For the sake of peace, we have made concessions. But the more conciliatory we are, the more aggressive the French colonists become. They are determined to reconquer our country. No! We would rather sacrifice everything. We are determined not to lose our country and not be enslaved. Dear compatriots, we must rise up. Male and female, old and young, regardless of religion, political party, ethnicity, all Vietnamese must rise up to fight French colonialism and to save the fatherland.
In accordance with these new American priorities, France’s position on Vietnam was now described in terms of the Free World’s stand against communist expansionism, and Washington ceased to perceive the war in Vietnam as primarily a local colonial conflict. Now linked to the Cold War, Vietnam was regarded as an area of strategic importance to the United States.
Milton S. Katz, “Peace Liberals and Vietnam: SANE and the Politics of ‘Responsible’ Protest,’” in Walter L. Hixson, ed., The Vietnam Antiwar Movement (New York: Garland, 2000), pp. 65-66.
Quoted in Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 238. The worker was Jim Kain, described as a clean shaven twenty-two-year-old graduate student from Alabama. His colleague William McFarland, 29, said he didn’t regard his work on military weapons as “evil. I think the American government is composed of rational men who do not sit around all day thinking of ways to kill people.” See also Jon Nordheimer, “Protests Disturb Lab Men at M.I.T.,” New York Times, November 9, 1969.
Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression; Iver Peterson, “Vietnam: This Phoenix Is a Bird of Death,” New York Times, July 25, 1971; Alfred W. McCoy, “Torture in the Crucible of Counterinsurgency,” in Marilyn B. Young and Lloyd C. Gardner, eds., Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn from the Past (New York: New Press, 2007), p. 241; Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State (New York: Pantheon, 1973), pp. 92, 93; and Valentine, The Phoenix Program, p. 61.
Twenty-seven months of US bombing of North Vietnam have had remarkably little effect on Hanoi’s over-all strategy in prosecuting the war, on its confident view of long-term Communist prospects, and on its political tactics regarding negotiations. The growing pressure of US air operations has not shaken the North Vietnamese leaders’ conviction that they can withstand the bombing and outlast the US and South Vietnam in a protracted war of attrition. Nor has it caused them to waver in their belief that the outcome of this test of will and endurance will be determined primarily by the course of the conflict on the ground in the South, not by the air war in the North.
In the aftermath of My Lai, more atrocity stories came to light, many told by GIs and veterans themselves. To limit the damage, the Pentagon assembled a secret Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that gathered more than 300 criminal investigation reports, testimonies, and allegations of atrocities, including massacres, murders, rapes, torture, assaults, mutilations, and the execution of prisoners. The purpose of the working group was not to administer justice but to bury the evidence in top-secret classification. The Pentagon framed My Lai as an “isolated incident,” the product of a few “bad apples,” and kept the lid on information and reports regarding other atrocities, including the massacre at My Khe that same day. It refused to investigate many of the allegations by GIs and vets in the interest of keeping the extent of atrocities under wraps. This went beyond public image making, as the generals themselves could be charged with war crimes under international law (in the tradition of the Nuremberg Trials) should a consistent pattern of atrocities and cover-ups be proven.
Following raids in Dai Lai village in the rural Thai Binh province (southeast of Hanoi) in October 1967, French journalist Gerard Chaliand witnessed men and women weeping as they swept debris from the floors of destroyed homes and recounted how their neighbors had been burned alive by the fires. Bui Van Nguu, age forty-six, told Chaliand that he had been outdoors making brooms for the cooperative when a bomb exploded in his kitchen, burying his three children. The only thing left of them was mangled limbs, shreds of flesh, and the ear of his eldest daughter which was found in a garden seven yards away. Rescue teams in the village dug out many other children who had been buried alive, burned to shreds, or asphyxiated in the bombing massacre that was one of many in the war. A woman who had lost her parents and six siblings in the bombing of Phy Le told visiting peace activist David Dellinger to “ask your president Johnson if our straw huts were made of steel and concrete” (as LBJ claimed) and to ask him if “our Catholic church that was destroyed was a military target….Tell him that we will continue our life and struggle no matter what future bombings there will be because we know that without independence and freedom, nothing is worthwhile.”
Following the U.S.-GVN recapture of Hue, shallow mass graves were discovered in and around the city. Many of the bodies had their hands bound, indicating execution. Free-lance journalist Len Ackland estimated the number at 300 to 400. U.S. officials estimated 2,800 to 5,700. Later Vietnamese accounts and memoirs verified that NLF and perhaps NVA soldiers killed prisoners, whether because they were “reactionaries” or during a panicked retreat under U.S. bombardment, but not in the numbers alleged by U.S. officials. According to the political scientist Gareth Porter:
The first mistake of U.S. leaders was to label the communist-led patriots of Vietnam “enemies” of the United States, despite the fact that they posed no threat to U.S. national security and held no animosity toward Americans before the United States intervened in 1954. With the onset of the American War in 1965, the masses who regarded Ho Chi Minh as their liberator and national hero were deemed “fellow travelers” of the resistance and treated accordingly.
America’s ally, the GVN, garnered little loyalty from the people during its two decades of existence. It remained from beginning to end, an authoritarian, repressive, and corrupt client-state of the United States. It was also constantly in turmoil. On February 19, 1965, General Nguyen Khanh was ousted in a coup d’état, tacitly approved by U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and General William Westmoreland. Khanh left the country and power was transferred to a triumvirate of generals, Nguyen Cao Ky, Nguyen Chanh Thi, and Nguyen Van Thieu. To please the U.S., the new government pledged on March 1 not to negotiate with the enemy. Thi was soon banished to the U.S., while Ky and Thieu became the key leaders for the remainder of South Vietnam’s existence. Ky was born in Hanoi and had been trained as a pilot by the French in Algeria. He was described by Ambassador Taylor as having all the qualities of a successful juvenile gang leader. Thieu, also northern-born, had fought with the French against the Viet Minh, graduated from the United States Command and General Staff College in 1957, and became president of South Vietnam in 1967. Thieu’s top power broker, General Dang Van Quang, was heavily involved in the narcotics trade, controlling the Vietnamese Navy which harbored an elaborate smuggling organization.