Small Wars Journal

Historically and Factually Accurate?

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 5:07am

Historically and Factually Accurate?

W.R. Baker

With the exception of the very few, most Vietnam veterans are proud of their service (~91%) and most of these seem to be “revisionist” versus “orthodox,” as the distinction seems to be currently drawn.

I’m surprised that primary sources (i.e., those who were in Vietnam) don’t seem to be as important as secondary ones are for historians today. Just a brief survey of what is now being taught in colleges about Vietnam, including (surprisingly) military ones, and you’ll find it is now a seldom offered course by itself and it seems consigned to being only a chapter in history books.

Unfortunately, not all of these books are totally accurate and, more importantly, they repeat the errors found in the sources they quote and then in the books or articles they then publish. The old proverb “tell a lie often enough” is beginning to spread.

Most Vietnam veterans believe that there were many reasons, not just one, why the Vietnam War ended so miserably. Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order. All quotes are from former NVA Colonel Bui Tin* who served on their general staff and received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975.

  1. We didn’t blockade Haiphong at the onset (where even British vessels could be found);
  2. We didn’t knock out the railroad lines between China and North Vietnam;
  3. U.S. ground forces were not allowed to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. If they had, “Hanoi could never have won the war;”
    1. Though North Vietnam clearly violated Cambodian and Laotian sovereignty, U.S. forces were not allowed to continue chasing (hot pursuit) the NVA/VC when they retreated back across these same borders;
  4. The anti-war movement “was essential to our strategy.” The senior leadership followed the anti-war movement in the U.S. and “were elated” when Jane Fonda, Ramsey Clark and others visited. “America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win;”
  5. South Vietnam’s generals were “inept” and political;
  6. The bombing of North Vietnam, if it had been concentrated (as in the Christmas bombing), “would have hurt our efforts.” Piecemeal bombing gave the North time to reshuffle and rebuild;
  7. The NLF (National Liberation Front) was controlled by Hanoi – it was never independent (it was always run by a communist party commissar), despite efforts to convince the American public and politicians otherwise;
  8. Regional and Popular Forces (Ruff/Puff) were in control of 90% of the populace countryside by 1972. The often-forgotten Peoples Self-Defense Force (PSDF) were there in the rural hamlets, too;
  9. Fighting in 1968 had decimated communist forces in the South. Years of rebuilding compelled them to use NVA troops to fill out the VC ranks. “If American forces had not begun to withdraw under Nixon in 1969, they could have punished us severely;”
  10. When President Ford failed to respond to the attack of Phuoc Long in January 1975, the North knew that their overall victory was at-hand;
  11. “We had the impression that American commanders had their hands tied by political factors. Your generals could never deploy a maximum force for greatest military effort;”
  12. The North only had to win over the American media in order to eventually be victorious because they swayed politicians (who love to be loved and, of course, reelected) and the feeble-minded university professors who love to pontificate and sell their books). Because fewer people read books today, let’s not forget the pseudo-documentarians and Hollywood-types who insist on stating or insinuating how bad the military was in Vietnam and how the communists forces were the good guys or merely misunderstood.

This same type of thing also seems to occur in fictional accounts of wartime events. If they are especially outrageous, they are almost surely to be “visual humanities” and promoted as if the events actually happened. In these cases, the historian seems to be the director and the movie studio (in typical Hollywood fashion) is more concerned with making a profit. Taking a slap at the military is almost always good for business when it comes to Vietnam, though.

It is a depressing curiosity why there is still a proclivity to demean our efforts in Vietnam (while now acknowledging veterans) by the U.S. Government and some state sites, especially educational ones, on the internet. Or is it?

*August 3, 1995 The Wall Street Journal.


Categories: Vietnam - Vietnam War

About the Author(s)

W. R. (Bob) Baker graduated with the first 96B/Intelligence Analyst class at Fort Huachuca, AZ in 1971. He was then assigned to the 1st Battalion (which soon became the 571st MI Det.), 525th MI Group, headquartered in Da Nang, Vietnam. His further assignments included positions at Fort Bliss, Texas; two tours with the European Defense Analysis Center (EUDAC) in Stuttgart-Vaihingen, Germany; and the 513th MI Group in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

He left the US Army and worked as an analyst for Interstate Electronics, Northrop-Grumman and Xontec defense contractors before teaching in primary and secondary schools.

Mr. Baker has a bachelor of science degree in Government from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Dayton. He has authored other Easter Offensive articles and is currently writing a book on this subject.