

posted by Steve @ 12:02:00 AM

12:02:00 AM

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