HUMINT: A Continuing Crisis?

Author: W. R. Baker

Before Vietnam completely fades from memory and its lessons learned gather even

Vietnam

more dust, it might be worth exploring a few issues that will likely resurface again.

During the latter months of the Vietnam War (1971-72), the United States was actively sending units home, turning facilities and functions over to the South Vietnamese and to U.S. forces located elsewhere before the 29 March 1973 deadline for all U.S. forces to be out of the country. In January 72, President Nixon announced that 70,000 troops would be withdrawn by 1 May 72, reducing the troop level in Vietnam to 69,000.

Beginnings

I was assigned in 1971 to the 571st Military Intelligence Detachment in Da Nang, the unit primarily ran Human Intelligence (HUMINT) operations throughout I Corps in northern South Vietnam. I was quickly exposed to Viet Cong (VC), North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and friendly forces’ activity in our area of interest. As such it was evident that South Vietnamese forces that had taken part in Lam Son 719 in Laos were licking their wounds – even the much touted 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Division, garrisoned in Hue had been severely crippled in this failed campaign in 1971.

We also dealt with other foreign country units, i.e., South Korean, who left I Corps a few months after I arrived, in addition to ARVN commanders and secret police officials.

As we ran Unilateral and Bilateral agent networks, remaining U.S. units in I Corps and MACV, USARV, USPACFLT, 7th AF, 7th PSYOPS, and our headquarters (the 525 Military Intelligence Group in Saigon) all received copies of our Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs), as they applied to their Areas of Operations and Interest. Unit 101 was an ARVN intelligence unit that also received selected reports. Being responsible for the distribution of all these IIRs allowed me to know the status of the remaining units, which would aid me later during the Easter Offensive of 1972.

Shortly after arriving at my unit, it became clear that it had been content to operate without understanding the tactical and strategic situation in I Corps (the identifier that most soldiers continued to use after it switched into the newer term, which I will continue to use in this article), relying on XXIV Corps, which soon became the First Regional Assistance Command (FRAC), for area knowledge when it became necessary. “The advisory command, recalled Major General Kroesen (the FRAC commander), was ‘heavily weighted to provide administrative assistance and logistical advice’ with only a token intelligence and operations section.  It was neither manned nor equipped to monitor the combat actively or to provide tactical guidance.”1 The general and his staff failed to mention these “little” points to our intelligence organization. The rub, though, is that we were the only functioning intelligence unit in all of I Corps/FRAC during the Easter Offensive of 1972 and we didn’t know it!

I was very fortunate to work for an organization that didn’t inhibit new ideas – actually, this was not uncommon for intelligence units then and for the next few years after Vietnam ended. Trained as an Intelligence/Order of Battle Analyst, I began creating topical files on enemy units and equipment (the “old” Composition, Disposition, Strength, etc, of FM 30-5 that was drilled into us in intelligence school), while obtaining 1:50,000 scale UTM maps, which took up considerable wall space. Our unit was lucky to also have helicopter support from the 358th Aviation Detachment for 2-3 weeks every month for “ass and trash” missions. I would occasionally fill in for sick door gunners and visit our teams in Quang Tri, Hue, Chu Lai, Tam Ky and Quang Ngai, making notes on the physical features I saw to make changes to our maps, highlighting such things as avenues of approach, military crests, new physical features, friendly military positions, etc. This type of reconnaissance was supplemented by occasional trips by jeep, as well.

The maps were an immediate “hit” with our unit, as we and any visitors would be able to view and comment on where enemy units were positioned and other loci made while using the maps. The maps were obviously a tremendous asset during the Easter Offensive, especially since they were manually and accurately updated. Unexpectedly, an event occurred that made use of them beforehand.

As U.S. units left, so our presence would eventually follow and so would the amount of money that could be expended on our agents. So it fell to me to go through each agent’s reports and each net that we ran. I protested at first, but I was told simply that there was no one else qualified to do it because I knew the military situation in I Corps and had created topical files for each area and unit.

Well aware that this “paring down” of agents was a huge responsibility and what the consequences meant, I took 3-4 months’ worth of IIRs for each agent, my topical files and the appropriate maps and carefully waded through them all. What I found was eye-opening. Some of the agents had been reporting virtually the same events over and over, making little changes. Some agents rarely reported anything, while others sometimes described units located well outside their operational area. Some agents were mediocre and a few were exceptionally good – these reports were always valuable.

The next step was to rate all the agents, each net, and to justify the reasons for each rating. Having my recommendations affirmed by the area specialists and our leadership was gratifying. Little did we know that this was to become more of a plus in our accuracy and information reliability during the Easter Offensive.

The NVA/VC were “expected” to make trouble during TET (mid-February) 1972. Because nothing happened, the press took the intelligence and various other command organizations to task for not having any idea of what was going on and of being mere sycophants of the upper echelons. Events were to prove that the press weren’t too far off

Because we were such a small unit that was HUMINT-oriented, we were never asked for our opinion or intelligence. We had received virtually nothing about TET from anyone, but early the next month (March), we started getting various indicators from our own agents. It is important to understand that we never received intel from 7th Air Force, MACV, DIA or CIA: our information always went up but NOTHING came down – we were disregarded, just as HUMINT was and generally is today.

Hostilities Begin

The 324B NVA Division moved into the A Shau Valley in early-March, heading for its usual AO to the west of Hue to keep the 1st ARVN Division occupied. The 324B was a Military Region Tri-Thien-Hue (MRTTH) unit. As it moved through the A Shau, it linked up with the 5th and 6th Independent Infantry Regiments, also of the MRTTH. As time progressed, it was obvious that at least two regiments were moving northeasterly and could act as a blocking force along QL-1 (the main north-south highway in country), while the other two regiments confined 1st ARVN to Firebases Bastogne and Birmingham. There wasn’t as much as a single ARVN battalion able to defend Hue as the 324B engaged ARVN.

We started to receive information from across I Corps on targets and unit activity. Though we were generally a strategic unit and our IIRs were often not timely enough to act on, it was necessary to make or strengthen contacts to respond to the targets that were rapidly presenting themselves, which could just as rapidly move away. There had been no usual way for us to provide targets to air or ground forces before. We had gone out with 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division units to confirm some of our IIRs, but time was always critical as units and weapon caches moved, etc.

We had been coordinating with the local Special Forces unit when we received information on the “Salt and Pepper” VC propaganda team operating to the west of Chu Lai. I knew they had an on-call capability, so I would feed them information on newly developed targets, as well. I also had a friend that worked ARCLIGHT (i.e., B-52) targets in Saigon and would make sure the 196th Light Infantry Brigade would get infiltration and unit reports for their AO.

In early March, we had information concerning the forthcoming Offensive of major importance. “Moreover, among the reduced number of enemy documents that were exploited were detailed orders of battle and COSVN plans for the spring offensive”2 contained in our IIRs. Even this information wasn’t enough to convince other intelligence agencies, nor command elements, that a major event was going to take place.

Throughout March 1972, the pace of incoming information quickened to the point that it was obvious that a major offensive was going to take place, but this time (and unlike TET 1968) it would involve main-force units, to include tanks – something the NVA had never done before! “One example of the close-mindedness of some senior military commanders was the total disregard (MG) Kroesen and (Gen) Westmoreland among others showed toward intelligence predictions of an enemy frontal assault along the Demilitarized Zone.”3

“John M. Oseth, who was then serving as the G-2 adviser to the 3rd ARVN Division, acknowledged that although there might have been isolated agent reports of an impending invasion, the general consensus, at least at the division level, was that the threat of enemy attack though present, was not great.”4

“The most prevalent problem in this regard was an unwillingness on the part of commanders to heed warnings of massed armor and heavy artillery.”5

“…and in spite of at least four separate human resources who claimed that there would be a ‘great offensive’ in the near future, American military personnel for the most part were dubious about any impending large-scale attack. Information from theses human sources proved to be both detailed and factually accurate as the Offensive took its course.”6 Undoubtedly, this was our northernmost network of agents.

As the IIRs arrived, it was obvious that we needed to report our compiled information in an expeditious manner. Again, I was asked how best to do this and we went with an Intelligence Summary (INTSUM) format, which allowed us to report virtually everything with a minimum of format. There had never been an INTSUM used by the 525 MI Group before, undoubtedly because there had never been a tactical situation arise before like the Easter Offensive of 1972. An INTSUM was later imposed by the Group on all its detachments, twice a day.

Just prior to the Offensive, many of the major NVA units crossing the DMZ, their commanders and their probable avenues of approach and initial objectives were developed and reported in our INTSUM.

Though not specifically cited, South Vietnam’s Joint General Staff was said to have issued an alert for the end of March based on intelligence reporting. This implies that our INTSUMs were used by at least one organization, though it was not an American one!

In fact, even the ARVN had little idea of the I Corps situation for days afterwards and the U.S. FRAC commander was caught dumfounded. LTG Ngo Quang Truong, ARVN I Corps Commander (beginning 3 May 1972) wrote, “Although there was general agreement in the intelligence community – Vietnamese as well as American – that an offensive in early 1972 was highly probable, some observers of the Vietnam scene, perhaps those not as well informed as those of us privy (my emphasis) to the most reliable estimates, were influenced more by what seemed to them to be the illogic of a major North Vietnamese attack at this time.”7

Our reporting was ignored until after the offensive began on the morning of 30 March 1972.  The exact time the Easter Offensive started depended on where you were located. One thing is certain, the NVA had acquired the M46 130mm Field Gun from the Soviets and they used it throughout the morning and very accurately.

In the first few hours of the Offensive, the first two Americans died. Both were US Army Security Agency soldiers assigned to the 407th Radio Research Detachment/8th RR Field Station. Bruce A. Crosby, Jr., and Gary P. Westcott were both working atop FSB Sarge when a rocket apparently blew up their bunker, killing them both.

As it was, the MACV commander, the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, the MACV J-2 and others were visiting their wives out of country. The Secretary of Defense was headed for Puerto Rico to play golf and the Senior Advisor of Team 155 to 3rd ARVN was also headed out the same morning that the Offensive began. The South Vietnamese warning was obviously not believed or didn’t make it into the U.S. command elements anywhere in the country.

Just below the DMZ, the newly organized 3rd ARVN Division occupied the northern and western firebases. The 2nd ARVN Regiment was taken whole from the 1st ARVN Division, while the 56th and 57th ARVN Regiments were entirely new 3rd ARVN Division units, composed of deserters and malcontents from within South Vietnam.

In an odd twist of fate (or design), 3rd ARVN’s 56th and 2nd Regiments were coincidently turning off their comms and swapping firebases when the NVA began their extensive artillery preparation of the battlefield, which began the invasion. The problem-plagued 56th Regiment was to occupy the western and northwesterly facing firebases to lessen the effects of something called “firebase syndrome,” after having only spent a few months in one of the northern firebases! Both regiments were on the road when the shelling began – well exposed in the open to NVA artillery.

Eventually, elements of the 56th ARVN reached Camp Carroll, the lynchpin of the western firebases and the major artillery support location in northern South Vietnam.

We were the only unit providing current intelligence for the first few weeks of the Offensive – primarily due to the bad weather across northern I Corps keeping winged-aircraft away and because FRAC was no longer in the intel business. Knowing that the USN destroyers were providing gunfire support in the waters off the DMZ (e.g., the U.S.Buchanan, DDG 14, in its resolute support of Captain Ripley and the Dong Ha Bridge), we tried to provide them with our INTSUMs (via the FRAC and NILO, who also supported the local SEALs). We also knew the destroyers would be in contact with PACFLT, who would also converse with MACV about the current situation.

The first day of the Offensive quickly became a Friday and a Saturday heralding the beginning of April and there was proverbially no rest for the weary. By Saturday, every ARVN firebase north of the Cam Lo River had fallen, from where the 57th ARVN had already been routed. But the first Sunday of the month (2 April 1972) was to be the most memorable.

Three key events were to occur within 1 ½ hours of each other on this Easter Sunday afternoon of 1972.

The first major incident occurred at 1520 when the LTC Phan Van Dinh surrendered all of his 56th ARVN Regiment at Camp Carroll to the 24th NVA Infantry Regiment/304th NVA Infantry Division and a tank company. The exploits of LTC Camper and MAJ Brown, who tried to convince LTC Dinh not to surrender are well-known. Dinh’s cowardice didn’t end with his surrender of Camp Carroll, as the next day he broadcast on Radio Hanoi to the military in South Vietnam to lay down their arms because the NVA was sure to win. The fall of Camp Carroll compelled the firebase at Mai Loc to be evacuated minutes later as the 66th NVA Infantry Regiment pressed their attack. The whole western defense line crumbled.

On the U.S. Army side, MG Kroesen wrote several statements in Quang Tri: The Lost Province that directly bear on this particular event. “The surrender (of Camp Carroll) has never been explained” and “…unidentified personnel of the regiment made radio contact with the enemy to arrange surrender terms.” LTC Dinh was the traitor who made the call and the arrangements. Another Kroesen error also mentions that the 56th lost two of its battalions and three artillery batteries, while “a third battalion refused to surrender and fought its way to Dong Ha.”8 This statement directly contradicts Camper and Brown’s MFR, as well as any other known documents and makes one wonder where this information originated. Not one battalion even attempted to fight its way out and there was a report that most of the 56th had been executed in the vicinity of the Rockpile, northwest of Camp Carroll.

Ironically, sometimes the press knew more than the generals. For instance, the Stars and Stripes had this to say about the fall of Camp Carroll. “The most crushing blow to the South Vietnamese Sunday was the fall of Camp Carroll, which had been pounded with hundreds of artillery, rocket and mortar shells since last Thursday. ‘Field reports said some government troops may have escaped and those left ran up a white flag of surrender. ‘All American advisors had been evacuated from Carroll by helicopter just before it fell, sources said. ‘It was not immediately known whether the four long-range 175mm artillery guns at Carroll were destroyed or fell into Communist hands.”9 A battery of four 175mm guns, a 155mm Howitzer battery, two 105mm batteries and numerous quad-50s and twin-40s were lost to the enemy. In their haste to surrender, none of these weapons were rendered useless.

One of the 175mm guns remains on display in Hanoi. The forfeiture of all the artillery in Camp Carroll without a fight represented the almost complete loss of all indirect fire assets in northern South Vietnam, with the exception of U.S. naval gunfire off the coast.

Even more outrageously, Kroesen wrote that the surrender of Camp Carroll “had not shaken the morale or confidence of the other defending forces to any noticeable degree.” The reverberations of a surrender of a whole regiment were quickly and keenly felt across the country. American advisors assigned to II and III Corps have written of the instances of cowardice and of turncoats after the Camp Carroll surrender occurred in their areas.

The second major incident was the Bridge at Dong Ha, which was blown at 1630, after various contradictory orders. The ARVN leadership didn’t want the bridge blown in order to use it for a counterattack, but the 3rd ARVN was not up to the task with NVA tanks attempting to cross the bridge. Marine Captain Ripley and Army Major Smock ended up blowing the bridge after great difficulty, with the assistance of the U.S.Buchanan which was laying close in-shore supporting them. The Buchanan is credited with destroying at least four PT-76 tanks. Though Team 155 Senior Advisor and a South Vietnamese I Corps commander (who was not assigned to I Corps at the time) all credit ARVN for blowing up the bridge, it is obvious that Ripley and Smock brought the span down under the eyes of the Buchanan.

The final major event of that Easter occurred some 20 minutes later, at 1650, when an EB-66, call sign Bat-21, was shot down south of the DMZ by SA-2/Guidelines located SOUTH of the DMZ in South Vietnam. Only one of the crew made it out of the aircraft, parachuting right into the attacking 308th NVA Division’s area. An immediate 27km no-fire zone was automatically imposed around the crewman (an Air Force lieutenant colonel). As Dong Ha Bridge was just blown, the invading NVA were forced to move west to the Cam Lo Bridge to cross or ford the Mieu Giang River, adding to the number of enemy troops in the area.

Though the no-fire zone was reduced, many enemy troops, trucks and tanks were able to cross the bridge at Cam Lo because it was not blown for 12 more days. The no-fly zone was a great matter of concern to ARVN and their advisors (et al), who chafed at the protection one man was receiving as the NVA moved without molestation in the area.

These three major events also show some of the major problems that occurred in Vietnam. The creation, training, and deployment of the 3rd ARVN Division was an open invitation to the NVA to strike at the key to the western firebases.  The changing dynamics of the battlefield which caused Ripley and Smock to act, undoubtedly saved lives by forcing the NVA to find a crossing to the west. The knowledge that SAMs and AAA had set-up shop in South Vietnam were known to USAF. The NVA had also created and improved the road network through the DMZ into South Vietnam allowing the NVA an easier entry into the South, which was observed and reported by 1st MIBARS during the year before.

As can be imagined, contact with our agents became increasingly more difficult as the Offensive continued, especially the northern most network in South Vietnam. The NVA divisions roared through the DMZ and Laos, primarily fighting in a regimental organizational structure.

Dropping the Ball

There were many senior officers who quite literally dropped the ball in not embracing the intelligence given them and acting upon it.

We will begin with COL Donald J. Metcalf, Senior Advisor of Team 155, advising 3rd ARVN Division. His U.S. War College Paper is an interesting bit of equivocation.   The first few pages have to do with why he didn’t know the Offensive was coming and the role of intelligence. For instance, “I contend that among all the items of intelligence produced prior to the attack, a small fraction indicated that such an offensive might occur, but other equally sizable and equally believable fractions indicated that something less might occur. ‘The sources available to me were the G2’s of the 1st and 3rd ARVN Divisions, and the American estimates produced by XXIV Corps, and they were in general agreement that the enemy would repeat the dry season activities of previous years….”  Past activity patterns, he wrote “can cloud the observer’s vision…” and “may have led informed persons in the intelligence community to give less credence than was warranted to (other) indications….”10 A not so nice way of blaming intelligence for the mistakes of a professional combat commander, it seems.

What COL Metcalf forgot to mention is that one the 571st’s Teams was co-located on Quang Tri and they were also recipients of our INTSUM, as well.

Kroesen states that, “Only a superficial study of the map, the foot mobility of the enemy, and the history of prior years was needed to conclude that these preparations would require two to three months.”11 Yes, general, but there were many reports of vehicular Ho Chi Minh Trail activity and of NVA activity above the DMZ and let’s not forget the 1st MIBARS reports that stated the NVA were expanding and improving roads below the DMZ, too. As for the history of previous years, one wonders why, “It’s always been this way” is an excuse? General Kroesen’s FRAC also received our INTSUMs, though he admits his intelligence capabilities were limited, one would have thought he would have prized any information (especially in light of some of his statements).

MACV, PACFLT, 7th AF, CIA, DIA, JCS, the South Vietnamese JGS and even the Secretary of Defense had no expectations of a North Vietnamese offensive. All had preconceptions, helped along by the NVA who showed the U.S. and South Vietnamese what they expected to see. Americans still became KIAs and WIAs (as did the ARVN and South Vietnamese Marine Corps-SVMC), though only a couple of U.S. units remained in-country after all the U.S. divisions left. The indiscriminate artillery shelling of thousands of civilians caused thousands of deaths, as well.

One of the reasons given by some high-ranking individuals was that they never thought the North Vietnamese would break their agreement of not striking from the DMZ. This, despite the years of the North Vietnamese and VC lying only adds to the incredulity that the Easter Offensive of 1972 was allowed to happen.

“(John Paul) Vann (who commanded II Corps/SRAC), ever the doubting Thomas, stated on 7 February 1972 that ‘Intelligence gathering is the chief problem’ and that ‘Nearly all reliable intelligence is limited to US S.I. (Special Intelligence) Channels.”12 Don’t listen to all of your intelligence personnel at your peril.

Aftermath

Having had this HUMINT experience, as I continued my MI career for a few more years in an all-source, multi-service environment, I found that HUMINT was often derided by commanders and analysts alike. Just as in Vietnam (and WWII before it), SIGINT was all knowing and all-important, with HUMINT relegated to a last-place position. I was to find years later that the remaining SIGINT units in Vietnam did have indications of some kind of NVA activity, but none of it was disseminated to other intel units. The question becomes why weren’t U.S. and ARVN/SVMC units warned?

LTG Michael Flynn, in his The Field of Fight, wrote about human intelligence and interrogation being “essentially nonexistent” at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk. He goes on to mention the “politicization of intelligence” and “don’t deliver bad news to your leaders” and how this “appears to be going in our intelligence system today regarding our fight against Radical Islamists….”13

Perhaps we need to relearn our lessons learned, again?

End Notes

  1. USMC in Vietnam, 1971-73, p. 48-49.
  2. Thomas H. Lee, “Military Intelligence Operations and the Easter Offensive,” (USA Center of Military History, 6 September 1990), p. 25.
  3. Ibid, p. 32.
  4. Ibid, p. 4.
  5. Ibid, p. 6.
  6. Ibid, p. 14.
  7. LTG Ngo Quang Truong, The Vietnam War, An Assessment by South Vietnam’s Generals, (TX, Texas Tech University Press, 2010), p. 610.
  8. MG Frederick J. Kroesen, “Quang Tri, The Lost Province” (PA, USA War College, 16 Jan 74), p. 8.
  9. “Reds Push Deeper South” (AP), (Stars & Stripes, 4 April 1972), p.1. & p. 24.
  10. COL Donald J. Metcalf, “Why Did the Defense of Quang Tri Province, SVN Collapse?” (PA, USA War College, 23 October 1972), p. 3 & p.4.
  11. Kroesen, p. 4.
  12. Lee, p. 30.
  13. LTG Michael T. Flynn and Michael Ledeen, The Field of Fight, (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2016), p. 34-35.

About the Author: W. R. Baker

W. R. Baker

W. R. (Bob) Baker graduated with the first 96B/Intelligence Analyst class at Fort Huachuca, AZ in 1971. He was then assigned to the 1st Battalion (which soon became the 571st MI Det.), 525th MI Group, headquartered in Da Nang, Vietnam. His further assignments included positions at Fort Bliss, Texas; two tours with the European Defense Analysis Center (EUDAC) in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany; and the 513th MI Group in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

He left the US Army and worked as an analyst for Interstate Electronics, Northrop-Grumman and Xontec defense contractors before teaching in primary and secondary schools.

Mr. Baker has a bachelor of science degree in Government from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Dayton. He has authored other Easter Offensive articles and is currently writing a book on this subject.

 

 

 

The Vietnam War and Remembrance: (April 30th, 1975-April 30th, 2017)

[Editor’s Note: An individual who can witness, nay live through, decades on the battlements of hell and emerge with wisdom and beauty are to be welcomed. Those who speak with clarion voice allowing others to learn from that experience are to be celebrated. Thank you Kim Roberts.]

April 30, 1975—April 30, 2017. Then and Now. Photos of him the day we met, and of us

The way I am today. Taken with two girl friends two weeks ago

more than four decades ago when he was alive, then my current picture taken two weeks ago with friends from the Sadec Flower Village in Vietnam to America. Love and War. Destiny and the magic of life. Over four decades have gone by the window of my life, literally as swiftly as whiffs of fragrance in the whirlwind breeze–from the fresh scent of Spring essence to the intense, spicy, and aromatic Summer heat then transitioned to the soft, intimate touch of flurry Autumn leaves dispersing in the air, and ending it all with a silky, tendered scent of Winter rain drips. Life has been both a curse and a blessing, nonetheless, no regrets.

We met in April 1968 at a Military Chapel in Dong Tam, Vietnam, one year short of five decades ago, while taking communion. On April 30, 1975, he frantically tried to get me out of Vietnam to no avail. Taking a leap of faith, I planned an escape from Vietnam and succeeded. Months later, I was a tattered refugee in America beginning to build a new life. Survival, Love, and War. And hundreds, if not thousands, of other events in between. Oh, what a life! Continue reading

Wilson’s Contribution to the Cold War

“To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the

John Locke published in Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 1904 or 1905

John Locke published in Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 1904 or 1905

seed-plot of all other virtues.” — John Locke

Oft quoted in my youth, I lost contact with John Locke’s advice over the years.  Ricochet’s Daily Shot and a strong ‘cuppa’ re-awakened Locke’s view of truth in an explosive burst of energy that rocked my head and dragged me to the dreaded keyboard.  Loving truth and finding it in the labyrinth of life are two entirely separate actions tangled together in a Gordian knot suspended above each individual’s ‘La Vida Loca’.  President Woodrow Wilson’s contribution to a future, unforeseen Cold War is a leading example of my search for truth in the political rabbit warrens of war and peace.  Actions, ego, and being “the smartest guy in the room” have consequences—good and bad.

Was there a line of people eagerly awaiting support and ‘lessons learned’ about ditching colonial yokes, freedom, self-determination, and the rights of individuals from the United States? Although difficult to say with any certainty, the U.S. was, at that time, admired for its triumph following a bitter fight with its colonial master, England.  We know that the U.S. commitment to trade rather than conquest as a prime directive was a new, novel, and successful model.  We also know that the WWI Paris Peace talks in 1919 attracted

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L - R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) - U.S. Signal Corps photo

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L – R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson
Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) – U.S. Signal Corps photo

slightly fewer than twelve present and future leaders from various colonies testing independence and sloughing their colonial bonds. Some, including Nguyễn Sinh Cung (Hồ Chí Minh) from Vietnam, attempted to meet with Wilson.[1]   It had, after all, been a mere 136 years since representatives from the rebellious colonies in North America and England gathered in Paris to sign the 1783 treaty with England to end the American Revolutionary War.  The United States had been tested by a great Civil War and found wanting.  It’s model, however, provided for growth and society to take cyclical steps toward a more perfect union. The new model was battle tested and  tough.  How quickly we forgot. Continue reading

Madmen in the White House

The Soviets were master chess players so what happens when the Mad Hatter takes a seat

The Mad Hatter Creative Commons

The Mad Hatter
Creative Commons

at the table? That was a question President Richard M. Nixon asked. By January 1969, finding a face-saving way out of the Vietnam War became a foreign policy priority for Nixon and Kissinger, and they had a plan. The Madman card played by Eisenhower during Korea was legend and Nixon, Eisenhower’s Vice President (1953 – 1961), was familiar with the ploy. Many arrows fill the foreign policy quiver; economic, trade, intelligence, diplomacy, and, of course, military. Foreign policy arrows combine forming customized solutions to particular interests or threats. The Madman game, played in one guise or another from 1969 to 1974, customized a bizarre and risky combination of foreign policy shafts.

The Eisenhower Madman policy appears founded in scuttlebutt, and documentation is hard to come by. Admiral Joy commanded the Naval Forces Far East, including all naval operations in Korean waters during the Korean War (1950-1953). Later the Admiral served

Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, USN, Commander Naval Forces Far East Photographed 9 June 1951. Note his Nikon 35mm camera. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, USN, Commander Naval Forces Far East
Photographed 9 June 1951. Note his Nikon 35mm camera.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

as chief negotiator during the truce negotiations at Kaesong until they broke down in 1952. Joy asserted that the Eisenhower administration’s nuclear threats in May 1953, reaped Soviet compromises during negotiations. The January 1956, issue of Life Magazine published a supporting story by James Shepley, “How Dulles Averted War” (pages 70 and 71). Secretary of State Allen Dulles detailed how he carried Eisenhower’s nuclear warning to Beijing in 1953 during a visit with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Shepley reported that “…Dulles told Nehru that the U.S. desired to end the fighting in Korea honorably. He also said that if the war continued, the U.S. would lift the self-imposed restrictions on its actions and hold back no effort or weapon to win…” According to rumor, innuendo, and the tribal drums similar, clarified messages, on nuclear intent found their way to China through several different mechanisms. Continue reading

Happy New Year

Legacy is the Cold War Warrior lens. As the leaf of the calendar prepares to turn the oldHappyNewYear_col year new, what comes from our past? The tribes are vibrating in anticipation of a wild and woolly presidential election in the U.S.  Mongering fear is a rhetoric staple for the speechwriters. A new player in the political orchestra is playing discordant notes as if he is composing a new symphony in the middle of the presidential concert performance. The Cold War witnessed ten presidential elections, some more noteworthy than others.

The 1960s began with a bang when a young, attractive Democrat, John F. Kennedy, took Richard Nixon to task for the job of president. Richard Nixon was a known as a ‘red-baiter’, but Kennedy, a WWII veteran, was a hawk’s hawk. Both sides played the Cold War Soviet threat card, but Kennedy brought fear alive through words that painted a picture of thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles destroying freedom’s cities, lost children, and hope’s demise for humanity’s future. The number of missiles Kennedy was attributing to the Soviet arsenal, compared to the U.S.’s paltry few, was ridiculous. President Eisenhower could have made short work of Kennedy’s vision of the apocalypse by pointing out the young candidate’s lie, but did not.

Kennedy’s short time in office did make a difference. He and Nikita Khrushchev found some common ground in between shoe poundings. They banned atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. Together they formed a treaty framework, still in use, to reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Instead of both empires having enough nukes to destroy the world many times over, we each only have enough left to destroy the world once. Continue reading

Arc of the Moral Universe or Wormhole?

For years I believed my fate was tethered to Theodore Parker’s arc of the

The Arc of the Moral Universe (Public Domain)

The Arc of the Moral Universe (Public Domain)

Moral universe bending toward justice. However, objective, empirical evidence indicates that I am condemned to wander in a wormhole with its ends fixed between the 1960s and 2010s. In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King concluded an address to the graduating class at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University stating “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” in quotation marks. President Obama and Time Magazine attributed the quote to Dr. King, but the provenance moves the date back to before the Civil War and a series of sermons given by Theodore Parker.

The 1960s. hoto by Albert R. Simpson, Department of Defense. Public domain

Photo by Albert R. Simpson, Department of Defense. Public domain

The 1960s

What a time it was. Baby boomers came of age. For the first time in history over 50 percent of Americans were under the age of 25 and looking for a cause to fight for (it’s what people under 25 do). Revolutions of many colors were in the air, anti-anything was good. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll took the country by storm. The Cold War was at its zenith. The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, and assassinations filled the headlines. Technology was ascending and science became the new religion. Space travel was no longer the domain of Buck Rogers or science fiction authors. Check out some of the U.S. headlines:

1960: Russia shot Gary Power’s American U-2 spy plane downed over the motherland * An irritated Khrushchev canceled the Paris summit conference * The Israelis invaded Argentina to capture Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi noted for the extermination of Jews (The Israelis executed Eichmann in 1962) * Mao’s Communist China and the Soviet Union split in conflict over Communist ideology * Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Zaire (Belgian Congo) gained independence * Cuba confiscated $770 million of U.S. property * 900 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1961: U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relationship * Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration * Moscow’s Yuri Gagarin became first man in orbit around Earth * Cuba routed the U.S./exiles Bay of Pigs invasion *The U.S.’s astronauts, Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom, made it into space * Russia’s Titov went one better by orbiting the earth over seventeen times in the Vostok II * East Germans erected the Berlin Wall to keep the East Berliners home * The U.S. detonated a really nasty 50-megaton hydrogen bomb * 2,000 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1962: Lt. Col. John Glenn, Jr. was the first American to orbit Earth * Algeria gained independence from France * The Soviets and Americans faced off during the Cuban missile crisis * James Meredith registered at University of Mississippi thanks to protection from federal marshals * Cuba released 1,113 prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt * Burundi, Jamaica, Western Samoa, Uganda, and Trinidad and Tobago became independent * 11,000 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1963: France and West Germany signed a treaty of cooperation ending four centuries of conflict * Dr. De Bakey implanted the first artificial heart in human; the patient lived four days * Pope John XXIII died and was succeeded by Cardinal Montini, Paul VI * U.S. Supreme Court ruled no locality may require recitation of Lord’s Prayer or Bible verses in public schools * The U.K.’s Profumo scandal broke out * Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I have a dream” speech to a Civil rights rally held by 200,000 blacks and whites in Washington, D.C. * Washington-to-Moscow “hot line” communications link opened to reduce the risk of accidental war * President Kennedy was assassinated by sniper in Dallas, TX and Lyndon B. Johnson became president * Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President Kennedy, was murdered by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner * Kenya achieved independence * Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” * 15,000 U.S. military advisers were in South Vietnam * 1964: U.S. Supreme Court ruled that congressional districts should be roughly equal in population * Ruby convicted of murder and sentenced to death for slaying Lee Harvey Oswald (the conviction was reversed Oct. 5, 1966; Ruby died Jan. 3, 1967) * Three civil rights workers—Schwerner, Goodman, and Cheney—murdered in Mississippi * Twenty-one arrests resulted in trial and conviction of seven by federal jury * Nelson Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment * Congress approved Gulf of Tonkin resolution (The Gulf of Tonkin turned out to be a false flag incident) * The Warren Report concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone * The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show * 23,310 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1965: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more than 2,600 other blacks arrested in Selma, Ala., during three-day demonstrations against voter-registration rules * Malcolm X, black-nationalist leader, shot to death at Harlem rally in New York City * U.S. Marines and Army Rangers landed in Dominican Republic * Medicare, senior citizens’ government medical assistance program, began * Blacks rioted for six days in Watts section of Los Angeles: 34 dead, over 1,000 injured, nearly 4,000 arrested, fire damage put at $175 million * A power failure in Ontario plant blacked out parts of eight states of northeast U.S. and two provinces of southeast Canada * Ralph Nader’s published “Unsafe at Any Speed” * 184,314 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1966: Black teenagers rioted in Watts, Los Angeles; two men killed and at least 25 injured * The Supreme Court decided Miranda v* Arizona * 382,010 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1967: Three Apollo astronauts—Col. Virgil Grissom, Col. Edward White II, and Lt. Cmdr. Roger Chaffee—killed in spacecraft fire during simulated launch * Biafra seceded from Nigeria * Israeli and Arab forces engaged in the Six-day War that ended with Israel occupying Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and east bank of Suez Canal * Red China announced the explosion of its first hydrogen bomb * Racial violence in Detroit; 7,000 National Guardsmen aided police after night of rioting * Similar outbreaks occur in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, Rochester, N.Y., Birmingham, Ala., and New Britain, Conn. * Thurgood Marshall sworn in as first black U.S. Supreme Court justice * Dr. Christiaan Barnard and team of South African surgeons performed world’s first successful human heart transplant-patient died 18 days later* 485,600 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1968: North Korea seized U.S. Navy ship Pueblo and held 83 on board as spies * Tet offensive started, turning point in Vietnam War * My Lai massacre * President Johnson announced he would not seek or accept presidential re-nomination * Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated in Memphis and James Earl Ray, indicted in his murder, captured in London (in 1969 Ray plead guilty and sentenced to 99 years) * Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot and critically wounded in Los Angeles hotel after winning California primary-he died the next day * (Sirhan Sirhan convicted 1969) * Czechoslovakia invaded by Russians and Warsaw Pact forces crushed the liberal regime* 549,500 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * 1969: Richard M. Nixon inaugurated 37th president of the U.S. * Stonewall riot in New York City marks beginning of gay rights movement * Apollo 11 astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins—took man’s first walk on moon * Sen. Edward Kennedy plead guilty to leaving scene of fatal accident at Chappaquiddick, Mass. in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned—got a two-month suspended sentence * Woodstock Festival * Sesame Street debuts * Internet (ARPA) goes online * 549,500 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam * Continue reading

My Vietnam era mode of transportation (1968 – 1975)‏

Note to reader:  As a U.S. invited contractor I was issued a Department of defense noncombatant’s certificate of identity with assimilated rank of Colonel/EGS-15, equal to a military grade of 0-6.  I was issued blanket travel orders  to board military aircraft to any in-country military installation.  These travel orders were valid from 1968 to March 1973.  After which I traveled either on commercial or Air America aircraft until April 1975.

Going There: World Airways DC-8 Charter ~ 1968

Aboard a World Airways DC-8 Charter from Travis AFB to Tan Son Nhut AFB, Saigon, VN. One of the stewardesses was Linda Phillippe; who happened to be the daughter of one of my old bosses. She took good care of me while in-flight.

Aboard a World Airways DC-8 Charter from Travis AFB to Tan Son Nhut AFB, Saigon, VN.
One of the stewardesses was Linda Phillippe; who happened to be the daughter of one of
my old bosses. She took good care of me while in-flight.

Trivia:

In the 1960s, World Airways became the first U.S. charter airline to enter the jet age with the acquisition of new Boeing 707s.

The USAF Military Airlift Command, “MAC”, used World Airways Charters extensively during the Vietnam era for Military troop transfers.

World’s most famous flight was on 2 April 1975

The first ‘Operation Babylift’ flight took off from Saigon in darkness; the airport had turned the runway lights off. The DC-8 departed without a formal clearance to take off or a flight plan filed. Oakland Aviation Museum Life Members Bill Keating and Ken Healy piloted the flight. Ed Daly paid for the flight out of his own pocket. Continue reading

Decades later, ‘Vietnam syndrome’ still casts doubts on military action

This article was posted on December 12, 2014 on John Podlaski’s blog Cherries-A Vietnam War Novel. Podlaski’s site asks the question “Ever wonder why young soldiers return home “changed” or “different” after their deployment to a war zone?”. The following article by was written by Eric Slavin and originally published in Stars and Stripes. It is an excellent legacy post that illustrates how the past can help and haunt.

By Erik_Slavin Article originally publishes in Stars and Stripes, November 12, 2014

The Vietnam War’s lasting impact on America’s foreign policy is largely characterized

Near Tay Ninh, Vietnam, November 4, 1966: A soldier stands amid swirling dust from a helicopter arriving to evacuate the wounded after the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division came under heavy Viet Cong fire during Operation Attleboro.   KIM KI SAM/STARS AND STRIPES

Near Tay Ninh, Vietnam, November 4, 1966: A soldier stands amid swirling dust from a helicopter arriving to evacuate the wounded after the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division came under heavy Viet Cong fire during Operation Attleboro. KIM KI SAM/STARS AND STRIPES

by doubt, in the opinions of many analysts.

Doubt that the United States, despite possessing the most powerful military on earth, will win a war against a determined enemy.

Doubt among presidential administrations that the public would support a conflict, once television showed them pictures of dead soldiers being dragged through the streets of countries most Americans knew little or nothing about.

Mostly, doubt — with some notable outliers — that the United States can impose its will through force, no matter the situation.

Vietnam at 50Driving those doubts is the desire to avoid another open-ended commitment with an uncertain endgame, where U.S. troops spend years on the ground in a foreign country, fighting against an enemy that can blend back into the civilian population far too easily.

That desire is part of what some have defined as “Vietnam syndrome,” a concept declared dead and reborn several times in the decades since the last American combat troops left Southeast Asia.

“Getting involved and not being able to get up, like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians suffering constant blows, that’s the concern,” said Carlyle Thayer, an American professor and Vietnam analyst who taught a course on the Vietnam War at Australia’s National Defense University.

That concern endures — buffeted by experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan — as River PatrolAmericans debate today’s military actions.

Americans support fighting the Islamic State group by a 60 percent to 31 percent margin — unless that action turns to ground troops, according to a September Gallup poll. Only 40 percent approve of that, according to the poll.

President Barack Obama went so far as to rule out U.S. ground troops before the latest round of air and naval strikes on Iraq and Syria began.

Before the end of the Vietnam War, presidents didn’t speak in such measured, cautious ways about how they would wage war. However, Obama made it clear during a May speech at the U.S. Military Academy that caution would be a cornerstone of his foreign policy agenda.

“Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences,” Obama said.

The U.S. would act unilaterally when it was directly threatened and would otherwise explore other options, he said.

Inder fireObama, 53, is too young to have served in Vietnam — yet his words that day mirror the definition of Vietnam syndrome offered by journalist and Vietnam War author Marvin Kalb, who called it “a fundamental reluctance to commit American military power anywhere in the world, unless it is absolutely necessary to protect the national interests of the country.”

The term Vietnam syndrome first reached prominence when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan used it during an August 1980 campaign speech. Reagan said the syndrome was created by the “North Vietnamese aggressors” aiming to “win in the field of propaganda here in America what they could not win on the field of battle in Vietnam.”

In Reagan’s view, America failed to secure Vietnam because it lacked the means and the will to do so from the home front.

Nevertheless, fear of another Vietnam “quagmire” became the lens through which military action was viewed in the post-war 1980s.

Although Reagan’s budgets dramatically increased defense spending, his military actions were generally small, covert or obtained by proxy.

Then came the first Gulf War. It was civilian America’s first look at the reconstituted, all-volunteer force in a very large-scale action.

Victory came swiftly and at the cost of relatively few casualties. President George H.W. Bush avoided the quagmire by pulling troops out of Iraq quickly and leaving Saddam Hussein in power — moves that drew little criticism at the time.

Basking in the afterglow of military triumph, Bush ended a speech in 1991 with the

Black Hawk Down Mogadishu, Somalia

Black Hawk Down Mogadishu, Somalia

proclamation that, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

About two years later, the doubts that Vietnam brought about returned, this time in the Horn of Africa.

On Oct. 3, 1993, the “Black Hawk Down” incident kicked off the Battle of Mogadishu, leaving 18 U.S. servicemembers dead. Americans recoiled at images of Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland’s body being dragged through the Somali capital’s streets.

21somalia.lDays later, Clinton ordered U.S. troops to begin preparing for withdrawal.

A year later, the genocide in Rwanda began, and Clinton sent no military force. He would later describe not intervening in the genocide, which claimed about 1 million Rwandans, as one of his biggest regrets.

“If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost. … It had an enduring impact on me,” Clinton said on CNBC in 2013.

Rawandan Genocide

Rawandan Genocide

American overseas involvement remained somewhat restrained up until the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

After that, eight out of 10 Americans supported a ground war in Afghanistan.

If President George W. Bush had any worries about Vietnam syndrome, he didn’t share them publicly.

Defense analysts once again declared Vietnam syndrome kicked, at least, until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grew protracted, and opinion polls turned against the conflicts.

“Getting involved and not being able to get up, like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians suffering constant blows, that’s the concern.”– Carlyle Thayer

In 2009, conservative scholar Max Boot said that George H.W. Bush got it wrong with his 1991 proclamation — Vietnam syndrome was alive and well in the Obama era.

Boot noted several examples of lawmakers and analysts questioning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the prism of Vietnam.

Boot dismissed their doubts as defeatist. He saw no reason to make the Vietnam comparison, unless it was to compare administrations “more interested in ending than in winning the war.”

Boot’s view led him to agree on one point with Obama’s assessment: “You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.”

slavin.erik@stripes.com Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

The November Assassinations That Rocked The World

Part II – John F. Kennedy: Sinner or Saint?

Author: John Malch

John F. Kennedy: Sinner or Saint?

John F. Kennedy: Sinner or Saint?

Way back in 1960, when Nixon faced off with Kennedy for the U.S. presidency, I asked my father who he would be voting for.  He answered: “While in confession last Sunday, my penance was I must vote for Kennedy or suffer mortal sin.”[1] I thought he was joking because after becoming an American citizen in 1914, he had always voted Republican. Dad gave me a brief history lesson about the Kennedy dynasty.[2] It began with Joseph P. Kennedy’s premeditated agreements with Distillers to become the sole American importer of three of its most valuable brands of liquor one month prior to the repeal of the 36th amendment which ended Prohibition. This transaction may be the reason he was infamously called ‘Joe-

Joseph A. Malch & son, John, circa 1960

Joseph A. Malch & son, John, circa 1960

the-bootlegger’.  I remembered my dad calling senior Kennedy, ‘Joe-the-bootlegger’ because he was supplying spiritual wine to Catholic parishes, which was legal during Probation via government bonded warehouses.  Surely, some of those spirits spilled over to old Joe’s cronies although no hard evidence has ever proved Joe was a rum-runner during Prohibition.[3]  Also, Joe Kennedy’s ‘nefarious escapades’ during the ‘Roaring Twenties’ are well documented. His business ventures included banking, manipulation of the stock market through insider trading and some slick ‘selling short’ moves when he got out of the stock market before the crash of 1929.[4]

In early 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London.  His fierce

In 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy appointed Ambassador to Great Britain

In 1938, Joseph P. Kennedy appointed Ambassador to Great Britain

anti-Communist and anti-Semitic position are well documented and well known.  Not as widely known is that he favored Adolph Hitler’s solution to both these ideologies as “world problems”.[5]

Joe Kennedy’s dream was to see his first born son, Joseph Jr., inaugurated as the first Roman Catholic President of The United States, but Joe Jr. was killed in World War II.  The dream did not vanish with Joe Jr.’s death and Joseph Sr. was not deterred: he

 Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.

wanted a Kennedy in the Whitehouse. The second son, Jack, picked up the baton, ran the races and grabbed the brass ring for the Kennedy family-John F. Kennedy (Jack) became the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961.

The 1960 Democratic National Convention was held in Los Angeles and I remembered two new challengers, Adlai Stevenson II and Lyndon B. Johnson, tossed their hats in the ring just one week before the convention opened. Continue reading

The November Assassinations That Rocked The World

Author: John Malch

Editor’s Note: Jealousy, political or religious ideology, contract killing, revenge, geopolitical manipulation and nation building are all motives for assassination: the murder of an individual who is usually a famous celebrity, politician, religious figure or royal. John Malch’s post addresses the brutal assassinations of South Vietnam’s Ngô Ðình Diem and his brother on November 2, 1963. The assassinations haunted U.S. President Kennedy, but by November 22, 1963, less than three weeks later Kennedy, himself, would die from an assassin’s bullet(s).

Part I Friendly Dictators

The United States has a dark history of poor choices for ‘Puppets of State’. Especially in

Prime Minister Ngô Ðình Diem casting his ballot in 1955 State of Vietnam referendum (Cuoc trung cau dân ý mien Nam Viet Nam 1955)  https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1091210764&disposition=inline

Prime Minister Ngô Ðình Diem casting his ballot in 1955 State of Vietnam referendum (Cuoc trung cau dân ý mien Nam Viet Nam 1955)
https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1091210764&disposition=inline

Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. One of the most controversial and disturbing choices the United States’ made was in 1956, when, backed by the “American Plan”, Ngô Ðình Diem proclaimed the formation of the Republic of Vietnam, naming himself President.

I have often wondered whether Diem was ever vetted for this position. Ngô Ðình Diem was born in Phú Cam, Quong Binh Province,‘North Vietnam’. Diem was christened Jean-Baptiste in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Hue in 1907. His primary education started at a French Catholic school. He later entered a private school started by his father. At the end of his secondary schooling, his examination results were sufficiently impressive at the French lycée in Hue, he was offered a scholarship to Paris. Diem declined. Instead, He moved to Hanoi to study at the School of Public Administration and Law, a French school that trained Vietnamese bureaucrats. It was there that he had the only romantic relationship of his life when he fell in love with one of his teacher’s daughters. After she persisted with her vocation, entering a convent, he remained celibate.

Why would the United States select a Roman Catholic, with a formal French education

Buddhism in Vietnam

Buddhism in Vietnam

and very little knowledge of Anman and especially Cochin-china where the population in 1956 was over 92% non-Christian, i.e., Animism, Buddhism (70% of the population), Cao Dai, Confucianism, Hinduism, Hinduism, Hoa Hao, and Islam, as president of newly formed Republic of Vietnam?

Vietnamese elders I know, claimed it may have been necessary for the United States to appease France in softening the blow for their loss of their Colony, French Indo-China. Tongue-in-cheek they said it was better for the new president to speak fluent French rather than English.

The United States had rushed headlong into supporting Diem, seemingly without consideration of the culture. South Vietnam was a U.S. government construct, a nation-building exercise illuminated by the Pentagon Papers.

“The United States moved quickly to prevent the unification and to establish South Vietnam as an American sphere. It set up in Saigon as head of the government a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem, who had recently been living in New Jersey, and encouraged him not to hold the scheduled elections for unification. A memo in early 1954 of the joint Chiefs of Staff said that intelligence estimates showed “a settlement based on free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States [Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam-the three parts of Indochina created by the Geneva Conference] to Communist control.” Diem again and again blocked the elections requested by the Vietminh, and with American money and arms his government became more and more firmly established. As the Pentagon Papers put it: “South Viet Nam was essentially the creation of the United States.”[1] Continue reading