Tag Archives: Vietnam

What do Michelle Obama and I have in common?

We are both releasing our books on the same day November 19. I can’t tell you a thing about her book on the other hand I can tell you a lot about mine:

Ring of Freedom is about a Vietnamese family, the Vuongs, risking everything they had to seek the freedom only offered in the United States of America.

According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, an estimated 250,000 died attempting to escape the communist/socialist Vietnam. My personal opinion that figure is low.

At the time, the Vuong family started their escape they were an affluent Vietnamese family, lead by the patriarch of the family Doctor Toan Tu Vuong. By their final escape attempt, they had to bury money and gold from their in-laws, turn the gold into rings to better hide and sow both the rings and money into their clothing to escape with only the clothes on their back. By this time, everything else had been stolen from them except their desire to be free. Please pick up their story on November 19.

Ring of Freedom – My latest writing project – a Memoir from a Journal

Last year, I was introduced to a story unlike anything I have ever written or contemplated. A friend of mine in Charlotte, Jack (J. C.) Lightner, told me about the family of his wife’s colleague who escaped from Communist Vietnam. Naturally, I was intrigued. As some of you know, I have been writing a series on the causes and effects of the Vietnam Conflict. This would be the best example I could’ve hoped for of the final cause and effect.

Last fall, J. C. introduced me to a family member, Dao Vuong. She gave me an overview of what her family had persevered to come to the United States. I was hooked on the story. When J.C. first discussed the project with me, the patriarch of the family, Dr. Toan Tu Vuong, had written a journal about his life, but it was in Vietnamese and he and his wife lived in New Orleans. We tabled the project until we could find someone to translate his writings. Then, by the grace of God, the family moved to Charlotte, and he translated his own writings to English. Now the project was back on, full speed. Here is the book cover:

The first of this year, the translated journal was provided to me in a MS Word document. Dr. Vuong’s journal covered his life from a young child in Vietnam until late in his professional career in the United States. After discussing with several of my trusted advisors on how to convert a journal to a memoir, I started. As I do when writing historical fiction, I used actual historical events to build the timeline of the story around. To provide different perspective and to add more detail to the story, I interviewed the five adult children as well as Toan’s wife Nha-Y, her sister, and a close family friend.

I read the first chapter at my writers group and received some tremendous input. They suggested a radical change to hook you, the reader, on the Vuong’s determination to come to the United States.

The memoir begins just before the fall of South Vietnam to the Communists and follows the family—and their personal trials and tribulations—as they arrive in the United States. It continuously shows the sacrifices Toan and Nha-Y made for the betterment of their children.

The end of the book includes biographies of each family members to show that despite the dramatic events they endured (as detailed in the memoir), all of them achieved at the highest levels.

I invite you to pick up this memoir and experience the Vuong family’s journey as they come to the United States to be free. A pre-sale will be available soon, and I will keep everyone posted for a release date.

 

 

The Vietnam Conflict Novels

As many of my readers know, I am writing a series of novels based on the “real history” from behind the scenes of the Vietnam Conflict. I wrote several reviews on the Ken Burn’s / PBS excellent documentary on Vietnam. Over the last few months, I have watched Oliver North’s Fox Business News series titled War Stories, which covered the same time periods as my first two novels. Two espisodes in particular got my attention. One focused on the Diem Coup, while another dealt with President Johnson having more interest in his 1964 presidential campaign than in managing the evolving conflict in Vietnam. Three major events—the role of the CIA, the role of illegal drugs, and the Buddhist/Catholic conflicts—are left out of these documentaries that I cover extensively in my novels. They are all controversial topics, which is why they are rarely discussed. Yet, these areas are critical to understanding all that went on in Indochina from the period after World War II through the end of the Vietnam Conflict in 1975.

Besides intense research into this time period, I also sought out individuals who served honorably in this conflict to obtain their reactions. In my privileged conversations with those who fought and had friends who died, it has emerged that our troops never lost a big battle. In my studies, the battles the US didn’t win were often when the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese were allowed to sneak into Cambodia, Laos or back into North Vietnam, and the U.S. troops were not permitted to pursue by orders from above. This was the first war the U.S. fought where ground was not captured. It turned into a war of body counts. Interestingly, the official military records of some of those interviewed don’t record them being in places they remember being in. Coincidence? I think not.

Why was Vietnam, Vietnam? First and foremost, Vietnam was the first war that was not about defeating the enemy. It was about preserving South Vietnam in any form of government but communist. It was the first war in which journalists were able to broadcast live. Naturally, the press, seeking to broadcast high drama, sometimes presented things that were never shown during World War II and Korea, when the government censored the war film footage. As Ken Burn’s put it, “America got to witness the war first hand in their living room”—and war can get ugly. Ask anyone who has served. Most won’t even talk about it because they want to dredge up hidden memories.

Within the next couple of weeks, my second novel, Pawns: Kings in Check, will be released on Kindle and in paperback. It covers the period during President Johnson’s re-election in 1964. In this book, as with my other novels, I have no agenda to present or protect. I am only offering the facts and some unknown truths so the reader may draw his own conclusions. I hope you will give a read to my latest novel. Thanks again for your support.

The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Tet Offensive

This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive, which was the most dynamic military event of the Vietnam Conflict.

Tet is when Asian cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year. In Vietnam, it’s a super holiday, combining the new year with honoring dead ancestors. The government shuts down. During wars, a ceasefire is declared to allow both side to celebrate. However, the National Liberation Front, more commonly referred to as the Viet Cong (VC), rarely honored this ceasefire. In 1968, South Vietnam started Tet on the last day of January. However, U.S. intelligence did not know the North Vietnamese started their tribute two days earlier. Therefore, U.S. military was expecting the VC and the North Vietnamese to attack but several days later.

On the evening of January 31, 1968, a Viet Cong force estimated between 70,000 to as many as 84,000 soldiers, aided by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), launched a surprise attack on the major cities and towns in South Vietnam. NVA General Giap, the strategic planner for the North Vietnamese, took a huge risk with this all-in attack, hoping this would be their next Dien Bien Phu. Their objectives were to not only win the battles but also break the will of the American public.

However, it was not a surprise attack. General Westmoreland had anticipated the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese would attack at the beginning of Tet. However, Westmoreland predicted they would only attack the northern cities of South Vietnam. While the initial attacks did begin in the northern cities along the DMZ, Brigadier General Davidson speculated to General Westmoreland, based on his intel, that once the attack began, it would spread throughout the rest of the country. Westmoreland contacted South Vietnamese President Thieu about canceling the ceasefire. Thieu replied it would be bad for the morale of the South Vietnamese.

When the attacks began in Saigon, specifically at the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. military requested help from the South Vietnamese military, but none came. There was no cavalry “riding over the hill.” The irony in this was that the South Vietnamese government had requested they be put in charge of the security surrounding the U.S. Embassy and the immediate area near the Embassy. The VC had a well-devised plan that included an attack on the Embassy. While they did manage to enter the Embassy grounds and kill five U.S. Marines, the U.S. Military Police (MP) and Marine security guards, with inferior weapons consisting of hand guns and a few rifles, repelled the attack, killing all seventeen VC commandos.

The other significant fighting occurred at Tan Son Nhut Airbase, the American Military Assistance Command, and the South Vietnamese military headquarters. Earlier, Lieutenant General Weyand had placed American and Allied forces strategically to protect the city, as he had a sense a VC attack was coming. The U.S. troops were placed to defend and ultimately counterattack the VC at Tan Son Nhut Arbase. Afterwards, Weyand was given the nickname of “Savior of Saigon.” 

When the fighting was over, the U.S. troops had decisively defeated the Viet Cong, with an estimated 37,000 VC killed compared to 2,500 U.S. troops lost. Once the VC were defeated, however, the press chose to focus on the negative aspects of the Tet Offensive. The fighting spirit of the MP and Marine guards at the Embassy was not newsworthy. The fighting spirit to defend and keep open Tan Son Nhut Airbase and the military command was not newsworthy. The difficult fighting the U.S. Marines did at the ancient capital of Hue, where door-to-door, hand-to-hand combat was essential to liberating the city, was not newsworthy.

Instead, the press focused on issues that conveyed to the American public that U.S. troops were defeated. Why? Because the Viet Cong mounted a coordinated country-wide strike, waged attacks all over the city of Saigon, and held the Embassy grounds hostage for hours—which was enough to push flagging American opinion over the edge.

For the last several months leading up to the Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland told the press the VC were close to defeat. If that were true, how could they launch an attack throughout the country—and, more particularly, in Saigon?

Vietnam was the first war to be televised. Battles were literally brought into the living rooms of America. Graphic film footage—in living color—was relayed into every nightly news program. Americans at home got to see how ugly war really is. And the youth of American didn’t like it. And, eventually, the parents of America didn’t like it. Soldiers are conditioned to handle the brutality of war. The American public was not. Especially not when they saw a VC spy killed at point blank range in Saigon. Or a Napalm girl running for her life.

The American public were shown mostly negative film, which, of course, had a profound influence on public opinion. So much so that the men and women who proudly served felt disrespected and humiliated. Many didn’t even want to admit they had served.

This is why I chose to write my series on Vietnam. Someone needs to reveal the whole story—the true story. Why was the United States in Vietnam anyway? What was going on behind the scenes? What really happened where no cameras were allowed?

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Burns’ Vietnam Documentary on PBS

Since I am writing a series of historical novels on the Vietnam Conflict, I was drawn to watch the Vietnam War Documentary produced by Ken Burns for PBS. The ten-episode series was well researched, and Burns presented all sides of the Conflict, including the North Vietnamese prospective. The stories of individuals involved gave the narrative a personal insight often missing from such broadcasts. I was concerned about how the producer would portray US troops—but I shouldn’t have been. The depiction was excellent—except, perhaps, too much focus on the negatives created by US troops rather than those created by military and political leaders’ flawed military strategy.

The documentary started in the mid-1800s, which provided excellent insight into the mental make-up of the Indochinese people. This essential understanding of the Vietnamese was something US decision-makers did not bother to acquire.

Indecisiveness characterized President Kennedy’s administration, which focused on South Vietnamese President Diem—who was already in trouble with the majority Buddhist population in his country. All the while, the North Vietnamese, under the lead of their second-in-command, Le Duan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, focused on moving supplies into South Vietnam. He was instrumental in the continuous growth of the conflict, no matter the action of the United States. While he was pushing the war buttons, Ho Chi Minh became a figurehead assuming the role of “Uncle Ho,” dressing like the people and walking amongst them. His personality was widely embraced by the population, while Diem’s actions isolated him from his people.  

Shortly after President Johnson was elected in 1964, he committed troops to South Vietnam—and, every time Westmoreland asked for more, Johnson granted his requests. Camps set up throughout South Vietnam became easy targets for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong’s mortars. The documentary clearly showed that Westmoreland defined battle victories by body count. Worse still, US troops were sacrificed to capture ground; soon thereafter, the ground fought and died for fell right back to the enemy. US soldiers were not allowed to pursue the enemy into Cambodia or Laos.

Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese leadership committed every citizen to their effort, body count be damned. They correctly believed their goal of staying engaged at all costs would eventually wear down the will of the United States, which had little to fight for other than stopping the spread of communism. The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong worked diligently to keep the Ho Chi Minh trail available to move supplies or men into the South. They forced women and children to work at night to repair the bomb damage to keep the road open.

There were two comments that made me proud of our men who served.  Colonel Moore stated the US troops fought gallantly at the battle of Ia Drang, and Neil Sheehan commented that soldiers in Vietnam fought as hard as the men who served in World War II. This was especially pertinent since the US military had been trained to fight the Soviets in conventional war, not the guerrilla warfare of the Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

Burn’s coverage of the Tet Offensive was spot on. Clearly, this was the moment of the Vietnam Conflict. US troops inflicted enough casualties on the Viet Cong that, as Westmoreland predicted, casualties out-numbered replacements. While the attack was anticipated, Westmoreland guessed wrong about where it would take place. Instead of only attacking the northern portion of South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong also attacked every major population center in South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh trail. The battles were intense, but in the end, the US defeated the North Vietnamese and virtually wiped out the Viet Cong. However, these were the first battles televised live, and watching the realities of war play out in their living rooms turned a public opinion against the war effort.

By the time President Johnson was up for re-election in 1968, he realized the country had turned against him. The anti-war movement would not allow him the Democratic votes to be re-elected. Instead, the people voted for Richard Nixon, who had promised to end the war with a winning strategy. Nixon increased bombing so sorties were flown day and night. He negotiated with the North Vietnamese to basically allow US troops to leave, which was easy. The North knew as soon as the US left, they could crush the South, whose political leadership had been such a game of musical chairs it was embarrassing. The corruption of the leaders of the South was even more embarrassing.

There were two important items left out of the documentary—the role of the CIA, and the role of illegal drugs. However, these are covered extensively in my historical novels. I don’t know why Burns and PBS left them out. They did interview one CIA agent, who represented one of the two factions of the CIA.

All in all, PBS’s Vietnam War was well done. What did you think of Burn’s documentary? Do you think he got it right? Why or why not?

Vietnam – Undermining the Geneva Peace Conference

As I wrote in my previous blog on Vietnam and the Geneva Peace Conference, politicians on both sides made agreements at the conference table that neither side planned to follow. The Geneva Peace Conference Accords favored the North, mostly because it was driven by China’s Zhou En-lai and the North Vietnamese Representatives.

The first thing Ho Chi Minh did was kill off political opposition to him within North Vietnam. Next, Ho sent Viet Minh soldiers into South Vietnam to intimidate and kill innocent civilians. Soon their intimidation turned to recruiting people in the South to follow their cause—or die. To say the least, it was an effective campaign.

The United States did not earn any angel wings, either, but remember, neither the United States nor South Vietnam signed the Accords. However, they did say they would comply with those Accords.

But in this blog, I want to focus on two of my favorite real-life people—Edward Lansdale and Lucien Conein. They were true American heroes from a time when we needed men such as these. I love these guys—they’re so full of larger-than-life qualities—both good and bad. Great for writing.

In the summer of 1954, Lansdale, an Air Force Colonel and CIA agent whose specialty was counter-insurgency, led a team of agents that included  CIA agents Conein as his second in command  as well as Theodore Shackley into Vietnam to begin a series of covert operations against North Vietnam. Many of those sabotage missions failed.Their goal was to mount a propaganda campaign to persuade the Vietnamese people in the South not to vote for the Communists in future elections.

Conein’s “cover” going back into Vietnam was to arrange air transport for northerners fleeing the Communist Viet Minh. However, his assignment was to sabotage the victorious Viet Minh takeover of northern Vietnam by creating a stay-behind setup for possible guerrilla resistance. Besides sabotaging the public transportation system detailed above, Conein was to leave behind necessary supplies for a rebellion against the Communist regime. He came up with the novel idea of packing military hardware into coffins and burying them in cemeteries. However, the anti-Communist uprisings never materialized. In October 1954g, in the last days the U.S. personnel were to be in Hanoi, a special CIA-trained team led by Conein contaminated the oil supply for the public transportation. This was done so the motors would fail slowly.

Conein was never short on creativity. When the French were pulling out of Vietnam and very up-set with the Americans, Lansdale requested the new US Ambassador fortify his personal residence. The Ambassador didn’t heed his advice. So, on his way home from dinner, Conein drove by the Ambassador’s residence and tossed a live grenade on his front yard. I can just see the man laughing all the way home.

The next day, the Ambassador accepted Lansdale’s suggestion.

As election time rolled around in South Vietnam, Lansdale’s role broadened to finding a leader who could consolidate power. Both North and South Vietnam had been “governed” by territorial warlords for decades. As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh did what he needed to do to consolidate his power in the North with the help of Red China and to a lesser degree the Soviet Union. In the South, Lansdale selected Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic in a predominately Buddhist country, from a number of warlords to run against Bao Dai, the former emperor and a member of the Vietnamese royal family. Bao Dai had been propped up as a figurehead by the French prior to World War II, but he fled the country when the Japanese invaded. So when election time came in October 1955, the South Vietnamese people were asked to choose between Bao Dai and Diem for the leadership of the country. Lansdale suggested that Diem have the election commission provide two ballots, a red one for those voting for Diem and a green one for those voting for Bao Dai. Lansdale made this suggestion because of the Vietnamese belief that red signified good luck while green indicated bad fortune—just another small way in which he could help influence the result.

During the voting process, Diem supporters dominated the polling places. Some voters claimed they were told to put the red ballots in envelopes and to throw the green ballots away. There was also violence against Bao Dai voters. Basically, the election was held under third-world conditions. Lansdale believed he had to consolidate power quickly because he thought it was only a matter of time before the Communists would resort to open warfare.

With the results never in doubt, Diem told Lansdale and US officials that he’d won 98.2 % of the vote. Lansdale warned him these figures would not be believed and suggested he publish a figure of around 70 %. Diem refused, as the Americans predicted, since he used the higher figures, it was the beginning of mistrust of his administration from the very beginning.

Lansdale’s next assignment was to train the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in modern fighting methods. In May 1956, the US sent 350 military advisors, which was a direct violation of the Geneva Accords.

The Geneva Peace Conference Accords called for talks to begin between the two Vietnams in July 1956 to set forth plans for elections late the following year to unify the divided country. Diem refused to comply. The US knew Diem was so unpopular that he had no chance of being elected against Ho Chi Minh. As a result, the US had to scramble to come up with a solution to this imminent crisis.

So, long before the US officially joined the Vietnam conflict by sending troops, Lansdale and Conein were there stirring the pot.

Were you aware of this part of world history? Do you think these things still go on today?

How did the United States get involved in Vietnam?

I would say most of you know the story of how the United States’ involvement in Vietnam ended. As Saigon fell on April 29 -30, 1975, US civilians followed instructions given in a booklet. The song “White Christmas” played over the US-based radio station, which signaled US civilians to  get to the American Embassy or other pre-determined location because the final evacuation was underway.  Most of us have seen pictures or videos of personnel fighting to get to the top of the US Embassy, where they boarded helicopters that delivered them to US Navy ships off-shore. There are pictures or videos of people fighting to climb over the Embassy gates the communists approached Saigon.

But how did the United States get involved in this far-away country that seemingly had little to do with our national security? In two words: “Domino Theory.” The Domino Theory, perpetuated by the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and President Eisenhower, predicted that if Vietnam fell to the communists, most of the countries in the Far East—from Thailand to the Philippines—would also fall.

But let’s back up a little more. At the Cairo Conference in Egypt (November 22-26, 1943), U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek agreed on how to remove the Japanese from Indochina after winning the war in the Pacific. Generalissimo Chiang was given the title of “Supreme Commander of China” which included parts of Thailand and Indochina, which included Vietnam. It was agreed the Chinese Nationalist Army would disarm and remove the Japanese from the northern portion of Vietnam, while the British would liberate the southern portion.

Soon thereafter, Ho Chi Minh, a devout communist and the leader of the Viet Minh Underground fighting against the Japanese, asked France to return to Indochina to help remove the Chinese. Ho did not want the Chinese Nationalist Army in his country. Ho’s request to the French seemed strange, since Ho was loyal to both Stalin, the Secretary General of the Soviet Union, and Mao, Chairman of Communist China. However, President de Gaulle was quick to respond by sending forces to Indochina. In 1946, with the French forces in place, Ho Chi Minh asked Chiang Kai-shek to withdraw all of his troops. Chiang was in the midst of a vicious civil war with the communist Mao for control of mainland China, so he was glad to pull out—with the exception of a few divisions in the northern region. Moreover, the British were more interested in securing their former territories of India, Burma and Singapore, so soon after removing the Japanese, the British pulled out of the southern portion of Vietnam.

The French attempted not just to liberate Vietnam, but to re-establish the territory as it had been before World War II. However, the Vietnamese wanted none of that; they wanted their independence. According to historical records, in 1946, Ho Chi Minh wrote a letter to President Truman requesting support from the United States as an independent State. Truman never answered. Some historians say Truman wasn’t familiar with Ho Chi Minh, which was why he didn’t answer. I’ll not get into that debate here.

Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh, which had fought the Japanese throughout World War II, were very proficient at jungle fighting. The French struggled to fight the Viet Minh, and, in 1954 at the battle of Diem Bien Phu, the French were defeated and pulled out of Indochina.

Immediately, the United States moved in to take their place because of the “Domino Theory.” For the next fifteen years, President de Gaulle accused the United States of undermining their efforts in Indochina for the sole purposes of taking over the territory for themselves, which was never the goal of the United States.

So the United States officially entered Vietnam in 1954—even though the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor of the CIA, had been in Indochina since the beginning of World War II.

How many of you knew this background story?

Vietnam Conflict Series

I have not written a blog in a while, as my time has been split between my day job and working on my novels. But I need to catch everyone up on my latest project—a novel that features the Vietnam Conflict.

What got me started?

About ten years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “When I left Vietnam, we were winning.” Wow. When was that? I don’t remember anyone ever saying that. It caused me to reflect back to that time. Was there really a time when we were winning in Vietnam?

Not long after that, the traveling version of the Vietnam Wall came to Parkersburg, then my home town. I made a point to see it. Why? My parents were friends with a family whose son was killed in Vietnam in 1965. I was still a kid—I didn’t understand. But now that I was older and wiser, I wanted to find his name on the Wall. I didn’t know him, don’t remember even meeting him, but I wanted to find his name. The Wall was so massive, I quickly realized I couldn’t easily find it, so I went to the information tent to ask which panel I should scan. Well, when I mentioned his name, a woman there turned around and asked me how I knew this soldier. After telling her, she admitted to me she thought they would get married some day. I’ve often heard there’s no such thing as a coincidence, and that may be true.  I am convinced I was supposed to meet that woman to bolster my intrigue.

After finding his name, I felt compelled to find out how he’d been KIA (Killed in Action). So, like any normal person, I went to the World Wide Web and looked for his military death record. No record. Weird. A family member at the time was a high ranking officer in the military, so I asked her to see if she could find out anything. Nothing. Only the acknowledgement “KIA.” Now, that was really weird. I found stories about his death in two different newspapers from two different cities. One was from the city in which he grew up—Parkersburg, West Virginia—and the other from the city in which he had last resided—Columbia, South Carolina. Which creates another coincidence, since these are also the cities in which  I grew up and in which I currently live.  But neither newspaper story mentioned where he had died other than “in action.”

Later, I was able to find out that this soldier, a captain in the Army, was killed by a shrapnel from a roadside explosive device, but I still couldn’t find out where.  So, I still sit here today and ask how was a captain killed in early 1965—before the Marine landing later that year—by a roadside explosive device, not have a location of death? I can’t do a Paul Harvey “and now you know the rest of the story” here, because I don’t know the answers myself.

As I have talked to other people, I’ve discovered the records of many who served in Vietnam have been purged of the locations in which they served. In some cases, it has prevented them from receiving treatment from VA hospitals.

All of these events have pushed me into wanting to write something positive about what our troops went through in Vietnam—and not only give some positive coverage to our troops, but delve into why the United States even got involved in Vietnam.  Once I finish this novel, I promise you will learn things about the “real history of the world; what we weren’t taught in school”—particularly about this conflict.

If you or someone you know has a story about the Vietnam era you’d like to share with me, please do. I’d love to hear your stories. Thank you.

President Johnson and the Vietnam Conflict

Fifty years ago this month, the United States elected President Lyndon B. Johnson to a full term by a landslide. President Johnson, a.k.a. LBJ, won by more than sixteen million vote over the right-wing, ultra-conservative, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. The Electoral College results were even more one-sided; President Johnson received 486 Electoral College votes to Goldwater’s fifty-two.

Johnson had campaigned that he would continue the late President Kennedy’s policies, if elected, which included maintaining a low number of troops in Vietnam. Conversely, the Republican candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, campaigned that he would consider using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Additionally, Goldwater was opposed to one of Johnson’s main platform issues—Civil Rights legislation. While I have always believed this was the critical factor in Goldwater’s loss, this blog will focus on Johnson’s Vietnam policy, since I am writing a series of books on Vietnam. What got me started on this series of books is that, several years ago, I saw a bumper sticker which said, “We were winning Vietnam when I left!”Silhouette fedora

As World War II was winding down, President Roosevelt made a deal with Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of free China, to occupy Vietnam. The Chinese would take the North and the United States and France would take the South. They agreed to hold unification elections, as soon as possible. However, China went through a monumental change: the communists won the Civil War, therefore, North Vietnam was occupied by the communists. Then North Vietnam picked Ho Chi Minh to be their leader. Ho Chi Minh had led the country in their defeat of the French, who was trying to re-claim Vietnam as one of their territories. He was viewed as a liberator. Therefore, one of the largest obstacles to peace in Vietnam was overcoming the North, being led by Ho Chi Minh. The South could not come up with anyone to match this charismatic leader. Therefore, the United States refused to allow “free” elections, because they believed those elections would lead to the country falling into the hands of the communists.

The Democratic Party had been vulnerable for having “lost” China to the communists and being satisfied with letting the Korean Conflict end in a draw. The CIA still had two strong opposing factions. One side put forth what would become known as the Domino Theory, which in essence claimed that if Vietnam fell, all of Southeast Asia would fall, and the US would lose a strategic defensive position in the Far Pacific. This theory was held by four administrations; Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. First, President Kennedy, then President Johnson, repeatedly stated that they were not going to be the US Presidents who “lost” Vietnam and Southeast Asia. In the lead up to the election, Johnson quietly grew the US ground forces in Vietnam; however, the United States public was not informed this action.

So what did LBJ do after elected? He did exactly what he wanted! He believed his landslide was a mandate. Kennedy had believed that he could fight the Vietnamese without committing a large number of troops, instead using limited engagements, quick-strike operations with Special Forces, CIA-trained men, or Green Beret. He had consulted with retired General Douglas MacArthur, who might have had the most knowledge of the Asian Theater of anyone alive at that time. MacArthur had advised Kennedy that air and naval support, in conjunction with the South Vietnamese Army, was the way to win this conflict, but it was absolutely not the place for ground troops. Johnson, on the other hand, was beholding to “Big Oil” and the “Military Industrial Complex”; therefore, he needed a way to escalate the Vietnam Conflict to appease the people who funded his re-election. He was given the perfect scenario, the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”, which in reality was nothing more than a false flag to escalate the United States’ role in Vietnam.

The situation was further compounded by Johnson trying to manage the Conflict from the White House, as opposed to taking the advice of officers on the ground. Johnson’s mismanagement was instrumental in the malaise created in Vietnam. Moreover, the US troops were the first to have rules of engagement placed on them. Additionally, many of the South Vietnamese people did not respect our troops, and in many cases, they viewed our troops as occupiers, much like the French. Conversely, our troops knew that many of these Vietnamese were friendly during the day and Vietcong soldiers during the night. This made for a terrible situation where a large numbers of troops were encamped.

Vietnam became a quagmire, and while our troops were winning the fighting, it was totally misrepresented in the press back in the United States. Ultimately, Johnson chose not to run for re-election, and the American public turned against the Vietnamese Conflict and our troops who fought there. While there were atrocities, such as Mai Lia, most of our soldiers acted and fought honorably, but were treated poorly by the U.S. public.

What is your opinion of the Johnson Administration and their handling of the Vietnam Conflict?