Erik's review of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
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(last edited Apr 10, 2010 05:48PM)
Apr 10, 2010 05:47PM
You have peaked my interest in this book. I would disagree with one of your comments, however, i.e., that it was not a civil war but a US war of aggression against Vietnam. As far as I can tell from the reading I have done it was definately a civil war before the US became involved, although it originally began as a revolt against the French. We had promised Ho Chi Minh that, in return for his assistance against the Japanese that we would support Vietnamese independence from the French. We reneged on that promise. Then it got complicated because in that war against the French, Minh allied himself with the Communists at a time when anti-Communist paranoia was ramapant in the U.S. That encouraged the US to support nominal anti-Communist forces/government in the south in the fight against the north. By definition a civil war.
I would highly recommend Robert McNamara's memoir In Retrospect which reinforces your suggestion that the upper echelons knew a great deal more than they were letting on. Johnson admitted to one of the Senators that the war was unwinnable. This is another case, however, where public ignorance and paranoia forced presidents into making foreign policy decisions that turn out badly. Whether it's the cart leading the horse or vice-versa, I'm not sure. Clearly, administrations make decisions for a variety of reasons, many of them purely political. On the other hand they can control the media to a great extent so they may be responsible for whipping up public opinion in a particular direction.
We are still living through the repercussions in Iran of the mis-guided over-throw of a democratically elected government in 1953 and the installation of the Shah. We need to start acting as if we really belief what we say we believe.
Personally, I think Ellsberg acted heroically and that the more information we have the better. Governments love to hide behind a wall of secrecy in order to avoid being embarassed. National security is often used to hide mistakes. Kennedy (and I agree with your comment that he would not have withdrawn from Vietnam) once said he wished the NY Times had published information it had about the Bay of Pigs invasion because then he would not have invaded and he would have avoided the biggest blunder of his career.
That's why I usually wait a couple of years after an even to read a book(s) about it to find out what really happened. :)
I will have to read this read. Thanks for bringing it to my atention.
Apr 12, 2010 06:25PM
I never claimed it wasn't a civil war. Ellsberg did. His point was that there never was a South Vietnam that opposed North Vietnam. He said that once Ho Chi Minh took over, the French wanted Vietnam back, so they essentially "created" a South Vietnam to fight him, and after Dien Bien Phu, the Americans took up the mantle. Any leader of South Vietnam was merely a puppet of us and was never really democratically elected. Certainly there were Vietnamese who didn't want Ho, but that didn't mean they were willing to fight a war to get rid of him.
Apr 13, 2010 09:44AM
My apologies. I should not have implied that you did. I meant to suggest "Ellsberg's comment that you cited". And I agree with your comments. So much of what we were fed at the time turned out to be spin or just incorrect. I suspect that's probably true of Iraq and Afghanistan as well.
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