On September 11, 2013, hundreds of thousands of Chileans solemnly marked the 40th anniversary of their nation’s 9/11 terrorist event. It was on that date in 1973 that the Chilean military, armed with a generous supply of funds and weapons from the United States, and assisted by the CIA and other operatives, overthrew the democratically-elected government of the moderate socialist Salvador Allende. Sixteen years of repression, torture and death followed under the fascist Augusto Pinochet, while the flow of hefty profits to US multinationals – IT&T, Anaconda Copper and the like – resumed. Profits, along with concern that people in other nations might get ideas about independence, were the very reason for the coup and even the partial moves toward nationalization instituted by Allende could not be tolerated by the US business class.
Henry Kissinger was national security advisor and one of the principal architects – perhaps the principal architect – of the coup in Chile. US-instigated coups were nothing new in 1973, certainly not in Latin America, and Kissinger and his boss Richard Nixon were carrying on a violent tradition that spanned the breadth of the 20th century and continues in the 21st – see, for example, Venezuela in 2002 (failed) and Honduras in 2009 (successful). Where possible, such as in Guatemala in 1954 and Brazil in 1964, coups were the preferred method for dealing with popular insurgencies. In other instances, direct invasion by US forces such as happened on numerous occasions in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and many other places, was the fallback option.
The coup in Santiago occurred as US aggression in Indochina was finally winding down after more than a decade. From 1969 through 1973, it was Kissinger again, along with Nixon, who oversaw the slaughter in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It is impossible to know with precision how many were killed during those four years; all the victims were considered enemies, including the vast majority who were non-combatants, and the US has never been much interested in calculating the deaths of enemies. Estimates of Indochinese killed by the US for the war as a whole start at four million and are likely more, perhaps far more. It can thus be reasonably extrapolated that probably more than a million, and certainly hundreds of thousands, were killed while Kissinger and Nixon were in power.
In addition, countless thousands of Indochinese have died in the years since from the affects of the massive doses of Agent Orange and other Chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction unleashed by the US. Many of us here know (or, sadly, knew) soldiers who suffered from exposure to such chemicals; multiply their numbers by 1,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 – again, it’s impossible to know with accuracy – and we can begin to understand the impact on those who live in and on the land that was so thoroughly poisoned as a matter of US policy.
Studies by a variety of organizations including the United Nations also indicate that at least 25,000 people have died in Indochina since war’s end from unexploded US bombs that pocket the countryside, with an equivalent number maimed. As with Agent Orange, deaths and ruined lives from such explosions continue to this day. So 40 years on, the war quite literally goes on for the people of Indochina, and it is likely it will go on for decades more.
Near the end of his time in office, Kissinger and his new boss Gerald Ford pre-approved the Indonesian dictator Suharto’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, an illegal act of aggression again carried out with weapons made in and furnished by the US. Suharto had a long history as a bagman for US business interests; he ascended to power in a 1965 coup, also with decisive support and weapons from Washington, and undertook a year-long reign of terror in which security forces and the army killed more than a million people (Amnesty International, which rarely has much to say about the crimes of US imperialism, put the number at 1.5 million).
In addition to providing the essential on-the-ground support, Kissinger and Ford blocked efforts by the global community to stop the bloodshed when the terrible scale of Indonesian violence became known, something UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan openly bragged about. Again, the guiding principle of empire, one that Kissinger and his kind accept as naturally as breathing, is that independence cannot be allowed. That’s true even in a country as small as East Timor where investment opportunities are slight, for independence is contagious and can spread to places where far more is at stake, like resource-rich Indonesia. By the time the Indonesian occupation finally ended in 1999, 200,000 Timorese – 30 percent of the population – had been wiped out. Such is Kissinger’s legacy and it is a legacy well understood by residents of the global South no matter the denial, ignorance or obfuscation of the intelligentsia here.
If the United States is ever to become a democratic society, and if we are ever to enter the international community as a responsible party willing to wage peace instead of war, to foster cooperation and mutual aid rather than domination, we will have to account for the crimes of those who claim to act in our names like Kissinger. Our outrage at the crimes of murderous thugs who are official enemies like Pol Pot is not enough. A cabal of American mis-leaders from Kennedy on caused far more Indochinese deaths than the Khmer Rouge, after all, and those responsible should be judged and treated accordingly.
The urgency of the task is underscored as US aggression proliferates at an alarming rate. Millions of people around the world, most notably in an invigorated Latin America, are working to end the “might makes right” ethos the US has lived by since its inception. The 99 percent of us here who have no vested interest in empire would do well to join them.
There are recent encouraging signs along those lines, with the successful prevention of a US attack on Syria particularly noteworthy. In addition, individuals from various levels of empire have had their lives disrupted to varying degrees. David Petraeus, for example, has been hounded by demonstrators since being hired by CUNY earlier this year to teach an honors course; in 2010, Dick Cheney had to cancel a planned trip to Canada because the clamor for his arrest had grown quite loud; long after his reign ended, Pinochet was arrested by order of a Spanish magistrate for human right violations and held in England for 18 months before being released because of health problems; and earlier this year, Efrain Rios Montt, one of Washington’s past henchmen in Guatemala, was convicted of genocide, though accomplices of his still in power have since intervened on his behalf to obstruct justice. And Condoleeza Rice was forced to cancel her commencement appearance at Rutgers this past spring because of student outrage over her involvement in war crimes.
More pressure is needed, and allies of the US engaged in war crimes like Paul Kagame should be dealt with as Pinochet was. More important perhaps for those of us in the US is that we hound Rumsfeld, both Clintons, Rice, Albright and Powell, to name a few, for their crimes against humanity every time they show themselves in public just as Petraeus has been. That holds especially for our two most recent War-Criminals-in-Chief, Barack Bush and George W. Obama.
Andy Piascik can be reached at email@example.com.
Today, American politicians of both major parties — conservatives, “moderates,” and so-called liberals alike — insist that the United States is an “exceptional,” even “indispensable” nation. In practice, this means that for the United States alone the rules are different. Particularly in international affairs, it — the government and its personnel — can do whatever deemed necessary to carry out its objectives, including things that would get any other government or person branded a criminal.
This is nothing new. “American exceptionalism” goes back to the founding. When American politicians set their sights on Spain’s North American possessions, they were driven by the same attitude. In their view the new “Empire of Liberty,” as Jefferson called it, was destined to replace the old, worn-out empires of Europe in its hemisphere. They had no doubt that the Old World’s colonial possessions would eventually fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, either formally or informally.
Acquisition through negotiation was preferred over war by a good number of presidents, secretaries of state, and members of Congress, but if war was necessary, they intended to be prepared and to let Spain and her fellow colonial powers know it. Thus the push for a global navy under James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams before 1820. Manifest destiny! (Congress’s constitutional war power was a burr under the saddle for Adams and others, who thought war-making was properly an executive power.)
Today we see signs of the doctrine of American exceptionalism all around. U.S. foreign policy is not bound in the ways in which U.S. officials expect other countries’ foreign policies to be bound. America is special, chosen. So the rules are different.
We might say America has a James Bond complex. In the eyes of many Americans, the United States has a “Double O.” Bond said the Double O indicated “you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some assignment.” As Ian Fleming’s series went on, the Double O became a license to kill. Judging by how the U.S. government gets away with murder, terrorism and other horrible offenses, it apparently has a de facto license to kill. Although by the U.S. definition, nothing it does can ever qualify as murder and terrorism.
The signs can be perceived in Americans’ pronounced lack of interest in seeing the country’s governing elite held accountable for its aggressive wars, abuse of prisoners, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, sponsored genocide and occupation, and so on.
U.S. rulers have waged aggressive genocidal wars (against the Indians and Vietnamese, for example), have brutally put down colonial rebellions (against the Filipinos, for example), facilitated genocidal policies carried out by client dictators (in Indonesia, for example), underwritten repressive dictatorships and brutal occupations (in Egypt and Palestine, for example), and instigated in antidemocratic coups (in Iran and Chile, for example).
When has an American official been placed in the dock to answer for these crimes?
Instead, officials from whose hands the blood of countless innocents drips are treated like dignitaries, even royalty. When 91-year-old Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state who presided over the deaths of countless Vietnamese and others, appears anywhere, such as a Senate hearing, he’s accorded the reverence that parishioners pay to their priests — while peace activists, who want him held responsible, are called “low-life scum” by a fawning senator. When Madeleine Albright, a former UN ambassador and secretary of state, writes a new book, talk-show hosts climb over one another to interview her — never asking how she could have thought that killing half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s was an acceptable price for the Clinton administration’s attempt to drive Saddam Hussein from office.
Will George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld face charges for their wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan? For their drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia? For their torture programs? Will Barack Obama ever have to defend himself against murder counts for his drone kills? Will former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bear consequences for the havoc she unleashed in Libya?
Of course not. The United States is the Double-O nation. Its rulers need not fear judgment. They have a license to kill.
January 18 is Martin Luther King’s birthday and will occasion another three day official national holiday with TV specials of criminal deception limiting King to having been merely a hero of the civil rights movement period. Another year’s deceitfully erasing from history King’s condemnation of his country’s government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and his having held himself and his fellow Americans responsible for “atrocity wars and covert violence on three continents since 1945 in order to maintain unjust predatory investments.”
For a near half-century, King’s outrage, King’s hellish description of America’s wars on innocent people in the third world, have been meticulously whisked out of existence. But not without the help of the silence of Kings own family, comrades, fellow civil rights leaders, peaceniks, and progressives, who have mounted no serious effort to expose wars-supporting corporate media’s iron tight blackout of what King said during his last year before receiving that ‘shut him up’ bullet to his brain.
To no avail, did America’s beloved peoples historian, Howard Zinn, for years, end every one of his daily radio programs with a plea to journalists and antiwar organization leaders to quote King continually in order to break the blackout of King’s powerful words and defeat the supporters of US wars.
If the prediction in the title of this article turns out to be wrong, the co-founders of the Martin Luther King Condemned US Wars International Awareness Campaign (former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and yours truly) will of course be thankful beyond words, but astounded as well. For it is nearly forty-eight years since King shook the world, made large type bold headlines in newspapers across the planet with his blistering New York sermon, ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,’ was vilified in US media, and criticized by his fellow leaders of the civil rights movement. With enthusiastic support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Ramsey Clark had for some years envisioned a ‘Break the Blackout of MLKjr Condemnations’ event with speeches by luminaries like Harry Belafonte, Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young — now long Representative of Georgia, John Lewis, Cornel West, Joan Baez and others, who had been close to King, but was unable to find any interest in it. I feel it will, however, happen one day.
Since King’s assassination (within a year of King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’ sermon), the silence of his closest comrades and even his own family, a silence that King had called “betrayal,” (King had even agonized over his own previous silence), has been, in effect, a noticeable collaboration with the utter and absolute blackout and erasing of King’s scathing words from popular history by criminal US media, monolithic media that has hyped and justified the US committed holocaust in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and the dozens of subsequent US murderous invasions of dozens of equally innocent nations.
At the 2012 unveiling and dedication ceremony of the King Monument in Washington, the wealthy white elite emoted over how they had been moved by King’s words about equality and freedom, as they pretended to have been deaf to King’s bitter denouncing of the immoral business of inhumane materialism and genocidal violence in desperate accumulation of capital and its twin evil racism. With sour stomach did one listen to the dissimulating, vibrant with emotion, eulogies of King’s daughter, sister, son, African American celebrities, and even the two men who had held the dying King in their arms (and who had gone on to successful political careers in the US war establishment). In these speeches by King’s beloved people, there was not a single world regarding King’s condemnation of Americans putting atrocity wars and covert violence on three continents since 1945. Their embarrassing calculated omission of King’s condemnation of US wars on innocent nations was an obvious collaboration with an insane wars-managing elite’s intentions in staging this despicable and farcical event. It was a collaboration, not only by the King family, civil rights leader friends and African American celebrities, who spoke at the monument, but by progressive journalists the next day, who did not rise up with a unanimous commentary of condemnation of their own for the calculated omission of King’s scathing words, poignantly stern warnings and moral demands, which King bravely intended to lead the stopping of the slaughter of the Vietnamese, just as King had led the stopping of legalized death and discrimination of African Americans at home.
It simply does not seem to be important to American dissidents, progressives, African American celebrities and even America’s best anti-imperialist journalists of the left, that citizens in militarized America, and the world audience victims of US media psyop mind control, have been tightly blocked and prevented from hearing or seeing videos of King sounding off with the truth,
The Vietnamese people proclaimed their independence in 1945, after a combined French and Japanese occupation … we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.… For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam…. After the French were defeated, … we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man.… Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops, as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals, children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. … we ally ourselves with the landlords … we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land, their crops. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children.
Americans shall never hear these words of King, if the desperate managers of present society have anything to do with it. Knowledge of national hero King having preached to extend the justice he was determined to get of for his African Americans to the infinitely more deadly injustice the Vietnamese had been suffering from his fellow Americans, including forcibly drafted African America soldiers, would be dangerously confusing for tens of millions of young men and women presently participating in, supporting, or indifferent to the dozen ongoing US bombings and invasions and unnerving for older Americans who had participated in, supported, or were indifferent during to all the wars since King was taken out forty-seven years ago. Confusing and unnerving because, after all, Martin Luther King is America’s number one hero, in whose name everyone gets a day or two off work every year.
Perhaps, even more important for the war establishment is that school children now being indoctrinated to look forward to patriotically manning the high tech killing machine that insures future American world domination, be protected from the horrible truth that Martin Luther King spoke of so eloquently and convincingly.
No, not on your sweet life, are speculative investors, who own omnipresent mass media and create mega profitable genocidal wars, going to allow the American public that watches fellow Americans in uniform dispatch thousands of designated ‘bad guy’ men, women, and ‘accidentally their children, in their own beloved countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen while America funds goons to do it in Venezuela, Ukraine and Lebanon, Syria, Libya as well, hear King preaching a heart-rending history of the US holocaust in Vietnam and surrounding countries.
Instead this year, as for over forty years, corporate commercial TV channels will be televising King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the ‘March on Washington’ demanding justice in America, and videos of King leading the civil rights struggle over many years. King will be made to look like someone who today would have been a close friend and supporter of Obama, a documented serial killer, and as outspoken Cornel West, Prof. Cornel West of New York’s Union Theological Seminar and
Princeton University’s Center for African American Studies has often called the President, “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats, now head of the American killing machine and proud of it.”
Our long-shot hope is that during this year’s Martin Luther King high profiled birthday celebrations, one of the various presidents or foreign ministers of nations presently threatened with US overt or covert attack, will think to praise on international media, Martin Luther Kings intensely devastating condemnations of America’s mad and genocidal foreign policy, and thereby throw a self-protecting monkey-wrench into America’s world deceiving criminal media, which projects an image of King as a loyal patriot of an America constantly at war with the world.
Prohibiting us from hearing King’s condemnations, so inconvenient to private investors, who rule society by scam and sword, will backfire in the long run. Words of wisdom have a life of their own, and King’s truthful words will one day be hear in countries on all five continents once bombed by US planes, and his words will promote prosecution of colonial and neocolonial imperialist crimes against humanity.
When that day of reckoning arrives King’s statue will be gazed upon as one of the whole meaningful Martin Luther King Jr., adorned with quotes mentioned in this article that are not there today.
For what it worth, those that know what King cried out against, and are still comfortably silent, might remember, Martin Luther King’s quoting from Inferno by the famous Italian poet Dante, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”
Jay Janson can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been nearly 40 years since what the American media called “The Fall of Saigon” and the Vietnamese referred to as the Liberation. I saw it then as the Fall of Washington.
The ghosts of Vietnam are back, thanks to two filmmakers with very different takes. The first is Rory Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy’s youngest daughter. Her one-sided account has already been nominated for an Oscar. The second is Tiana, an American of South Vietnamese origin, who made the film, From Hollywood To Hanoi, years ago to promote reconciliation between our two countries.
Tiana is finishing a movie called The General and Me, on her unlikely conversations (for someone from a virulently anti-communist family) with North Vietnam’s legendary and late General, Vo Nguyen Giap, a.k.a the “Red Napoleon,“ a.k.a the man whose military doctrines defeated the French Army, and later, the Pentagon’s brutal Vietnamization strategy.
Giap created the Vietnamese resistance Army at Ho Chi Minh’s request in 1944, and without training, became a military genius. Tiana has two other self-promoted US “geniuses” in her movie too: pathetic walk-ons by former US General William Westmoreland, and an arrogant ex-Defense Secretary, Robert MacNamara, who could not conceal his contempt for her.
Rory’s highly-hyped and well-funded movie depicts footage we have seen before of the hurried evacuation of US soldiers and some of their Vietnamese conscripts in a long and bloody war that was lost almost from its earliest days.
Rather than look at the reasons for that loss, Rory has, with support from HBO and PBS’s American Experience series, tried to present a heroic picture of Americans in their last days in Saigon, coping with a Mad Ambassador and in some cases rebelling against US policy.
(I have loved some of Rory’s work before, but this had ideological agenda written all over it.)
These two films, all these years later, mirror the cultural and political divides of the times with one film, in effect, rationalizing the war, and portraying the American military as compassionate, and the other, for one of the first times, offering views from the other side that Americans never heard.
Even if her Uncle JFK did escalate the war, despite his back and forth doubts, a member of the Kennedy Family is still treated as a cultural icon in a culture that can’t remember details of what happened yesterday, much less forty year ago. Rory’s work has been acclaimed; Tiana’s has not yet been seen. She labels the forgetting deliberate, what she calls, “Nam-Nesia.”
Gerald Perry writes in Arts Fuse:
“The mushy reviews of Last Days in Vietnam (a 94% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating) are extraordinarily similar. They praise filmmaker Rory Kennedy for documenting a forgotten moment of American history, the chaotic days in 1975 when the US raced to leave Saigon and South Vietnam steps ahead of the advancing North Vietnamese Army. And the critics are pumped up with pride at the stories Kennedy has uncovered of brave and noble American soldiers and a few anti-establishment American diplomats who helped evacuate many South Vietnamese–by boat, plane, and helicopter–who presumably would be enslaved or murdered by the Communist North Vietnamese.
What hardly anyone observed is that Kennedy, daughter of peacenik Robert Kennedy, is offering a flag-waving whitewash of the war in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese are characterized, with no exceptions, as Isis-like warriors murdering all their opposition on the way from Hanoi to Saigon. And, after entering Saigon, annihilating those who oppose them, or sending their enemies to re-education camps. The South Vietnamese? This amazed me: there is not any mention of the much-documented corruption of the various puppet governments, and of the South Vietnamese army as a coercive instrument of torture and killings. Each South Vietnamese ex-soldier who is interviewed is allowed to tell his shiny story, including a high-ranking officer. There’s no blood attached to any of them.”
This did not surprise me. In 1976, the anniversary of the American Revolution, I published a small book featuring the views of Vietnam’s top military strategists including General Vo Nguyen Giap called “How We Won The War.” It was based on articles I wrote in the aftermath of the defeat of the US–backed Saigon military in 1975. Predictably, it got no pickup. There were many post-mortems about what we did wrong but, few if any, about what they did right.
Surely, that story is historically more significant than how we cut tail and ran.
I wrote then:
“The American press was never much help in our efforts to find out more about those remarkable Vietnamese people who have now managed to out-organize, out fight, and defeat a succession of U.S. backed regimes. When the US media did recognize the other side’s existence, they did so with disdain, distortion and denigration… the U.S. never came to terms the fact it was defending a government which had no support and attempting to crush one that did.”
A group of LA-based film critics later wrote to PBS: “Rory Kennedy’s egregiously unbalanced, out-of-context, dubiously propagandistic Last Days in Vietnam is currently in theatrical release, a production of the PBS series, An American Experience. We are appalled by the extraordinarily one-sided nature of Kennedy’s rewrite of history that only shows the U.S. government’s and the Republic of Vietnam’s side of the story, and never offers the points of view of the millions of Americans who opposed the war and of those who fought on the side of the National Liberation Front and North Vietnam.”
So much for “balance!”
The protest was all for naught. Public Television retreated into its archive of knee-jerk form letters and responded to criticisms of one program with a defense that cited all the programs they ran, most decades old, while announcing that a new multi-million dollar series on Vietnam by their always well-funded doc superstar, Ken Burns, is in the works. Typical!
They avoided details like these:
- Rory focused on the story of efforts to save allied officers and their families in a Saigon (“Arvin”) Army known for its corruption and brutality.
- It cited atrocities allegedly committed by the Communists like the “Hue Massacre,” an event thoroughly investigated and exposed as false by US Vietnam Scholar Gareth Porter.
- It cited violations of the Paris Peace agreement by the North without mentioning the many more egregious and concealed violations by the US-backed South Vietnamese forces.
- It showed the madness and mania of US Ambassador Graham Martin as if he was an exception to a history of earlier US officials who escalated the war with massive casualties. It offered no historical context or background
- It implied that all the people of Saigon would be butchered or imprisoned; that was not the case.
- It referenced escaping ships racing to ConSon Island without mentioning that that Island off the coast of Saigon hosted, like Guantanamo does today, brutal prison camps filled with “tiger cages” where Vietnamese opponents of the military regime were kept, killed and tortured.
“Where in this documentary are the anti-war voices of those who were American soldiers in Vietnam and became disillusioned by the terrible things we did there? Who in this film speaks of our random bombing of North Vietnam? Of the massacre at My Lai? And for the CIA, where is mention of the heinous tortures of South Vietnamese under CIA director William Colby? As for Kissinger, it’s madly frustrating to see his self-serving rhetoric go completely unchallenged. Where are you, Errol Morris, when needed? Instead, the world’s number one war criminal at large (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, etc.) is a welcome and honored guest to this documentary commissioned by PBS’s American Experience.”
And, on and on!
It’s been 40 years. What have we learned? The Obama Administration, aided by our Secretary of State, a Vietnamese speaker no less, named John Kerry, once the leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, had turned into an apologist for the American role in the war, and an arms salesman to Vietnam which fears the Chinese today more than the Americans.
Whose voice should we listen to? Rory Kennedy with her slick and costly archive-footage based mockumentary of history, or Tiana who is struggling to bring Vietnamese voices and a deliberately buried history to life?
Why are these Vietnam films always—“AAU—all About Us?”
Out of all the peculiarities of the political milieu in the U.S., what probably stands out the most is the discourse on the U.S. obliteration policies against Vietnam. If in any other country there exists a wider gap between the conventional portrayals and narrative on a war of aggression carried out by that country, on one hand, and the documentary record, on the other, then I have yet to come across it.
What does the general picture on U.S. aggression look like? The U.S. air force dropped more bombing tonnage solely in South Vietnam than the total bombing tonnage of every single aerial bombing campaign by all sides in WWII put together. The total amount of U.S. bombings during the Vietnam War was more than twice the size of all the bombings in WWII.
12 million acres of forest and 25 million acres of farmland, at the bare minimum, were destroyed by U.S. saturation bombing. The U.S. sprayed over 70 million liters of herbicidal agents to Vietnam.
Reflecting the fundamental defects of the conventional narrative on the matter, the death toll of the Vietnamese caused by the U.S. military onslaught is routinely debated in hundreds of thousands, sometimes in millions. According to Robert McNamara, for example, 3,6 million Vietnamese were killed in the war.
Among the most comprehensive studies on the matter was published in 2008 by Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. They put the Vietnamese death toll at 3.8 million. According to Dr. Nick Turse, an American historian and investigative journalist who has conducted pioneering research on the Vietnam War, even the “staggering figure” of 3.8 million “may be an underestimate”. Furthermore, the U.S. attack wounded 5,3 million Vietnamese civilians and up to 4 million Vietnamese fell victim to toxic defoliants used by the U.S. against large parts of the country. The U.S. assault created 200,000 prostitutes, 879,000 orphans, 1 million widows and 11 million refugees.
To enter from the realm of international law, facts and figures to what at times goes by the name of ‘internal U.S. debate’ on the matter of U.S. attack on Vietnam is tantamount to an abrupt teleportation into an unsavory twilight zone. Consider the following results of a Gallup poll conducted in November, 2000. Of respondents aged between 18 and 29, 27% said that the U.S. was backing North Vietnam, 45% said South Vietnam and 28% expressed no opinion at all.
What about support for the war among the U.S. public, say, at the end of the 1960’s? According to a Gallup poll conducted in July, 1969, more than a year after the My Lai massacre, 53% of the respondents approved of Nixon’s handling of the war.
Arguably the main trend after the termination of U.S. aggression against Indochina has been a systematic glorification of U.S. actions. During a conference in 2006 titled Vietnam and the Presidency, former U.S. head of state Jimmy Carter gave his well-known account on the war and its effects to his presidency. Carter, not regarded as an ardent advocate of aggressive U.S. foreign policy among post-WWII U.S. presidents, perhaps quite the contrary, stressed the importance of moving “beyond the Vietnam War to better things”.
Carter gave special emphasis on what he called a “healing process” – a healing process for American society, needless to say – and proclaimed that, under his administration, “that healing process made major strides forward”. Not only that, the “healing process” was no less than “complete” when “the Vietnam heroic monument, one of the most popular places in Washington” was set up, soon after the Carter presidency.
The inscription on the world-renowned Vietnam Veterans Memorial states that “[o]ur nation honors the courage, sacrifice, and devotion to duty and country of its Vietnam veterans.” Instead of having prosecuted war criminals and paid enormous compensation to Vietnam, for starters, the U.S. gave Vietnam the above sentence.
Carter’s commentary serves as an odious, yet illustrative, reminder of the standard line of thinking in the U.S. political culture. In short, when the U.S. attack on Vietnam had finally come to its end, what was of uttermost importance was a “healing process” for the United States, and reflecting the progress, if not completion, of that healing process was the erection of a monument singing the praises of the “courage” and “sacrifice” of the U.S. veterans. Now, let us move “beyond the Vietnam War to better things”.
Perhaps even more revealingly, Carter has asserted on the Vietnam War that “I don’t feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability”, stressing that “the destruction was mutual”.
In 2000, the then Secretary of Defence William Cohen expressed a similar approach towards the U.S. actions in the Vietnam war. “I don’t intend to go into any apologies, certainly, for the war itself” Cohen declared upon his visit to Vietnam. “Both nations were scarred by this. They have their own scars from the war. We certainly have ours.”
The tenets of the official U.S. position towards the unparalleled crimes the U.S. military committed in Vietnam remain as disturbing as ever: no apologies for U.S. conduct during the war, certainly no reparations; no intentions to prosecute U.S. government officials and military personnel for any of the countless war crimes the U.S. committed in Vietnam; romanticizing and glorifying the overall performance of the U.S. military in the war.
Indeed, in the post-WWII era, the conventional narrative in the U.S. on the Vietnam war has emerged as arguably the most disturbing case of the perpetrator’s nationalistic indifference towards, and often approval of, an apocalyptic destruction of the target of its attack. Finally, let us all bask in the shining light of American self-criticism, embodied by the following quote by the U.S. President Barak Obama at the commemoration ceremony of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War:
“Veterans, families of the Vietnam War, I know the wounds of war are slow to heal. You know that better than most. But today we take another step. The task of telling your story continues. The work of perfecting our Union goes on. And decades from now, I hope another young American will visit this place and reach out and touch a name. And she’ll learn the story of service members — people she never met, who fought a war she never knew — and in that moment of understanding and of gratitude and of grace, your legacy will endure. For you are all true heroes and you will all be remembered. May God bless you. May God bless your families. May God bless our men and women in uniform. And may God bless these United States of America.”
More than a few veterans, Veterans For Peace among them, are troubled by the way Americans observe Veterans Day on November 11th. It was originally called Armistice Day, and established by Congress in 1926 to “perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations, (and later) a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.” For years, many churches rang their bells on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the time that the guns fell silent on the Western Front by which time 16 million had died.
To put it bluntly, in 1954 Armistice Day was hijacked by a militaristic congress, and today few Americans understand the original purpose of the occasion, or even remember it. The message of peace seeking has vanished. Now known as Veterans Day, it has devolved into a hyper-nationalistic worship ceremony for war and the putatively valiant warriors who wage it.
Here is a news flash. Most of what goes on during wartime is decidedly unheroic, and heroes in war are few and far between.
I have to tell you that when I was in Vietnam, I was no hero, and I didn’t witness any heroism during the year I spent there, first as a U.S. Army private and then as a sergeant.
Yes, there was heroism in the Vietnam War. On both sides of the conflict there were notable acts of self-sacrifice and bravery. Troops in my unit wondered how the North Vietnamese troops could persevere for years in the face of daunting U.S. firepower. U.S. medical corpsmen performed incredible acts of valor rescuing the wounded under fire.
But I also witnessed a considerable amount of bad behavior, some of it my own. There were widespread incidents of disrespect and abuse of Vietnamese civilians including many war crimes. Further, all units had, and still have, their share of criminals, con artists and thugs. Most unheroic of all were the U.S. military and civilian leaders who planned, orchestrated, and profited greatly from that utterly avoidable war.
The cold truth is that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam had nothing to do with protecting American peace and freedom. On the contrary, the Vietnam War bitterly divided the United States, and was fought to forestall Vietnamese independence, not defend it.
Unfortunately, Vietnam wasn’t an isolated example. Many American wars — including the 1846 Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the Iraq War (this list is by no means exhaustive) — were waged under false pretexts against countries that didn’t threaten the United States. It’s hard to see how, if a war is unjust, it can be heroic to wage it.
But if the vast majority of wars are not fought for noble reasons, and few soldiers are heroic, have there been any actual heroes out there defending peace and freedom? And if so, who are they?
Well, there are many, from Jesus down to the present. I’d put Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the list along with many Quakers and Mennonites. And don’t forget General Smedley Butler, who wrote that “War is a Racket”, and even, sort of, Robert McNamara, who came around in the very end.
In Vietnam, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson stopped the My Lai massacre from being even worse.
Another candidate is former U.S. Army specialist Josh Stieber who sent this message to the people of Iraq: “Our heavy hearts still hold hope that we can restore inside our country the acknowledgment of your humanity, that we were taught to deny.” Ponder a million Iraqi deaths. Chelsea Manning sits behind bars for exposing those and other truths.
The real heroes are those who resist war and militarism, often at great personal cost.
Because militarism has been around for such a long time, at least since Gilgamesh came up with his protection racket in Sumeria going on 5,000 years ago, people argue that it will always be with us. But many also thought that slavery and the subjugation of women would last forever, and they’re being proven wrong. We understand that while militarism will not disappear overnight, disappear it must if we are to avoid economic as well as moral bankruptcy.
As Civil War General W.T. Sherman said at West Point, “I confess without shame that I am tired and sick of war.” We’re with you, bro.
This year on November 11th, Veterans For Peace will bring back the original Armistice Day traditions. Join them and let those bells ring out.
Arnold “Skip” Oliver is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. A Vietnam veteran, he belongs to Veterans For Peace, and can be reached at email@example.com.
In August 1980, Ronald Reagan spoke as a candidate for president before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. During his speech he attacked what had come to be called “Vietnam Syndrome,” which was understood to mean a hesitancy on the part of the people of the U.S. to again become involved in the hideous debacle of wars, such as Vietnam. He continued distorting the reality of the brutality and immorality of the war against the people of Vietnam when he said: “It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause.” Of course, Reagan, as vicious a warmonger as has ever lived, was simply using hyperbole to whip the electorate and general public into a frenzy so that he would be able to wage additional immoral wars in Central America and the Caribbean, and especially against the people of Nicaragua and their freely elected government. While an Orwellian dystopian at heart, Reagan was not very different from many of the presidents who would follow him and initiate indiscriminate and grossly lethal forays into other parts of the world, most notably the Middle East and Southwest Asia, either through proxies or through the direct use of U.S. military force.
Now, Reagan’s rewriting of history has come back 50 years later in the Pentagon’s attempt to whitewash the horror of what was done to the people of Vietnam in a website marking the commemoration of the Vietnam War. The website claims that it will “provide the American public with historically accurate materials,” but in reality the accuracy of those materials is as lacking as the U.S. justification for entering that war against a nation that was not a threat to the U.S., and had done nothing to provoke a war that would end by killing millions of innocent people (“Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War Over Truth,” The New York Times, October 9, 2014).
Missing from the website are the voices of protest against the war, the war’s many U.S. atrocities, the lying of political leaders and generals, and the debate over the war in the U.S. The My Lai massacre is called the “My Lai incident” at the website, and even the words spoken in front of the Senate Fulbright hearings on Vietnam by John Kerry, then a disaffected Vietnam veteran, and now secretary of state, are omitted from this whitewashed history.
I was a war resister during the Vietnam War. I risked a safe place in the Reserves to make a statement against the insanity of that war that cost me years of my life in terms of the turmoil that resulted from taking on the power of the U.S. government. I learned much about countering distortions of history that this government pedals. That experience benefited me greatly. I never looked back.
Five years ago I met a Vietnam veteran by chance and we sat and spoke at length about the Vietnam War. I told him that I was a Vietnam era veteran, but not about my resistance to the war. He had suffered for years with the physical complications, including cancer, that were the direct result of his exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used to deforest the tropical jungles of Vietnam in order to make the so-called enemy more visible to U.S. forces. He had also fought the government for many years before his symptoms and suffering were recognized and treated by the Veterans Administration. The Vietnamese victims of that same poison have never been compensated for their suffering.
I asked the veteran with whom I spoke what he thought so many decades later about those who resisted the war and the motivation for the U.S. involvement in that war. He said that he would have liked to have stood on the U.S.-Canadian border and taken shots at those who resisted the war and sought sanctuary in Canada, but through years of reading widely about the war he had come to see that the resistance to the war had merit.
The government seeks young recruits because they believe that through various kinds of propaganda and relentless military training, the universal admonition against killing can be countered. As can be seen from veteran suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder, the rules of war relating to the killing of civilians in wartime and the admonition against killing in general are not easily or entirely erased from the human mind.
Much of the propaganda that has emerged since the Vietnam War has focused on the Vietnam veteran as victim of the war, and to a degree veterans are also the victims of war and shoddy treatment by the Veterans Administration. This theme has been repeated in popular culture with films such as Platoon (1986) and The Deer Hunter (1978). Almost never are the most obvious victims of that war, the people of Vietnam and the people of Southeast Asia, portrayed as real people. Reagan, in a way, left the rest of us as heirs to his erroneous portrayal of the war by making it easier for U.S. presidents, Congress, and the military to embark on a series of endless wars following Vietnam.
What the veteran with whom I spoke had learned over the decades that followed the disaster that was the Vietnam War, the Pentagon has not learned as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war soon begins (The U.S. actually had thousands of so-called boots on the ground many years before the Gulf of Tonkin incident that launched the official U.S. entry into the war in 1964.). The Pentagon seeks to rewrite history in the Orwellian tradition and shove the actual history of that war into a rubbish heap much as Orwell’s character Winston does at the Ministry of Truth in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.
In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.
As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.
According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.
The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They levelled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”
A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.
ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.
Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”
ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.
It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.
Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.
Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”
Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”
A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”
In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”
On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.
Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.
The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.
Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:
“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”
The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of NATO, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.
A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian ) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.
Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.
More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.
Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger
In his speech before the meeting of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, U.S. President Barack Obama resurrected yet another turn of phrase used most often by those wishing to make the case for dropping bombs on people and things.In an effort to justify U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, Obama declared that the militant organization known as ISIS (or ISIL or IS, the ‘Islamic State’) not only commits the “most horrific crimes imaginable,” but is so vicious, violent, and uniquely brutal that it “forces [the international community] to look into the heart of darkness,” adding later:
No god condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.
The rhetoric used by Obama to defend yet another illegal and ill-conceived American air campaign in the Middle East – an undefined, unconstitutional operation designed to inevitably expand and escalate – is well-worn. The very same word salad, notably the “language of force” line, has been routinely served up to justify lethal action against a seemingly intractable foe and it puts the onus on the target of that aggression for bringing such violence upon itself: if they weren’t such barbarians, we too wouldn’t have to resort to barbarism.
So, bombs away. After all, military action was our only choice, we are told, despite the fact that the declared targets of our artillery pose no direct or imminent threat to the United States. The irrational and bloodthirsty comprehend only the heat-seeking and bunker-busting. Diplomacy is impossible, thus destruction is imperative.
In his 2005 book, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-terrorism, Richard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, explored this very kind of political messaging:
One of the most noticeable and ubiquitous features of the language of counter-terrorism is its invariable appeal to identity: terrorists are endlessly demonised and vilified as being evil, barbaric and inhuman, while America and its coalition partners are described as heroic, decent and peaceful – the defenders of freedom.
“At its most basic level, the language used by officials is attempt to convince the public that a ‘war’ against all forms of terrorism is necessary, reasonable, inherently good and winnable,” he added.
Over the past few decades, whenever bombing Iraq is on the horizon, we’ve heard much of the same from government officials and their pro-war mouthpieces in the media and think tank establishment.
In late 1990, Martin Indyk, founder and executive director of the AIPAC-launched Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and later senior advisor to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote, “Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he only speaks and understands the language of force.”
In 1991, Maine Representative Olympia Snowe supported the authorization of Operation Desert Storm due to her determination that successfully confronting Saddam Hussein required “a credible military threat be maintained against a brutal aggressor who only understands the language of force.”
Just days before Bill Clinton’s first inauguration as president in January 1993, the George H.W. Bush administration was again bombing Iraq. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch insisted, “Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein knows only the language of force. President Bush has delivered a message that Saddam is certain to understand,” adding, “The air strikes are not enough.”
In September 1996, when the Clinton administration itself was routinely bombing Iraq, Secretary of State Warren Christopher expressed his frustration with Russian condemnation of such attacks. He told the press he was “disappointed” the Russians “don’t understand as we do that the only language that Saddam understands is the language of force.” This became a go-to phrase in the administration’s talking points.
Speaking to members of the group “Seeds of Peace” on September 3, 1996, Christopher made arguments eerily reminiscent of what we’ve heard recently with regard to Obama’s current operation:
The record is, unfortunately, all too clear. Saddam has threatened and invaded his neighbors, developed and used weapons of mass destruction, sponsored countless acts of terrorism, and for the last two decades he has relentlessly persecuted the Kurds and the Shiites. When Saddam tests the will and resolve of the international community, our response must be and will be forceful and immediate.
Time and again we’ve seen that the United States leadership is essential to provide that response. Military action that the United States launched today has made it clear that Saddam will pay a price whenever he engages in aggression. We are answering in the only language he understands, the language of force.
Later that month, on September 12, 1996, former Secretary of State James Baker testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and encouraged more military attacks, saying, “Iraq under Saddam Hussein only understands force. And more to the point, it seems only to understand overwhelming force. When we respond in a situation like this, I do not believe that it needs to be limited so as to be proportionate to the provocation.”
In their book about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation, New York Times correspondent Michael R. Gordon and former Marine lieutenant general Bernard Trainor recount the words of a high-ranking officer of the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division sent to attack the city of Tikrit. “The only thing these sand niggers understand is force,” the officer remarked, “and I’m about to introduce them to it.” General Ray Odierno, who led the 4th ID’s attack, is currently the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff.
The messaging is clear. As Richard Jackson notes, “In this most rudimentary sense, the language accompanying the ‘war on terrorism’ is a public relations or propaganda exercise; it is designed to ‘sell’ the policies of counter-terrorism.” In order to build support for military action, the public is repeatedly told that “the terrorists are inhuman barbarians who deserve to be eradicated from civilised society; the threat posed by terrorism is catastrophic and it is only rational to respond with all due force; and the American-led war against terrorism is by definition a good and just war.”
Historically, however, this rhetoric has not been reserved solely for justifying American military action against predominately Muslim countries in the Middle East. Nor has this phrase been used only by one side of the conflict.
In a video message allegedly made and distributed on October 20, 2001, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden declared, “Bush and Blair… don’t understand any language but the language of force. Every time they kill us, we kill them, so the balance of terror is achieved,” according to a declassified report released by British intelligence in November 2001.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in a 2003 sermon, reportedly announced, “The Crusaders [Americans] and the Jews only understand the language of force, and they only understand the return of coffins and destroyed interests and burned towers and destroyed economy.”
In a statement claiming responsibility for simultaneous suicide bombings that killed 155 people in Baghdad on October 25, 2009, an anti-occupation, al-Qaeda linked group known then as the Islamic State in Iraq explained, “Among the chosen targets were the ministry of oppression known as the Ministry of Justice and the Baghdad provincial assembly… The enemies only understand the language of force.”
Prior to the beheading of American journalist James Foley, on August 12, 2014, ISIS reportedly sent an email to Foley’s family announcing their intention to murder him in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes and delivering a wider message to the American government and people. Claiming to have provided “many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions” and “prisoner exchanges,” ISIS wrote that it was clear “this is NOT what you are interested in.”
The email went on: “You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force, a language you were given in ‘Arabic translation’ when you attempted to occupy the land of Iraq! Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again, this time resorting to Arial [sic] attacks and ‘proxy armies’, all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation!”
“You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours!” the email warned. “You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!”
In his speech before the United Nations last week justifying expanded airstrikes against ISIS, Obama thus recycled the very phrase used by ISIS to justify its own violence.
Still, the phrase has even older roots.
Zionism and Its Malcontents
In 1891, after one of his frequent travels through Palestine, Ahad Ha’am, the Ukrainian-born Jewish essayist known widely as the founder of cultural Zionism, lamented that Zionist settlers acted like “the only language the Arabs understand is that of force” and “behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it, and nobody stands to check this contemptible and dangerous tendency.”
This same, possibly apocryphal, formulation has been credited over the years to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, second prime minister Moshe Sharett, and IDF commander Raphael Petan, and is widely considered the immutable underlying assumption guiding racist, hawkish Israeli attitudes towards Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.
This linguistic articulation of Zionist sentiment was already so prevalent prior to the establishment of the State of Israel that renowned political theorist Hannah Arendt turned the phrase on its head in her 1948 essay, “Peace or Armistice in the Near East?,” published two years later in the Review of Politics. “All hopes to the contrary notwithstanding,” she wrote, as the Nakba raged on, “it seems as though the one argument the Arabs are incapable of understanding is force.”
In February 1992, following the assassination of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Moussawi, killed in southern Lebanon in an Israeli airstrike along with his wife and five-year-old son, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens boasted, “We’ve learned that terror organizations like Hezbollah only understand one language – the language of force.”
Two weeks after the start of the Second Intifada, when Israel had already fired 1.3 million bullets at Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza, a military spokesman justified Israel actions, saying that force “will be the only language they understand.”
Prior to Israeli parliamentary elections in 2009, supporters of the fascistic Avigdor Lieberman enthusiastically endorsed this narrative. “He’s the kind of leader we’ve been waiting for, he knows how to talk to Arabs in their own language, the language of force,” an Israeli woman who resides in a town close to the border with Gaza told the press.
Predictably, those opposed to Israel policies of colonialism, annexation, occupation, and military aggression have also resorted to such rhetoric. “Our enemy knows only the language of force and negotiations are useless,” Palestinian officials have longed declared. In 1998, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza said this of Israeli leadership: “They only understand the language of force, not of peace.” A decade later, a Palestinian professor in Gaza said that same of Hamas.
From Stalin to Putin
While the “language of force” has long been used in the West to describe the supposed base nature and unsophisticated lack of humanity of the savage “Oriental” – a colonial, supremacist discourse popularized all the more after the attacks of September 11, 2001 – this discursive process has not been reserved for Arab or Muslim targets alone.
In his famous March 1946 “Iron Curtain Speech,” Winston Churchill expressed his conviction that, for Soviet Russia and its Communist satellites, “there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” Thus, he reasoned, “Western Democracies” must “stand together” lest “they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.”
68 years later, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in March 2014, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen paraphrased Churchill’s admonition, saying of Russian president Vladimir Putin that “the language he understands is force” and warning that, “unless there is a strong response, and a united response above all,” to Russian actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, “from the United States and Europe together to this, and a reassertion of the transatlantic alliance and NATO, then we could be heading in a very worrying direction.”
In May 2014, prior to his election as new Ukrainian president, billionaire confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko stated that, in order to deal with pro-Russian separatists — whom he called “terrorists” — “we should find out the right language they understand, and that would be the language of force.”
On April 19, 1965, as American bombs fell in Vietnam, conservative columnist Russell Kirk wrote, “Like the Nazis, the Asiatic Communists prefer guns to butter,” and accused North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh of aggressive “conquest”:
At this stage of affairs, only effective military resistance and retaliation can dissuade Ho Chi Minh from pursuing the war with increased vigor. The language of force, indeed, Communists understand.
General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam at the time of the My Lai Massacre, and soon-to-be Army Chief of Staff, often and openly maintained that “meaningful force” was “the only language they [the North Vietnamese] understood.”
As late as March 1975, after nearly all American troops had been withdrawn from the conflict, and following a meeting with President Gerald Ford, the then-retired Westmoreland told journalists that “the culprit in this whole thing is Hanoi,” adding, “The only language Hanoi understands is the language of force and I think it’s too bad that we couldn’t again mine Haiphong harbor and that the President doesn’t have authority to use tactical air and B52 strikes to hit the Communist supply lines.”
Six weeks later, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army.
On the floor of the United States Congress on February 4, 1988, long-serving South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings advocated for increased military aid sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. Denouncing Congressional Democrats as “not committed to fight for anything” and “only willing to posture and talk,” Hollings declared that “there is no hope in Nicaragua without aid to the Contras.” Dismissing diplomacy, he bellowed, “Peace plans? The Marxists only understand the language of force.”
Later that year, in August 1988, Nicaraguan Contra founder and commander Enrique Bermúdez also made the case for continued military support from the U.S. government. “The only language the Sandinistas understand or respect is the language of force,” he insisted. “If the Sandinistas weren’t receiving massive assistance from the Soviet Union, Cuba and other communist countries, the Nicaraguan people wouldn’t have any need of foreign sources of support.”
The ubiquity of the “language of force” line has rendered the phrase effectively meaningless, levied at one’s enemies in order to silence debate and promote military action.
The same was said of South Africa’s Apartheid regime in the 1980s. Croatian officials, Kosovar separatists, and New York Times columnists said the same of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s. It’s been said about the “leaders of the Axis of Evil,” it was said about Gaddafi and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it is often said about Assad. It has been said about the Pakistani Taliban, the Somali militant group al-Shabab and the Nigerian Boko Haram.
The same rhetoric is used by tyrants as well to describe dissident, resistance, and revolutionary movements. For instance, in early February 2011, as Cairo’s Tahrir Square swelled with increasing demands for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, a CNN report noted that the U.S.-backed leader had long “argued that Egypt had to adopt a tight security policy to combat terrorism; that the forces of political Islam do not understand anything but the language of force and a strong government grip.”
A year ago, in a September 20, 2013 article, David Sanger of the New York Times credited Obama’s economic warfare on Iran and threats of military action in Syria with restarting nuclear negotiations and, with the help of Russia, dismantling Assad’s chemical weapons. With regard to “President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Iran’s erratic mullahs,” Sanger wrote, Obama was experiencing “the long-delayed fruits of the administration’s selective use of coercion in a part of the world where that is understood.”
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that, “when it comes to Iran, the greater the pressure, the greater the chance” of successfully denying the nation their inalienable right to a domestic nuclear energy program.
For years, however, Iranian officials from three successive presidential administrations have consistently pushed back against this offensive presumption.
Back in June 2003, as U.S.-led pressure over Iran’s nuclear program increased, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned that unjust accusations and illegal threats would strengthen the resolve of conservative elements in the government opposed to diplomacy with the West. “Excessive pressure on Iran would untie the hands of those who do not believe in dialogue,” he said, “Even those who favour constructive talks would not accept the language of force and threat.”
Two years later, as dubious allegations, wild predictions, and threats of unprovoked attack mounted, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the nuclear issue in his first speech before the UN General Assembly on September 17, 2005. Western powers and Israel, he said,
have misrepresented Iran’s healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is nothing but a propaganda ploy. The Islamic Republic of Iran is presenting in good faith its proposal for constructive interaction and a just dialogue. However, if some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue.
The next year, leading Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, noted in a nationally broadcast weekly sermon, “Iran is favourable toward negotiations that are just, logical and without preconditions, but refuses the language of force,” adding, “Using the language of force with Iran is a foolish and clumsy attitude.”
“Resolutions, sanctions and threats have always made the issue more complicated,” Iran’s IAEA envoy Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said in late 2009 before a Board of Governor’s vote on a resolution focusing on the recently-announced uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. “We recommend the IAEA not to refer to such methods and use the language of logic rather than force.”
Throughout 2012, Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his assertion that Iran would never buckle to the West’s “language of force and insult.”
Earlier this year, following a round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remarked that “the language of force has no place in foreign policy agendas” and that “any state using the ‘all-options-on-the-table’ rhetoric is actually taking outdated measures.”
In late 2009, then IAEA chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei concurred with this message. “[U]sing the language of force is not helpful. It leads to confrontation, to the other country taking counteraction,” he said in an interview with The Hindu. “It is better to forget the language of coercion and focus on trying to engage in dialogue.”
The Force of Language
Barack Obama, the drone president who defended perpetual war while receiving his own Nobel prize, disagrees. In his UN speech, Obama has again joined the ranks of those who justify the use of force through the abuse of weaponized language. The appeal to an adversary’s unprecedented “brand of evil” serves not to illuminate the challenges faced, but rather to obfuscate an informed comprehension of current affairs. It is the ultimate conversation-stopper.
As terrorism expert Richard Jackson explains:
… the language of good and evil suppresses questions: we don’t need to ask what the motivations or aims of the terrorists were if they are ‘evil,’ as ‘evil’ is its own motivation and its own self-contained explanation. Evil people do not have any politics and there is no need to examine their causes or grievances. Evil people do what they do simply because they are evil. Clearly, the use of this language is a way of encouraging quiescence and displacing more complex understandings of political and social events. As such, it qualifies as demagoguery by appealing to ignorance and arrogance through a distorted representation of the nature of evil.
As the United States and its coalition partners embark once again on an ill-fated, military misadventure in the Middle East, the recycled language used to promote such policies is predictable. And this time around, as in the past, it’s effectiveness is proven.
A FoxNews poll released this week shows that upwards of 78% of Americans approve of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 55% believe such action is “not aggressive enough.” Additionally, 57% of respondents are supportive of a ground operation if the bombing campaign proves ineffective or indecisive. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this week produced similar results.
Yet, beyond all the political rhetoric and domestic jingoism, for those on the ground in Iraq and Syria, including the dozens of civilians already killed in U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, bombs drop louder than words.
This article was cross-posted on Wide Asleep in America.
September 21, 2014
50 years after the US military intervention in the Vietnam War, the weapons it used continue to harm the local population. Unexploded mines still take lives and the consequences of “Agent Orange” claim new victims. A defoliant used by the US Air Force to destroy forests where Vietcong guerrilla fighters were taking cover, “Agent Orange” is highly toxic to humans. The chemical not only severely harmed the health of those immediately exposed to it, but also led to birth defects in subsequent generations. Its impact is still being felt in Vietnam, where it is estimated that around 5 million people are suffering from its damaging effects. They call it their “orange pain.”
Richard Nixon was a traitor.
The new release of extended versions of Nixon’s papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.
Nixon’s newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.
Nixon’s interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams’s 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.
Published as the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation approaches, Will’s column confirms that Nixon feared public disclosure of his role in sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace talks. Will says Nixon established a “plumbers unit” to stop potential leaks of information that might damage him, including documentation he believed was held by the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank. The Plumbers’ later break-in at the Democratic National Committee led to the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.
Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks was confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chernnault told the South Vietnamese ambassador that “she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should “hold on, we are gonna win.”
As Will confirms, Vietnamese did “hold on,” the war proceeded and Nixon did win, changing forever the face of American politics—-with the shadow of treason permanently embedded in its DNA.
The treason came in 1968 as the Vietnam War reached a critical turning point. President Lyndon Johnson was desperate for a truce between North and South Vietnam.
LBJ had an ulterior motive: his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, was in a tight presidential race against Richard Nixon. With demonstrators in the streets, Humphrey desperately needed a cease-fire to get him into the White House.
Johnson had it all but wrapped it. With a combination of gentle and iron-fisted persuasion, he forced the leaders of South Vietnam into an all-but-final agreement with the North. A cease-fire was imminent, and Humphrey’s election seemed assured.
But at the last minute, the South Vietnamese pulled out. LBJ suspected Nixon had intervened to stop them from signing a peace treaty.
In the Price of Power (1983), Seymour Hersh revealed Henry Kissinger—then Johnson’s advisor on Vietnam peace talks—secretly alerted Nixon’s staff that a truce was imminent.
According to Hersh, Nixon “was able to get a series of messages to the Thieu government [of South Vietnam] making it clear that a Nixon presidency would have different views on peace negotiations.”
Johnson was livid. He even called the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen, to complain that “they oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”
“I know,” was Dirksen’s feeble reply.
Johnson blasted Nixon about this on November 3, just prior to the election. As Robert Parry of consortiumnews.com has written: “when Johnson confronted Nixon with evidence of the peace-talk sabotage, Nixon insisted on his innocence but acknowledged that he knew what was at stake.”
Said Nixon: “My, I would never do anything to encourage….Saigon not to come to the table…. Good God, we’ve got to get them to Paris or you can’t have peace.”
But South Vietnamese President General Theiu—a notorious drug and gun runner—did boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. With the war still raging, Nixon claimed a narrow victory over Humphrey. He then made Kissinger his own national security advisor.
In the four years between the sabotage and what Kissinger termed “peace at hand” just prior to the 1972 election, more than 20,000 US troops died in Vietnam. More than 100,000 were wounded. More than a million Vietnamese were killed.
But in 1973, Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the same settlement he helped sabotage in 1968.
According to Parry, LBJ wanted to go public with Nixon’s treason. But Clark Clifford, an architect of the CIA and a pillar of the Washington establishment, talked Johnson out of it. LBJ’s close confidant warned that the revelation would shake the foundations of the nation.
In particular, Clifford told Johnson (in a taped conversation) that “some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s best interests.”
In other words, Clifford told LBJ that the country couldn’t handle the reality that its president was a certifiable traitor, eligible for legal execution.
Fittingly, Clark Clifford’s upper-crust career ended in the disgrace of his entanglement with the crooked Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI), which financed the terrorist group Al Qaeda and whose scandalous downfall tainted the Agency he helped found.
Johnson lived four years after he left office, tormented by the disastrous war that destroyed his presidency and his retirement. Nixon won re-election in 1972, again with a host of dirty dealings, then became the first America president to resign in disgrace.
One theme presented by supporters of the American empire is the U.S. military is invincible and can never lose unless stabbed in the back by impatient politicians. They claim the U.S. military never lost a battle during the entire Vietnam war. On August 30, 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed to a gathering of veterans: “But let it be remembered that you won every major battle of that war. Every single one.” This myth had been disputed by America’s most decorated officer of that war, Col. David Hackworth, in his book “About Face.” The U.S. military had every advantage, yet mistakes were made and battles lost. Internet research turns up these 70 lost battles of the Vietnam war:
1. Attack on Camp Holloway – In 1962, the U.S. Army established an airfield near Pleiku in central South Vietnam, which grew to include logistics elements and a large advisory group. In early 1965, some 300 Viet Cong slipped past ARVN guards and swept through the camp killing 8 Americans, wounding 126, destroying 10 aircraft and damaging 15 more. The Viet Cong withdrew to avoid battling reinforcements, with few losses.
2. Battle of Ap Bac - In January 1963, American advisors launched a battle after they pressured reluctant South Vietnamese officers to use American air mobility assets to destroy the Viet Cong. The attack was a disaster in which the VC mauled a far larger force while shooting down five American helicopters (pictured) and damaging eight, while killing three Americans and wounding eight.
3. The Sinking of the USNS Card - This World War II aircraft carrier was later used as a transport for American military cargo. On May 2, 1964, it was moored in a heavily defended harbor in the Saigon River. Two VC commandos crawled down a sewer pipe and attached explosives to the ship. The explosion knocked a huge hole in the hull and killed five American crewmen, causing the ship to sink 45 feet to the river bed.
4. Attack on Bien Hoa Airbase – On November 1, 1964, Viet Cong squads shelled the airfield at Bien Hoa with mortars. The attack began shortly after midnight and lasted 20 minutes. It was estimated that there were three 81mm mortars. The attack was effective as 27 aircraft were hit, including 20 B-57s (5 destroyed), 4 helicopters, and 3 A-1H Skyraiders. A fourth Skyraider crashed trying to take-off. Five Americans and two Vietnamese were killed, and 43 wounded.
5. The Dragon’s Jaw – On Apr 3, 1965, the U.S. military conducted the first of hundreds of bombing raids to destroy the Thanh Hoa Bridge in North Vietnam. Thousands of bombs were dropped and eleven American aircraft shot down with several more damaged beyond repair until the iron bridge finally fell in 1972.
6. Battle of Dong Xoai – Soon after American combat brigades arrived in South Vietnam, the NVA attacked this large, strategic base defended by ARVN units supported by American Special Forces and airpower. The base was overrun with hundreds of casualties while two dozen Americans died in combat and helicopter crashes, with even more wounded or missing.
7. Sapper Attack on Da Nang Airbase – North Vietnamese Army (NVA) sappers infiltrated this airbase on July 1, 1965. They destroyed three large C-130 transport aircraft, three F-102 fighters, and damaged three more F-102s. The sappers escaped leaving behind one dead.
8. Iron Hand Air Strikes – American aircraft had suffered losses from North Vietnamese Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems. On August 13, 1965, the Navy aircraft carriers USS Coral Sea and USS Midway launched 76 low-level “Iron Hand” missions to seek out and destroy SAM sites. Five aircraft and three pilots were lost to enemy guns, and seven other planes were damaged, but no SAMs were discovered.
9. Death of Supply Column 21 – Operation Starlite was the first major Marine Corps operation in Vietnam, and fighting was tougher than expected. A ship landed an armored supply column to support combat forces, which became lost and was attacked in a rice paddy on Aug 18, 1965. Five of the seven armored vehicles were destroyed (including two tanks) during a day long firefight. Five of the 27 Marines were killed and 17 wounded as they held off the enemy until daybreak.
10. The Battle of Ia Drang – This was one of many disastrous airmobile assaults, when infantry helicoptered into a remote area and encountered a larger enemy force with ample ammunition. On Nov 14, 1965, 450 soldiers from the 1st battalion of the 7th Cavalry landed at LZ X-ray and found itself surrounded with little ammunition and no heavy firepower. It was nearly overrun while suffering 79 killed and 121 wounded, and survived only by demanding all available air support in Vietnam. The 7th Cavalry left the area after declaring victory, while survivors pondered the wisdom of an attrition strategy using American foot infantry.
11. Battle for LZ Albany – The 1st battalion of the 7th Cavalry barely survived its now famous 1965 battle in the Ia Drang valley. After saving its 1st battalion, the exhausted 2nd battalion headed for LZ Albany for an aerial extraction. It was in a long column in open terrain when it ran into a concealed NVA battalion, which attacked and shot it to pieces during a bloody battle that claimed the lives of 155 Americans, with 124 wounded.
12. Attack on Marble Mountain – Some 90 Viet Cong sappers infiltrated this huge Marine Corps airfield and destroyed 19 helicopters and damaged 35 (11 of them severely). After this 30 minute rampage, the Viet Cong withdrew, leaving behind 17 dead and 4 wounded. American casualties were 3 killed and 91 wounded.
13. Operation Utah – On Mar 4, 1966, the 2nd battalion of the 7th Marines helicoptered into an area near Quang Ngai to investigate reports of an NVA regiment in the area. They found it dug into fortifications around Hill 50. Their attacked failed and the Marines fell back, but were surprised when the NVA counterattacked. The battalion was in trouble and more Marine units where flown in to join the battle. The enemy withdrew, but only after the Marines lost 98 dead, 278 wounded, with several aircraft destroyed.
14. Battle of Xa Cam My – A battalion from the 1st Infantry Division conducted another “search and destroy” sweep. Its three companies were deployed miles apart in hopes the NVA would attack one. They surrounded and blasted Charlie company, killing 38 and wounding 71 of its 134 soldiers before its other two companies came to the rescue.
15. Operation Paul Revere IV – Two cavalry battalions swept the Cambodian border area in search of the enemy. None were found, until Company C ran into a large force near Duc Co. Details are scarce, but two platoons were overrun and destroyed; only one soldier survived. The American dead were so numerous that they were hauled away in external cargo nets by helicopters.
16. Battle of Cu Nghi – As the 7th Cavalry began Operation Masher, a CH-47 helicopter was shot down. A company of soldiers was flown to the rescue, but they were shot up and pinned down. More units hastily arrived and found two battalions of entrenched NVA fighters firing away at troopers scattered around an area that became known as “the graveyard.” Several helicopters where shot down during this three-day melee that left 140 Americans dead and 220 wounded.
17. Battle of Ho Bo Woods – On July 19, 1966, Company A, 1st Bn, 27th Rgt, 25th Division helicoptered into an LZ with 92 soldiers on a search and destroy mission. There is no account of what happened next, except that 25 were killed and 32 wounded as the company fled aboard helicopters, leaving 16 of their dead behind.
18. Operation Crimson Tide – On Oct 18, 1966 the first mission to rescue an American POW was launched. It ended in disaster, with 12 killed, 17 missing, two helicopters shot down, and no prisoners rescued.
19. “Black Friday“- Strike aircraft losses were common, but on December 2, 1966 the U.S. Air Force lost five aircraft and the Navy lost three aircraft to surface to air missiles or anti-aircraft gun fire. Air Force losses included three F-4Cs, one RF-4C, and an F-105. The Navy lost one F-4B and two Douglas A-4C Skyhawks.
20. Attack at Binh Duong – On Feb 26, 1967, a Viet Cong battalion nearly overran Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Regiment, of the Army’s 25th Division. The VC slipped past camp defenses in a surprise attack that killed 19 Americans and several ARVN soldiers.
21. Operation Hickory - In May 1967, U.S. Marines were ordered to cross into the DMZ and destroy the NVA. Several days of frontal assaults killed lots of NVA lodged in fortifications, but also killed 142 Marines and wounded 896 until the marines withdrew after ten days of pointless attacks.
22. Battle near Vinh Huy - During Operation Union II, six rifle companies from the 5th Marines swept the Que Son Valley in search of the enemy. They located a large enemy force 1000 yards ahead across an open rice paddy. After some air and artillery strikes, three companies were ordered to charge across the open ground, and were shot to pieces. The bloodied Marines fell back during this June 2, 1967 battle with 71 KIA and 139 wounded.
23. August 1967 Air Battle – This war produced two American “Ace” fighter pilots (i.e. five or more aerial shoot downs), yet the North Vietnamese had 16, including Nguyen Van Coc (right), the top Ace of the war with nine kills. On Aug. 23, 1967, Coc led several MIG fighters to intercept a group of 40 American aircraft on a bombing mission. They shot down three American F-4D fighters and one F-105D fighter-bomber without losing a single MIG. Eight American aviators were killed or captured.
24. Battle of Prek Klok - During Operation Junction City, Company B from the 1st Battalion/16th Infantry went in search of the NVA. Independent accounts cannot be found, yet the Army’s official history notes the company was blasted and nearly surrounded until rescued when another company came to its aid, allowing it to retreat. Company B was extracted by helicopter after suffering 25 dead and 28 wounded. Army Generals declared victory and awarded the company commander a silver star.
25. Kingfisher Battle – In 1967, “Operation Kingfisher” was launched to destroy NVA forces just south of the DMZ. On Sept. 21st, the 2nd battalion, 4th Marines began a “search and destroy” mission and quickly encountered the entrenched 90th NVA regiment. The Marines lacked tank support because recent rains limited road mobility, while the dense vegetation and close proximity of the enemy restricted air and artillery support. After a day-long battle, the Marines had suffered at least 16 dead and 118 wounded while trying to break out of the enemy’s kill zone. The battalion withdrew at dusk, although flee may be a better term since 15 dead Marines were left behind. Details are sketchy, but the battalion didn’t return to collect its dead until three weeks later. Veterans of the battle state they lost 34 KIA that day.
26. Rocket Attack on Da Nang – On July 15, 1967, the NVA conducted a major rocket bombardment on the key U.S. airbase at Da Nang. A total 83 NVA 122mm and 140mm rockets hit the base just before dawn, resulting in 8 killed, 175 wounded, 10 aircraft destroyed and 49 damaged.
27. The Battle of Thon Cam Son – In July 1967, the 2nd battalion of the 9th Marines crossed into the DMZ to find the NVA. They found abandoned base camps and bunkers because the NVA had pulled out and moved around behind them. The Marines had to fight their way back home, and more than half the unit bled as it lost 41 killed and 355 wounded.
28. Battle for Nui Ho Khe (Hill 88) – Marines were concerned that enemy units near their big Con Thien base threatened their main supply route. On Sept 10, 1967, the 3rd battalion of the 26th Marines ventured forward to secure Hill 88. It was surprised to encounter an entire NVA regiment, which counterattacked causing a bloody fight in which 3/26 suffered 300 casualties (40% including 37 KIA) and lost several tanks. It withdrew to Hill 48 where it made a successful last stand. While the NVA suffered more causalities, poor intel resulted in this clumsy assault that failed to reach its objective.
29. Slaughter at LZ Margo – The 2nd battalion of the 26th Marines helicoptered into LZ Margo near the DMZ on a standard search and destroy mission. Contact was light over the next three days as units swept the area. On Sept. 16, 1968, the battalion received an order from higher headquarters to withdraw into the small LZ where they had arrived, because a big B-52 air strike was planned in the area. Marines were worried because they were tightly grouped and the ground was rock hard so they couldn’t dig in. They knew the NVA kept them under observation and were a perfect target for a mortar barrage. A short time later, hundreds of mortar rounds tore into the tightly packed Marines, killing 30 and wounding nearly 200 until the NVA ran out of ammo.
30. Operation Swift - U.S. Marines fought tough battles along the DMZ when NVA units moved across the border to inflict heavy causalities. Marine Generals sent rifle companies with ~140 Marines to search for and destroy the NVA intruders with artillery and airpower. This was effective, but larger NVA units sometimes trapped them in kill zones. In September 1967, they ambushed two Marine companies in the Que Son Valley. Operation Swift was launched to save them from destruction, but the two companies sent to the rescue were mauled. The end result was 127 Marines killed and 362 wounded. The NVA suffered more casualties, but accomplished their mission and withdrew northward.
31. Convoy Ambush near An Khe - In Sept 1967, 39 trucks from the U.S. Army’s 8th Transportation Group were returning home after delivering supplies to Plekiu. They were escorted by two gun jeeps in an area considered mostly secure by the presence of the 1st Calvary Division. A Viet Cong company ambushed this big convoy in broad daylight. Seven Americans were killed, 17 wounded, and 30 vehicles were damaged or destroyed. The VC quickly disappeared and no evidence of enemy casualties were found.
32. Task Force Black Mauled – Half of the 1st Battalion/501st Regiment/173rd Airborne Brigade went in search for the NVA who had recently attacked their base. They ran into two NVA battalions, who shot them up from three directions. The rest of the battalion was sent to save them, and withdrew with 20 dead, 154 wounded, and two missing.
33. Battle near Ap Bac - The U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division operated in the marshy delta region of southern Vietnam, often with Navy river patrol boats. During a routine battalion sweep, Alpha company from the 2nd Brigade crossed an open rice paddy and encountered Viet Cong ready to fight from concrete bunkers. Most of the company was wiped out in the first five minutes, and rest pinned down in the kill zone for hours until other companies arrived. This battle left 40 American dead and 140 wounded.
34. Battle for Hill 861 – In 1967, Bravo Company, 1st battalion, 9th Marines went to search for caves on Hill 861. After a skirmish, the company attacked up the hill without knowing that it had encountered a large enemy force. Most of Bravo was wiped out and the survivors were pinned down until rescued by Kilo company that night.
35. Overrun in Happy Valley - During the first two weeks of 1968, 69 soldiers from the 196th Infantry Brigade died in heavy fighting in the Hiep Duc Valley, Quang Tin Province. On January 9-10, Alpha and Delta companies from its 3/21 Infantry battalion were overrun. The Delta company commander and 27 men were killed. Dozens were wounded and eight Americans taken prisoner as survivors held out in small groups overnight until rescued the following day.
36. Ambush at Hoc Mon – In 1968, 92 American soldiers of C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division began a search-and-destroy mission near Saigon. They were looking for a Viet Cong force that had been firing rockets into their Tan Son Nhut Air Base. As they rushed along a road without flank security to catch up with their battalion, they ran into an ambush. Within eight minutes, 49 American soldiers were dead or dying, and 29 were wounded.
37. Battle of Kham Duc – This large Special Forces camp was abandoned as it was overrun, despite reinforcement by an American infantry battalion from the 196th brigade. Hundreds of friendly civilians and militiamen were left behind as Americans escaped aboard helicopters and C-130s.
38. Khe Sahn Village Overrun - A large village three kilometers from the famous Khe Sahn military base was defended by 160 local troops, plus 15 American advisors and heavy artillery from the base. In January 1968, it was attacked by a ~300-man NVA battalion. Reinforcements were dispatched aboard nine UH-1 helicopters, but were wiped out after landing near the NVA, along with one helicopter. A small ground rescue force from the nearby base was repulsed, while the survivors from the village assault fled to the Khe Sahn base.
39. Battle of the Slopes – A company of American paratroopers was searching for the NVA in rough terrain when it was attacked by a large force. It suffered 76 KIA as it was nearly overrun, with two platoons wiped out. Newly arrived airborne officers had ignored warnings that they should maneuver as battalions because the NVA units in that area were larger, aggressive, and would attack a lone rifle company.
40. Battle of No Goi Island - The Viet Cong liked to fortify ambush sites and wait for the Americans to discover them. During Operation Allen Brook, three battalions of Marines swept through No Goi Island and found lots of Viet Cong ready to fight from bunkers near the village of Le Bac. During several days of bloody assaults, the Marines suffered 138 killed and 686 wounded (576 seriously) before the surviving Viet Cong fled. The extreme heat resulted in another 283 Marines evacuated due to heat stroke. Having suffered 50% causalities, Allen Brook was halted until fresh Marine units arrived.
41. Battle at the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation - American mechanized units had the firepower and mobility to rout any NVA force. An exception occurred in 1968 during a routine road sweep when Company C, 1st Bn (Mech), 25th Division ran into an aggressive NVA regiment. It quickly lost 5 APCs (right), with 17 killed (leaving just one officer), and two dozen wounded before it retreated to its home base, leaving most of its dead behind.
42. Battle of Dai Do – A Marine Corps infantry battalion was mauled and forced to retreat after a disorganized attempt to dislodge a large North Vietnamese force near the DMZ. The Marines suffered 81 KIA and 397 wounded while killing hundreds of NVA. Accounts of this action are hidden within reports of operations in region of Dong Ha.
43. Battle of Ong Thanh – After minor enemy contact the previous day, a battalion commander led 155 American soldiers single-file into the bush to destroy the enemy. They ran into an NVA regiment with some 1400 men. Alpha company was wiped out in 20 minutes, and by sundown, 59 American soldiers lay dead with 75 wounded. An excellent documentary is on-line where survivors describe the onslaught.
44. Operation Delaware - In this April 1968 offensive, the U.S. Army learned that mountain jungles allow concealed anti-aircraft weapons to easily shoot down low-flying aircraft. Units of the 1st Cavalry Division helicoptered into rugged terrain and killed hundreds of NVA as they withdrew to Laos. However, the NVA shot down a C-130 transport, two fighter-bombers, eight large helicopters, nearly two dozen UH-1 helicopters, and seriously damaged three dozen other helicopters, whose crashes left 47 Americans MIA. The NVA also killed 142 Americans, wounded 731, and returned to the area as the 1st Cav withdrew after three weeks of fighting.
45. Operation Houston II – In May 1968, as Mike company from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines moved up a ridge called Hill 1192, they wandered into an NVA base camp and were shot to pieces with 14 killed and dozens wounded. Three helicopters were shot down attempting to rescue wounded Marines. The surviving marines remained pinned down and bleeding for several days until rescued by another company.
46. Battle for LZ Loon – The Marines landed on Hill 672 to build an artillery fire support base. The NVA objected, and sent a battalion to attack the two undermanned companies from the 4th Marines. After a day of heavy fighting that included NVA artillery fire, half the Marines were casualties. It was decided to abandon the hill by helicopter, leaving most of the dead behind. One helicopter was shot down during the extraction after this battle that left 41 Marines dead and over 100 wounded.
47. Battle of Two July – The 1st battalion, 9th Marines went up a road to find the NVA, and found them. Information is vague, but Bravo Company was overrun and the remnants of Alpha Company pulled back, leaving a combined 53 known dead, 190 wounded, and 34 missing.
48. Battle for Hill 875 – or the Siege of Dak To- The 2nd battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade with over 300 soldiers advanced up this hill with artillery and air support. They encountered stiff resistance and suffered heavy causalities, but were shocked when the NVA counterattacked. The battalion formed a tight defensive perimeter and was surrounded while chaos ensued after a Marine Corps’ jet dropped a 500 lbs bomb on their position. The brigade’s 4th battalion arrived the following day and broke the siege, then advanced to secure the hill after the NVA withdrew. Of the 570 US troops involved in the attack on the hill, 340 became casualties.
49. Battle for Firebase Mary Ann – Some 50 NVA sappers attacked at night, then slipped away. The U.S. Army suffered 33 killed and 83 wounded among the 231 soldiers at the base. Their brigade commander was relieved of duty and the firebase closed.
50. Battle of Ngok Tavak – On May 10, 1968, an NVA battalion attacked an old French fort manned by a 150 Chinese mercenaries led by eight American Special Force troopers and three Australian advisors, plus 33 U.S. Marine Corps artillerymen with two 105mm howitzers. Helicopters flew in 45 more Marines as reinforcements and evacuated casualties during the day-long battle. The fort was overrun and everyone fled, with some literally clinging to the skids of a helicopter. At least 32 Americans were killed and several helicopters shot down. A book about this lost battle was published, and a short account is here.
51. Battle of Lang Vei – In 1968, the NVA surprised everyone by using light tanks to overrun the well-defended U.S. Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, despite heavy American artillery and air support. Most of the 500 defending Montagnards were killed. Losses among the 24 Americans were 7 KIA, 3 POWs, and 11 wounded.
52. Ambush near Khe Sahn - On Feb 25, 1968, a 41-man platoon from the 26th Marines was sent on a short patrol “outside the wire” to test the strength of NVA units near Khe Sahn village. They pursed three VC scouts who led them into an ambush. The platoon was wiped out during a three-hour battle that left 31 Marines KIA, one taken prisoner, while nine Marines escaped back to their base.
53. Battle of Thon La Chu – The 1968 Tet offensive caught the U.S. military by surprise, and the NVA captured the city of Hue. During this chaos, the cavalry was sent to save the Marines as the Army’s lightly armed 2nd battalion/12th Cavalry flew to the rescue in helicopters. After landing, it charged across an open rice paddy without its customary artillery or air support and suffered considerable casualties. The enemy had superior numbers, superior positions, and enough firepower to encircle the battalion. With 60% casualties, no supplies and little air support, the battalion was lucky to slip away at night and flee total destruction.
54. Fall of A Shau – The NVA sent five battalions to overrun this large Special Forces camp near the Vietnam border. It was defended by 380 local troops led by 17 Americans. After a day of heavy fighting, the defenders faced defeat. Five of the Americans fled by helicopter leaving behind 8 American dead and 5 missing. Most of the local troops were left behind. Another seven Americans died providing air support.
55. Battle near Hill 689 – On April 16, 1968 a Marine Corps company began a patrol near its Khe Sahn base. It wandered into tall vegetation and was decimated by concealed NVA soldiers in bunkers. Two more companies from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines were dispatched to save them, but they became ensnarled in this confusing battle in which dead and wounded Marines were left behind as the battalion retreated back to Khe Sahn in disarray. This resulted in 41 KIA, 32 wounded, with 2 of 15 MIAs later rescued by helicopters. The battalion commander was relieved of duty.
56. Attack on Nui Ba Den – A hundred NVA launched a surprise assault on a poorly defended American signal intelligence station atop Nui Ba Den mountain. The base was quickly overrun and burned to the ground. The NVA killed 24 Americans, wounded 35, and 2 were taken prisoner as the NVA withdrew. Most Americans survived in one bunker or by fleeing the base and hiding among boulders. Some refer to the battle as a massacre because the attack was so sudden that many soldiers had no rifles to defend themselves.
57. Ambush at Ap Nhi - On Aug 25, 1968, a resupply convoy of 81 trucks from the 48th Transportation Group departed Long Binh. Seven drivers lost their lives in an ambush, 10 were wounded, and two taken prisoner as most trucks were destroyed. Drivers held on with air support until a rescue force arrived nine hours later after suffering 23 killed and 35 wounded.
58. Battle of Lima Site 85 – The USAF established a secret navigation site atop a remote mountain in Laos to allow all-weather bombing northward. The NVA learned of this and surprised the Americans with their mountain climbing skills. The site was overrun as seven Americans escaped aboard a rescue helicopter, leaving 12 dead airmen behind while their 42 supporting CIA funded Asian mercenary soldiers perished.
59. Battle of Hamburger Hill – A battalion from the 101st Airborne (3/187) encountered stiff resistance on rugged Hill 937. It was unable to capture the summit due to steep, dense terrain, well-built enemy bunkers, a deadly friendly fire incident, and fierce NVA defenders. A second battalion (1/506) was sent to attack from the south, but it suffered the same fate. Small NVA counterattacks caused confusion and several more deadly friendly fire incidents. Aggressive American commanders ordered repeated attacks for three days until 3/187 had lost 60% of its men and withdrew, while 1/506 remained pinned down.
More battalions eventually arrived to join the attack. ARVN scouts reported the NVA had left the mountain, nevertheless, a two hour aerial bombardment commenced before the American battalions walked up Hill 937 to proclaim victory, and then withdrew a few days later. These frontal assaults resulted in 84 American dead with 480 wounded, and the loss of several helicopters, leading to the nickname “Hamburger Hill” where GIs were ground up. Given the heavy causalities suffered for nothing gained, this was a defeat.
60. LZ East Overrun – On June 11, 1969, the NVA overran a small base called LZ East, killing 17 soldiers of the 169th Infantry Brigade and wounding 34 until reinforcements arrived to retake the base.
61. Attack on Cu Chi – In February 1969, enemy commandos attacked the large U.S. Army airfield at Cu Chi. They destroyed nine large CH-47 helicopters, heavily damaged three more, and caused minor damage to two others. (photos are here) 14 Americans were killed and 29 wounded during the three-hour battle.
62. Battle of Plei Trap – During Operation Wayne Grey, 115 soldiers from Alpha Company of the 4th Infantry Division helicoptered into a remote area in search of the NVA. They found lots of them, and suffered 35 KIA, 51 WIA, and 7 MIA as they were overrun. A lieutenant who heroically led a retreat of the survivors was almost court-martialed by senior officers trying to cover-up this disaster.
63. Firebase Airborne Overrun – There are several short, vague accounts about how this artillery firebase was overrun on May 13, 1969. One veteran believes it was bait to draw the NVA into combat. VC sappers slipped inside its weak defenses and exploded the artillery ammunition dump, killing a dozen and causing confusion. The NVA swept through the base at night killing and wounding most defenders and destroying its big guns. Many Americans managed to hide until the NVA left before dawn, so the base was never officially captured. However, it was wrecked and later abandoned.
64. Operation Lam Son 719 – In early 1971, a major offensive was launched into Laos to sever the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line. The United States provided logistical, aerial, and artillery support to the operation. American ground forces were prohibited by Congress from entering Laotian territory, but supported the offensive by rebuilding the airfield at Khe Sanh. South Vietnam provided its best units for this month long offensive, and the Pentagon was confident that American firepower would guarantee victory. After a series of lost battles, the South Vietnamese retreated back home after losing nearly 1,600 men. The U.S. Army lost 215 men killed, 1,149 wounded, 38 missing, and lost 108 helicopters while 7 American fighter-bombers were shot down.
65. Battle near FSB Professional – The NVA shot down a big CH-47 helicopter as it delivered supplies to this fire support base. Company A of the Army’s 1/46 Infantry with 91 soldiers was sent outside the wire to eliminate the threat. It was mauled during a 35-hour battle, and its 47 surviving soldiers fled, leaving their dead and some wounded behind.
66. Attack on FSB Henderson - As American troops withdrew from Vietnam, NVA sappers attacked this artillery base. They charged through the hilltop killing 27 soldiers from the 101st division and wounding 40. Most of the howitzers and artillery ammunition were destroyed by satchel charges before the NVA disappeared into the night.
67. Battle for Firebase Ripcord – American Generals made one final attempt to block the Ho Chi Minh trail, and found more NVA troops than expected. As the NVA assaulted remote Fire Support Base Ripcord, Generals decided to evacuate the base. Four American battalions from the 3rd Brigade, 101st Division conducted a fighting aerial evacuation that lasted 23 days, with the loss of at least 75 American KIA and 463 wounded. Dozens of helicopters were shot down or damaged, while several soldiers and all major items of equipment were left behind.
68. June 1972 Air Battle – While superior aircraft of the USA won most air battles, the smaller MIGs flown by North Vietnamese pilots won many battles, which remain mostly hidden from history. An interesting website that documents combat losses sheds some light. It notes that MIGs shot down five American F-4 fighters on June 27, 1972, and cross referencing the date for American air victories shows no MIG kills.
||Nguyen Duc Nhu
||Ngo Duy Thu
||Nguyen Doc Soat
||Pham Phu Thai
||Bui Thanh Liem
It would be interesting to know what happened that day, but the USAF chose not to document this air battle. Vietnamese pilots were more experienced, more familiar with the airspace, flew shorter missions, and could choose their fights, so they sometimes surprised American pilots.
69. Day Three of Operation Linebacker II - Of the 99 huge B-52 bombers in this Dec. 20, 1972 bombing raidon targets around Hanoi, eight were lost to enemy fire, resulting in 36 airmen killed or captured. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) blamed the tactics utilized (flight paths, altitudes, formations, timing, etc.), which had not varied from raids the two previous days. Air Force historian Earl Tilford noted: “Years of dropping bombs on undefended jungle and the routines of planning for nuclear war had fostered a mind-set within the SAC command that nearly led to disaster.”
70. Battle of Koh Tang – This was the last battle of the war. In 1975, Khmer Rouge patrol boats seized the container ship, USS Mayaquez, which was the last American ship to leave Saigon. Surveillance indicated the ship anchored at Koh Tang island, so the U.S. Marine Corps assembled a rescue force. Most helicopters were shot up while landing Marines on the island and were disabled or crashed. The Marines faced stiff enemy resistance and were pinned down. It was then discovered that the Mayaquez crew had already been freed on a small boat, so the landing force was recalled. A total of 18 GIs were killed, 41 wounded, and three left behind in the rescue attempt, while 23 airmen perished in a helicopter accident during the preparation stage.
This Myth is Now Dead
This proves that many battles were lost during the Vietnam war. There were more, but hiding embarrassing losses is standard procedure in any military organization. This is shown in that documentary about the Battle of Ong Thanh, where survivors tell how commanders tried to spin that loss as a victory, while the loss of FSB Ripcord was hidden from the public until 1985, and the slaughter at Ho Bo Woods wasn’t recognized until 2011. This list does not include most battles lost by the Army of South Vietnam, whose forces were supported by American firepower.
Some veterans may be upset by these accounts because the U.S. military won nearly all other battles. However, this destroys the myth that no battles were lost. Some may claim these were too small to be counted as battles, yet the U.S. military and historians note most of these as battles. Others will argue that some were stalemates or incidents, and insist that a larger enemy “body count” meant victory, although it was common to greatly inflate enemy losses. Given our tremendous advantage in artillery and airpower, battles with large American causalities were losses, which led to the decision to withdraw from Vietnam. NVA Generals stated their objective was to inflict casualties on American forces, not to seize ground or avoid casualties themselves. In the late 1990s, American political spinmasters created an urban legend that former North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap admitted they had lost the war on the battlefield. There is no factual basis for this claim, yet this myth remains.
If attrition losses are important, the USA lost over 3600 fixed-wing aircraft in Vietnam, while the North Vietnamese lost only around 200, so who won the air war? Historical debates are common, but no sane person will claim that none of the 70 engagements listed above were losses. In contrast, the publication of this article is likely to generate more nominations from combat veterans. Wikipedia is often linked for details because it provides concise accounts with notes to sources. One can search the Internet for more information if they doubt what they read there. The point is that myths of American military invincibility may cause future miscalculations, and more lost battles. Ignoring these losses does great disservice to all those brave men who fought and died in these battles, as well as those now dying in Afghanistan.
Ironically, the USA succeeded in Vietnam only after its military left. Billions of dollars in annual aid were no longer required, while American GIs were no longer killed or maimed. There was no Chinese communist takeover of the region. In contrast, traditional rivalries resurfaced leading to a short, yet bloody, war between China and Vietnam in 1979. Without the distraction of fighting a war, the Vietnamese government was forced to address economic problems. It recognized the need for foreign trade and the value of free enterprise and has become a capitalistic economic power. American corporations now operate factories in Vietnam while United Airlines has daily flights. Likewise, the USA will never win in Afghanistan until its troops come home.
Given the ample historical facts available, many historians are amazed this “we never lost a battle” myth persists. Part of the blame lies with certain professors, who published this myth in articles like: “Lessons of History and Lessons of Vietnam” where in 1986 U.S. Army Major David H. Petraeus (left) wrote: “Vietnam planted doubts in many military minds about the ability of US forces to conduct successful large-scale counterinsurgencies. These misgivings do not in all cases spring from doubts about the capabilities of American troops and units per se; even in Vietnam, military leaders recall US units never lost a battle.” Despite this dismal scholarship, Petraeus became a four-star General, partly due to marriage to the daughter of four-star Army General William Knowlton. General Petraeus was in charge of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and since he failed to learn from the Vietnam war, he failed in those conflicts because of myths of U.S. military invincibility.