Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Book Review: “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama” by the Father-Daughter Kalb Revisionist Historians

Just because the father-daughter tag team of Marvin and Deborah Kalb say it in a book doesn’t make it true – especially when coming from one half of the Harvard-New York Times bred Bernard-Marvin Kalb elite team of revisionist historians. Such is the case here with the Kolb’s accretion that we “lost the Vietnam War.” Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it Bernard that quit the Reagan Administration because he didn’t like how they were treating Libyan leader COL Gaddafi? As an extended tour Vietnam Vet, I don’t much like how the Kalb’s are spinning history to fit their thesis for their new book: “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.”

One only has to look at how the Kalbs participated in spinning what even the North Vietnamese considered a terrible defeat -- the Jan-Feb 1968 Tet Offensive -- into a U.S. loss and debacle to recognize they have an agenda here beyond selling books and making money. Even the Hanoi leadership was apoplectic over the outcome of their great gamble that ended in their dismal failure and defeat. In total, approximately 85,000–100,000 communist troops participated in the initial onslaught and the follow-up phases which resulted in 45,267 of them killed. In 1968 alone over 181,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops were killed and from that point on Hanoi was forced to fill one-third of the Viet Cong ranks with North Vietnamese regulars. It was only after the Communist leadership saw how the U.S. Press reacted to the Tet Offensive that they began to propagandize their "victory" and U.S. anti war newspapers like the Kalb’s own New York Times were only too happy to give voice to this communist propaganda.

Fast forward past the “Vietnamization” of the war to January 1973, and The Paris Peace Accords on "Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam." This agreement resulted in a cease-fire, release of U.S. POWs, the guarantee of the territorial integrity of Vietnam, national elections, and total withdrawal of U.S. forces. Although U.S. military forces withdrew from South Vietnam, North Vietnam was allowed to continue supplying communist troops in the South, but only to the extent of replacing materials that were consumed.

The communists had expected the ceasefire terms would favor them but Saigon, bolstered by a surge of U.S. aid just before the ceasefire, began to roll back the Vietcong. With U.S. bombings suspended, work on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other logistical structures proceeded unimpeded and Logistics would be upgraded until the North was in a position to launch a massive invasion of the South by 1975.

But it was what happened in U.S. politics and a Democratic take over of both houses of Congress in the Nov 72 elections that ultimately contributed to the U.S abandoning our South Vietnamese allies. Although McGovern lost 49 of 50 states for Nixon’s reelection, many American voters split their tickets. In March 73, Nixon hinted he might intervene militarily if the communist side violated the ceasefire but the Democrat Congress reacted unfavorably and when during his June 73 confirmation hearings Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam, the U.S. Senate passed the Case-Church Amendment on 4 June 1973 to prohibit such intervention. Then when Nixon resigned over Watergate and Ford became President in Aug 74, Congress cut financial aid to South Vietnam from $1 billion a year to $700 million. The U.S. midterm elections in 1974 brought in a new Congress dominated by Democrats who were even more determined to confront the president on the war and Congress immediately voted in new restrictions on funding and military activities to be phased in through 1975 and to culminate in a total cutoff of funding in 1976. It was this and NOT any U.S. Military defeat that doomed South Vietnam.

Buoyed by the Democratic Congress abandonment and in total disregard for the Paris Accords, the Communists resumed a full scale War. Then in Jan 75 when a provincial capital fell, Ford desperately asked Congress for funds to assist and re-supply the South before it was overrun. Congress refused and this finally sealed South Vietnam’s fate. This lack of an American response left the South Vietnamese demoralized but at the start of 1975, the South Vietnamese still had overwhelming military superiority over their Communist enemies but did face a highly determined and well-funded North Vietnam with material and financial support still pouring in from the communist bloc countries. Abandoned by the American military and Congressional denial of financial support, an embittered and tearful South Vietnamese President Thieu resigned on 7 April declaring that the United States had betrayed South Vietnam. By the end of April, the South Vietnamese military collapsed and by 27 April, 100,000 North Vietnamese troops encircled Saigon. Early in the morning of 29 April Sec Def Schlesinger announced the evacuation of Saigon by helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel. In an atmosphere of desperation, as hysterical crowds of Vietnamese vied for limited space, the U.S. ambassador pleaded with Washington to dispatch $700 million in emergency aid to bolster the regime and help it mobilize fresh military reserves but to no avail. In the early morning hours of 30 April, the last U.S. personnel evacuated the embassy by helicopter as civilians swamped the perimeter and poured into the grounds. Many of them had been employed by the Americans and were left to their fate.

On 30 April 1975, North Vietnamese troops overcame the last resistance and captured key buildings and installations thus ending of 116 years of Vietnamese involvement in conflict either alongside or against various countries, primarily France, China, Japan, Britain, and America.

The responsibility for the ultimate failure of U.S. Policy and our withdrawal from Vietnam lies not with the men who fought, but with those in Congress. The U.S. Military was NEVER once defeated on the battlefield and left South Vietnam in a militarily superior position where they could have prevailed over the North indefinitely if they had continued to receive U.S. financial support at least equal to that being received from the Communist Bloc by the North.

By war's end, 58,220 U.S. troops were killed and more than 150,000 wounded with about 21,000 permanently disabled. Sixty-one percent of those killed were age 21 or younger. A total of 8.615 Million men served during the Vietnam era and of them 2.15 Million actually served in Country. Three-fourths of those deployed were from working families and poor youths were twice as likely to serve there than their more affluent cohorts although the vast majority of them were volunteers. Hence, socio-economic status was the greatest determinate of who actually served in Vietnam and of all the service members who served there, 88.4% were Caucasian (including Hispanics), 10.6% were black, and 1% other. At the time, Blacks represented 12.5% of the total U.S. population and 13.5% of the military age cohort, so they were under represented in the war zone. Casualty data shows 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1% were Black.

In 1995, the Vietnamese government reported that its military forces suffered a total of 1.1 million dead and 600,000 wounded during their conflict with the United States and the U.S. military has estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war and Civilian deaths have been estimated to be about two million total in both the North and South.

With a U.S.-South Vietnam kill ration of about 4 to 1 against the North, a record of never being bested on the battlefield and a U.S. withdrawal leaving South Vietnam in a position to endure indefinitely only to be betrayed by a withdrawal of financial support by a Democratic Congress, should this be described as a U.S. defeat?

It was certainly NOT a defeat by the U.S. Military but it might be more accurately described as a defeat by a Democrat controlled U.S. Congress – possibly with an agenda to embarrass a Republican President Ford. In retrospect, the Kalbs might have inadvertently hit on a lesson for President Obama. Not the one they intended linking Afghanistan with Vietnam but rather the consequences of one party controlling Congress trying to embarrass a president of another party and the residual affects it has on the Country.

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