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Only the Debris of War is Left

by Lutz Herden Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2007 at 11:18 AM

Vietnam could not be conquered or defeated - despite all miloitary efforts. Three years after Johnson's ultimate demonstration of power, Nixon used the final exit strategy.. The Vietnamization of the war was Vietnamization of coffins.


Déjà vu. A US president announced his new strategy for a victory in Vietnam 40 years ago

By Lutz Herden

[This article published in: Freitag 09, 3/2/07 under the title “Zuletzt blieb nur der Schrott des Krieges” is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

While the White House again seems to put everything on one card, individual US politicians and the media mainstream of the East coast prepare the ground for an Iraq exodus. Vice president Cheney regards the security situation in many parts of the country as “very satisfactory” so the Iraqis alone can be responsible for their security. Kenneth Adelman, war drummer of the neoconservatives, said in Vanity Fair: “The idea of using our power for the moral good in the world is dead.” This is evidence for the trend of presenting Iraqis as depraved, anarchic and uncompromising whom the US now cannot help any longer.

Lyndon B. Johnson invited only the most loyal of the loyal to the summit conference in manila in the fall of 1966. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines formed the “coalition of the willing” of the Indo-China war and were on the side of Americans with their own troops on the South Vietnamese battlefield. They dispatched several thousand soldiers and decided on a more symbolic act of assistance to reinforce the bulwark against communism as South Vietnam was described. In Manila, they heard from president Johnson who urged the US army to a resolute military breakthrough. The Vietnam corps was enormously increased as more than 500,000 men were shifted to the Southeast Asian theater of war. Air attacks against North Vietnam were launched. The GIs were to get ready for offensive operations as never occurred in the past and whole regions cleansed of Vietcong (the term invented to describe the enemy).

Johnson gambled with the US role of superpower and obviously did not expect defeat. Despite all warnings, there would be a final battle. The superior force of the weapons, the intelligence of the strategy and the superiority of morality would break the communist adversary.

Ideological fanatics were at work with the democrat Johnson and his advisors. They imagined a faith war against an “evil empire,” Ho Chi Minh’s socialist Sparta north of the 17th parallel. The domino theory circulated. If South Vietnam fell, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand would fall to communism like ripe apples fall in one’s lap. The Americanization of the Indo-China war resolved at the Manila summit was more a belief in a mission than in the conviction that South Vietnam was the bastion of the Americans.

The consequences were different than expected. Three years after Manila, the Americans were stuck in the South Vietnamese jungle if they weren’t burnt by napalm. Vietnam could not be conquered or defeated – despite all military efforts. With the formula “End the War and Win the Peace,” the republican Nixon ran against the democrat Humphrey in the 1968 election campaign and was sworn in as the 37th president of the United States in January 1969. His first decisions revealed the meaning of his slogan” Withdraw from Indo-China without losing face. Three years after Johnson’s ultimate demonstration of power, Nixon used the final exit strategy. At the end of 1970, the first 25,000 Americans were brought home. The emphasis was on a “Vietnamization of the war” and on the vastly superior firepower of the South Vietnamese national army thanks to American weapons. That army would now act alone. After taking over all US bases, the South Vietnamese army did not have to fear the adversary from the North. Many in the US military doubted the combat morale of the South Vietnamese but believed they would become combative when left alone – for their survival if not for freedom and democracy. The “Vietnamization of the war” was “Vietnamization of coffins.”

Up to 1970, the Air Force operated over Indo-China to stop the disintegration of the ARVN. The government of president Thieu in Saigon at that time would not be sacrificed although the Americans wanted to avoid further casualties. Eight aircraft carriers crossed in the South China Sea to offer logistic support to the air sovereignty. This strategic trump could only be played out as long as the heavy rain clouds of the monsoon period hung over the jungle of Annam and Cochinchina and forced US pilots to week-long battle pauses. “The threat of using our air force has to remain credible so the morality of the government in Saigon is not shaken and the other side does not try any adventure,” explained Graham Martin, the CIA resident in South Vietnam in February 1974. At that time, several thousand advisors stood on South Vietnamese territory, not any US soldiers. The “year of the water buffalo” passed with the TET-offensive and Gian Dan, the “year of the tiger” rung in with travail.

The Vietnamization of war proved to be the herald of the collapse that was finally sealed on April 30, 1975 with the capitulation before the victors from the North. A regime that only existed because Americans wanted it could not survive without the Americans. The filth of war and the financial plunder from Washington became the last economic legacies. The bulwark against communism was degraded to the lost output of the West. Even if well supplied from the air, it actually gave up long ago.

At the beginning of the seventies, US soldiers who withdrew from Vietnam wore T-shirts under their uniforms with the inscription “I don’t fear hell any more; I was in Vietnam.” This was an extravagant exaggeration since only two of ten US soldiers in Indo-China ever had direct enemy contact. The rest worked in the communication zones, offices or on the huge US bases of Cam Ranh. The mental breakdowns of GIs returning home from Iraq decades later were not very different.

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