Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Last

I have to share this part, yet.  It's related to last night's post.  Quoting, again:

The actress's trip marked the emergence of a new narrative about Vietnam: that people like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon weren't responsible for the disaster, but people like Fonda, stabbing America's soldiers and South Vietnamese allies in the back, were.  It was the most convenient possible development for Richard Nixon--who was, exactly then, planning to stab America's soldiers and South Vietnamese allies in the back.

The ostensible aim of the war was to preserve an anticommunist government in Saigon absent the United States propping it up.  Nixon had privately been maintaining since 1966 that this was impossible, and that the only question was the garb in which America would eventually cloak its withdrawal.  Sometimes he imagined a politically satisfactory denouement might come of a knockout blow--as in his scuttled plans for Operation Duck Hook in 1969, or Operation Linebacker that spring.  Other times he counted on his "madman" theory, with its threat of nuclear annihilation.  Either way the point was to scare the enemy to sufficient concessions at the bargaining table that it would look as if the enemy had capitulated.  Secret and intentional bombing of North Vietnamese dams and earthworks, if it was happening--and the president's "madman" signal on July 27 that if he wanted to decimate North Vietnamese agriculture he could do it in a week--was consistent with this logic.  Massive bombing, enough to keep the Communists from overrunning Saigon until after his reelection, was the only way to preserve what he had started calling, stealing a phrase from the Democratic platform of 1952, "peace with honor."  

But what he was working on now was neither honorable nor peace.  His main concern was political timing.  As the president put it to Kissinger on August 3rd, as the battered and bruised McGovern cast about desperately for a new running mate, "I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway. I'm just being perfectly candid."  The problem, he went on, was the presidential election: "It's terribly important this year."

Kissinger put two and two together.  He and Nixon had been reading each other's mind for some time now.  Kissinger noted, "If a year or two years from now North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam, we can have a viable foreign policy if it looks as if it's the result of South Vietnamese incompetence."  They could come up with peace agreement language--could "sell it in such a way," some transcribed Kissinger's words; others rendered it, just as pregnantly, "sell out in such a way"--that convinced South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu that America would stick with him until the end and get it agreed to in time for November.  After which they could regrettably let "South Vietnam" evaporate and move on to other foreign policy problems.  

For now they had to keep up military pressure, mining harbors, intimating wholesale dike-bombing, whatever it took to hold back the deluge during what diplomatic historians would later call a "decent interval": to "find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which--after a year, Mr. President--Vietnam will be a backwater."  Then they could announce peace with honor.  Only they would know they'd just stabbed South Vietnam in the back.  "If we settle it, say, this October, by January '74 no one will give a damn."  

But they couldn't settle it before October.  They needed the war to keep going through the election.  That way they could blame the continuation of war on the Democrats: their line could be, Haldeman wrote in a memo, that the sustained fighting proved the Communists were "absolutely at the end of their rope," their only chance of victory "to stagger through to November hoping that President Nixon will lose and they can get a good deal from the next administration."

Back in February, Nixon had said antiwar Democrats "might give the enemy an incentive to prolong the war until after the election."  Actually, that was what he was doing, just as he had in 1968.  Twenty years later, a superannuated Richard Nixon met with a group of young reporters just before the 1992 New Hampshire primary and copped to it.  He explained that the incumbent Republican president would have been able to guarantee his reelection, but that it was too late: he ended the Iraq war when he should have kept it going at least until the election.  "We had a lot of success with that in 1972," he told the assembled scribes.  

But it was George S. McGovern's campaign that was "Mafia-like."  Time magazine had said so.             


  1. Kevin,
    I was working in the radar approach control at U-Tapao AB, Thailand when South Vietnam went under - Bobby Cewlow and RZ's backseater died along with a lot of others.
    To protect America's freedom? No. No more than
    that young Marine killed by a IED in Faluga did.


  2. Sarge, I'm very confused. You say that war was wrong, it was a mistake, whatever, you lost friends there, yet if I criticize it you seem to take it as a slap in YOUR face. Why?

    You say war is hell, there's always collateral damage in war, civilians always die in wars, but you don't make the connection that that's a very GOOD reason to not have so god damn many of them. The war was wrong, it was bullshit, thousands of civilians were killed, not to mention soldiers and airmen, etc., but ho hum. What can you do? Life goes on.

    Can you possibly clear this up for me?

  3. RZ was a AF Captain - two tours in SEA. Second one was as a FAC- forward air controller. Crazy dude - retired as a full Colonel.
    Kevin, you just hit a nerve.
    War? Yes, it is stupid and innocents die - But,
    it isn't going away anytime soon. War, oil and gas, religion, ethnic hatred - shit, pick a reason and people will go to war.
    Why we had a man here in Indianapolis shoot his
    neighbor because the man's dog took a crap in his yard.

    Clear it up for you. I think you have it right.
    I think visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington had a profound affect on me. I remember saying, "For what"?

    Yes, life goes on. But, lets do this - stop burying our kids from wars we don't have to fight - like Iraq.



  4. Interesting bit about Nixon. Doesn't surprise me too much.