Why the Vietnam War is Relevant Today

Extracted from Comrades in Arms; How the Ameri-Cong won the Vietnam War Against the Common Enemy -- America by Roger Canfield*

How did the American side lose in Vietnam? The Vietnam War was a political war, a unified struggle, dau tranh, of politics as much or more than arms. The enemy in Hanoi made the streets of America and the lobbies of Congress, the crucial battlefield, the political struggle, which effectively limited U.S military strategy, tactics and weapons, exhausted the political will of America’s leaders, killed congressional support for allies in Indochina and ultimately abandoned the people of South Vietnam. Peace brought not the Communist promised national salvation of reconciliation, democracy, and prosperity, but liquidation of political dissenters, reeducation camps, forced relocations to new economic zones, child labor, human trafficking, religious persecution, corruption, oppression and poverty. Will history repeat itself in the long war against Islamic terrorism or in the coming conflict with China?

That was then. Now Jidahist terrorists and Red China practice Hanoi’s dau tranh franchise. They operate near freely in the open stirring up dissent that they do not allowed in their midst. When does dissent become treason? How can republics wage long wars against fanatical and bloody tyrannies when their enemies know their vulnerabilities to popular abhorrence of the barbarity of war and the sacrifice of innocent civilians? How is it possible for democracies to wage war against opponents for whom there are no innocent civilians, women and children? How long can civilized peoples, valuing human life, forbear seeing daily reports of mass butchery of steel upon human flesh let alone horrific loses of civilians and innocents as well as combatants in war?

Until we understand the political warfare of Vietnam and of the Jihadists we shall never achieve today’s limited counter insurgency and counterintelligence goals let alone victory. There is “one war” to win or to lose, both military and political, counter terrorism and counterinsurgency.[1]  There are signs that the domestic element may again be the critical political battlefield in the war against Islamic terrorism. Water on the faces, panties on the head, deprivation of sleep, and playing of heavy metal music have been transformed from humiliation to wild claims of torture previously defined as great pain and suffering. Responding to such distorted enemy propaganda, domestic echo chambers thoughtlessly repeat inflated allegations of U.S. atrocities, terror and torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Haditha. The Obama administration has been persuaded to close Guantanamo and to grant enemy combatants in wartime American Constitutional rights, the same Miranda rights, attorneys, and criminal trials given to pickpockets, shoplifters and delinquents.

In Vietnam it was most of the top leaders of the peace movement whose Hanoi-approved atrocity propaganda emasculated American military power. Skillful propaganda, usually unanswered, significantly restrained U.S military actions: inside North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; against dikes, dams, harbors and supply routes; and using napalm, cluster bombs, B-52s.

This is a politically incorrect history of the antiwar movement in America during the Vietnam War. It fills a black hole in history, a story of active collaboration, fellow traveling and treason never previously told and relentlessly denied. It shows how Hanoi made the peace movement the critical element in its political strategy for victory in revolutionary war, a people’s war, and how the U.S. never developed a significant understanding of political struggle let alone a counter strategy.[2]

Since this vulnerability remains, the Vietnam War is still very relevant to American strategies to confront Islamic terrorism and the rapidly rising power of Communist-ruled China. Properly understood the Vietnam War puts a new light on the problems to be solved in waging war against Islamic terrorism, gathering intelligence on domestic terrorists and agents of foreign powers, and preparing for emerging military powers, e.g. China. Today Jihadist political appeals are recruiting terrorists born in the USA. Today China has persuaded the world that it is no longer Communist, voices from its network of prisons, lao gai, are silent, executions and organ harvesting can happen to anyone, and typical responses to its spies and military modernization are indifference or U.S. corporate technological collaboration with the suppression of speech, assembly and petition inside China.  Thousands of Chinese spies operate unimpeded in the USA

During the Vietnam War, the progressive American peace movement enthusiastically disseminated Hanoi’s psychological warfare and Orwellian propaganda and condemned the plain truth as lies. Hanoi’s political struggle movement among the American people (dich van) vilified U.S. conduct of the war (making the USA appear uniquely brutal, immoral and unjust), obscured Viet Cong atrocities, deified communist leaders and romanticized the valor and powress of enemy troops. This propaganda program created many myths about Vietnam still largely unchallenged. Dich van “turned skeptical newsmen credulous, made careful scholars indifferent to fact, blinded honorable men to immorality.”[3] Today’s history books on Vietnam are marginally different from political posters on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) claiming falsehoods to be true. 

Hanoi’s entire political propaganda went largely unanswered and unfiltered into the history books while the enemy’s influential role in the peace movement warrants no more than a few minor footnotes in history. Our children are taught the war propaganda of Hanoi and of the progressive left that an imperialist capitalist U.S. conducted an illegal, unjust and unwinnable war in Vietnam, a place far, far away from our national interest.

Many of the same organizations, individuals and propaganda themes now arise in opposition to the long war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the Vietnam era United For Peace and Justice includes AFSC, Center For Constitutional Rights, Coalition for Peace and Justice, Communist Party, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, IPS, Fellowship of Reconciliation, National Lawyers League, Peace Action, Pledge of Resistance, Students for a Democratic Society, Unitarian Universalists, United Congregational Church, United Church for Christ, United States Student Association, Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, War Resisters League, and WILPF.[4] Indeed, members of Progressives for Obama hold the same views about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reenacted as they did about Vietnam. The following Vietnam War protesters supported Barack Obama for President; Bill Ayers, Noam Chomsky, Carl Davidson, Bernardine Dohrn, Thorne Dreyer, Terry Dubose, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard Flacks, Jane Fonda, Jon Frappier, Todd Gitlen, Al Haber, Tom Hayden, Howard Machtinger, John McAuliff, Jeff Jones, Mike Klonsky, Mark Rudd, Stanley Sheinbaum, Steve Tappis, Arthur Waskow, Quinton Young, and others.[5]

The pervasive perception that American wages unjust wars has eroded the very legitimacy of the America’s exceptionalist claim to be the regime of liberty. The nations of the world listen not to Barack Obama, but rise to applaud Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro. Indeed, since most of what we think we know about the Vietnam War is false, we have distorted visions of ourselves, of our place in the world and of how wars should be fought.[6] Napoleon said, “History is a fraud agreed upon.”[7]

History largely records flowered peace activists spontaneously gathering by the thousands wearing PEACE and JUSTICE on their T-shirts and in their hearts.

Antiwar activists are seldom glimpsed reliably going to multiple meetings and conferences with the enemy, using Hanoi propaganda themes and carrying Viet Cong flags. Though unreported, such meetings, themes and flags were common. Until now, history provides no hint about the intimate political relations of the leaders of American antiwar movement with the enemy from 1962-1975 in Hanoi and Paris and across the globe. America’s antiwar movement happily passed almost any story of the Vietnamese Communists— Viet Nam Cong San or shortened the Viet Cong—ever told. Americans collaborating with the enemy and seeking a communist victory are still near universally praised for their commitment to peace and social justice. Historians of the peace movement ignore or summarily dismiss the multiple dealings of the leadership of the American antiwar movement with the top leadership of North Vietnam.[8]  “No evidence has ever been produced for foreign communist involvement in the anti-Vietnam War Movement,” Tom Wells, writes in his The War Within. The antiwar movement was not a movement inspired or led by foreign powers,” write Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan in their Who Spoke Up? Compare this with “The spontaneous antiwar movements in the US have received assistance and guidance from the friendly [Viet Cong/North Vietnam] delegations at the Paris Peace Talks…. The PCPJ [People’s Committee [sic] for Peace and Justice]…maintains relations with us…” from the Viet Cong’s Circular No. 33/VP/TD.

Time and again Hanoi, Cuban and Soviet bloc meetings and conferences across the planet forged international unity on dates, events and propaganda themes upon often bickering leftist groups in America. Aided by CIA reports willfully blind to domestic subversion, because it, pristinely, was not the CIA’s business, widely claimed that the antiwar movement had neither connection to the Soviet controlled nor funded Communist Party, USA nor to the enemy in Hanoi. Yet such collaboration largely happened in broad daylight in plain view for anyone whose eyes and ears were open. Worldwide newspapers, movement publications, personal memoirs, radio broadcasts,[9] captured enemy documents and classified documents of the day recorded bits and pieces of what was going on. There were millions of unconnected dots, yet American intelligence agencies had ten years to collect and analyze them and generally failed to do so.  Many politicians and members of congressional committees, whose careers depended upon understanding politics, believed the Vietnamese Communist were influencing the American antiwar movement and found sufficient evidence everywhere to proclaim it and found their voices muted, if not silenced, political correctness.    

Most histories excoriate the secret decision-making and lies of American political and military personalities[10] but softly pedal past the publicly proclaimed brutal political strategies and deceitful tactics of the Vietnamese Communists. American antiwar leaders were an integral part of Hanoi’s war winning strategy for People’s Revolutionary war.  Hanoi targeted the antiwar movement and U.S. media politically. This was a well-designed program of unified “political actions among the enemy” (dich van) which was one of three pincers of  “political struggle” (dau tranh chinh tri) equal to or greater than “armed struggle” (dau tranh vu trang) in Hanoi’s grand strategy for winning of revolutionary war against a stronger enemy.[11] Hanoi put its theories into successful political practice developing a political campaign plan in Paris disarm South Vietnam, launching it at German Town, implementing it out of the offices of Rep. Ron Dellums and others and finally persuading the U.S. Congress to cut, run and betray South Vietnam despite magnificent allied successes on the battlefields and in the hamlets of South Vietnam after 1968.    

The consequences of a false history are many beyond the military consequences of a lost war. Since the conventional Vietnam War template of U.S. government war criminals and innocuous peacemakers is carried to the present, our children are taught a deconstructive history not only of the Vietnam War, but also of a grievously flawed America. Many do not believe America is worth defending. Very many Americans of left progressive persuasions presume that every U.S. military endeavor is evil imperialism, a futile exercise rather than a defense of U.S. national interests or of freedom. Those who have learned to hate the Vietnam War have come to hate in turn the politicians, the warriors and America itself.  Howard Zinn, an antiwar activist and traveler to Hanoi, wrote the extraordinarily hateful A Peoples’ History of the United States, which has become required reading in thousands of American high schools and colleges.

That “Hate America” legacy is based in major part on the stories we tell about ourselves in Vietnam. Political leaders are quick to adopt a cut and run policy toward any international conflict, to pursue a diplomacy of talk therapy, and to doubt that America has any strategic interests anywhere whatsoever. Indeed, the left never finds any American interest or strategic necessity to ever go to war. America cannot survive if near half its citizens believe it is an evil imperial capitalist power worthy of destruction, or a nation whose sins required unending apologies. If this dark vision is our understanding of Vietnam and of our history of America, then defending the U.S. against Islamo fascism or Chinese Communism are likewise causes unworthy of a nickel of treasure or a drop of blood. At a minimum the orthodox lessons of Vietnam inject premium doses of caution, reluctance tending toward timidity and appeasement—all signaling weakness and an absence of will to potential enemies. Defeatism has a large and growing constituency at home, which has been well noticed abroad.

Whatever we may think of ourselves, from the experience of Vietnam, our enemies have learned how to defeat the United States militarily on its home front. The formula is simple and effective: expand the field of combat to include psychological and political measures to influence troop morale, public opinion and political will. A former intelligence officer, civic action officer in Vietnam and historian Bill Laurie contends the enemy can expect no effective push back, no answers to propaganda, no sustained program to respond to lies with truth.[12] There can be no pushback against hidden things in the mist in the shadows of long forgotten battles.

Today the Chinese and the Jihadists understand the value of American public opinion and politics to their war winning strategies. The Islamic Jihadists and Communist Beijing understand well the lessons of Vietnam when waging war against the United States. Our Islamic-Jihadists and Chinese adversaries[13] are using many of the same tactics and strategies that gave victory to Hanoi in the Vietnam War. In al Qaeda training manuals captured terrorists are told to claim torture. In captured al Qaeda manuals Osama bin Laden tells us he knows the lessons of Vietnam. Osama watches American public opinion polls and believes troop morale and political will are waning under the impact of a long war against terror.[14] And President Obama responds with Miranda rights and court trials for enemies caught on battlefields and closes Guantanamo prison because false enemy propaganda.

Today there is more at stake than there was in Vietnam. On 9/11 the Jihadists struck the American homeland.  Today’s Chinese agents of influence, informers, and spies far outnumber any such forces Hanoi recruited and deployed in the USA.[15] Yesterday’s television war by delayed Teletype and film delivered by courier from Vietnam is today’s global war of instantaneous telecommunications of words, numbers and images often without corroboration of sources or the discipline of editors. As it was in Vietnam, enemy propaganda is unfiltered and worse, still unanswered. Today to the pen, barrels of ink and megawatts of radio transmitters used during Vietnam War must now be added trillions of gigabytes of the Internet, cell phones, text and graphics messaging, fiber optic transmission, satellite communications and other telecommunications capabilities and products that did not exist during the Vietnam War.  If information is power then the deregulated telecommunications industry and its revolution of new tools is a force multiplier in politics greater than the tools ever available to Hanoi.  Today, the Chinese Communist regime has enlisted Yahoo, Google, Cisco, and Microsoft to suppress domestic dissent and uses cash to buy American politicians and business leaders.[16] In the interest of business corporations use the false defense of moral ambiguity, another legacy of Vietnam poorly understood. Can the smart politics of our enemies (asymmetrical, low tech, high concept) defeat our smart bombs yet again?  Will military and civil successes in the villages of Iraq and Afghanistan again be lost in American town squares, faculty clubs, progressive party caucuses and the media? If not there how can we cope with third world nuclear powers and Chinese expansionism?

Today’s outrageous claims are reminiscent of then routine, but rarely challenged, reports of American torture and atrocities in Vietnam where rogue isolated incidents of U.S. atrocities were described, at best, as morally equivalent to the systemic Viet Cong policy of terror. Like the Viet Cong, today Jihadists rely upon a culpable media to pass on outrageous claims of American atrocities. George Soros funded a study claiming 650,000 deaths in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, about eight times the actual number. The New England Journal of Medicine published research showing far fewer deaths over a longer period, 151,000, from 2003-2007.[17] Hezbullah, using civilian shields and phony evidence (recycled corpses, dustless children’s toys, broken religious icons, unfired bullets, colorful objects coincidentally photographed, planted, found amongst gray bomb rubble) fed atrocity stories on the Hezbullah’s war with Israel in southern Lebanon to an uncritical media in 2006. Torture stories in the Iraq War were manufactured out of distorted versions of incidents at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.[18] From a firefight at Haditha with insurgents hiding “among civilians and …aided by them” Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, claimed it was a cold-blooded massacre that courts martial largely proved not to have happened.[19] After September 11, 2001, when the U.S. desperately sought facilities to house enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan for four months it turned to Camp X-ray, a former refugee holding area for Cuban and Haitian refugees. Photos showing barbed wire, cages and shackled prisoners in orange jumpsuits crossed the planet claiming to reveal inhumane conditions and soon torture. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Barack Obama and others declared that this propaganda was a recruiting tool for Al Queda rather than learning the true story later revealed by FBI, DOD and other investigations. Prisoners have excellent medical care, 5-6,000 calories daily, recreational opportunities, satellite TV, library, and institutionalized respect for their religion. Tales of the toilet and urine desecration of the Koran though proven false rated 4,677 mentions compared to 90 references to the heroism Sgt. Paul Smith, recipient of the Medal of Honor.[20] Nasal feeding tubes for fasting prisoners are humane, standard hospital equipment. “No prohibited acts were found and conditions are humane,” according to a Pentagon study. Reports of torture at Guantanamo were false: all interrogations are voluntary while sitting in L-Z-Boy chair. An FBI study based on interviews of 450 FBI employees found no prisoner beaten, burned, electrocuted or subjected to frightening insects or animals. Yes, a few detainees were subjected to sleep deprivation, loud music, bright lights, isolation, and some held in painful positions. There was one case of water boarding.[21] Life is far, far better in Guantanomo than in most American state prisons and county jails.

Today many still hate America based upon the dark tales of Vietnam and their current sequels. Like LBJ and Nixon in Vietnam, a passionate minority believed anything hateful said about President Bush—and his successor, Barak Obama. Bush blew up the World Trade Center. Bush spills American blood for Iraqi oil. Bush is the biggest terrorist in the world. Bush is listening in on the telephone and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, (an impossibility). “Bush Lied People Died.” It is a surreal return to “Hey, Hey, LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?” What they hated Bush most for was winning the war in Iraq by refusing to follow the cut, run and betray template of Vietnam.[22]

Vietnam became a template for destroying, “deconstructing,” the legitimacy of ordinary patriotism through ridicule of simple acts and symbols of loyalty and allegiance, the pledge, the flag, and assaulting the integrity of the nation’s leaders as universally liars, fools and war criminals.  “It is almost a truism of leftist politics that … dissent which rises to the level of treason is … patriotic,” according the discerning blogger Socrates. Yet if you believe your country is doing wrong, do you have a right to aid the enemy and claim love of the very country you are betraying? But it is surely Orwellian “verbal acrobatics” that treason is transformed into patriotism.[23] How is stopping troop trains--inhibiting a war effort and aiding the enemy--an act of patriotism?

Blame America and hate America constituencies, fed by the unanswered tales of the Vietnam War, have since spread widely from the antiwar movement into grade school histories into the mainstream left. As in Vietnam some of the most vociferous purveyors of hate declare themselves for love, peace and social justice. So the hatred of Bush—and his successor-- cannot be separated from the war in Iraq and the unified strategy of war now used everywhere against US military power and diplomacy.  

Ronald Reagan said the Vietnam War cause was honorable and noble. Rudyard Kipling said rather too modestly, “The first casualty of war is truth.”[24] By Kipling’s measure, the best liars appear to have won not only the Vietnam War, but also our memory of it. A Vietnamese proverb has it that the “winners are kings, losers are pirates.”[25] The liars’ tales are the stories most told about Vietnam in books, media, and classrooms.  We try to answer these tales with undeniable facts.

In late December 2004, Medea Benjamin speaking for Code Pink, Global Exchange, and Families for Peace announced her intent to donate $600,000 in medical supplies and cash to the families of the terrorist insurgents fighting American troops in Fallujah, Iraq.[26] Today too little is made of the beheadings of civilian antenna repairman Nick Berg and journalist Danny Pearl compared to continuing uproar over the humiliations terrorist combatants suffered at Abu Ghraib, the holding of enemy combatants in war without Miranda rights at Guantanamo and the false claims of American premeditated murder of innocent civilians at Haditha.  The Jihadists glorified the beheadings and the U.S investigated Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Haditha and prosecuted wrongdoers.

Today, the Congress and the nation are similarly divided over the war against Islamo Fascism. A restrained President and military have in effect granted sanctuaries to the Jihadists in Southern Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Northwest Pakistan. Just like Cambodia and Laos were during the Vietnam War. Indeed, terrorists and farm workers easily cross American borders with Mexico and Canada.

Presidents Johnson and Nixon, Democrat presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, Attorney General Katzenbach, FBI director Hoover, CIA Director George Bush and many others (passim) complained about the enemy influencing the antiwar movement. Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp, who headed the US Pacific Command said the national will was destroyed by "a skillfully waged subversive propaganda campaign, aided and abetted by the media's bombardment of sensationalism, rumors, and half-truths" about the war.

The complicity of the U.S. antiwar movement in the fall of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to Communist terror and aggression has been downplayed to a fault in most American histories of the era. Marxist historian Eugene Genovese finally came to say that many American radicals, like himself, were “accomplices to mass murder”[27] in Indochina. He is among mere handfuls admitting they were wrong in supporting the communists in Vietnam.

Left uncorrected, the history of the Vietnam War becomes a tale of the twilight of a great civilization. Will America, the regime of liberty, fade from history in its growing inability to cope with future enemies (Islamo-fascists, or Chinese totalitarians?) for fear of resurrecting the phantom demons of Vietnam? Hanoi, except for Weatherman, never brought its forces into U.S. territories. Vietnam, while a vital milestone in the Cold War, never presented the global challenge that China now does. China and Islamo Fascists may deliver nuclear weapons to our homeland by shipping container.[28]

It is time to introduce the characters and to tell the story as yet untold.

Out of an epic cast of thousands only a few achieved notoriety…until today. . . *.

[*I have deleted the footnotes and recommend you purchase a copy of the whole work. (SGS)]

Aspire to inspire before you expire.