Mao Zedong’s Travelling Circus

This is a book review authored by VVFH member David Hanna.

Land Wars: The Story of China’s Agrarian Revolution, by Brain DeMare; Stanford University Press, 2019 (e-book version), $15.69.

Brian DeMare is a cultural historian and teacher of modern Chinese history at Tulane University in New Orleans. In his first book, Mao’s Cultural Army(2015), he found the cultural revolution ‘to be a profoundly theatrical event.’ It was also a profoundly murderous event and DeMare’s second book, this time on Mao’s agrarian revolution, depicts similar excesses but does not sufficiently condemn them for what they were: a politically self‑serving democide inflicted upon the Party’s potential opposition in the villages of rural China.

Coined by Professor R. J. Rummel whose research provides voluminous statistics on governmental killing, ‘democide’ involves acts of genocide, politicide and mass murder. By necessity, the self‑protective despotism of communist one‑party rule entailed all three of the above. While DeMare’s narrative does little to emphasize this point explicitly, his recounting of the Maoist bastardry which savaged rural China will do much to support that contention.

DeMare foregrounds Mao’s intuitive conviction that the Chinese peasantry could make or break the revolution, and the author’s varied research and narrative style make Land Warsa highly informative and readable account of how a communist mastermind artificially induced that revolution in the countryside. ‘Historians,’ writes DeMare, ‘must engage Mao’s narrative of revolution in order to understand what truly occurred in rural China as the Communists came to power.’

The central theme of Land Wars is that Mao’s peasant revolution was a fantasy, a fiction which the Party’s ‘work teams’ were commanded to convert into reality. While DeMare effectively ‘deconstructs and questions Mao’s narrative’, he simultaneously and mysteriously manages to affirm its reification. DeMare provides abundant and horrifying evidence that China’s agrarian revolution was, as he says himself, ‘nothing to be lionized’ and yet despite a painstaking litany of revolutionary deceit, human rights abuses, theft, slaughter, and rapine, he finds the overall results unworthy of a ‘wholesale denunciation.’

Tellingly, perhaps, the only explicit condemnation in the book is delivered not against Mao but China’s current president, Xi Jinping, who has departed from the agrarian agenda of the Maoist era but ‘insists in clinging to Mao’s revolutionary narrative to bolster his party’s legitimacy.’ Mao did no less himself and for similarly defensive purposes. As DeMare points out, Mao’s Orwellian ‘narrative’ was reified through systematic violence as the communists ‘came to power’ ironically and in part through grotesque processes of wholesale denunciation.

While the author unflinchingly describes examples of the gross political thuggery involved, he seems unwilling to condemn outright the totalitarian ideology which made such brutal processes essential to the supremacy of communist, one-party rule. The longevity of the revolution was by no means guaranteed nor did it enjoy a monolithic support amongst the peasantry, and thereby hangs DeMare’s tale.

Mao was acutely aware of the dangerous potential inherent in what General Giap in North Vietnam has referred to as ‘the peasant question’. And while DeMare does not suggest it was naked political self‑interest which sent Mao’s traveling democide circus to the countryside, he does inform us of a revealing Maoist metaphor: the hurricane. Mao’s imaginary peasant ‘hurricane’ was personified with a militant and revolutionary peasant consciousness, but DeMare makes clear this was a fantasy. ‘In reality,’ he writes, ‘rural China was an expansive and endlessly diverse place and it stubbornly resisted any simple characterization.’

This stubborn rural resistance to communism’s narrative simplicity lay at the heart of that vexing ‘peasant question’ and the Orwellian methodology used by Mao in China and, subsequently, Ho Chi Minh in North Viet Nam to resolve it in the interests of the Party’s self‑preservation. Were it otherwise, there would have been no need for agrarian circus troupes of indoctrinated thugs and communist ‘urban intellectual clowns to convert Mao’s ‘grand narrative’ into a gruesome revolutionary fact.

The author notes that in 1950 in Guizhou province the Party was beaten out of twenty‑eight counties and unable to beat its way back in again until the following year. In some earlier attempts at land reform in 1927, ‘redistribution’ was initiated only after ‘the Red Army opened fire on villagers.’  Mao warned, writes DeMare, that if his ‘comrades did not flock to the countryside to lead the peasantry … they would find themselves smashed underfoot.’ In short, the Party must induce the anticipated ‘hurricane’ and ride upon its fearsome violence or succumb to it themselves.

According to DeMare, and despite appalling instances of feudalistic abuse and poverty, ‘many villages lacked true examples of economic exploitation.’ Where dastardly feudal landlords could not be found, they were invented and innocent men and their families were unjustly and brutally punished. To achieve this, Mao specifically empowered the poorest and most disaffected elements of Chinese rural society. After a thorough indoctrination by communist ‘work teams’, cadres of this calibre were unleashed upon their neighbours and fellow citizens in villages across China.

DeMare tells us of Party members who were personally repelled and disquieted by Mao’s ‘insistence’ on employing the scum of the good Chinese earth. In the opinion of one official: ‘These men had revolutionary potential but were also quite “destructive”; they gambled, took liberties with women, and tended towards violence.’ But surely if one intends to generate a ‘hurricane’ of class‑hate and village-level thuggery, this is precisely the sort of chap one needs!

It is difficult to imagine that Mao’s empowerment of these ‘destructive’ men was unpremeditated. Communists in whom some residual shreds of sanity and rectitude remained did well to be ‘repulsed’ and ‘concerned’, and yet these worthies reified Mao’s democidal narrative in the countryside and refused to recognize that the greater evil lay in an agrarian revolution which was as counterfeit as the disaffected bullies who conducted it at Mao’s ‘insistence’.

Nevertheless, the reservations of Mao’s critics in the Party are as valuable as they are revealing. DeMare cites Xi Zhongxun (the father of the current president of China) who was keenly aware of what he called the ‘complex’ nature of even the poorest of the peasant class: ‘“Some,” he wrote, “are poor because they love to eat, drink, go whoring, gamble, or don’t want to work.”’ While DeMare showcases earnest Party officials such as Xi as examples of communist moderation and ideological purity, they nevertheless subordinated themselves to the Marxist idealism which empowered Stalin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh.

Perhaps such judgments lie beyond Land Wars’terms of reference; DeMare is telling us ‘the story’ and we must make of it what we will. And, to his credit, the author states that many tenant farmers ‘accepted landownership as legitimate: hard work led to prosperity, while lazy farmers sank into poverty.’ It was the cadres’ job to persuade them otherwise: that wealth acquired by individual effort was symptomatic of ‘exploitation’ and ‘injustice’. DeMare has shown that even dedicated disciples of Marxist economic morality conceded villagers may have been quite shrewd in their judgments of disaffectedly impoverished neighbours who were destined to become their persecutors.

Land Wars reveals, therefore, how Mao’s ability to exploit the basest elements of human nature within peasant society triumphed over moral common sense. ‘Ideology now trumped reality,’ writes DeMare, whose narrative cites instances worthy of a Monty Python sketch. Take, for example, the village of Long Bow where the bewildered villagers (those still alive after the initial rounds of denunciatory violence) were subjected to a series of communist reclassifications and a stunning reversal of policy. The process involved robbing the recently classified rich to give to the recently classified poor. As this produced no discernibly liberating change in village equity and living standards, it was decided to reclassify the villagers again, remove the confiscated property from the new owners and return it to the previously misclassified villagers from whom it was taken in the first place.

DeMare’s depiction of this circus of the absurd is impeccable in its clarity. While the cadres’ purpose was to find and redistribute village ‘wealth’, the reader is tempted to regard it as an affirmation of Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.’ Similarly, if you ‘smash’ the social infrastructure of the countryside, you also run out of other people’s food. And, in this regard,

DeMare provides a tantalizing hint of the self‑preservative and pragmatic deceit of Mao and the Party: ‘To ensure agricultural production, widespread confiscation of property was no longer tolerated.’

Note the Orwellian language of the phrase ‘no longer tolerated’, implying official disapproval of the confiscations which officialdom itself demanded. In this mind‑boggling reversal of policy, there is an impression of a socialist psychosis at work in the village of Long Bow. Consider, for example, how the ‘local county party secretary’ (the Party line‑man for the county, if you will) came up with a novel solution to the contradictions experienced in achieving liberation (fanshen)for the village: ‘The peasants had in fact obtained fansheneven if they did not realize it at the time.’ As an example of Maoist doublethink, this surely must be unsurpassed. What it meant, writes DeMare, is ‘there was nothing left to redistribute’: game, set and match, it seems, to Mrs. Thatcher!

But apart from the devastating economic impact, consider also the profound psychological effect upon the hapless villager experiencing a liberation he did not realize he’d attained through a revolution he did not know that he was part of until Mao’s intellectual acrobats informed him he was leading it! And behind the bloodied curtain of this socialist absurdity, the elimination of the Party’s enemies and potential enemies continued apace. Even with the subsequent reigning in and scapegoating of the rabble element, the democide proceeded, as it must, to ensure the Party controlled the peasantry as effectively as Mao himself controlled the Party.

Mao’s subsequent ‘cultural’ revolution exemplifies how his instinct for political self‑preservation induced a revolutionary ‘hurricane’ by means of indoctrinated hoodlums seduced by the dark side of the farce and who, as DeMare points out, engaged in the ‘public explication of evil deeds, the shouting of politically charged rhetoric, and the use of humiliation and violence.’ It is a process not unfamiliar perhaps to conservative speakers invited to our university campuses merely to be shouted down and assaulted. But wherever such outrages occur, they find their origins in the fascism of the Maoist fantasy DeMare painstakingly unveils in Land Wars. ‘Mao’s Cultural Revolution,’ writes DeMare, ‘furthered the model of struggle perfected in the agrarian revolution, now firmly entrenched in urban political culture.’

There can be no doubt that Mao’s ‘model of struggle’ extirpated communism’s political opposition in the countryside causing the deaths not just of people but ideas. DeMare tells us these agrarian campaigns entailed the democide of two million Chinese citizens whom the activist performers of Mao’s traveling circus had classified for slaughter as cruel landlords and class enemies. However, this figure applies only to the agrarian revolution; combined with Chinese communism’s other campaigns of repression from 1949-1987, Professor Rummel’s China’s Bloody Century puts the death toll at thirty‑five million. If we include Mao’s wilfully induced famine and Rummel’s 2005 statistical revisions secondary to additional information, the grand total for Chinese Communist Party (CCP) democide is estimated at seventy-seven million people, making the CCP the most democidal political organization in the history of the world.

In spite of these statistics, DeMare does not refer to the agrarian revolution in terms of democide, nor does he inform us that Mao’s circus of the gruesomely absurd traveled south across the Sino‑Vietnamese border within the brain of Ho Chi Minh. Writes Han Suyin in Eldest Son, her biography of Zhou Enlai, ‘Ho Chi Minh had internal problems, collectivization of agriculture on the Chinese pattern was not going well’ (my emphasis). Ho had met with some of that stubborn, peasant resistance which Mao instinctively feared. And, like Mao, he overcame it through applied theatrical violence and, where necessary, the full-scale military suppression of rebellion. Ho had found his final solution to Giap’s ‘peasant question’ but the blueprint was stamped ‘Made in China’.

And yet, DeMare inscrutably concludes that ‘despite its violence, land reform represented something unique: a treasured moment of cooperation between peasants and the party.’ In Land Wars, this revolutionary romanticism does not in any way obscure the depths of the Orwellian abyss between Mao’s ‘grand narrative’ and its murderous reality.                                                                                                            

The Wrong Side Won

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

At the height of the Vietnam War, Ralph White tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps but was turned down because of an eye injury he had sustained playing tennis. As the fighting drew to a tumultuous close in April 1975, however, 27-year-old White was in Saigon, acting true to the leatherneck motto “Semper fidelis” – only by civilian means.

By cajoling, twisting arms and cleverly bypassing red tape, White found an ingenious way to rescue 112 Vietnamese employees of Chase National Bank and their family members: he simply adopted all of them in the presence of U.S. justices of the peace on emergency duty at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport. In the face of an impending defeat of the United States’ South Vietnamese ally, this American civilian who had wanted to be a Marine achieved a small but remarkable victory.

Four days later, on April 30, Soviet-made T-54 tanks completed the communist conquest of South Vietnam by bursting through the gate of the presidential palace in Saigon. Inside, newly appointed South Vietnamese President Duong Van “Big” Minh offered to transfer power. North Vietnamese Col. Bui Tin replied, “There is no question of your transferring power … You cannot give up what you don’t have.”

To me, a German, these words sounded identical to the terms the Allies imposed on my country in 1945 when I was still a child: unconditional surrender. The irony was that while at the end of World War II a manifestly evil government was forced to surrender this way, the opposite was true 30 years later in Saigon: a totalitarian regime with deeply inhumane features bullied a much more humane – though faulty – opponent into capitulating unconditionally, and the world cheered.

Having covered Vietnam for West Germany’s largest publishing house over a period of five years, I concluded that the wrong side had won. There was no reason to rejoice. Yet when President Gerald Ford proclaimed at Tulane University in New Orleans that the Vietnam War “is finished as far as America is concerned,” one week before South Vietnam was finally crushed, he received a standing ovation.

The reaction should have been more muted given the grim fate to which vast numbers of South Vietnamese had been delivered. For them, the real Calvary only started with the communist victory. Between 200,000 and 400,000 drowned while fleeing their country on fishing boats and makeshift vessels, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. Some 65,000 were executed. One million ended up in concentration camps, where 165,000 were tortured or starved to death. Among those killed were 30,000 whose names had been on lists of CIA informants left behind at the embassy, National Review reported.

Proportionately speaking, Ralph White outperformed the U.S. government: he got all his people out, just as he intended to when he volunteered to be sent from Bangkok to Saigon as acting general manager of Chase’s Vietnam branch two weeks before Saigon fell. In his report to his boss at Chase, he later wrote that “maintaining an American liaison between bank and embassy to ensure maximum coordination with evacuation planning” was the “sole purpose” of his assignment.

“Reading my report makes me pretty proud of that 27-year-old man,” says White, who is now a writer in Litchfield, Conn.

Almost four decades after the collapse of South Vietnam, I came across another moving story about an American civilian acting as bravely and faithfully to her values as any good soldier. Patricia Palermo was a blonde Pan Am stewardess from Nebraska who volunteered to serve as a purser on shuttle flights from Guam to Saigon, flying “fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked and high-spirited young men” to the war zone, as she recalled in a recent interview. “When I saw them again 12 months later, they looked like 50-year-old men. Many were wounded and crippled, some drugged out. They were not allowed to board until after the other ‘returnees’ had been loaded in the cargo bay – those in zinc coffins.”

Palermo, who now lives in New York, said in a telephone interview that she was so emotionally shaken by these flights that she blocked them out of her mind until 1980, when she watched on television a live report of the first parade honoring Vietnam veterans. “I immediately rushed out of my house and joined in,” she recalled.

The most dramatic part of her flying career came during the last days of the war, when Pan Am took at least 2,000 babies, mostly Asian-Americans due for adoption in the United States out of Saigon. “We weren’t allowed to leave the aircraft because of enemy fire, but we could see how some desperate mothers threw their children over the fence at Tan Son Nhat to be brought to safety by our crews. I remember someone handing me two babies hidden in a basket. Once I counted more than 400 babies on our Boeing 747. They were everywhere, even in the luggage racks above the seats, and they were so still, always so still ….”

I watched the fall of Saigon on television in my apartment in Paris with mounting grief and anger. I marveled at the beautiful execution of Operation Frequent Wind, which evacuated the last 1,373 Americans, plus 5,595 Vietnamese and other nationals, in helicopters primarily from a landing pad on top of the U.S. military attache’s office at the U.S. Embassy April 29-30. I had been there seven years earlier during the Tet Offensive and watched from across the street as the communists’ attack on the embassy was defeated. Now they were about to triumph; hence my grief.

My anger, though, was directed primarily at the students and intellectuals cheering the communist victory as an act of liberation. They were doing this everywhere: across the River Seine on the Left Bank; in my own country, West Germany; and in the United States. Watching a sea of red-and-blue Viet Cong flags on TV made me feel nauseated, because to me these colors stood for the heinous massacres I had witnessed in Vietnam.

One night in the Central Highlands, for example, I happened upon the mutilated corpses of a village chief, his wife and their 12 children, all tortured by communist henchmen. As the villagers told me, the family was killed because the chief had stayed loyal to the Saigon government. That was in 1965. In 1967, an election year, the Viet Cong committed at least 100,000 such acts of terror against civilians to prevent them from going to the polls.

When French newscasters announced the end of South Vietnam, I instinctively reached for a book that had lain on my bedside table in the Continental Palace hotel in Saigon and accompanied me to Paris: “The Two Vietnams.” I had met its author, French political scientist Bernard B. Fall, many times in Saigon and Washington before he was killed by a Viet Cong mine. He was, to me, one of the world’s most astute experts on Indochina. One passage in his book has haunted me ever since. Fall quotes North Vietnam’s chief strategist, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who died Oct. 4 at the age of 102, as telling the political commissars of one of his divisions: “The enemy (meaning the West) … does not possess … the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.”

Giap never doubted America’s military capabilities but believed he had found democracy’s Achilles’ heel, as Fall explained: “In all likelihood, Giap concludes, public opinion in the democracy will demand an end to the ‘useless bloodshed,’ or its legislature will insist on knowing for how long it will have to vote astronomical credits without a clear-cut victory in sight. This is what eternally compels the military leaders of democratic armies to promise a quick end to the war – to ‘bring the boys home by Christmas’ – or forces the democratic politicians to agree to almost any kind of humiliating compromise rather than to accept the idea of a semi-permanent anti-guerrilla operation.”

Was this dire analysis borne out by Washington’s failure to respond, as promised, “with decisive military force” to any North Vietnamese violation of the 1973 Paris accords, I wondered? The accords had allowed Hanoi to keep 80,000 regular troops in the South, but nothing happened when that number increased to 200,000. As the Vietnam drama unfolded so calamitously, I also wondered how we in the media, including the overwhelming majority of us not overtly or tacitly siding with the Viet Cong, failed to make our readers recognize the most incontrovertible evidence that most South Vietnamese never favored the communists: from the start we correspondents had watched them flee the Viet Cong.

They fled neither across the Ben Hai River into North Vietnam nor into the so-called liberated zones – “liberated” by the communists. Until the very end, the refugees gravitated to the shrinking parts of the country controlled by Saigon; 2 million poured into Da Nang. The roads to Saigon were so clogged with fleeing families that they slowed down the North Vietnamese advance, and when it was over, “boat people” not only sailed away from the south in huge numbers but from northern ports as well. Never before in Vietnamese history has there been such a mass exodus from that country – not in Chinese, French or American days. And this was supposed to be liberation? Somehow, I suspected then, and am convinced now, that logic was one of the casualties of the Vietnam War. And so was intellectual honesty.

One image flashing across my TV screen in Paris stayed with me for decades because it punctuated these reflections. It showed South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky at the controls of an UH-1A (Huey) helicopter landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway. I had known Ky well and liked him. True, he was a flashy Vietnam Air Force general, a peacock like many a military man throughout history. But he was not the crooked clown he was so often made out to be.

Six years earlier, in May 1969, Ky and I had traveled together to Saigon from Paris, where I had been covering the Vietnam peace talks and he headed Saigon’s delegation. Our conversation was unusually awkward, probably because both of us knew that things were not going well in Paris for his side; it was evident that a flawed perception in the United States and elsewhere of the 1968 Tet Offensive had broken America’s will to bring this conflict to a victorious conclusion.

“But we won Tet!” Ky fumed. “Why do Americans think otherwise?”

“I know, General, I was in Hue when you won,” I answered. “But the public in the United States and in Europe received a different message.”

In Hue I had stood at the rim of a mass grave containing the bodies of at least 1,000 men, women and children murdered by the communists. A U.S. television team wandered about the scene aimlessly. “Why don’t you film this?” my colleague Peter Braestrup of The Washington Post asked them. Their cameraman replied, “We are not here to spread anti-communist propaganda.”

I told Ky this, and he did not comment. He knew that I knew that the military victory of the Americans and South Vietnamese at Tet was turned into a political defeat when Walter Cronkite declared the war unwinnable on CBS in a statement after a brief post-Tet visit. This flew in the face of what many of us combat correspondents had witnessed and reported from Hue. “If I‘ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” President Lyndon B. Johnson is reported to have said. I shared his sense of loss and have never forgiven the iconic Cronkite for his act of journalistic malpractice.

Ky kept staring at the door leading to the cockpit of the Air France airliner.

“Why do you keep looking there?” I asked him.

“All I want is to be a pilot again,” he said quietly.

His escape to Midway at the controls of a Huey marked the end of his flying career.

A few years ago, I taught an advanced journalism class at Concordia University Irvine in California. We focused on the large and successful Vietnamese refugee community in Orange County. Student Kellie Kotraba, now a successful journalist in Missouri, came across a study by a group of eight renowned researchers headed by Harvard psychiatrist Richard F. Mollica, titled “Brain Structural Abnormalities and Mental Health Sequelae in South Vietnamese Ex-Political Detainees Who Survived Traumatic Head Injury and Torture.”

The study, published by the American Medical Association, showed that thousands of former political detainees now living in the United States still suffer severely from the aftereffects of torture inflicted on them during their captivity decades ago. “There must be over 100,000 of them,” Mollica told Kotraba, who then asked the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington for a comment. She received a denial in the form of an email from the embassy’s press attache, Tung Pham, which read, “Information saying that inmates of reeducation camp (sic) was (sic) tortured is totally untrue.”

This was to be expected. More surprising was the fact that the Mollica study received little attention in the U.S. media when it came out in 2009, and when I offered Kotraba’s fascinating stories to several publications their editors weren’t interested.

Why did U.S. editors ignore information about suffering at such a massive scale in their midst as a consequence of the Vietnam War, I wondered? There exists a strong analogy between what happened in some of the 300 communist gulags in Vietnam and the concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Europe. I just finished reading a French translation of the account by Father Andrew Nguyen Huu Le, a Catholic priest now living in New Zealand, of his 13 years in communist captivity, 2,020 days of which he spent in leg irons – causing festering wounds where maggots bred.

In “Je dois vivre” (“I must live”), Le describes in gruesome detail how his friend Dang Van Tiep, a former South Vietnamese Army major and member of Parliament, was killed to the merriment of a crowd of communist functionaries and their wives screaming with delight. He was made to drink large amounts of water. Then prison trusty Bui Thi Dinh, the most sadistic official in the Thanh Cam penal camp, jumped on Tiep’s abdomen until it burst and his intestines spilled out. Tiep died.
Dinh had been a captain in the South Vietnamese Army. The captives at Thanh Cam referred to him as “Kapo,” a term used for trusties in Nazi concentration camps. Like some former Nazi Kapos, he made it to the United States. He was discovered in Garden Grove, Calif., arrested and ordered deported. At last report, he lived in the Marshall Islands.

In his book, Le describes his frequent flashbacks, which include severe abdominal pains. Flashbacks are a condition many U.S. veterans know all too well. When I worked as a chaplain intern among these men at the VA medical center in St. Cloud, Minn., I met a baker from St. Paul who had a recurring nightmare. Every day he dreamed of an incident near Da Nang. He was riding shotgun at the back of a military truck and saw a little boy pull the pin of a hand grenade, ready to lob it onto the truck where it would probably have killed an entire platoon.

The soldier killed the child. But then, night after night, he saw the distorted face of the dying boy. “He was about 8 years old,” said the veteran, “and now I have twins and in my dreams his face takes on their features.” This was one of the saddest stories I heard during my internship that was part of the theological education I began mid-career, probably in response to my experiences as a reporter in Vietnam.

But there was something worse I found among those former Vietnam warriors: almost every member of the three pastoral care groups I led together with a psychologist had been called a baby killer within the first 24 hours of his return from the war. One was even asked not to return to his church until his hair had grown again, and would he please turn up in civilian clothes.

Most men in my groups believed in God but thought he had deserted them in Vietnam. So they had “flipped God off,” as they called it. I wrote a theology for Vietnam veterans titled “The Acquittal of God,” reminding them of the insight by the martyred German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said that man is called to “suffer with God in a godless world,” which in their case implied that God is suffering with them and was always with them in their suffering – both in Vietnam and after their return. Therefore, God was not a deserter but their fellow sufferer. Many of the patients found this thought compelling.

To this day, I hear Vietnam veterans ask, “Was our sacrifice in vain?” As an old war correspondent, I am unable to respond to this question intelligently. But as a theologian I do have an answer. In his famous treatise “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved,” Martin Luther compared the vocation of a warrior with that of a surgeon who might have to amputate a patient’s limb in order to save the rest of his body. Often patients die in the days or months after surgery. But does this mean that the operation was futile?

As a war correspondent, I saw the vast majority of GIs and South Vietnamese soldiers faithfully act out their vocation in the service of others. The wrong side won; this is true. As a theologian,

I must add: humans are not the lords of history, and history is always open to the future. It might take many more decades until we see the soldiers’ sacrifice in Vietnam bear fruit and the communist regime vanish, just as other tyrannies have disappeared in the past. Perhaps then the world will discover that the blood Americans and their allies shed in Vietnam has been the seed of a victory much more profound than the one they were denied April 30, 1975. 

Hue, 1968 by Mark Bowden – Military History or Leftist Propaganda?        

A Critical Review by Nicholas Warr 

Despite its recognition as a New York Times bestseller, the receipt of many awards, and the recognition and praise from the literary world Mark Bowden has received since the publication of Hue, 1968, this book is filled with way too many misconceptions, flaws, critical omissions and dozens of outright errors and falsehoods to be taken seriously. In my opinion, this book gets nowhere near the status of “factual history.” While it brings forth many valid events of the battle, it also pushes a regurgitation of anti-war, anti-American rhetoric.

At this point, you, the reader, may ask, “Who is this guy, and how can he possibly make these statements?” Let me illuminate you.

My callsign was “Charlie One Actual.” I was a Marine 2ndLieutenant assigned as the platoon commander for 1stPlatoon, Charlie Company, 1stBattalion, 5thMarines (C/1/5). I was there, in the middle of the battle from the initial assaults on 13 February 1968 to the bitter end in early March. I saw what happened, up close and ugly. I know there was plenty to criticize about our high-ranking leadership’s decision-making, but Bowden got most of the important points wrong. In fact, this book reads more like anti-war, anti-American leftist revisionism than factual history.

Although I counted nearly 80 significant errors, omissions or outright falsehoods in this book, I will focus on the three I feel are the most egregious.

  1. S. Marines of all ranks are force-fed USMC history during our training. We learned that every single combat campaign in France during World War I, the South Pacific during World War II, and during the Korean War could have easily become catastrophes if not for the gut-wrenching courage and determination of just one United States Marine. That was true during the second phase of Operation HUE CITY, the battle for the Citadel Fortress.Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood was that one Marine, who, on the 16thof February 1968, after four terrible days of all-out urban warfare with not an inch of progress, risked everything to save his fellow Marines, and in the process secured a critical beachhead. A squad of Bravo Company Marines had finally crossed phase line green, occupying the first house across that bloody street, but were being systematically shredded by a horrendous enemy crossfire from two enemy machine gun nests. Although his job as a mortarman required him to stay behind to provide supporting fire, Paul took the initiative and crossed that street under heavy enemy gunfire; he then successfully destroyed both of those enemy positions, single-handedly, suffering many serious wounds in the process, saving that critical beachhead and all who were in that pivotal house. Yet, there is not one single word in Bowden’s book about Paul Cheatwood’s heroism.

Shortly after this book was published, I reached out to Mr. Bowden to ask about this disturbing omission and he responded by saying that there were 10,000 “voices” in that battle, and he couldn’t possibly relate the stories of all of them. That may be true, but what Bowden failed to understand is that there are only a small handful of stories about the true heroes in that battle, or any other battle in Marine Corps history. The true heroes are very rare. Paul Cheatwood is, in my mind, that one Marine who risked his life but made an amazing difference, and his courage and determination under fire will never be forgotten by those of us who were there. On the other hand, Bowden used up many pages in this book to describe, in detail, the acts of just one young woman, a Viet Cong operative who played a very minor role in the enemy’s Tet Offensive, yet he could not spare a single word about a true American hero. Cheatwood’s family and friends must have been extremely disappointed and discouraged to learn that Paul’s courage did not rate a single moment of Bowden’s time.

This exclusion is symptomatic of the entire book, in which the enemy are often described in glowing terms as brave soldiers fighting for their country against the invading Americans, in a rather blatant attempt to establish a moral equivalence between American and ARVN forces, in comparison with the VC and NVA. This is pure anti-war rhetoric, and Bowden has bought it all, hook, line and sinker. Using just one appalling example, he quotes (without any commentary) an NVA soldier, who claimed that the Marines were very difficult to fight because they advanced by using human shields of Hue civilians; this is not only utterly false, it is a turnaround of the actual history, since the NVA on several occasions did use human shields in their attacks on the Marines. Bowden’s book does a terrible disservice to Marine Corps history on many fronts, but this hateful smear of the courageous Americans who fought in Hue goes completely beyond the pale.

Bowden also either inadvertently or purposely besmirched the reputation of the U. S. Marines serving in Charlie Company, 1stBattalion, 5thMarines. His book claims that on the morning of 13 February, Charlie Company was “several blocks back” from Alpha Company’s position on point, when Alpha came under attack in fact, we were one block back from phase line green where the enemy awaited us in force, and less than a block west of Alpha’s position at that time. Bowden further states that it took us “several hours” to go on the attack, claiming that we started our attacks at around 4:00 pm, when, in fact, as soon as Alpha pulled back and they were replaced by a platoon from Bravo Company, we were ordered to move up and move out, on the attack; our first fight against the NVA waiting for us that morning on phase line green took place at around 1100 hours.

The official USMC Unit Diary records confirm Charlie One’s tragic losses during that single day. Five of my Marines were killed outright, and another twenty-two were badly wounded and medically evacuated on 13 February 1968.

Bowden claims that our battalion commander spent the remainder of February 13thtrying to get his men back to Mang Ca (adjacent to the 1stARVN Division Compound along the northern wall of the Citadel, which was nearly a mile behind the “front line”) in one piece. Although Alpha Company did pull back to Mang Ca after being devastated by the initial enemy rocket attack, the Marines of Charlie 1/5 and that Bravo platoon on our left flank pulled back just one block from phase line green and spent the night in houses on the north side of that street.

Bowden did not do his homework, let alone perform focused, effective research on this battle, which is considered by historians to be critically important in Marine Corps history. Yet, because of all the awards and recognition, it gives me great pain to know that this is the book that our children and grandchildren will refer to. This is the book that young Marines will read in training. This is the book that attempts to look at every angle – the enemy, the anti-war movement, the complicated beginnings and the inglorious end of the war – yet this is also the book that allows critical learning and many truths to be lost to history.

Mark Bowden should offer an apology to all of us who fought in this historic battle and especially to the Cheatwood family.

References:

Recently published, detailed reviews of Mark Bowden’s book, Hue, 1968, here:

http://nicholaswarr.com/critical-review-hue-1968-mark-bowden

The Insurgent Communist Huks in the Philippines

By Michael Benge

Flag of the communist Hukbalahap

The communist Hukbong Laban sa Hapon (Anti-Japanese Army) or simply Huks, comprised mainly of disenfranchised peasant tenant-farmers of Central Luzon, was only one of several guerrilla groups resisting the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines. The Huks were well received by the villagers and were seen as their protector from the abuses of the Japanese. There were many motivations for people to join: nationalism, empathy, survival, and revenge. Those who could not join the guerrilla army joined the underground government via its “secretly converted neighborhood associations”, called Barrio United Defense Corps. The Huks also tried to recruit beyond Central Luzon but were not as successful.

On March 29, 1942, the communist Hukbong Laban sa Hapon (Huks) was incorporated into a broad-based united front of guerrillas named the — Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap) — “The Nation’s Army Against the Japanese”). Soon after, its representatives met with USAFFE (United States Army Forces in the Far East) representative Colonel Thorpe at Camp Sanchez in the spring of 1942, and under this umbrella, the conferees agreed to cooperate, share equipment and supplies, with the Americans providing trainers under USAFFE’s overall command.

Although the communist Huks fought the Japanese, at times, they also fought other guerrilla units under USAFFE as well as killed, pillaged and plundered other Filipino nationalists. Their methods were often portrayed by other guerrilla leaders as terrorists; for example, “Ray C. Hunt, an American who led his own band of 3000 guerrillas, said his experiences with the communist Huks were always unpleasant, they were much better assassins than soldiers.” Tightly disciplined and led by fanatics, they murdered Filipino landlords and drove others off to the comparative safety of Manila. They were not above plundering and torturing ordinary Filipinos, and they were treacherous enemies of all other guerrillas on Luzon. The initial force of 500 armed Huks was organized into five squadrons and “by late summer 1943, Huk leadership claimed to have a fully armed guerrilla force of 5,000 to 20,000 active men and women military fighters and 50,000 more in reserve. By August 1948, the Huks became a trained and experienced force, well-equipped and well-prepared for its guerrilla warfare. Their weaponry was obtained primarily by stealing it from battlefields and downed planes left behind by the Japanese, Filipinos, and Americans. The Huks also created a training school where they taught political theory and military tactics based on Marxist ideas. In areas that the group controlled, they set up local governments and instituted land reforms, dividing up the largest estates equally among the peasants and often killing the landlords.” Among the group’s leaders were figurehead Luis Taruccommunist party Secretary General Jesus Lava, and Commander Hizon (Benjamin Cunanan) who aimed to lead the Philippines toward Marxist ideals and communist revolution.

After the surrender of Japan in WWII and the withdrawal of its forces from the Philippines, most of the guerrilla groups disbanded and went home, or were absorbed into the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) or the Army. The aftermath of the liberation from Japan was characterized by chaos. The paternal relationship of the large landowners toward the tenant farmers had been virtually destroyed during the war, and life was economically unsustainable for the peasants who had joined the Huks. Moreover, the poor harvest between late 1945 to early 1946 period not only exacerbated the plight of the Huks, it also further intensified the gap between the tenants and the landlords. Added to this, the Huks being a communist-led group were considered to be disloyal and were not accorded U.S. recognition or benefits at the end of the war. Their hardships were aggravated by the hostility they experienced when the Philippine Government, following orders from the United States of America, disarmed and arrested the communist Huks. Harassment and abuses against peasant activists became common. Largely consisting of peasant farmers, the Huks feared for their lives as the USAFFE and the Philippine Constabulary (civilian police) hunted them down. In September 1946, the Huks retreated to the Sierra Madre Mountains and their guerrilla lifestyle as a response to supposed maltreatment by the government and renamed themselves Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or People’s Liberation Army.

Although the communist Huks were only one of a plethora of guerrilla groups in the umbrella organization Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon (Hukbalahap) — “The Nation’s Army Against the Japanese”), originally formed to fight the Japanese. However, in 1946 in what became known as the Hukbalahap Rebellion, the communist Huks extended their fight into a rebellion against the Philippine Government and usurped the Hukbalahap name in an attempt to play off on its patriotic reputation and create a charade of legitimacy among the peasants. Adding to this deception, the Huks claimed that it had extended its guerrilla warfare campaign merely in search of recognition as World War II freedom fighters and former American and Filipino allies who deserved a share of war reparations. In reality, the communist Huks insurrection was but an attempt to take over the entire Philippines. The rebellion lasted for years, with huge civilian casualties.

In 1949, the Huks ambushed and murdered Aurora Quezon, Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross and widow of the Philippines’ second president Manuel L. Quezon, as she was in route to her hometown for the dedication of the Quezon Memorial Hospital.  Several others were also killed, including her eldest daughter and son-in-law. This attack brought worldwide condemnation of the Hukbalahap, who claimed that the attack was done by “renegade” members.

The continuing condemnation and new post-war causes of the movement forced the Communist Party of the Philippines (PKP) in 1950 to reconstitute the organization as the armed wing of a revolutionary party and change the official name to Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) or “Peoples’ Liberation Army”; likely changing it in emulation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Notwithstanding this name change, the HMB continued to be popularly known as the Hukbalahap, and the English-speaking press and the U.S. Army command continued to refer to it and its members, interchangeably, as “The Huks” during the whole period between 1945 and 1952, and commentators have continued to do so since then.

The start of the 1950s saw the beginning of the rebellion’s decline. There was general weariness among the people from years of fighting.  Many prominent Huk leaders either had died or were too old to fight, and those that remained were few. To make things worse, the villagers of Central Luzon showed signs of becoming weary of supporting them or just saw them as irrelevant. Public sympathies for the movement began waning due to their postwar attacks. The Huks carried out a campaign of raids, holdups, robbery, ambushes, murder, rape, massacre of small villages, kidnapping, and intimidation. The Huks confiscated funds and property to sustain their movement and relied on small village organizers for political and material support. Nevertheless, from Central Luzon, the Huk movement had spread to the central provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, and in Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, Laguna, Bataan, and Quezon.

In June 1950, American alarm over the Huk rebellion during the cold war prompted President Truman to approve special military assistance that included military advice, sale at cost of military equipment to the Philippines and financial aid under the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG). Soon after, Major Ed Lansdale, an experienced covert intelligence operator who cut his teeth in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during WWII, was appointed Chief of the Intelligence Division in the Philippines.  Elpidio Quirino, the president of the Philippines, immediately requested Lansdale’s help in his fight against the communist insurrection taking place in his country. Allen Dulles, also a former OSS officer who headed the CIA, then gave Lansdale $5-million to finance CIA operations against the Huks. Among others, Lansdale’s main task was to rebuild the country’s security services. Prior to being assigned to the Philippines, Lansdale had met Senator Ramon Magsaysay who was on a study tour in Washington, DC, and judged him to be very intelligent and nationalistic; Lansdale quickly developed a close friendship with him. In September, Magsaysay was appointed as Minister of National Defense on American advice. The following month, Magsaysay captured the Secretariat of the Peoples’ Liberation Army including the general secretary Jose Lava, following the earlier capture of the Politburo in Manila. Magsaysay felt that the Philippine Army’s first priority should be devoted to the well-being and protection of the rural population.

Rather than being an advisor per se, Landsdale’s modus operandi was to invite Magsaysay and his staff to informal, friendly get-togethers, usually coffee klatches or over lunch, and in Madison Avenue advertising agency-style brainstorming sessions, he would skillfully start discussion to mull over problems, obstacles, ideas or pose questions, and under Ramon Magsaysay‘s leadership together the Filipinos would come up with suggestions for solutions.

Lansdale wielded a wide array of counterinsurgency and psywar (psychological warfare) tactics; Psywar and civic-action were favorites of Lansdale, thus you can see the result of his style of friendly persuasion and even perhaps a faint imprint of a velvet glove on many of the actions taken Magsaysay and his staff. He firmly believed that you had to flip the communist’s propaganda against them and drain the water in which Mao’s fish swam. Examples include:

  • The Army and the Philippine Constabulary (PC, i.e., civilian police) was purged of corrupt and inefficient officials and the abuses of the peasants and others were stopped. Both the Army and the PC received civic-action training received the wherewithal to conduct actions in both rural and urban areas.
  • Psywar teams were created and trained and embedded in all military units and set into action before, during and after all military operations including those areas where the Huks had hit-and-run.   Landsdale conducted research into local superstitions and his psywar advice was innovative and it became apparent in some of the psywar activities of the teams embedded with Battalion Combat Teams (BCT). The villagers’ belief in vampires, and in ghosts of the dead was exploited, such as playing upon the popular dread of an asuangs, or vampires. When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man of the patrol. They then punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail. When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed that the asuang had got him and that one of them would be next. In the ‘Eye of God’ campaign, suspected guerrillas living in a village were targets of psywar teams that surreptitiously painted a menacing eye on a wall facing the suspect’s hut. Lansdale noted that such tactics were remarkably effective.”
  • Magsaysay set up a Complaint and Action Commission (CAC) whereby any citizen had the right to send a telegram free of charge to CAC of any local injustices and abuses of power. Investigators were immediately sent out on surprise inspection trips in response to legitimate complaints to investigate and resolve the complaint; reports of abuses by the Army had first priority. With these reforms, the Philippine peasants no longer saw the need for “Huk justice”.

·      The Economic Development Corps (EDCOR) program was set up to lure disenfranchised peasants away from the Huks. Those who voluntarily surrendered were resettled in new settlements far removed from their operational bases, given land, provided with agricultural extension services and credit to ensure a productive new start. (A similar Chieu Hoi program was launched in 1963 in Vietnam.)

Major military offensives were launched and the army became innovative in pursuing the Huks in the mountains.  An important movement in the campaign against the Huks was the deployment of hunter-killer counter-guerrilla special units; the “Nenita” unit commanded by Major Napoleon Valeriano was the first of such Special Forces whose main mission was to eliminate the Huks’ infrastructure (a somewhat similar operation, the Phoenix program, was in operation in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972). In July 1950, Major Valeriano assumed command of the elite 7th BCT that developed a reputation toward employing a more comprehensive unconventional counter-insurgency strategy thus reducing collateral damage from operations.

American assistance allowed Magsaysay to create more BCTs, bringing the total to twenty-six by 1951 and army strength had increased by 60 percent over the previous year. Thus the army was able to vastly increase the use of mobile strike forces in offensive campaigns against the Huks. By 1954, Valeriano was promoted to Colonel and had developed the tactic of employing psywar through combat intelligence and infiltration that relied on secrecy in planning, training, and execution of attack by the mobile striking forces.

With the all-out anti-dissidence campaigns against the Huks, they numbered less than 2,000 by 1954 and without the protection and support of locals, active Huk resistance no longer presented a serious threat to Philippine security. From February to mid-September 1954, the largest anti-Huk operation, “Operation Thunder-Lightning” was conducted and resulted in the surrender of Luis Taruc on May 17. Further cleanup operations of guerillas remaining lasted throughout 1955 diminishing its number to less than 1,000 by year’s end.

Magsaysay’s leadership and actions combined with Lansdale’s application of advertising principles and media manipulation that led to the honest election of Ramon Magsaysay as president in 1953; Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay is considered the best president that the Philippines ever had.

From his experiences in the Philippines, Lansdale framed his basic theory that Communist revolution was best confronted by democratic revolution. He came to advocate a four-sided campaign of social, economic and political aspects combined with military actions. 

Viet Nam: The Great White Hope

Because of Lansdale’s success in aiding in the defeat of the communist Huks in the Philippines, he was tapped by President John F. Kennedy to see if he could once again pull a magical rabbit from Viet Nam’s hat as he had in the Philippines. Lansdale had developed a close personal relationship with the dynamic Ramon Magsaysay, first in Washington, D.C. when Magsaysay was serving as Chairman of the Committee on Guerrilla Affairs for the Philippine House of Representatives, then as the Philippine Secretary of Defense and later as President. Magsaysay and his staff willingly worked with Lansdale to implement the necessary reforms to defeat the Huks. In the Philippines, Lansdale had carte blanche – complete operational freedom, full support of the important politicians in Washington, D.C., and no interference from the other Americans, civilian or military, who were stationed in the Philippines. However, Viet Nam was a horse of a different color, a nation with a myriad of almost insurmountable problems.

Governance in Viet Nam was a family affair. President Ngô Đình Diệm was held in high esteem by the Vietnamese people; some thought he had a mandate from heaven. However, he had an albatross around his neck — his powerful and devious brother and principal advisor Ngô Đình Nhu, who was the personification of evil, and his wife with a venom-glazed tongue and scalding temper – the de facto First Lady – aka the Dragon Lady.

Viet Nam was a daunting task, and although Lansdale had developed an amicable relationship with President Ngô Đình Diệm in the early days of the establishment of the Republic of South Viet Nam, it wasn’t long before he found out that he lacked the necessary unbridled support from U.S. politicians as he had enjoyed in the Philippines. Instead, he faced high-level government bureaucrats and military brass both in Washington and Saigon who continuously marked and fiercely defended their perceived territories in lieu of providing positive contributions to Viet Nam. This was compounded by an endless stream of advisors offering inaccurate advice, political tourists, and members of the misleading media. The environment was hugely competitive and rife with backstabbing. The prevalent attitude among the diplomats and military brass was, “What is good for General Bull Moose is good for everybody.”*

All this culminated in the U.S.-generated military coup d’état against the Diệms. After the leading Vietnamese general had been promised safe passage for President Diệm via an American aircraft, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge welched on the promise and refused to provide the plane – ringing the death knell for the unfortunate President Diệm and perhaps Viet Nam.

The magical rabbit was dead upon arrival preventing any chance for the counter-insurgency tactics used so effectively by Lansdale in the Philippines to succeed.

*The bombastic General Bashington T. Bullmoose was a character created by Al Capp for his satirical comic strip Li’l Abner.

 

PBS Responds

PBS has responded to VVFH’s demand that they correct the errors in the Burns/Novick documentary, The Vietnam War. Here is what they wrote.

November 28, 2017
R.J. DelVecchio
Executive Secretary
Vietnam Veterans for Factual History

Dear Mr; De! Vecchio;

Paula Kerger asked me to respond to your November 7, 2017 letter regarding the recent broadcast of Ken Bums and Lynn Novick’s film, THE VIETNAM WAR.

As you know, the film generated a tremendous amount of attention, from the public, members of the military community and veterans, nearly all of which praised the film’s respect for our soldiers and its balance. Maybe more poignantly, not a day goes by when I do not hear from veterans of the war about how thankful they are for the film, helping them speak about their experience with family and friends, something they had rarely done before.

Ken and Lynn went to great lengths to include diverse voices in the film. We did the same in our outreach across the country, meeting with veterans’ groups, Vietnamese-Americans and those who opposed the war, as well as with a wide-range of historians and military experts. The film was extremely well received at the Air Force and Naval Academies, the Army Command and General Staff College, as well as at the Pentagon.

Nearly 34 million people watched some portion of the film. And all ten episodes of the series have been streamed more than 8 million times (over 600,000 times in Vietnam), a record for streaming on PBS.

Much of what is covered in the film is of course unsettled history and I appreciate that there may be. areas: where you disagree with the filmmaker’s emphasis, and aspects of the narrative that you think deserved more attention. We appreciate your feedback and believe ‘The Vietnam War’ has provided a timely opportunity to continue the discussion around this important topic.

Sincerely,

Jennifer R. Byrne
Vice President, Corporate Communications’

Do you believe that “nearly all” of the veteran community “praised the film”? If not, why not consider joining us in our efforts to correct the record.

Nothing Provides More Clarity Than the Passing of Time

These are some selected quotes from intelligent people, leaders of our country.

On Cambodia:

Some will find the whole bloodbath debate unreal. What future possibility could be more terrible than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now? Anthony Lewis “Avoiding A Bloodbath” New York Times March 17, 1975

If we really want to help the people of Cambodia and the people of South Vietnam, is it not wiser to end the killing? Since most credited analysts of foreign policy admit that the Lon Nol regime cannot survive, won’t the granting of further aid only prolong the fighting and, with it, the killing? Representative Bob Carr Congressional Record March 13, 1975

It is hard to predict in an exact sense what would happen if the United States reduced its commitment to Lon Nol. . . . There is a possibility that more moderate politicians would take over in Phnom Penh, and that the insurgents would be content to negotiate with these peo-ple. An actual insurgent attack and takeover of Phnom Penh is far from a certainty, as an assault on a city requires large expenditures of resources which the Khmer Rouge would not be likely to want to make. Michael Harrington “Limiting Aid to Cambodia” Congressional Record August 12, 1974

I say that calling the Lon Nol regime an ally is to debase the meaning of the word as it applies to our true allies. . . . The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambo-dian people is not guns but peace. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now. Representative Chris Dodd Congressional Record March 12, 1975

It is time that we allow the peaceful people of Cam-bodia to rebuild their nation . . . (T)he Administration has warned that if we leave there will be a “bloodbath.” But to warn of a new bloodbath is no justification for extending the current bloodbath. Representative Tom Downey Congressional Record March 13, 1975

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, they slaughtered 21% of the entire population.1 To save bullets, they grabbed children by the legs and bashed them against trees. None of the perpetrators have ever been brought to justice.

On Vietnam:

The CBU-55 [cluster bomb] joins herbicides, defoliation, and napalm as part of the American Indochinese legacy. . . . Recognition of their massive deployment betrays the ugly hypocrisy behind the Kissinger-Ford pose of righteousness over real or fabricated reports of post-war Indochinese killings, so casually labeled “blood bath” and so directly a consequence of American policy and tactics. “Blood Bath from the Skies” The Nation, editorial May 24, 1975

. . . the evidence is that in Cambodia the much-heralded bloodbath that was supposed to follow the fall of Phnom Penh has not taken place. As for Vietnam, reports from Saigon indicate exemplary behavior, considering the situation. . . . The most authoritative information thus far received leads to the conclusion that the American people were propagandized about the menace of unrestrained slaughter in Indochina. . . . The revolutionaries in both countries seem to have acted responsibly, perhaps more so in Vietnam because their revolution is a mature one, its leaders seasoned by experience and historical perspective. “Blood-Bath Talk” The Nation, editorial June 14, 1975

In sum, all of the evidence indicates that the decision to disperse the population of Phnom Penh and other cities to the countryside was grounded in urgent and practical considerations—and more than anything it was a question of feeding the population. . . . For a study of the available evidence shows that the evacuation was ordered in response to certain urgent and fundamental needs of the Cambodian population, and that it was carried out only after careful planning for provision of food, water, rest, and medical care. . . . The evacuation of Phnom Penh, so condemned by the U.S. government and media, undoubtedly saved the lives of tens of thousands of people. . . . . . . the food problem in Cambodia has in fact been solved. . . . . . . Despite U.S. predictions, Cambodia has not suffered mass starvation during the summer of 1975 and will not do so in 1976 either. . . . Cambodia, then, has completed one of the most thor-oughgoing agrarian revolutions in history, rebuilt much of the basic infrastructure necessary to a developing economy, and rather quickly resumed industrial production in the short period since the war’s end. Gareth Porter and G.C. Hildebrand The Politics of Food: Starvation and Agricultural Revolution in Cambodia Indochina Resource Center, Washington, D.C. September 1975

. . . for 25 . . . years our might has been deployed to frustrate an indigenous political and social revolution in Vietnam. . . . But the excruciating agony suffered by Vietnam and Cambodia is largely of our making. “On the Disaster” The New Republic, editorial May 3, 1975

Now, in contrast, the Communists are focusing primarily on the restoration of law and order and on providing such essentials as food, water, lodgings, and electricity, and, both their own propaganda and refugee accounts agree, they are relying on persuasive rather than coercive methods to attract popular sympathies. . . . A few South Vietnamese police and army officers are said to have been publicly executed in Tuy Hoa, but the Communists generally appear at this stage to be working to win “hearts and minds.” . . . Although the Communists are closer to Saigon than they have ever been and can probably strangle the capital in the weeks ahead, my own guess is that they would opt for a negotiated end to the war if they could get it. . . . Even so my own view is that they may be less drastic than their rhetoric indicates . . . Moreover they cannot massacre every Vietnamese with past American or Saigon regime connections unless they are prepared to liquidate a million people . . . But the Vietnamese face extraordinarily hard times ahead, and their only consolation may be that the rigor of life under Communism is preferable to a war that has meant death and destruction for so many years. Stanley Karnow “Avoiding Bloodshed in Saigon—Hanoi’s Design” The New Republic April 26, 1975

We are the last who should speak of a bloodbath. Rarely has there been such an example of a moral disaster resulting from radically flawed political premises. . . . In this respect Vietnam should teach us an important lesson. On the one hand Hanoi is one of several among the poorest nations in the world that have tried or will try to create a collectivist society, based on principles that are repugnant to us, yet likely to produce greater welfare and security for its people than any local alternative ever offered, at a cost in freedom that affects a small elite. Stanley Hoffman “The Sulking Giant” The New Republic May 3, 1975

But if a South Vietnamese surrender seems shocking, particularly to those who cannot accept the notion of Communists taking over a country, the alternatives could even be worse. One can contemplate, in a struggle to the finish, the sacrifice of thousands of innocent Vietnamese in a bloodbath far more devastating than the systematic crackdown against alleged “enemies of the people” that the Communists can be expected to carry on after they seize power. . . . Perhaps one day in the future hawkish Republicans will return from visits to a Communist Vietnam to announce that, after all, the Vietnamese are better off than they were during the war that might have dragged on endlessly had the U.S. continued to assist the Saigon regime. “Without Thieu” The New Republic, editorial April 19, 1975

A few “bloodbaths” would help their [right-wing politicians] public relations efforts, and they need not wait for verifiable instances: Ambassador Martin’s comments and dispatches will suffice. A suggestion of what may be anticipated can be found in Ronald Reagan’s demagogic statements of recent weeks. “Vietnam in 1976” The Nation, editorial May 3, 1975

When the guns of the Vietnam War have at last fallen silent, the peace that follows will be a new and in many respects strange experience for a whole generation of Vietnamese. Gerald Hickey “Peace: A New Experience” The New Republic May 3, 1975

INDOCHINA WITHOUT AMERICANS FOR MOST, A BETTER LIFE New York Times headline April 13, 1975 Adam Wolfson Richard Fisher

After the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, more Vietnamese died than during the entire thirty years of war from 1945 to 1975. Perhaps as many as one million were sent to reeducation camps and at least 165,000 of those died. Two or three million tried to escape by sea, and as many as 500,000 of those died in the attempt. Today, Vietnam is listed as one of the worst nations in the world in terms of human rights abuses.

This is the legacy of fools who fancy themselves to be wise yet ignore the evidence that stares them in the face. Today, these same fools insist they were right, despite the proof that they were not. They cannot face the fact that they doomed so many people to poverty, slavery and death.

Human Rights in Vietnam

This is the Congressional testimony of a Jesuit Priest who lived in Vietnam for nineteen years and remained after the communist takeover for fifteen months. Judge for yourself whether the communist takeover was good for the people who were unable to escape.

HEARINGS BEFOEB THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NINETY-FIFTH CONGEESS FIRST SESSION JUNE 16, 21, AND JULY 26, 1977

STATEMENT OP REV. ANDRE GELINAS, JESUIT PRIEST, PAR EASTERN PROVINCE OE THE JESUIT ORDER

Father Gelinas. First, a word of introduction on my sources of information for the facts that I am about to describe.

I am a Canadian, a Jesuit Priest, as has already been stated. I came to Vietnam in 1957 as a professor of Chinese history at the University of Saigon. Starting in 1963, and for 13 years without interruption, I was on the staff of the Alexander-de-Rhodes Student Center, which has been for all these years the largest and most influential center of activities for Vietnamese University students.

After the Communist takeover, I stayed on at the center for 15 more months, moving around freely within the borders of Gia Dinh Province. My information on conditions outside of Gia Dinh Province comes from these hundreds of Vietnamese students and families that I dealt with daily.

I might add here that most of these were Buddhists and Confucians, only one-third being Christians.

Now, the facts. Let me start with the most obvious, the expected: the complete suppression of the freedom of speech, press, and information. Before the Communist victory. South Vietnam published 27 daily newspapers, 22 in Vietnamese, 3 in Chinese, 1 in French, and 1 in English. It also produced some 200 scholarly journals, scholarly, technical, or literary, and a number of popular magazines. It had three TV channels and some 2 dozen radio stations.

In May 1975, every single one of these newspapers, serials, and stations were suppressed. Back issues of magazines, books, records, and cassettes were confiscated from homes and from libraries and burned in the streets in huge bonfires. From then on, our only source of in-formation was one TV channel owned by the Government, on the air for 2 hours only, from 7:30 to 9:30, and concerned exclusively with propaganda.

Also, two radio stations and three dailies providing the same propaganda, the same editorials, and the same selection of biased news items dictated by the unique party-controlled news agency.

No one was allowed to listen to short-wave radio, and any person aware of this crime in his neighborhood and failing to report it could be deported to the work camps with his entire family.

It was also the duty of every citizen to report ali private conversations deemed contrary to the spirit of the revolution. I hurry to add, however, that at least in Saigon this often repeated threat failed to curb the curiosity of the people. News items from the daily bulletins of the BBC and of the VOA were eagerly sought after, and spread through the population like brushfire.

Another basic human right which has been wiped out by the Communist victor is the freedom of movement. Without a special pass from the police, no one is allowed to go from place to place, not even to the next village or suburb. These official passes are not always easy to obtain, and often they can be had only through bribery.

It goes without saying that permission to travel abroad is restricted to official envoys of the Government. Thousands of Vietnamese Americans can testify to this who are hopelessly separated from their wives, children, and parents.

Another basic right ignored in Vietnam is the right for a court of law, or at least for a hearing before condemnation. Some 300,000 men have been imprisoned in reeducation camps for over 2 years now, and not one of them has ever been judged, condemned, or even accused of any. crime.

In Saigon, someone disappears nearly every day, and note that I am not talking on hearsay. Many of my friends have seen their daughter, their son, their husband fail to come home for supper. After frustrating inquiries from one police station to another, they were invariably told that if they want to stay out of trouble, they should mind their own business, or that the police does not know where this person is, but if he or she was not a criminal, he would surely be home by now.

Arrests are usually made in one of the following four ways, all of which I have personally witnessed. First, the person is called to report to the police station, and is never heard of since. Many priests have disappeared in this way. Second, the person is quietly kidnaped by the police patrol car while walking back home on the street or walking to work or walking to the market. This seems the most often-used method.

To list only the big names, Father Minh, Father Loc, Father Thanh were arrested in this way.

Third, the house is raided, usually at dawn. All the occupants are ordered out, and a search conducted without witness by a swarm of troops invariably produces some damning evidence, guns, documents, U.S. dollars, and so on.

Fourth, the house is searched at night, and the person is carried away during curfew hours. It is impossible to know how many persons are presently in jail. All I know is that all jails are crowded, that at least two large new ones have been built near Saigon, and that almost all U.S. BOQ’s and BEQ’s are now used as houses of detention, as many as 26 persons occupying the average GI single bedroom. I know this from the report of prisoners who have come back to tell me.

Now, not everyone is sent to jail, and only men with a high school education are kept in reeducation camps, but every single South Vietnamese, young or old, man or woman, is submitted to the triweekly sessions of political brainwashing, which often drag on from 7 o’clock to midnight. Everyone has to show his contrition for past crimes, his hatred for Americans who, among other crimes, used to cook and eat Vietnamese babies, so it is said, and his love for the Marxist-Leninist society.

Everyone is threatened with deportation to the work camps if he does not join in the campaign of denunciation against his neighbor, if he clings too hard to religious convictions or if, in any way, he fails to cooperate fully with the new regime. The right to one’s own convictions is another one that has been banished from Communist Vietnam.

The list could go on and on, but I think my time is over, and I may say more under the questions.

This is the fate America left to its allies, a people who trusted us to help them defend their country from communist takeover.

The Vietnam War Through Red Lenses

The Last Days in Vietnam is an Oscar-nominated documentary covering the very end of South Vietnam, in April, 1975. Rory Kennedy’s dramatically sad and horrific documentary is both difficult (for a Vietnam Veteran at least) to watch and a chronicle of American compassion and angst. The fall of a democratic society to Communist tyranny should be lamented by Americans, who sacrificed greatly in their defense. It is a film of pathos, frustrating and yet strongly uplifting at times as American soldiers, diplomats and newsmen risk their careers and their lives to save Vietnamese friends from the invading North Vietnamese Army.

Uplifting, unless you’re Associate Professor Christoph Giebel of the University of Washington, Seattle. In a review of the film posted to the website of Vietnam Scholars Group (sic) by Professor Giebel, the film is “dangerously simplistic,” and “much more of a commentary on current US culture—steeped in nationalistic discourses of exceptionalism, thoroughly militarized, and narcissistic—than a reflection of its actual quality.” In fact, the film “is the worst attempt at documenting the war (he) has seen in a long time.”

Aside from the obvious fact that the film is not attempting to document the war but the final American evacuation from the war, Professor Giebel’s statement that the first twenty five minutes of the documentary “quickly abandon all pretense of historical accuracy or balance” quite adequately describes his own (following) rant about the Vietnam War.

[Background: In the spring of 1975, two years after U.S. combat units had left Vietnam, twelve divisions of the North Vietnamese Army invaded South Vietnam. The U.S. Congress refused to re-enter the war, although it had pledged to do so in the event of massive violations of the Paris Peace Agreements. Although many South Vietnamese units fought valiantly and brilliantly, they were no match for the Russian-armed North Vietnamese troops and heavy weapons. In April, 1975, the North Vietnamese overran Saigon and took over the country. The Americans were slow to evacuate thousands of South Vietnamese who had worked with them and who were in mortal danger from the Communists. Panic and anger overtook the final days of the war.]

Giebel posts six “main issues” with the documentary:

1. “US centrism and exceptionalism”

Of course the “notion” of the U.S. aid cut is anything but debunked. The U.S. congressional records are replete with discussions, debates and resolutions concerning the aid cut. A history professor teaching anything contrary is irrefutably wrong. Giebel’s use of the term “trotted out” also indicates a disdain for historical documentation which, easily accessed, refutes his position.

2. “Complex US debates reduced to literal “abandonment” “

Giebel’s “issue” here is illusory but seems to be that America did not abandon the South Vietnamese —it was more complex than that and not just the result of anti-war protestors and a liberal/Democrat US Congress. Which, of course, was exactly what it was. His final statement is “Congressional sons- of-bitches and the anti-war protestors did not and (sic) cold-heartedly stabbed ‘South Viet Nam’ in the back.” Which, of course, they did.

Giebel goes on to muse, “I will not speak to the adventurous notion that Congressional appropriation (not assembling, shipping, delivering, distributing), on April 17, of emergency military aid, in violation of the Paris Agreement, would have made a lick of difference before April 30.” He would have been better off to stick with his gut feeling. By that comment he makes it known to all that he has scant knowledge of America’s military might or system (he thought we would get on the phone and order bullets? Rush delivery, I suppose) or the ability of an American air force to obliterate a Communist army strung along miles of South Vietnam highways, with no air cover and little mobile anti-aircraft weaponry. Every military pilot in the U.S. would have volunteered for those missions. Giebel is just childish in his belief that the North Vietnamese Army was somehow immune to this fate in the face of air and naval gunfire attacks. (Yet he was more than likely a voice of screaming rage when the Americans bombed Hanoi into submission and a peace treaty in December of 1973.) In every engagement in the course of the war when Hanoi gathered massive weaponry and soldiers, they were wiped off the map.

3. “False and manipulative framing along US propagandistic, Cold War rhetoric:”

And what is this manipulative US propaganda? Giebel says: There never was a South Vietnam and therefore there was never an invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam.

His statement, breathtaking in its ignorance, can only be viewed in light of the Communist (for which Giebel, at the very least, is a first class apologist) methodology of erasing history which does not support their actions and propaganda. Giebel goes far beyond the oft “trotted out” claim that the war was a Civil War, ignoring the Communist North Vietnam bloody and brutal conquest of vast areas of Laos and Cambodia (as if the Confederate Army had invaded Mexico and Canada during the US civil war).

Under Giebel’s view of the world, there was/is no South Korea. In reality, the only difference between South Vietnam and South Korea is that the U.N. forces did not abandon South Korea after stopping the Communist attempts to take over the southern half of the Korean peninsula. Existing as a struggling democratic country in 1973, with U.N. and Peace Treaty defined borders, South Vietnam had a democratically elected government, and the individual freedoms known only in Western societies, facts Giebel simply ignores.

4. “One-sided misrepresentation of the Paris Agreement (sic)”

Just when one would think Giebel could not posit a more blatant untruth about the war, he does. He cites the violations of the 1973 peace accord and the “much more aggressive violations of the ceasefire by the ARVN (South Vietnamese).” Of course, fairness being a Communist apologist’s prime concern, he allows that the “revolutionary (North Vietnamese) side violated the Peace Agreement as well, albeit initially in a reactive manner.” The statement is so stupid—there is no other word for it— that a rebuttal is superfluous. Suffice it to say that the ARVN never perpetrated an attack onto North Vietnamese soil. Period.

5. “One-sided representation of war-time violence.”

Is there a need to even respond? Communists slaughtered an estimated 50,000 of their own people within weeks of taking control of the country after defeating the French in 1954. Proportionately, their slaughter of village leaders in South Vietnam during the war would be the equivalent slaughter of 20,000 mayors and council members of U.S. towns. The disagreement about the Communists burying men, women children alive during their occupation of HUE after Tet ’68, is over the number, not the act. Most Western accounts put the number at 3,000 to 4,000. The Communists say they buried alive less than a thousand. Giebel’s statement in his review is that the West, primarily the U.S and their South Vietnamese ally, claim to “have perpetrated no violence, no one else suffered.” The statement is ridiculous and worthy of inclusion in no review above the sophomore year in high school level. Of course. there was never such a claim.

6. Finally, “Racist/orientalist reductionism of the Vietnamese actions, motivations, and feelings.”

Giebel believes that the West has “long-standing racist notions…that ‘the natives’ are easily swayed by, and can be kept under control through, fear, ‘shock and awe’ and the threat of violence.” That our view was one of “the superstitious, emotional, child-like Little Brown ‘commie.’

It is, in fact, a basic foundation of the apologists for the Communist takeover of South Vietnam that the people of South Vietnam were too uneducated, too unsophisticated, to understand the difference between a Communist regime and one based on democratic principles, that the one million South Vietnamese military casualties were the result of American propaganda and coercion. That given the open choice, the South Vietnamese would have chosen to live under the already exhibited brutal Communist government from the North. That they preferred thought police, restriction of movement and expression, labor camps, and the oppression of government bureaucracy to a chance for freedom and choice. But with the invasion North Vietnamese forces and the abandonment of our ally by the Democrat U.S. Congress, they got the Communists.

It is ludicrous to believe they freely chose their own enslavement.

Giebel has written at least one other “apology” for the Vietnamese communists. Entitled “Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism,” the first two chapters of the book are devoted to explaining and justifying the lies and misrepresentations Ton Duc Thang, North Vietnam’s second president, made in order to become a national hero and Communist leader. Communists and their apologists have no compunction to base power or truth, or history, on fact. It is a dubious, at best, requisite for a professor of history at an American University.

I once visited Professor Giebel’s class to freshman at the university. On the board was written—“The greatest danger to world peace is American hegemony.” It was no surprise, at a later date, to find he was a signed-up supporter of Bill Ayers—probably the most dangerous and traitorous of the anti- Vietnam War protestors.

Professor Giebel teaches history at a major American university. In my opinion, he shouldn’t. (On a campus which once refused to allow a memorial to Pappy Boyington, one of the greatest Marine Corps aces in World War II, perhaps there is no surprise.) Perhaps there is a place for teaching a European leftist (Giebel was born in Germany) view of American history. But it should be called what it is.

I invite Professor Giebel to debate a real Viet Nam War scholar and will gladly volunteer to arrange a public forum for that event. Taxpayers should be made aware of what their children are being taught.

Phillip Jennings is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Viet Nam War and the author of two books on the war.

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The Secret War in Laos That Wasn’t a Secret

By Phillip Jennings

President Obama said this week in Laos that sometimes Americans “feel lazy and think we’re so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people.” 1 He then addressed America’s “secret war” in that country, and proved what he didn’t know. What went on in Laos was hardly a secret, and was not much of a war either, except for those of us who fought it.

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower met President-elect John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office prior to passing the reigns of the presidency, he warned the young Prince of the dangers of war in Southeast Asia. In Laos to be exact. Over first months of the tragically short Kennedy administration, the communists – Soviet, Chinese and North Vietnamese — kept their aggressive pressure on the small nation as only communists seem able to do; through killings, kidnappings, thievery and rabid control of all aspects of life.

Kennedy sent U.S. Marines to the southern border of Laos, with a warning to the communists to get out and stay out. The bluff worked, and in July 1962 fourteen nations signed another in a long line of Geneva accords, this one guaranteeing Laotian neutrality. The buck was passed to South Vietnam to become the whipping boy for communist aggression in Indochina.

Kennedy, meanwhile, made a rookie mistake which haunted and inhibited America’s commitment to keep Ho Chi Minh’s brutal troops out of Saigon over the next decade; he ceded the eastern third of “neutral” Laos to the communists. And that strip of jungle and Annamite foothills became the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The trail – actually a superhighway — was built using Laotian slave labor to wage war in South Vietnam. The locals were under constant attack from tens of thousands of North Vietnamese regulars.

After North Vietnamese troops moved into Laos, the Marine helicopters in northern Thailand mysteriously lost their MARINES markings and ended up being flown by civilian (mostly former Marine) pilots in what would become part of a company known as Air America. And in late 1967, I became one of those former Marine pilots who flew the former Marine helicopters in and around Laos for the next three years.

The war in the countryside was brutal, but small and mostly contained. The Americans who trained and led the anti-communist troops were among the gutsiest our country has ever produced. There was less than a thousand of them in-country at any one time. They were primarily CIA (we called them customers) and U.S. Army. They worked alone in the country- side, depending on the locals for everything but air support, which was aptly supplied by Air America, the U.S. Air Force Ravens, and the sometimes available American fighters and bombers for close air support when things got really dicey. This small band of warriors and their local counterparts kept Laos from being overrun by the North Vietnamese divisions until South Vietnam fell and Laos became a domino.

It was tragic that the Laotians were caught in the middle of the North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam. But it is not dismissing the tragedy to point out that the overwhelming majority of American bombs fell on unpopulated areas along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Most of the Laotian population live in the lowlands, and near the Mekong River which was the western border for much of the country. The cities of Houi Sai, Luang Prabang (the Royal Capital), Vientiane, Savannakhet, and to the far south, Pakse, were never bombed, and lay as peacefully in the Indochinese sun when the Americans left as when they had arrived.

Good Soldier Obama rightly commented that the U.S. has a moral obligation to continue, and in fact intensify, the efforts to find and defuse/destroy the unexploded ordnance scattered mostly over the eastern one-third of Laos. This is a noble and necessary effort the Americans who fought there, and most Americans at large, would whole-heartedly support.

Obama did not mention the greater moral obligation the Americans have to the remaining Huang/Meo people who gave up a large percentage of their population fighting the communists in Laos on our behalf, led primarily by the great Lao general, Vang Pao. When the Democrat U.S. congress abandoned the South Vietnamese in 1973, they also abandoned our friends and allies in Laos. The communists then slaughtered, bombed, gassed and exiled them from their native lands. It is to our shame for betraying our friends and allies. I would not have expected Obama to bring this up while he was kow-towing to the existing Laotian communist government, and he met my low expectations.

Yes, there was a war in Laos (I was shot down more than once) and the Laotian and American deaths at the hands of the communists were tragic and often extremely brutal. Was it a secret? Absolutely, unless you read The Bangkok Post, The New York Times, or any one of dozens of newspapers and magazines constantly reporting on the war in Laos. I myself was interviewed for articles in Time and the Wall Street Journal while I was “under cover.”

We fought the good fight in Laos. A small, neutral country was being invaded, and we were providing the barest of support. We were enforcing a Geneva Convention mandate, and worked with the indigenous people who carried the brunt of the fighting, and the casualties. Given what we had, we did a respectable job.

The left at the time could find nothing to protest in what we were doing, but they did anyway. Leftists have an innate desire to blame America for all the world’s evils. It was obvious to me, hearing our President speak about Laos, that he was one of the people who hadn’t taken the time to learn about our history and sacrifice in that very gracious and beautiful land. His speech inferred that the United States inflicted massive airstrikes and ruined cities. He expressed regret about the brutality of bombing a peaceful country. He used all the old clichés and leftist tropes (e.g., more bombs than on Europe in World War Two). He all but apologized for our attempt to defend Laos from the communists. And if he knew the first thing about the war we actually fought, he kept it a secret.

Phillip Jennings is an investment banker and entrepreneur, former United States Marine Corps pilot in Vietnam and Air America pilot in Laos. He was also an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Central and South America. He is the author of two novels and one best-selling non-fiction book, and received the Pirates Alley Faulkner Prize for fiction in 1999.