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Andy Walker

Student Questions: NLF and the Peace Movement

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A student at my school has asked the following question:

Did the activities of the peace movement help the NLF (Vietcong) gain control of South Vietnam?

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It is very difficult for a country to continue fighting a war without the support of its own people. Taking part in a war usually resorts in an increase in the popularity of the country’s leader. This is of course what happened in the recent Iraq War. It is seen as the patriotic thing to do. Both George Bush and Tony Blair benefited from this. Public opinion polls show that Margaret Thatcher was the most unpopular prime minister in British history before the outbreak of the Falklands War. Within a few months she had became one of Britain’s most popular leaders in history.

When the Vietnam War started only a small percentage of the American population opposed the war. Those who initially objected to the involvement in Vietnam fell into three broad categories: people with left-wing political opinions who wanted an NLF victory; pacifists who opposed all wars; and liberals who believed that the best way of stopping the spread of communism was by encouraging democratic, rather than authoritarian governments.

The first march to Washington against the war took place in December, 1964. Only 25,000 people took part but it was still the largest anti-war demonstration in American history.

As the war continued, more and more Americans turned against it. People were particularly upset by the use of chemical weapons such as napalm and agent orange. In 1967, a group of distinguished academics under the leadership of Bertrand Russell, set up the International War Crimes Tribunal. After interviewing many witnesses, they came to the conclusion that the United States was guilty of using weapons against the Vietnamese that were prohibited by international law. The United States armed forces were also found guilty of torturing captured prisoners and innocent civilians.

The decision to introduce conscription for the war increased the level of protest, especially amongst young men. To keep the support of the articulate and influential members of the middle class, students were not called up. However, students throughout America still protested at what they considered was an attack on people's right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to fight for their country.

In 1965, David Miller publically burnt his draft card (call-up notice) and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. His actions inspired others and throughout America, Anti-Vietnam War groups organised meetings where large groups of young men burnt their draft cards.

Between 1963 and 1973, 9,118 men were prosecuted for refusing to be drafted into the army. The most famous of these was Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion.

Muhammad Ali was one of the many distinguished black figures who protested against the war. There were several reasons why blacks and other ethnic minorities felt so strongly about Vietnam. One reason involved the expense of the war. By 1968, the Vietnam War was costing 66 million dollars a day. As a result. LBJ increased income taxes and cut back on his programme to deal with poverty. The blacks, who suffered from poverty more than most other groups in America, were understandably upset by this decision. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights leader, argued: "that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor as long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube."

Other Civil Rights leaders pointed out that because of the draft deferment enjoyed by college students, it was the poor who were more likely to be sent to Vietnam. What is more, as Eldridge Cleaver, a Civil Rights activist pointed out, in many southern states of America, blacks were being denied the right to vote in elections. Therefore, blacks were fighting in Vietnam "for something they don't have for themselves." As another black leader put it: "If a black man is going to fight anywhere, he ought to be fighting in Mississippi" and other parts of America.

This advice was taken and in the late 1960s, several cities in the United States suffered violent riots in black ghettos. Anti-Vietnam War leaders began to claim that if the government did not withdraw from the war they might need the troops to stop a revolution taking place in America.

Demonstrations against the war steadily increased in size during the late 1960s. In New York, over a million people took part in one demonstration. The public opinion polls showed that a narrow majority of the people still supported US involvement in Vietnam. However, the polls also indicated that much of this support came from middle class families whose own sons were not at risk.

LBJ knew that if the war continued, he would eventually be forced to start drafting college students. When that happened he would have great difficulty obtaining majority support for the war.

The most dramatic opposition to the war came from the soldiers themselves. Between 1960 and 1973, 503,926 members of the US armed forces deserted. Many soldiers began to question the morality of the war once they began fighting in Vietnam. One soldier, Keith Franklin, wrote a letter that was only to be opened on his death. He was killed on May 12, 1970: "If you are reading this letter, you will never see me again, the reason being that if you are reading this I have died. The question is whether or not my death has been in vain. The answer is yes. The war that has taken my life and many thousands before me is immoral, unlawful and an atrocity... I had no choice as to my fate. It was predetermined by the war-mongering hypocrites in Washington. As I lie dead, please grant my last request. Help me inform the American people, the silent majority who have not yet voiced their opinions."

In 1967, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was formed. They demonstrated all over America. Many of them were in wheelchairs or on crutches. People watched on television as Vietnam heroes threw away the medals they had won fighting in the war. One shouted: "Here's my merit badges for murder." Another apologized to the Vietnamese people and claimed that: "I hope that someday I can return to Vietnam and help to rebuild that country we tore apart."

The growing opposition to the war made life very difficult for politicians and it was inevitable that it was only a matter of time before the United States withdrew its troops from Vietnam. In that sense I agree that the activities of the peace movement did help the NLF gain control of South Vietnam?

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Did the activities of the peace movement help the NLF (Vietcong) gain control of South Vietnam?

Not really. Fighting an insurgency from within a country, when it is supported by the majority of the population, is next to impossible. The U.S. admitted in the 1950s that the majority of the Vietnamese supported Ho Chi Minh and the NLF, but used that as an argument to support the minority government, though Ho had been a U.S. ally during World War Two. It was clear to Lyndon Johnson by early 1964 that the war was unwinnable, but he lacked the imagination or the political courage to just get out. As a result, 50,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese died as the war went on for another bloody eleven years. Withouit the peace movement, the slaughter might have continued even longer. The Vietnamese won, the dominoes didn't fall, and the waste of it all became even more starkly apparent.

Martin Shackelford

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A student at my school has asked the following question:

Did the activities of the peace movement help the NLF (Vietcong) gain control of South Vietnam?

Great Question!

In my opinion, the short answer to this question could be either “yes” or “no”.

If I offer “yes ” as the correct response to your question, I would be echoing the observations seen in the following interview, when General Westmoreland expresses his version of the widely accepted opinion that “The anti-war movement was an important factor undermining public support” for the Vietnam War. The following is a section of an interview with General William C Westmoreland by Larry Englemann of the The Washington Post Magazine, 2-9-1986.

Militarily, you must remember that we succeeded in Vietnam. We won every engagement we were involved in out there. As the senior commander in Vietnam, I was aware of the potency of public opinion-and I worried about it. I told Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense, in a private session in the spring of '64, "This is going to be a long, drawn-out war the way it's being fought. And getting resources in Washington is already like pulling teeth. The thing that is worrying me," I advised him, "is the staying power of the American public."

Unfortunately, the staying power of the American public had limits when it came to Vietnam. The anti-war movement was an important factor undermining public support.

There were, of course, a large number of factors involved in the appearance and persistence of the antiwar movement. If you look at the cycles of opinion on the campuses of this country, you will find that there has been over the years an inevitable swing toward pacifism and then away from it and then back to it again. It happened just before our entry into WWII. I know because I was a cadet at West Point and we were not very popular among other student groups. The coeds at Vassar demonstrated against the military when I was a cadet. If it had not been for the attack on Pearl Harbor, we would not have had the same phenomenon on college campuses that we observed during the Vietnam war.

The U.S. Initiated conscription before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it was very unpopular on the campuses and in the body politic. When the draft bill came up for renewal in Congress, it passed by one vote. One vote! That was only a short time before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The peace movement in the '60's in this country had many of the same ingredients as the peace movement in the '30's, before Pearl Harbor. What was new about the situation was that the Vietnam war was an undeclared war.

When we declared war after the attack on Pearl Harbor those who conducted themselves in what was considered an unpatriotic or treasonous way were put in jail.

As I read this section of the interview with General Westmoreland, I find myself wondering about an alternative outcome to WWII, had the anti-war movement of the 1940s joined with the a biased, powerful and manipulative news media in support of peace. No doubt, With that outcome many of us would be speaking German, Italian or Japanese and trying to exist, stripped of our freedoms as slaves under a world dictatorship.

In turn, we might consider the possible outcome had members of the American press and the anti-war movement kept their eyes open to the ruthless character of the Communist regimes in North Vietnam, China, North Korea and Russia. These were (are) some of the most brutal, corrupt, and repressive in recent history. I have always wondered why the true and disturbing nature of the Communist regimes did not give some pause to those who insisted on the immorality of removing the Communists from Vietnam by force. Perhaps a just reward for the efforts of the members of the anti-war movement and their affiliated media would be to banish them to life under the repressive regimes that they supported with their protests.

Lets get back to your question:

“Did the activities of the peace movement help the NLF (Vietcong) gain control of South Vietnam? “

We must look at history and at a few definitions relating to your question for some understanding of this contradictory response. In particular, we need to have a common understanding of what we mean by the “peace movement,” the “NLF,” the “Viet Cong” and “South Vietnam. The other problematic terms involve the concept of “gaining control”.

If I offer “no” as the correct response, my answer would result from the confusion inherent in the terms in the question. The concept of “gaining control” is problematic since it could be argued that the NLF (National Liberation Front ) never really had control in the 15 months before the so called unification between the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (name for the NLF government) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (also known as the governing body of North Vietnam). It could be argued that the government in the North had been pulling the strings all along and they were responsible for the fall of the South. It could also be argued that the NLF became a North Vietnamese puppet organization after the devastating losses TET of 1968. After TET, the original Viet Cong had been decimated. There was a bit of a lull in the fighting in the south. Unfortunately the north had escalated their involvement and by mid 1968 they were sending a river of humanity and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to infiltrate the South in order to maintain the conflict. Some of these people were ordered to serve as replacements for the NVA regiments but many were ordered to infiltrate, replace and reconstitute that which remained of original Viet Cong units.

As you probably already know, the Republic of Vietnam, also known as South Vietnam, was created by the partition of the country between the RVN in the south and the communist-dominated Democratic Republic of Vietnam, also known as North Vietnam. This division resulted in 1954 after the defeat of France at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh took control of North Vietnam on October 11, 1954. North Vietnam's capital was Hanoi and it was ruled by a Communist government allied with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. South Vietnam's capital was Saigon and it was ruled by an anti-Communist government.

As we approach your question, lets consider the term “Viet Cong” (VC), a name used by American and allied soldiers in Vietnam to refer to the armed forces of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam or National Liberation Front (NLF) or "Vietnamese Communist." Translated literally, it means something like "Vietnamese Commie. It was originally a general term used to describe the political opponents of the Republic of Vietnam ( also known as South Vietnam), many (but not all) of whom were Communists.

However, a big problem develops in our understanding of your question when we look at the changes that resulted with the duration of the War in South Vietnam. In the earlier paragraph, I mentioned the decimation of these forces as they tried and failed to mount a major uprising with the support of some NVA units in TET of 1968. Prior to TET one would usually associate the VC as a guerilla force composed of members from a local population (people who may well have been born and grown up in the local South Vietnamese hamlets, villages, or cities ) and chose to resist their anti-communistic Government and forces from the P.F., ARVN, U.S., Australia, South Korea and Tieland. The North Vietnamese Army(NVA or People's Army of Vietnam) was the regularly trained and organized military force of the North Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. The NVA typically operated in regimental strength. Unlike the Viet Cong, the PAVN was not a guerilla force. Unfortunately many folks do not realize that after TET 1968, a Viet Cong fighting unit in any particular area of South Vietnam may have been filled with soldiers sent down from the north to continue the struggle where the men from a local community had been eliminated by the coalition of forces including the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam or the "RVN"), the United States, South the RVN and the United States, Australia, Tieland and South Korea .

Please keep in mind that the world media was very successful in its effort to idealize the Viet Cong as heroic guerrillas . The selected images and accounts present them as tenacious underdogs, poorly armed, and fighting for their farms and their families amidst great hardships.

On the other side, the press had the stereotype emerge with our government as the arrogant, crude, insensitive, uncivilized bully; the cowboy nation with the cowboy leader; the greatest terrorist state; the great Satan; the greedy, profit-hungry monster intent on trading the blood of its youth for imperialism.

Hmmm, have we heard this one recently ?

One might be surprised to learn how many times this stereotype for the US appeared in captured NVA communist party documents in the Vietnam War. It was the “party line” used in the effort to try to motivate their troops after conscription and ordering them to go south and fight for Communism. Note: See the Texas Tech Virtual Vietnam Archives for translations of captured enemy documents.

It is interesting to note that prior to TET 1968 there was evidence that the local Viet Cong forces resented the presence of NVA soldiers in their homeland of South Vietnam. Many families had fled south. In previous decades they had been persecuted and terrorized while living in the north. Many in the population hated the government in the north, yet they would tolerate an idealistic neighbor with affiliation with the NLF. The NLF and its Guerrilla (partisan) army, the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF), never used the name "Viet Cong" to refer to themselves, and always asserted that they were a national front, communist or not. After TET, a multitude of forces had infiltrated South Vietnam (many more NVA units had positioned themselves in the “so-called “ neutral neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos) and the original weakened Viet Cong survivors had no chance without embracing the foreign invaders and their North Vietnamese control.

Now, the last issue that we need to consider is what you were thinking when you mentioned the “peace movement” in your question?

I believe you mean the variety of organized demonstrations for peace from the late 60’s and early 70’s. These might include The Catholic Workers, Martin Luther King, Students for a Democratic Society, Julian Bond, Jane Fonda, John Kerry and the so-called “ combat heroes” in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I am wondering if you consider the “Doves” in the US Congress and the presidential candidate, George Mc Govern. I doubt that you intended to include radio, TV and print media as part of the movement, however without them the movement would not have amounted to much and in turn the other manifestations of the anti-war movement fed the appetite for a profit and sustain the powerful news business. One could argue that most of the “high profile” individuals associated with the movement were also personally motivated to catch the eye of the press. History and God will judge their motives- fame, fortune, political power or conscience - however they all would have failed without a sympathetic press to put power behind their voices. One could argue that the activities of the American media did more to help the Communists gain control of South Vietnam.

In response to the pressure that was created by the media and the movement, President Johnson fired Defense Secretary McNamara after the secretary expressed concern about the justifications for war. Most internal dissent in the Johnson administration, however, focused not on ethical but on pragmatic criteria, many believing that the cost of winning was simply too high. Some in his administration felt that the financial cost of the war was jeopardizing the other initiatives involving the war on poverty, equality and related social concerns. Widespread opposition within the government did not appear until TET of 1968. Exacerbating the situation was the presidential election of that year. Johnson faced a strong challenge from peace candidates Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern, all Democrats who chose to ride the wave of public opinion against the war that had been generated by the press and the anti-war movement. On 25 March Johnson learned that his closest advisors now opposed the war; six days later, he withdrew from the race.

Well that is my response to the question.

Bob Fromme

Edited by rfromme

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Not really. Fighting an insurgency from within a country, when it is supported by the majority of the population, is next to impossible. The U.S. admitted in the 1950s that the majority of the Vietnamese supported Ho Chi Minh and the NLF, but used that as an argument to support the minority government, though Ho had been a U.S. ally during World War Two. It was clear to Lyndon Johnson by early 1964 that the war was unwinnable, but he lacked the imagination or the political courage to just get out. As a result, 50,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese died as the war went on for another bloody eleven years. Withouit the peace movement, the slaughter might have continued even longer. The Vietnamese won, the dominoes didn't fall, and the waste of it all became even more starkly apparent. Martin Shackelford

In your response to the student’s question you wrote “the U.S. admitted in the 1950s that the majority of the Vietnamese supported Ho Chi Minh and the NLF, but used that as an argument to support the minority government.”

Could you please share the resources that you used to substantiate your claim? I think the students reading your post should know who in the US government went on record in the 1950s with an admission that the majority of the Vietnamese supported Ho Chi Minh and the NLF. If your source indicates that the opinion was an official government publication, they should know of the particular resource. In turn, I would suggest that you explain whether your resource was talking about the region or populations living in South Vietnam or those in North Vietnam. I am wondering if you are talking about the region in the early 1950s prior to the division that resulted in 1954 after the defeat of France at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

One of the reasons that I am requesting some elaboration of your sources is because my research has indicated that the intelligence gathered by the U.S. during the war indicates that the majority of the population in the south continued to flip-flop, supporting whoever appeared to be in control of their region at the time. (see the 1968 document 2120107001c.pdf in the Virtual Vietnam Archives at Texas Tech University)

While serving in South Vietnam it was my observation that the majority of the populace were illiterate and living in abject poverty. The local populations were a sea of suffering and sickness. They were in survival mode, “caught between a rock and a hard place”. The ideals of uncle Ho’s version of Communism or those of any other type of government were relevant to their lives only if they threatened their survival or provided some tangible help in their daily struggles.

Also in your post, you state” It was clear to Lyndon Johnson by early 1964 that the war was unwinnable, but he lacked the imagination or the political courage to just get out. “

Again, I would suggest that you indicate the resources that you can use to substantiate your position here or explain to the students that you are simply stating an opinion without a historical record to substantiate your statement.

You also wrote,”The Vietnamese won, the dominoes didn't fall, and the waste of it all became even more starkly apparent”.

Perhaps one may also argue that in spite of the United States’ continued military victory in the Vietnam War, the pressure of public opinion, manipulated by the bias of a powerful media in sympathy with the anti-war movement, weakened the resolve of the US leadership and resulted in the decision to walk away from their commitment to South Vietnam and end their military involvement in the War.

In spite of the apparent dishonor for those who were ordered to participate in combat as soldiers and in spite of the disgrace for the families who’s loved ones were sacrificed, the course of history may well indicate that the effort to take a military stand against Communism in South Vietnam was the very reason that “the dominoes stopped falling” and the cold war came to an end.

Perhaps the monumental costs for supporting North Vietnam in that war pushed the Communist regimes, such as the Soviet Union, to a breaking point and the cost of their commitment to world domination became such a drag on their economies that the Vietnam War was instrumental in bringing to light the failures that are inherent in that particular idea of social order and control of human beings.

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OK, I'll add my two cents. My answer would be "yes", but I agree with many of the qualifications rfromme noted (though I don't agree with his conclusions). I think without a significant "anti-war" movement we might STILL be in Vietnam.

I think McMasters, in his book Dereliction of Duty provided adequate historical resources to demonstrate that Johnson, et al, knew in 1964 that the war was unwinnable. Barbara Tuchman, in her book The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam came to the same conclusions as McMasters, only she did it 10 years earlier and much more concisely.

I can't speak to the attitude of the South Vietnamese in general, certainly not what they were thinking in the 1950's. I can tell you that in my battalion AO (area of operations) about 10 miles south southwest of Danang, the majority of the population hated our guts. I was "dry-sniped" every time I went through a ville, and the majority of our combat casualties came from booby traps, which none of the villagers were tripping. How could they avoid them while we were blundering in to them every day? The only answer I have is that they either set them, or they knew where the booby traps were and wouldn't tell us.

I also think the role of "the media" has been overstated. I read two papers every day, and watched the nightly news (with Walter Cronkite) every night, and the impression I got was that we were winning and that was a good thing. Certainly protests were reported, but the reporting was not favorable. I think the newspapers I read (the Albuquerque Journal and the Albuquerque Tribune were typical of newspapers throughout most of America. Not many folks read The New York Times.

Unlike rfromme, I think the "peace movement" was correct in its assessment of the war (this is not to say the Vietnamese Communists were angels - but they were Vietnamese and I think most Vietnamese wanted a truly independent government). We had no business there, and the whole thing was a monumental waste. That, of course, is opinion.

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It is very difficult for a country to continue fighting a war without the support of its own people. Taking part in a war usually resorts in an increase in the popularity of the country’s leader. This is of course what happened in the recent Iraq War. It is seen as the patriotic thing to do. Both George Bush and Tony Blair benefited from this. Public opinion polls show that Margaret Thatcher was the most unpopular prime minister in British history before the outbreak of the Falklands War. Within a few months she had became one of Britain’s most popular leaders in history.

When the Vietnam War started only a small percentage of the American population opposed the war. Those who initially objected to the involvement in Vietnam fell into three broad categories: people with left-wing political opinions who wanted an NLF victory; pacifists who opposed all wars; and liberals who believed that the best way of stopping the spread of communism was by encouraging democratic, rather than authoritarian governments.

The first march to Washington against the war took place in December, 1964. Only 25,000 people took part but it was still the largest anti-war demonstration in American history.

As the war continued, more and more Americans turned against it. People were particularly upset by the use of chemical weapons such as napalm and agent orange. In 1967, a group of distinguished academics under the leadership of Bertrand Russell, set up the International War Crimes Tribunal. After interviewing many witnesses, they came to the conclusion that the United States was guilty of using weapons against the Vietnamese that were prohibited by international law. The United States armed forces were also found guilty of torturing captured prisoners and innocent civilians.

The decision to introduce conscription for the war increased the level of protest, especially amongst young men. To keep the support of the articulate and influential members of the middle class, students were not called up. However, students throughout America still protested at what they considered was an attack on people's right to decide for themselves whether they wanted to fight for their country.

In 1965, David Miller publically burnt his draft card (call-up notice) and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. His actions inspired others and throughout America, Anti-Vietnam War groups organised meetings where large groups of young men burnt their draft cards.

Between 1963 and 1973, 9,118 men were prosecuted for refusing to be drafted into the army. The most famous of these was Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion.

Muhammad Ali was one of the many distinguished black figures who protested against the war. There were several reasons why blacks and other ethnic minorities felt so strongly about Vietnam. One reason involved the expense of the war. By 1968, the Vietnam War was costing 66 million dollars a day. As a result. LBJ increased income taxes and cut back on his programme to deal with poverty. The blacks, who suffered from poverty more than most other groups in America, were understandably upset by this decision. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights leader, argued: "that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor as long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube."

Other Civil Rights leaders pointed out that because of the draft deferment enjoyed by college students, it was the poor who were more likely to be sent to Vietnam. What is more, as Eldridge Cleaver, a Civil Rights activist pointed out, in many southern states of America, blacks were being denied the right to vote in elections. Therefore, blacks were fighting in Vietnam "for something they don't have for themselves." As another black leader put it: "If a black man is going to fight anywhere, he ought to be fighting in Mississippi" and other parts of America.

This advice was taken and in the late 1960s, several cities in the United States suffered violent riots in black ghettos. Anti-Vietnam War leaders began to claim that if the government did not withdraw from the war they might need the troops to stop a revolution taking place in America.

Demonstrations against the war steadily increased in size during the late 1960s. In New York, over a million people took part in one demonstration. The public opinion polls showed that a narrow majority of the people still supported US involvement in Vietnam. However, the polls also indicated that much of this support came from middle class families whose own sons were not at risk.

LBJ knew that if the war continued, he would eventually be forced to start drafting college students. When that happened he would have great difficulty obtaining majority support for the war.

The most dramatic opposition to the war came from the soldiers themselves. Between 1960 and 1973, 503,926 members of the US armed forces deserted. Many soldiers began to question the morality of the war once they began fighting in Vietnam. One soldier, Keith Franklin, wrote a letter that was only to be opened on his death. He was killed on May 12, 1970: "If you are reading this letter, you will never see me again, the reason being that if you are reading this I have died. The question is whether or not my death has been in vain. The answer is yes. The war that has taken my life and many thousands before me is immoral, unlawful and an atrocity... I had no choice as to my fate. It was predetermined by the war-mongering hypocrites in Washington. As I lie dead, please grant my last request. Help me inform the American people, the silent majority who have not yet voiced their opinions."

In 1967, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was formed. They demonstrated all over America. Many of them were in wheelchairs or on crutches. People watched on television as Vietnam heroes threw away the medals they had won fighting in the war. One shouted: "Here's my merit badges for murder." Another apologized to the Vietnamese people and claimed that: "I hope that someday I can return to Vietnam and help to rebuild that country we tore apart."

The growing opposition to the war made life very difficult for politicians and it was inevitable that it was only a matter of time before the United States withdrew its troops from Vietnam. In that sense I agree that the activities of the peace movement did help the NLF gain control of South Vietnam?

John,

I would like to explain a bit about the draft system that was used in the US in the Vietnam era.

You are technically correct about the deferment of college students. However I fear that you are not being honest with the students when you fail to explain that college students in the US who failed to maintain a passing grade in their program of study, as well as those who dropped out of school for other reasons and those who graduated with their degrees were available for the draft. In my case, I was aware that my name had been drawn and I had an induction date set several months after graduation from College.

Also, the students should understand that the US was using a lottery system for the selective service process. This resulted in the luck of the draw determining those who would receive draft notices to report for induction and those who were lucky enough to escape military service all together. I was one of the unlucky ones and my number was drawn as my undergraduate education was being completed.

In my opinion, after reading your entry I was concerned that the remarks presented an obvious bias and it was misleading the students. My concern was with your statement:

“To keep the support of the articulate and influential members of the middle class, students were not called up.” 

It seems that you are insinuating uneducated members of the lower income populations were victimized by those in government who conscripted them and forced them to bear the brunt combat?

This was a persistent myth propagated and used by the Communists and the Anti-War activists. It is not factual.

If you check statistics concerning the U.S. fighting force in the Vietnam War you will discover 275,000, or 10.6%, were black. The remaining 88.4% were Caucasian. At the same time, Blacks represented approximately 12.5% of the total U.S. population. In turn, casualty data indicates that 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1%, or 5,711, were Black. These statistics are approximately the same as the proportion of Blacks in the US population during the war. Please consider the reality that I witnessed. The general in command of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, the combat unit in which I served, was African American. There were black commissioned officers in Delta Company, the unit in which I served. The Platoon Sergeant in our platoon was a black career soldier. In reality, the foot soldiers, the grunts like myself, serving in our unit reflected both the racial and economic diversity of the population of the United States. In addition to African and Anglo-American soldiers in our combat unit, there were a few soldiers of Asian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Hispanic ancestry. Because of the nature of the draft, it was not uncommon to discover combat soldiers who were more highly educated, in the civilian world, then the officers who were in charge of the infantry platoons. (Statistics obtained from The Adjutant General's Center (TAGCEN) file of 1981 and Combat Area Casualty File of 11/93 (CACF1193))

In an effort to be honest, one should mention that many of the men serving in the Vietnam War enlisted and volunteered for service for their country. Some were willing to risk their lives in military service in return for the benefits of citizenship in the United States. Others had fled the oppression of Castro and Communism in Cuba. These soldiers chose military service as a means of gaining citizenship in the US while making an active effort to try to help others gain the freedoms that come with a democratic government. This, after they had been forced to escape their own homes when Communism moved in on them and uprooted their lives. (Statistics indicate that only a quarter of those who actually served on the ground in Vietnam were drafted. The remaining 75% volunteered for the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard. Less than 38% of those killed in action were draftees.)

I certainly will agree with your statement:

“The decision to introduce conscription for the war increased the level of protest, especially amongst young men.”

However one can mount a substantial argument that it is a myth that these young men were protesting because of some dedication to nonviolence or the particular issues of the Vietnam War. I would like to suggest that these individuals were just “self-serving” individuals who protested because they did not want to be inducted into the military. They did not want to serve their country or risk their lives. One can mount a respectable argument that these young men “didn’t really give a hoot” about the ideals of the anti-war movement, since their active participation in the movement came to an abrupt end as soon as the US Congress ended the draft.

Although the hard core anti-war staff (those who depended upon income from donations to the movement) continued to protest the Vietnam War, my research suggests that substantial peace protests in the US nearly ceased as soon as the draft ended in 1972. It is also enlightening that those who were protesting seemed to be mostly interested in an effort to end American involvement in the war not “peace” and especially not the poor Vietnamese peasant that they accused American soldiers of murdering. I have never understood how the individuals who participated in the “so-called” peace movement could repeatedly close their eyes and remain silent when the North Vietnamese and VC committed appalling atrocities on a helpless populace living in South Vietnam and later in neighboring countries. The North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong committed horrendous atrocities on their own people in 1968 with the deliberate roundup and murder of as many as 5,000 South Vietnamese civilians--doctors, teachers, lawyers, businessmen--during the periods that they held territory. The most widespread atrocities occurred in the Imperial City of Hue. There alone the Communists killed over 3,000 helpless South Vietnamese. (see Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam, A History p. 530)

After Saigon fell to North Vietnam in 1975, the summary executions of tens of thousands of innocent South Vietnamese began. There were two million refugees and more than a million people thrown into the new communist gulags and "re-education camps." Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese boat people perished in the Gulf of Thailand and in the South China Sea in their attempt to escape the Communists. The Khmer Rouge victory in Cambodia led to Pol Pot and the killing field in which some three million Cambodians were exterminated. I can’t help but wonder, just where exactly did all the energy and commitment of the anti-war protesters go when the Communists did not bring paradise to the peasants. When the communists started liquidating humankind en masse and setting up concentration camps. Where were the press and the voices of protest in the peace movement... silent. They all seemed to have evaporated.

In your response to the student's question you also included the following statement.

In 1967, Vietnam Veterans Against the War was formed. They demonstrated all over America. Many of them were in wheelchairs or on crutches. People watched on television as Vietnam heroes threw away the medals they had won fighting in the war. One shouted: "Here's my merit badges for murder." Another apologized to the Vietnamese people and claimed that: "I hope that someday I can return to Vietnam and help to rebuild that country we tore apart."

Perhaps students should consider the rest of this story. In recent years researchers (see “Stolen Valor - How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley p.136) have searched out military records and related documents for many of the “so-called” combat heroes in “Vietnam Veterans Against the War”. After relating accounts full of obvious contradictions, foolish remarks and absurdities many of these men began to raise questions concerning their identities and combat in Vietnam. Students should know that the this faction of the peace movement had it’s share of frauds. .

Take the case of Al Hubbard, the VVAW’s executive secretary and one of the organizers of the “Winter Soldier “. Burkett and Whitley have noted that that Hubbard first claimed he was a decorated captain in the US Air Force wounded flying into Da Nang in 1966. Later Hubbard’s military record came under suspicion and so he changed his story and claimed to be a sergeant, not a pilot or a captain in Vietnam. Upon further investigation, his military record did not include the Vietnam combat service or a Purple Heart that he had claimed to have received. As an additional insult to “real” combat veterans of the war, the man had defrauded the Veterans Administration of a 60 % disability compensation for fraudulent war wounds.

The authors of “Stolen Valor” related another interesting case concerning a VVAW member named Michael Schneider who, while part of the anti-ware movement, concocted a litany of bazaar stories about his Nazi ancestry and his atrocities and murders undertaken after orders from his commanders in the 101st Airborne Division and then in the 196 Light Infantry Brigade. After a check of this “sham’s” background and his military records. Schneider was discovered as a deserter from Germany. The man had not served in the War as he had claimed. He was arrested and later deserted and when he was again arrested he faced murder charges in Oklahoma. Schneider’s last known address was a maximum security ward in a Oklahoma mental Hospital.

Burkett and Whitley mentioned another veteran of the VVAW named Chuck Onan. This man told accounts of a large assortment of military schools which were supposedly training US soldiers in assorted methods of torture, murder and related atrocities. He then claimed to have been a member of an Army LRRP unit. He said he “deserted before he was sent to Vietnam, fleeing to Sweden so he did not have to kill”. In reality, the man was just another fraud. The fellow had served for a period in the Marines as a stock clerk before deserting. It seems that he became afraid that he might be sent to Vietnam and decided to desert.

These were only a few examples of the “VVAW heroes”. There were many other discoveries concerning members of this group, however, as an educator I must include a warning concerning many of the stories that were concocted by the fertile imaginations of some of these frauds. Certainly some of the accounts are not appropriate for the public school learning environment. Please preview your students’ resources there is an interest in this group of characters and frauds associated with the Peace movement.

Another interesting “character” in the VVAW was the current presidential candidate from the Democratic Party in the US. In talking to friends of John Kerry, Burkett discovered that the former brownwater navyman exhibited no particular anti-war sentiment when he returned from Vietnam. Burkett suggests that Kerry began to take an interest in politics and he needed an issue to help him become known. Eventually he initiated contact the Kennedy’s and other liberal members of congress. According to Burkett and Whitley, Kerry’s celebrity development program began, carefully crafted by men those with substantial experience in politics. In what seems to have been a calculated effort, Kerry joined the VVAW and began to participate in their theatrical protest appearances. John Kerry was one of the veterans of the VVAW who tossed his medals over the iron fence of the government that had supposedly betrayed him by sending him to an unjust war. (Well, there is some confusion here, since the same medals mysteriously appeared on his Capital Hill office wall later in his political career. When questioned about the medals that he threw in the demonstration, he responded that those medals belonged to someone else.) John Kerry continued to participate in the political theater on Capital Hill by playing the part of one of America’s promising sons who had been mentally contorted by being ordered to do horrendous things and then abandoned by the US Government. A few days after throwing someone’s medals over the fence he showed up sitting alone in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he delivered a now famous speech concerning Vietnam War and the atrocities that he and others had committed while serving in the U.S. Navy. The seemingly emotional and heart-felt speech was, in reality, the creation of Adam Walinsky, speech writer for Robert Kennedy. The young John Kerry had been tutored concerning the most effective presentation of the verbiage for the Senate committee and the media prior to the theatrical deception. (“Stolen Valor - How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History” by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley)

I hope this helps present some additional informatin for the students to consider as they learn about the War in Vietnam.

Bob Fromme

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If you check statistics concerning the U.S. fighting force in the Vietnam War you will discover 275,000, or 10.6%, were black. The remaining 88.4% were Caucasian. At the same time, Blacks represented approximately 12.5% of the total U.S. population. In turn, casualty data indicates that 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1%, or 5,711, were Black. These statistics are approximately the same as the proportion of Blacks in the US population during the war. (Bob Fromme)

My point was about class, not race. I would refer you to a speech made by Martin Luther King on 4th April, 1967:

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have several reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor - both black and white - through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.

Martin Luther King concern here is with class not race. This is why he became so dangerous to the establishment and this was probably a factor in his death.

This is also one of the major points that Michael Moore makes in his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. The most powerful aspect of the film is where Moore asks politicians if their sons are fighting in Iraq. Although they are reluctant to answer we of all know the answer is no. You would have got similar answers during the Vietnam War. Including if you asked George Bush Sr. about what his son was up to during the war.

Are you not concerned about this feature of modern war? Do you think politicians would be so keen to declare war on other countries if their sons and daughters had to do the fighting? I would also suggest that if George Bush and Dick Cheney had combat experience in Vietnam they would be less keen on sending troops to fight in Iraq.

However one can mount a substantial argument that it is a myth that these young men were protesting because of some dedication to nonviolence or the particular issues of the Vietnam War. I would like to suggest that these individuals were just “self-serving” individuals who protested because they did not want to be inducted into the military. They did not want to serve their country or risk their lives. One can mount a respectable argument that these young men “didn’t really give a hoot” about the ideals of the anti-war movement, since their active participation in the movement came to an abrupt end as soon as the US Congress ended the draft. (Bob Fromme)

You show your own political prejudices by declaring that the anti-war movement was made up of “self-serving” individuals. You say: “One can mount a respectable argument that these young men “didn’t really give a hoot” about the ideals of the anti-war movement, since their active participation in the movement came to an abrupt end as soon as the US Congress ended the draft.”

This point is best answered by those in the US who played a role in the anti-war movement. However, in the UK I was a member of the anti-war movement that knew it was not at risk of being “drafted”. This did not reduce our desire to get the war stopped. We believed that the US was involved in an immoral and illegal war that it was destined to lose (I hold similar views on the war in Iraq). Our actions were driven by a desire to bring an end to this senseless killing. Surely, everything that has happened since the war ended, has only gone on to reinforce the view we were right. It is to my lasting regret that it took so long for the anti-war movement to convince the US government that they had made a tragic mistake in sending troops into Vietnam. Do you think the friends and relatives of the 56,869 US troops killed in Vietnam believe that they died for a worthwhile cause? If so, what was achieved in Vietnam other than making huge profits for the Military Industrial Complex?

Another interesting “character” in the VVAW was the current presidential candidate from the Democratic Party in the US. In talking to friends of John Kerry, Burkett discovered that the former brownwater navyman exhibited no particular anti-war sentiment when he returned from Vietnam. Burkett suggests that Kerry began to take an interest in politics and he needed an issue to help him become known. Eventually he initiated contact the Kennedy’s and other liberal members of congress. According to Burkett and Whitley, Kerry’s celebrity development program began, carefully crafted by men those with substantial experience in politics. In what seems to have been a calculated effort, Kerry joined the VVAW and began to participate in their theatrical protest appearances. John Kerry was one of the veterans of the VVAW who tossed his medals over the iron fence of the government that had supposedly betrayed him by sending him to an unjust war. (Well, there is some confusion here, since the same medals mysteriously appeared on his Capital Hill office wall later in his political career. When questioned about the medals that he threw in the demonstration, he responded that those medals belonged to someone else.) John Kerry continued to participate in the political theater on Capital Hill by playing the part of one of America’s promising sons who had been mentally contorted by being ordered to do horrendous things and then abandoned by the US Government. A few days after throwing someone’s medals over the fence he showed up sitting alone in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he delivered a now famous speech concerning Vietnam War and the atrocities that he and others had committed while serving in the U.S. Navy. The seemingly emotional and heart-felt speech was, in reality, the creation of Adam Walinsky, speech writer for Robert Kennedy. (Bob Fromme)

I think this contribution should have been posted on the debate about the Bush/Kerry election.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1129

However, as you have posted it here I will try to deal with it. Do you think your interpretation of Kerry’s behaviour has been influenced by your views on the anti-war movement? Is it really possible to use the evidence available to argue that Kerry was not sincere in his views on the Vietnam War? Would it really have been impossible for him to have a political career without taking this stance? In fact, I would have thought his speech posed a long-term threat to his political career. Especially his comments about the atrocities carried out by US troops.

I am not really sure what point you are trying to make with your comments on Adam Walinsky. Are you saying that people are not to be trusted when their speeches are written by someone else? If so, it is difficult to trust any modern politician. Or are you suggesting that it is only Robert Kennedy’s speechwriters that are a problem? If so, what was so bad about Robert Kennedy that all of his speechwriters have to be dismissed in this way?

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John,

In your previous post you stated that your “point was about class, not race”. And you referred the speech made by Martin Luther King on 4th April, 1967.

Although I hold King in high esteem, I am wondering if he had real statistics on hand before he crafted those remarks. Certainly the cost of the Vietnam War was cutting into Johnson’s plans for “the Great Society” and it threatened headway in the struggle for racial equality, yet, after looking at the statistics, I think King may have been a bit off the mark. His remarks certainly helped rally his followers behind him I am sure the remarks reinforced anger in the hearts of members of the black community who felt that US Government was “sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.”

I should explain my shortfall concerning my use of ethnic background for the US Soldiers who served in Vietnam. I realize that I should have taken the time and done the extra effort to search out the socio-economic statistics in support of my remarks, rather then simply use the ethnic statistics that I had handy in my files. I just thought that there would be the logical correlation here and the statistics for one ethnic minority could represent my position concerning the myths pertaining to socio-economic and ethnic percentages circulating during and since the war. Here are the Socio-Economic status statistics for those who served in the Vietnam War. ( http://www.pbr-fva.org/statist.html )

Seventy-nine percent of the men who served in Vietnam had a high school education or better when they entered the military service. Three-fourths of the soldiers had family incomes above the poverty level. (In 1969, my income as soldier was only slightly above the poverty level, in spite of a middle class background and a four year undergraduate program prior to being drafted into service. The Issue of Military pay effects the statistics here. One could do a study of the number of soldiers who dropped socio-economically, because of military service.) Fifty percent of the US Soldiers in that war were from middle income backgrounds. Some twenty-three percent of Vietnam vets had fathers with professional, managerial or technical occupations. 76% of the men who served as US Soldiers in Vietnam were from lower middle/working class backgrounds. (In the US, then and now, a good percentage of younger workers begin in the lower midddle/working class and as they age they work their way up.) According to Barry McCaffrey, Servicemen who went to Vietnam from well-to-do areas had a slightly elevated risk of dying because they were more likely to be pilots or infantry officers. He has also pointed out that Vietnam veterans' personal income exceeds that of our non-veteran age group by more than 18 percent. (Speech by Lt. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, (reproduced in the Pentagram, June 4, 1993) assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Vietnam veterans and visitors gathered at "The Wall", Memorial Day 1993.)

Why were leaders in the US Government from the upper and upper/middle class, members of the anti-war Movement might ask? Any society will be better served if it has a way of placing well reasoned, educated, experienced individuals in governing positions. Reasoned, educated, experienced individuals usually succeed socially and economically in a democratic society. It stands to reason that you just might find some of these successful folks in governing positions if they have taken an interest in politics. Others with great skill and experience may be called to serve as part of the governing body because their areas of expertise may be critical to some aspect of the nation’s survival.

Why were the sons and brothers and husbands of the lower class “sent to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population?” One would hope that those who serve to defend the nation in combat situations would have the health and physical ability to be good warriors. In other words, younger soldiers have an advantage trying to be effective and survive in battle ...God knows I would hate to try “humping the pig” and 85 lb. ruck under the steamy triple canopied mountains of Vietnam at my present age and in my present physical condition. (Now that image makes me laugh!)

Some of the positions taken by the Anti-War Movement were not very thoughtful but as a propaganda and recruiting devices, they seemed to be effective. For example, a war, any war, can be a just one or an un-just one depending upon who you talk to and just how involved one has fallen into the struggle. War is hell on earth. No sane person likes it or wants it to happen. Yet, Vietnam was (and is) a fact of my lifetime and war will be around after we are gone. As a young man, the Nation told me to serve. I was aware of the historical background on South Vietnam and issues concerning the spread of Communism. I was aware that the draft notice was one of three choices in front of me. (1.) I could have gone to Canada or Europe and avoided my responsibilities as a US citizen. (2.) I could have gone to prison. (3.) I could put my own dreams and aspirations on hold and enter military service. When I chose the third option, I placed my trust in the government and I agreed to follow orders. My mother and Father had three sons and all of us entered the military in that era. While I was still in the military and after my year In Vietnam, my younger brother asked what I though he should join. I told him to join the National Guard since Johnson had walked out and Nixon was trying to end the engagement. After his two older brothers serving in active duty, I flet he could serve the country honorably as a Guardsman and in the long run, service would not take such a huge dent in his graduate school and professional growth. I don’t see the National Guard as any kind of escape. In Vietnam, any NG unit may have been called up to serve. Some of the men in our infantry platoon were National Guardsmen who had the misfortune of having their unit selected and the men distributed as replacements in the combat zone. From my perspective, National Guard service was as honorable as any other military service in the Vietnam era. In terms of years committed, NG service required many more then those draftees who did their two years and got out.

Perhaps the most illuminating issue here is whether those in active duty in Vietnam thought they were being victimized by their country. Here are some interesting statistics concerning honorable service and soldier attitudes after the war from http://www.pbr-fva.org/statist.html . Ninety-seven percent of Vietnam-era veterans were honorably discharged and Ninety –one of actual Vietnam War veterans were discharged honorably. Ninety percent of those that served in combat are proud to have served their country. Sixty-six percent of the Vietnam vets say they would serve again if they were asked and eighty-seven percent of the public in our country now hold Vietnam veterans in high esteem.

As for your effort to justify the Anti-War position that most politicians would not want their sons fighting in Iraq, my response is simply that no one ever wants a friend or family member to have to go off to war. I would question that individual’s sanity if he or she would want that risk for a loved one. You mentioned Moor. I question whether any discussion of the bias and lack of professional ethics of Michael Moore is worth my time and effort here. I thought we were talking about the Vietnam Era, however if you think my opinion is of value, I feel that thinking individuals will be insulted by his ambush journalism and his unethical practice of selective editing to manipulate the footage into propaganda and pass it off as a documentary. Moore tried real hard “to deceived viewers into believing that Congressional families were extremely different from other families in enlistment rates. A truthful delivery of the topic would be enlightening since a Congressional household is about 23 percent more likely than an ordinary household to be closely related to an Iraqi serviceman or service woman.” The ratio of ordinary U.S. households to Iraqi service personnel is 104,705,000 to 300,000, or a ratio of 349:1. The ratio of Congressional households to Iraqi service personnel is 535:2,or a ration of 268:1.(Dave Kopel http://www.bowlingfortruth.com/fahrenheit911/warsignup.htm)

You asked, “Do you think the friends and relatives of the 56,869 US troops killed in Vietnam believe that they died for a worthwhile cause? “ You also remarked, “If so, what was achieved in Vietnam other than making huge profits for the Military Industrial Complex?”

I feel that only someone like Michael Moore would have enough of a deficit in sensitivity and common respect of others to ask such a question of those who paid such a heavy price in that War. However, the answer would no doubt be as varied as the families and the serviceman involved. I feel they would support the cause if they understood that the domino theory seems to have been accurate if you weigh history since the Vietham War. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand stayed free of Communism because of the U.S., Australian, Thai, and South Korean commitment to South Vietnam. In 1966 the Indonesians threw the Soviets out largely because of our commitment in Vietnam. Without that commitment, Communism would have swept beyond Singapore to the strategic Malacca Straits. “If you ask people who live in these countries who won the war in Vietnam, they have a different opinion from the American news media. The Vietnam War was the turning point for Communism.” ( Speech by General William C. Westmoreland before the Third Annual Reunion of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) at the Washington, DC Hilton Hotel on July 5th, 1986 (reproduced in a Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Historical Reference Directory Volume 2A))

In the wake of the Cold War, democracies seem to be flourishing. According to the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, 179 of the world's 192 sovereign states (93%) now seem to be electing their legislators. In the last decade, 69 nations have held multi-party elections for the first time in their histories. Three of the five newest democracies are former Soviet republics: Belarus (where elections were first held in November 1995), Armenia (July 1995) and Kyrgyzstan (February 1995). And two are in Africa: Tanzania (October 1995) and Guinea (June 1995). (Parade Magazine, August 18, 1996 page 10}

You asked, “Do you think your interpretation of Kerry’s behaviour has been influenced by your views on the anti-war movement?

This is an easy one for me to answer. I feel that the behavior of the majority of members in the anti-war movement have influenced my interpretation of Kerry’s behavior. Like most combat veterans who served in that war, I have little respect for anyone associated with the anti-war movement of that time, especially a fellow soldier....well a sailor.... who would manipulate the Navy policy of letting someone with three purple hearts in order to request out of the combat zone. Mr. Kerry was assigned to Swiftboat 44 on December 1, 1968. Within 24 hours, he had generated the paperwork for his first Purple Heart. According to his training officer, Kerry accumulated three Purple Hearts in four months with not even a day of duty lost from wounds.(I have seen some reports of him missing a total of two days from the last wound.) It’s a pity one cannot read his Purple Heart medical treatment reports but they have been withheld from public view at the request of Mr. Kerry.

After reading his descriptions and the “after action reports” of his combat activity, I will suggest that there are thousands of men who served for a longer duration and survived combat under far worse situations. (Most men on the ground who experienced combat were expected to put in at least one year unless their wounds were so severe that they were sent to a hospital out of country.) Most of these men did not come home with Kerry’s equivalent in awards. I certainly know that most men in our unit served with great restraint concerning the non-combatant civilians. I can attest to numerous occasions where the men in our infantry squad were placed at risk simply because we were extremely cautious concerning non-combatant civilians. I also saw examples of kindness toward civilians which one would not expect, given the situation under which we were expected to work.

Fletcher School of Diplomacy professor, W. Scott Thompson, recalled an interesting conversation with the late Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr.. The Zumwalt stated , 30 years ago when he was still CNO that during his own command of U.S. naval forces in Vietnam, Kerry had created great problems for him and the other top brass, by killing so many non-combatant civilians and going after other non-military targets. ‘We had virtually to straitjacket him to keep him under control,’ the admiral said.( http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=12386 )

I have the largest problem with John Kerry, the veteran, testifying in April 1971 before the Senate as an authority on the war crimes his fellow American servicemen had committed in Vietnam. Living out of a barracks, on ship or on a swiftboat as a Naval officer, this man had no concept of the “Hell” in which the gallant soldiers like those of the 199th LIB faced each day. External to his own “accidents of war,” Mr. Kerry, the young veteran, had no idea what may or may not have been the realities of ground combat. The man had the gall to try to mesmerize the Senate with a series of secondhand allegations and unproved accounts, concoctions heard from the assorted frauds in his organization. He sat there, indicting his fellow veterans on hearsay and lies, smoothly playing the puppet of a liberal anti-war political machine.

The following remarks appeared in , “Setting Straight Kerry’s War Record, By Thomas Lipscomb, The New York Sun, March 1, 2004

Mr. Kerry stated there were “war crimes committed in Southeast Asia...not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-today basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.” Then Mr. Kerry got specific:

“They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam...we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions; in the use of free-fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search-and-destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, all accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam.”

In other words, My Lai was just another day in the life of the Vietnam War.

This was not the War as I and the soldiers around me experienced it.

You mentioned, “Is it really possible to use the evidence available to argue that Kerry was not sincere in his views on the Vietnam War? Would it really have been impossible for him to have a political career without taking this stance? In fact, I would have thought his speech posed a long-term threat to his political career. Especially his comments about the atrocities carried out by US troops. “

Well, that is my point. The man is unfit for the office he is seeking. He has gotten a free ride and now both the questionable activities off military service and his anti-war activities are coming back to haunt the man. One wonders how the man has remained under the radar this long.

You said, “I am not really sure what point you are trying to make with your comments on Adam Walinsky. Are you saying that people are not to be trusted when their speeches are written by someone else? If so, it is difficult to trust any modern politician. “

No, I am saying that the young Kerry was putting on an act. He was not running for office, he was simply testifying in front of the Senate as a young soldier back from the war. Yet, his coached oratory was filled with slander and the lies disrespected every service person who had been trying to serve honorably. It was an actor delivering his lines without considering what he was really saying or the responsibility that he will now carry for the rest of his life. Perhaps the same situation haunts many in the Anti-war movement.

Basking in the spotlight of the Senate was not the only occasion this brownwater sailor turned VVAW had peddled his lies. Mr. Kerry published charges like this for two years. He repeated them on “Meet the Press” with Al Hubbard, (the fraud who was not wounded and never served in Vietnam) I wonder why Kerry has never renounced his association with Hubbard or the charges against us that he has made.

Vietnam Veterans have been given a very bad rap since the Vietnam Era. I feel truth should be a very important part of the any educational materials about that era.

Your “Educational” resources need to be fair and factual. Let the students have the truth and let them try to make some sense of it all for themselves. Why must they be subjected to such a slanted and dated bias from the information you have gathered.

There is a great deal more information available after over three decades since that war. Why not include the truth about Kerry and the frauds of the VVAW members?

Why not include information about the Journalist in Saigon who was an officer and spy for North Vietnam? (The man first worked for the British Press)

Why not include the facts on Dan Rather’s sloppy work discrediting Vietnam Vets. Include an explanation of the mindset that has manipulated the publics concept of who we are, those of us who served. Get the students to consider the power and responsibility of the Press. Show them real examples, like Dan Rather’s failures were an over motivated individual lacked the sense of professional responsibility and failed to verify sources. (Dan Rather is not the only Journalist who has produced documentary about “soldiers psychologically wounded by war” that turned out to have been shams, criminals and crazies, rather then combat Vets.)

Why not include the factual explanations under some of the visuals in your resources? The truth is now available concerning many of the shocking images from the war and the image often gives a false concept. One understands a bit of the reality of war when the specifics of the image come to light.

Edited by rfromme

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Your “Educational” resources need to be fair and factual. Let the students have the truth and let them try to make some sense of it all for themselves. Why must they be subjected to such a slanted and dated bias from the information you have gathered.

There is a great deal more information available after over three decades since that war. Why not include the truth about Kerry and the frauds of the VVAW members? (Bob Fromme)

This is the second time you have attacked me for providing “slanted “ and “biased” information for students. I am of course aware that it is impossible for historians to be completely objective. That is why I always include a wide variety of different sources to supplement my narrative.

I go further than that, I also provide the opportunity for people who disagree with me to challenge my interpretations on this forum. You seem to have forgotten that I actually invited you to join this forum so that you could disagree with my views on the war. This is hardly the actions of someone who wishes to brainwash the students who visit my website.

If you do a search of Google using the words “Vietnam War” my website comes 5th out of 5,160,000 websites. It is the only non-American website in the top 40. (An Australian website is ranked 49th). It is noticeable that these other top-ranking websites do not provide information on the various views on the war. Nor do they invite their visitors to challenge the information that appears on their website. I do this because I am confident that I can defend my views on the Vietnam War (or for that matter, any other topic I have written about).

The reason for this high-ranking is the large number of schools, colleges and universities have placed a link to my site on their site for students. They do this I presume because they believe I do provide a balanced view of the war.

Like most conservatives you spend too much time questioning the motives of those that oppose you. This is illustrated by your comments on John Kerry. This results in your inability to challenge these views on an intellectual level. Why don’t you accept the sincerity of Kerry’s views and concentrate on what he is actually saying? In this you are mirroring the tactics of George Bush. Don’t you realise that it is this type of behaviour that turns so many people off politics. Or is that the intention? After all, a lower percentage of people in America vote in elections than any other democratic country.

Moore tried real hard “to deceived viewers into believing that Congressional families were extremely different from other families in enlistment rates. A truthful delivery of the topic would be enlightening since a Congressional household is about 23 percent more likely than an ordinary household to be closely related to an Iraqi serviceman or service woman.” The ratio of ordinary U.S. households to Iraqi service personnel is 104,705,000 to 300,000, or a ratio of 349:1. The ratio of Congressional households to Iraqi service personnel is 535:2,or a ration of 268:1 (Bob Fromme)

http://www.bowlingfortruth.com/fahrenheit911/warsignup.htm)

This link does not actually work. Could you explain what “closely related to an Iraqi serviceman or service woman”? Michael Moore’s question was about the sons and daughters of congressmen/congresswomen. Are there figures available to answer this question?

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John,

I fixed the links that were not working. The interface that is used here seems to have a problem when it sees an URL in a reference and tries to automatically create a link. The trailing ")" was the problem and it kept including that as part of the link.

Concerning your recent remarks, I think I get it. You do not seem to be interested in trying to consider suggestions that might imporve the information that is available on your site, you simply want to invite people to come, post a complaint, get an invitation to participate and then argue. My time is better spent elsewhere. If you ever decide to consider some ideas on presenting additional materials about the Vietnam War which will give teachers and learners a more rounded grasp of the factual informatioin that is available, look me up and if I have a bit of time, I will be glad to help.

The popularity of your site for European schools, teachers and students has little to do with a justification of resources which present an obvious bias passed off as the truth. The educators and students are depending upon you here. I don't think their use of the materials has anything to do with what really went on related to the War in Vietnam. I thought I could help. I was mistaken.

Good luck,

Bob Fromme

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I just sent an email to Bob hoping that he'll stay. While I disagree with his interpretation in many ways, he has been one of the few who has used actual data to support his position. I, too, agreed to be a part of this project to provide a resource for students. I, too, have been disappointed to see how little factual information is actually being presented here. Is it really the case that the assassination of JFK is the most vital issue facing us today?

In any case, there can't be a dialogue on controversial issues with only one side doing the talking. I didn't see any of Bob's remarks as intentionally insulting to anyone. So - what's the verdict? Can we have honest disagreement about issue here or not?

As to the frequency of war crimes - in my 13 months in 'Nam I saw only two instances that MIGHT be considered "war crimes". One was an old man who was shot because he went by our CP 5 minutes after curfew; the other was a VC suspect who had been a barber in the regimental CP. He was getting knocked around pretty good by the Kit Carsons in our unit. Maybe our friend Sen. Kerry did exaggerate the frequency of war crimes in his testimony...

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As to the frequency of war crimes - in my 13 months in 'Nam I saw only two instances that MIGHT be considered "war crimes". One was an old man who was shot because he went by our CP 5 minutes after curfew; the other was a VC suspect who had been a barber in the regimental CP. He was getting knocked around pretty good by the Kit Carsons in our unit. Maybe our friend Sen. Kerry did exaggerate the frequency of war crimes in his testimony...

Mike,

Thanks for the email. I will try to participate when there is a student question. I will try to avoid getting pulled into arguments.....I will try.

Students reading your post may not understand your mention of a “Kit Carson Scout”. Ours were “Hoi Chans” (enemy soldiers who rallied to the South Vietnamese Governments side) which then agreed to work as ARVN soldiers and guides usually attached to Foreign Units, Like the US Army or US Marines. They were quite useful when they were working in their own region since they knew many of the booby trapped areas, bunkers and enemy habits.

Unfortunately this was not always the case. I lost part of my hearing (I do not hear the higher frequencies) and have had ringing in my ears for the past three decades because of on of these fellows who made a mistake.

The following is a portion of one of the letters that I sent to the son of Sgt. Andujar, a man who was killed in the same firefight in which I was wounded. The Sgt. had five children and a wife when he was killed. For years, no one ever told them about the circumstances of his death. They contacted me and I wrote numerous letters trying to let them know what we were doing and what it was like for an infantryman over there. This particular letter was about a long day we spent in the Boobytraps. (The actual day was May 18, 1969. Our Company was OPCOM to Operation Caesar II)

Earlier in the following account from the letter about boobytraps, I had already mentioned one boobytrap exploding under one of the village elders along the Vam Co Dong river southwest of Saigon. The day continued and two more of our men were wounded from a second explosion about thirty minutes later. They had just finidhed getting the old man on a MedEcac chopper and were moving out. About an hour later, one of the 49th K-9 team, a combat tracker dog named “King” got up against a trip wire on the trail and his new handler made the mistake of pulling him off the wire, setting of the mine. I was starting down into a neck high canal beside the trail and saw the whole thing ahead of me on the other side of the canal. We put the carcus of the dog, the handler (who lost an arm) and our wounded RTO, named Cone on the Med-Evac. Lt. Joannites, our Platoon Leader was hit in the ear, the foot and the flack jacket caught most of the rest of it. A large chunk hit him in the canteen and flipped him around and up in the air. He refused to go in with the chopper. He was spinning up in the air in the dust cloud and smoke of the explosion before he hit the ground with the rest of the unit.

The day continued with the following:

When the Medevac landed, I remember we loaded the dog handler and then the carcass of the dog was also loaded in the chopper. The Lt. said, "we don't want Charlie to have any way of knowing what he has done here."

The lifting chopper bathed us in its ring of dust. We were again on the move, headed west through a series of dry rice paddies. I remembered how slowly we were moving. Everything at our feet seemed to hold a potential threat. Every step we took was taken with critical observation and some contemplation. The stress seemed to rise to a point where one felt like he could easily go insane. Men were stopping to explore any strange feature or disturbance in the dry earth. I remember freezing in fear at a piece of old weathered fishing line at my feet. I studied the area for several minutes from the same spot. Then I moved back and carefully walked parallel to it for about sixty feet. Eventually, I realized that it was just out there in the rice paddy, connected to noting. It was simply an old piece of fishing string in the dirt.

The stress of that day hung over us as a heavy weight. Eventually, we found ourselves trying to fight off thoughts of death. We had to keep reminding ourselves to stay focused and alert. Every inch of our being had to be directed to observation, if we were to make it though this day in the booby traps. Each of us knew that every step may well be our last. The afternoon became a sort of silent battle with ghosts. The enemy was long gone but their ghosts were right there, tormenting us. They were taunting at each man from everywhere along the ground and yet we could not touch them. We could not fight back. We had no way to direct the seething rage welling up in us. He was taking a heavy toll on us and we were helpless out there in the middle of his gauntlet of death.

By the middle of the afternoon, we noticed that men from another unit were moving into our area. From a distance they seemed to be wearing the "rising sun" patch of the 9 th Infantry. A "Kit Carson Scout," (Vietnamese soldiers who worked with American units) was with them. The Vietnamese and another soldier were moving in my direction. Lt. Joannides yelled for us to take a break and let them move on through our lines. The rest break was very welcome. Some of our men were smoking and others were seated on the ground. As the men from the 9 th came past us, the Vietnamese soldier jumped up on the dike and began walking along up there past me. The other soldier, a large black man, was coming along parallel about thirty feet out from the embankment. The Lt. yelled over at the men, saying "get off the dike!"

His last word was overtaken by a huge explosion under the fellow on the dike. I remember the concussion of the explosion seemed to be wet as it rushed past me. When I recovered from the shock, both of the soldiers were down. The Scout was closest to me and one of the medics was yelling as he ran in our direction. I couldn’t hear a thing. Soon he had me laying across the Vietnamese man, trying to keep him down and shielding his eyes from seeing the damage to his legs. If the soldier slipped into shock, he may die. I tried to talk to the man as I lay across him. The man's face was in my face. His eyes were full of fear and confusion. His breathing was heavy. His breath smelled of fish and sour vinegar. I lay there, on the man, holding him down, keeping him from seeing the damage that had been done to him, telling him lies like, You are going to be ok." and. "the medic is going to get you fixed up". One of his legs had been shattered so that only part of it was left connected below his knee. The medic worked to get a tourniquet around the area above the missing leg. He wrapped bandages around the man’s other limb. He gave the man morphine for the pain. The man's breathing eased and his eyes rolled back in his head. Eventually, the medic proceeded to cut away the remaining portions of bone and tissue of the man's exploded leg in order to get an effective bandage over the stump of it. I was thankful that I was laying on the man, facing the other direction. Soon, the Medevac was landing in the paddy. While we were loading the Vietnamese soldier onto the chopper I began to realize that the other soldier, the American, had also been hit. He was not moving. I thought he had also been killed in the same explosion that we were in. The men later told me that the soldier had been hit in the spine by part of the booby trap.

As the chopper lifted its tragic load, we started out, once again, moving through the rice paddy. The place seemed to have no end. The stress seemed to try to push each of us to delirium. It was a very heavy psychological load to endure. There was great difficulty in focusing on the present. Waves of anger and hate flooded in on each of us. We were being eliminated, one by one, with no way to fight back. Frustration was pushing up against whatever remained of reason and dignity. One dared not think about the wounded and the lives that had been lost to this day. The seething rage was even greater, now. It was gushing in us. Helpless in this long gauntlet of suffering, men began to hope for contact. We began to look forward to a chance to fight back, a chance to take some "pay back." This dark, irrational, lust for retribution began to fill our minds and cloud our ability to focus on where we were walking.

The day wore on into the evening. Somewhere in the mix, one realized that survival was pretty much a craps shoot. All one could do was to pick one foot up and then put it down, raise the other one and then put it down. When sanity passed, men just gave it all up, gave in to a resignation that maybe it was all just a matter of having a time to die. A soldier found himself thinking that somewhere in heaven or in hell, the master of this show was finding perverse humor in arranging for us an appointment with death yet, to make the game amusing, we terrestrial beings were not to know the time and date of that appointment until it blew up under us. Some men just gave it all up to their Lord, placing their lives in their Lord's hands, marching on through the day in blind capitulation to fate and faith.

Darkness was setting in when the soldiers of Delta Company was loaded into the transport trucks and hauled back up the oxcart trails to the road, over the bridge at Ben Luc and into whatever remained of their lives.

P.S. I do not understand why the KC Scout decided to jump up on the paddy burn. We never did that sort of thing in a heavily mined area. The man just didn't have good sense. He paid a terrible price for his mistake.

Later in the month, the Medic that was working or the KC Scout in this account was hit in the eye and part of his brain. The Lt. was hit later in the year by AK47 rounds and spent several decades in a chair. He is able to walk now with some braces. By the middle of the following month, our platoon had dwindled from the original 24 to 13. Nixon and the generals was sending more resources to the ARVNS, trying to beef them up as they planned the pullout of US Units We were having trouble getting replacements and parts. It was a very depressing time, trying to work when the leaders had lost their resolve..

Edited by rfromme

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Bob -

Your post brought back some not-so-welcome ghosts. In one operation in the spring of 1969, our battalion flew into "Dodge City" (an area south of Danang that was particularly nasty) and basically sat there for 3 days while the VC and NVA ringed us with booby traps. The morning we walked out, I counted 9 separate explosions of men setting off booby traps. At 1 in the afternoon, the VC and NVA ambushed us as we attempted to ford a small stream, after we'd moved out of the area where they'd placed most of the traps. We lost at least 80 men KIA (Killed in Action) and WIA (wounded in action) on that little trip.

Another graphic (and poetic) description of what Bob and I experienced is presented in "The Next Step", a poem by poet and USMC vet William Ehrhart. You can find it in the book "Carrying the Darkness".

For the benefit of you students out there, generally speaking we lost about 3 times as many people from wounds as we did to KIA. And Bob, thanks for the amplification on "Kit Carsons". I sometimes forget this stuff isn't second nature to everybody else.

Edited by miketol

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