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.
U.S. Navy pilot John McCain lies in a Hanoi hospital after his Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967, on his 23rd mission. He remained a POW until the end of the war. Photo by Francois Chalais.
New York: Herder and Herder, 1970.
["...poetic and moving spiritual reflections, born of the author's experiences as an American chaplain in Vietnam, are built on the themes of the ambivalent nature of war and the universal elements in the lives of the people, Vietnamese and Americans, who live, fight, suffer and die there.
New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1972 (1st edition).
["Hayden reveals the horrible reality behind the genocidal lies of `Vietnamization' and 'winding down the war.'"]
Reports of the Tet Offensive stunned the U.S. public, however, especially after news broke that Westmoreland had requested an additional 200,000 troops, despite repeated assurances that victory in the Vietnam War was imminent. With his approval ratings dropping in an election year, Johnson called a halt to bombing in much of North Vietnam (though bombings continued in the south) and promised to dedicate the rest of his term to seeking peace rather than reelection.
The United States Air Force dropped in Indochina, from 1964 to August 15, 1973, a total of 6,162,000 tons of bombs and other ordnance. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft expended another 1,500,000 tons in Southeast Asia. This tonnage far exceeded that expended in World War II – 1,613,000 tons in the European Theater and 537,000 tons in the Pacific Theater.
As a way to show that Hanoi wanted reconciliation above all else, Cora Weiss and the Viet-My coordinated one last prisoner release in September 1972. This time, Hanoi stipulated that prisoners must return to the United States via commercial airline; hence they would be able to hold a press conference upon their return before being debriefed by the U.S. military. Hanoi and Weiss made it clear that any intervention on the part of the U.S. government could imperil the future release of additional POWs before the end of the war. Anticipating U.S. interference, they announced a false itinerary of their return trip to the United States. As expected, the U.S. military met the plane that the three POWs were supposed to be on in Laos with the intent of forcing the three men to fly the rest of the way back to the United States via military aircraft. All the while the POWs were actually escorted by Weiss on another day via a different route. Weiss wrote a press release stating that the intervention was evidence of Nixon’s disregard for POWs’ safe return and his attempt to conceal the truth from the American people.
Such harsh penalties undoubtedly dissuaded many GIs from directly challenging military authority, but other ways were found to debate and protest the war. With the support of local peace groups, coffee houses sprang up near military bases where GIs could freely exchange ideas. GIs began publishing off-base newspapers, one of the first being Vietnam GI in late 1967. More newspapers followed. Cortright counts a total of 259 over the course of the war, although many lasted only a few issues due to personnel relocation. In December 1967, the American Servicemen’s Union (ASU) was founded by socialist Andy Stapp, who purposely entered the Army in order to organize among soldiers. ASU developed chapters in bases at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Benning, Georgia, and offered legal assistance to servicemen in support of GI rights. An increasing number of GIs also applied for C.O. status while in the service. Even if denied, their applications backed up the military courts and sometimes delayed deployment orders. At the Oakland Army Base, a primary embarkation point for Vietnam, the Pacific Counseling Service aided GIs in filling out C.O. applications, resulting in 1,200 soldiers successfully delaying their deployment orders by March 1, 1970.
Open dissent on U.S. military bases slowly emerged. The first public act of defiance came on June 30, 1966, when three privates issued a public statement declaring their refusal to ship out to Vietnam on the grounds that the war was “immoral, illegal, and unjust.” The “Fort Hood Three” were court-martialed in September and sentenced to three to five year prison terms. In October, Army doctor Howard Levy refused to train Green Beret medics at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, asserting that Special Forces units were responsible for war crimes in Vietnam.
In fact, Nixon waited until June 8th to announce the first withdrawal of 25,000 GIs, which amounted to less than five percent of the 540,000 troops stationed in Vietnam. Nixon knew that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would reduce U.S. leverage in negotiations, but he was obliged to appease public opinion at home. His duplicitous strategy toward the peace movement was to steal its thunder by gradually withdrawing U.S. troops while at the same time denouncing the movement for urging withdrawal. Sam Brown commented, “It seemed that he was going to get out of Vietnam as slowly as possible, while selling the idea that he was getting out as fast as possible.”
Other raids, often led by clerics, destroyed draft records in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago, Akron, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New York, and Buffalo. Sentences were initially harsh, but in 1972, in a surprising turn, Judge John Curtin vacated the sentences handed down to the “Buffalo Five,” three men and two women who had broken into Buffalo’s Old Post Office building in August 1971 for the purpose of destroying draft files. Judge Curtin told the defendants, “Your love of country is above that of most other citizens. If others had the same sense of morality, the war would have been over a long time ago.”