A Tragic Blunder
"I have asked Commanding General Westmoreland what more he needs to meet this mounting aggression and he has told me. And we will meet his needs...we don't want an expanding struggle with consequences that no one can foresee, nor will we bluster or bully or flaunt our power. But we will not surrender and we will not retreat."
President Lyndon B. Johnson, July 28, 1965.
Before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated I recall one of his statements in a speech that has been incorporated in my mind for numerous years. I will paraphrase what he said: America isn't going to send young people to fight a war in Southeast Asia. Well, we all know that Johnson didn't follow through on Kennedy's pledge. In 1965 there were 184,300 American troops in Vietnam and by April 30/69 543,000 military personnel called Vietnam their "home".
I'm neither a historian nor an expert on the U.S. (United States) involvement in Vietnam. But for some odd reason, it has always intrigued me, probably because my generation was constantly exposed to the war by the media. We were made aware of it every night in our living rooms on the six o'clock news with Walter Cronkite. I also remember watching the Bob Hope Christmas specials where he and other celebrities would entertain the American military stationed in Vietnam.
I look back on two incidents that still remain in my mind today...both were on T.V. (television). On Feb. 1/68 South Vietnam's Chief of National Police, Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed a handcuffed V.C. (Viet Cong) prisoner...he pulled out his pistol and shot him in the head...his prisoner instantly dropped to the ground...dead.
The other clip was on June 8/72. A screaming and crying nine year old South Vietnamese girl was running nude on a road...she was hysterical. Her name was Phan Thi Kim Phuc and her back was severely burned due to a South Vietnamese napalm attack. They dropped the bomb on her village of Trang Brang because it had been attacked and occupied by the N.V.A. (North Vietnamese Army). Some how she survived and lives in Ajax, Ontario today.
I think most people who watched both happenings on T.V. would agree, it certainly opened up our insight and intellect about the horrors of war...something we had never seen before.
The war certainly took it's toll, all wars do, on the U.S. The following are some grisly facts from Vietnam Warfacts, Stats and Myths - US Wings: combat deaths - 58,220, injured - 304,000, severely disabled - 75,000, 100% disabled - 23, 214, 5,283 lost limbs, 1,081 underwent multiple amputations, 61% of those killed were younger than twenty-one years old and over 2,000 are still M.I.A. (missing in action).
It certainly wasn't any "tip toe through the tulips" for South or North Vietnam. According to the website "Ask" figures released by Vietnam in 1995 claimed 2 million civilians died on both sides, 1.1 million N.V.A. and V.C. and between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed.
Vietnam was a combat spot for years prior to the U.S. involvement. The French-Indochina War began Dec. 19/46 and ended Aug. 1/54 when the French surrendered to Vietnam shortly after the brutal defeat they encountered after a fifty-six day siege by the Viet Minh forces of Ho Chi Minh on May 7/54 at Dien Bren Phu. However, Vietnam was divided with the North's ideology of communism and the South's political belief, republic.
The U.S. campaign in Vietnam started in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy sent four hundred American Green Berets Special Advisors to South Vietnam to train South Vietnamese troops. I've read a few articles on why the U.S. entailed with South Vietnam. To summarize, the U.S. was very worried and concerned that North Vietnam would invade and conquer South Vietnam and sooner or later the entire Southeast Asian theatre would be a communist sanctuary. Was it that plain and simple or did the politicians have another plan with a trick card hidden up their sleeves?
Are the assassinations of South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Drom on Nov. 2/63 (carried out by his generals) and U.S. President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22/63 just coincidental...I find them remarkably unusual and perplexing.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident on Aug. 2/64 in my opinion, is what kick started the Vietnam War. The U.S. "claims" that North Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on a navy destroyer the U.S.S. Maddox. Over the years there has been plentiful and overwhelming evidence that the event was false, in fact never occurred. Nevertheless, it granted the U.S. government the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and gave President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to use conventional military force in Southeast Asia...welcome to "The Nam" America.
In Jan. 1965 the U.S. draft (conscription) had 5,400 individuals called and by December there were 45,000, and the monthly draft call increased 17,000-35,000 people. If Americans refused the draft there would be harsh penalties. Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali found out about conscription. In 1967 he refused to participate in the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs and was sentenced to five years in prison (which he never served), fined $10,000 and couldn't fight for nearly four years.
One of my favourite All In The Family episodes is titled "The Draft Dodger" Season 7, Episode 15, 1976. Mike's friend is visiting the Bunker household at Christmas time. Canada was a shelter for some U.S. draft dodgers, one unofficial estimate was 30,000-40,000. I recall Rochdale College in Toronto, Ontario located on Bloor Street West just west of Yonge St. in the 1960's. The facility was an educational institution but was also a haven for some draft dodgers who sold illegal drugs to the community...you could say it was an illegitimate Shoppers Drug Mart.
According to C.B.C. News, Nov. 10/15, 20,000 Canadians enlisted to engage in the Vietnam War and 134 were killed in action. When I was in Grade 8 at Westview School in Hamilton, Ontario I found out one of my classmate's older brother had died in the Vietnam war. I didn't offer my condolences towards him. I was familiar with this war (the media drummed the "conflict" into our minds) but I thought, oh well it's just another war...I was a young and stupid 13 year old kid. Now I wish I would've shown some solace towards him.
I discovered the following information about my fellow classmate's brother from Talking Proud Archives. He was a private in the U.S.M.C. (United States Marine Corp) and began his tour of duty on Oct. 24/67. He died on Feb. 8/68 in Khe Sanh at an outpost called "Hill 64". Like a lot of soldiers who perish in wars, his was a gruesome and horrible death. An explosive device struck his bunker and his head had been blown off from the base of his skull to his forehead. His name is inscribed on The North Wall - Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Windsor, Ontario and The Canadian Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
When I was in Grade 12 in 1972 at Westmount Secondary School I recall a good high school buddy (we are still friends today) said to me he had considered enlisting to fight in the Vietnam War. I asked him, "why" and he replied, "to fight communism". Lucky for my friend he procrastinated on his decision...the war was quickly winding down and coming to an end.
I read two excellent books about the horrors and awfulness of the Vietnam War, 'Charlie Company: What Vietnam Did To Us' by Peter Goldman and Tony Fuller and 'Everything We Had' by Al Santoli. Both novels are true accounts of numerous G.I.'s experiences in Vietnam. I noticed an interesting comment in the paperback 'Everything We Had' on page 151, which has Al Santoli saying "It wasn't the N.V.A. that beat us, it was our own politicians." How many times did we hear that after the war...bureaucrats poking around in affairs they don't have a fucking clue about.
Over the years Hollywood has done a spectacular task and effort of producing Vietnam War movies. Here are a few: Coming Home - 1978, The Deer Hunter - 1978, Apocalypse Now - 1979, Friendly Fire - 1979, A Rumor of War - 1980, Born on the Fourth of July - 1984, Purple Hearts - 1984, Full Metal Jacket - 1987, Good Morning Vietnam - 1987 and Hamburger Hill - 1987.
I can't leave out one of my all time favourites, the 1986 masterpiece 'Platoon', winner of four Academy Awards including Best Picture. This classic shows what took place in that war. The heat, the bugs, booby traps, friendly fire, firefights, the V.C. tunnels, drinking, drugs, how important body counts were, soldiers raping young Vietnamese girls and innocent villagers murdered are all highlighted in this first rate movie. The opening credit of the film reinforces how young the soldiers really were, "Rejoice O young man in thy youth" - Ecclesiastes. The 1985 song titled 'Nineteen' by Paul Hardcastle also strengthens the fact a lot of the troops were less than twenty years old.
On March 16/68 the horrifying My Lai massacre occurred. Over five hundred villagers (men, women and children) were murdered by American soldiers. U.S. Intelligence reported My Lai was a suspected headquarters of the Viet Cong 48th Battalion but as it turned out, they were wrong. After the slaughter it was covered up to be a savage firefight. The following excerpt is from the website Digital History: women were raped and other civilians were clubbed and stabbed to death. Some victims were mutilated with the signature 'C Company' carved into their chests. One soldier testified, I cut their throats, cut off their hands, cut out their tongues and scalped them.
Six months later a twenty-one year old soldier wrote a letter to General Creighton Abrams and described what really happened. He also sent letters to thirty members of congress. After a thorough investigation twenty-six soldiers were initially charged but William Calley, a second lieutenant was the only person found guilty. He was convicted of murdering twenty-two unarmed South Vietnamese civilians. On March 31.71 he was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour at Fort Leavenworth. One day later his sentence was reduced to a house arrest. After serving three and one half years of his house arrest President Richard M. Nixon gave him a presidential pardon and Calley was a free man.
In my opinion My Lai wasn't righteous and certainly not justified. Wrong information, mistaken identities, revenge for the U. S. troops, who knows...it's no myth, there are no rules in war. We all have knowledge that the V.C. would blend in with the villagers so who could the Americans trust...they only sureness they had was with each other. We have all seen pictures of American troops walking through farmers' fields with many of the villagers harvesting and tending their crops or maybe they were N.V.A. or V.C. ready to wipe out an entire platoon. If it was me in that situation I would be a fucking paranoid basket case...again who could you have faith in?
Hollywood director Oliver Stone has been planning to produce another Vietnam War movie since 2007 titled 'Pinkville'. It's about the My Lai massacre. Some of the actors rumored to partake in the film are Nicholas Cage, Woody Harrelson, Shia Labeouf, Michael Pena, Michael Pitt, Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis. The word Pinkville meant an area identified with particular danger. I have a 'gut feeling' the movie will not be created or released and the U.S. government is the reason for that. Either way you examine the massacre, it was a shameful, disgraceful and embarrassing event for the U.S. and America doesn't want to be reminded of what happened on that day at My Lai.
President Richard M. Nixon started to withdraw troops on June 8/69 and The Paris Peace Accord on Jan. 27/63 brought 'so called' peace to Vietnam. The U.S. withdrew all their remaining military personnel but North Vietnam violated the agreement for the next two years continuing it's conquest on South Vietnam...the U.S. was finished in Vietnam, never to return.
On April 30/75 the last Americans departed Saigon and the N.V.A. and V.C. troops swarmed into Saigon and encountered little resistance...the V.C. flag was raised at the Presidential Palace, and North Vietnam had finally conquered South Vietnam.
I remember that day watching Saigon collapse on television. Frantic and hysterical people fleeing the city because the N.V.A. and the V.C. were only an hour or two away and viewing U.S. military personnel pushing $250,000 (at that time) "Huey" helicopters off U.S. aircraft carriers to make space for South Vietnamese refugees...the war was absolutely and undoubtedly concluded.
The American politicians biggest phobia and worry was, if North Vietnam wasn't defeated, all of Southeast Asia would be under a communist regime...their mandate was simple, destroy communism. As of today, of the eleven countries that compose Southeast Asia, Vietnam is the only communist nation.
President Johnson had considered using atomic bombs on North Vietnam as the U.S. did on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan Aug. 6 and 9, 1945 respectively but decided against it fearing he may start a nuclear war. Myself and a lot of other people probably thought the same thing...just fucking nuke North Vietnam and the war would be over...of course "shooting from the lip" is very easy to do. I realize now, maybe not a good idea.
However, the war was unwanted, a waste of time, effort and money and most of all the cost of HUMAN SUFFERING AND LIVES. The U.S. should have continued to have their military advisors assist and counsel the South Vietnamese armed forces...their maximum involvement in the war should have never happened. But in retrospect, it's extremely simple for me to "shoot my gate off"...especially half a century later.
It had to be a total devastation for my classmate and his family to receive the dreadful news of their son's and brother's death as well as all the families whose loved ones died in the Vietnam War. Sadly, the memories will never be erased for them as well as the men and women who did make it home. I have watched the 1986 Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, "Platoon" on thirty five occasions. Each time the movie finishes I always say to myself, "I thank whoever, I didn't have to serve in the Vietnam War.
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