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The Latest News on the Vietnam War

The Fortnightly Rant for February 11, 2011, from The New Hampshire Gazette, Volume 255, No. 10, posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2011.

What’s that you say? You thought the Vietnam War was over? Far from it — it’s just getting its second wind!

Yes, incredible but true: die-hard conservatives* are itching to fight America’s most divisive Twentieth Century war all over again. And this time, by God, they’re planning to win!

Ancient History

Since a generation or two of our readers were born after it ended, let’s have a little refresher. The Vietnam War was the Great Patriotic Struggle that came before … let’s see … you have to go back so far … so many Great Patriotic Struggles ….

Before Iraq, before Afghanistan, before Kosovo, before Somalia, before the Persian Gulf, before Panama, before Grenada, and before Lebanon, there was Vietnam ….

Ah, plucky little Vietnam, that lonely outpost of capitalism democracy, that brave bulwark against the dreaded Red China and the Godless Global Communist Conspiracy.

Vietnam — South Vietnam, that is — was led by the wise and kind Ngo Dinh Diem. Our own then-Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, called Diem “the Churchill of Asia.”

Diem himself, unfortunately, was led by his creepy younger brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu. An opium-addict and admirer of Adolf Hitler, Nhu was the head of Vietnam’s secret police, and he ran his operation accordingly. His wife bore the nickname “The Dragon Lady,” and she earned it.

This cozy arrangement began in 1955, when the U.S. stepped in, contrary to the Geneva Accords of 1954, which the Eisenhower Administration had been too canny to sign, and installed Diem as President. Diem’s eligibility was established in a referendum which he won with 98 percent of the nationwide vote. And if that sounds suspiciously high, in Saigon he won by 133 percent.

All was well — if you overlook the bloodshed and corruption — until 1963. In the spring of that year in Hué, Buddhists, who made up about 90 percent of the population, defied an edict of Diem’s (himself a celibate lay Catholic) that prohibited the display of Buddhist flags on Phật Đản, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. Nine Buddhists in Hué were shot dead by police and soldiers, and the country descended further into chaos.

That fall, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge gave General Duong Van Minh (“Big Minh”) the green light to overthrow “Churchill” in a coup. Diem and Nhu were both shot in the head during that regime change, but the Dragon Lady, true to form, got away.

Seymour Hersh, in his book The Dark Side of Camelot, makes a compelling case that President Kennedy was fully aware that the Vietnamese generals were going to kill Diem.

Further, Hersh reveals evidence showing that the coup was approved because Diem was negotiating a possible political settlement with Communist North Vietnam. According to Hersh, Kennedy was desperate to prevent any negotiated settlement until after his own re-election. If he failed, the Republicans would be sure to crush him with the charge that he had “lost Vietnam.”

Tet and Paris

President Johnson, elected in his own right in 1964 as the “peace candidate,” set about escalating the war for the same reason that Kennedy green-lighted the Diem coup — anything less and he’d have been hounded from office by hard-line anti-Communists.

But on January 31st, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army put the kibosh on Johnson’s presidency by launching coordinated attacks “from the Delta to the DMZ.” It’s hard to argue you’re winning a war when your embassy personnel are defending themselves by firing pistols out the windows. Eight weeks later, after peace candidate Sen. Gene McCarthy (D-MN) came within 7 points of beating him in New Hampshire’s Democratic Primary, Johnson announced he would not run for another term.

But the real shocker of ’68 was not revealed until forty years later. In December of 2008, tapes from the Johnson White House confirmed what some had long suspected. Emissaries of the Republican Presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, had been communicating with the North Vietnamese Communists [South Vietnamese delegation] at the Paris peace talks.

There, the Communists [Thieu regime’s negotiators] were told that if they refused to settle until after the 1968 Presidential election, they’d get a better deal from Nixon — and deprive the Democrats of a potentially huge political advantage. As Johnson said on the recordings, that was treason. And it worked: Nixon beat Humphrey.

“The direct U.S. role in the Vietnam War would continue for more than four years,” Robert Parry summarized in 2008, “during which American casualty lists swelled by an additional 20,763 dead and 111,230 wounded. Meanwhile, the bitterness over the war deeply divided the country, in many cases turning children against their parents.”

Let’s Party Like It’s 1968

Fast forward to January 14, 2011: the Defense Department announces that in accordance with the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, it is inaugurating a Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Program which will:

“Thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War, including … prisoners of war or … missing … and to thank and honor the families …. Highlight the service of the armed forces … the contributions of federal agencies and governmental and non-governmental organizations …. Pay tribute to the contributions made on the home front …. Highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine …. Recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by the allies of the United States during the Vietnam War.”

This being the 21st Century, naturally the Commemoration is centered around a website, vietnamwar50th.com, and has its own official logo, seen here.

Inevitably, along with the logo, the website features photographs of grunts in jungles and rice paddies, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and Swift boats. Nothing remarkable there. But the front page of the website also features the following quotation:

“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.” — Richard Nixon, New York Times, March 28, 1985.

Enter the Revisionists?

For the average person, that quote might not seem inflammatory, but in the world of dog whistle politics,† it suggests that the Commemoration might be in the hands of Vietnam revisionists — those who maintain that we would have won the war, if it had not been for the lying liberal media, and/or the degenerate hippie protestors.

A discussion with a Pentagon spokesman [see “About This Cartoon,” below] convinced us that revisionists aren’t running the Commemoration. The website quoting Nixon is just a placeholder, to be replaced in a couple of months with a new one.

RADIX

Though not running the Commemoration, one group of revisionists is out there actively trying — The RADIX Foundation, which held a four-day John Kerry-bashing-fest in Boston during the Democratic Convention that nominated him for President. RADIX still maintains a website from that conference at www.viet-myths.net. Its front page features this quotation:

“The Vietnam War was mis-reported by the media, mis-recorded by the historians, mis-taught in our schools and mis-applied in addressing policy decisions ….” — Stephen Sherman.

Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it?

Sherman, the RADIX Foundation’s Director, has now established a website [vnmaps.net/VN50wiki] dedicated to influencing the Pentagon’s Commemoration in the Right direction. For all its bluster, RADIX seems to be a modest, rather quixotic effort. But it surely won’t be alone. Considering the commotion kicked up by the actual war, its Commemoration is bound to cause a stir.

A Note About This Cartoon — This cartoon implies that it is the Pentagon’s intent on its 50th Anniversary Commemoration (www.vietnamwar50th.com) to actively obscure some essential truths about the Vietnam War. When our Alleged Editor requested the cartoon from our Starving Artiste, that appeared to be the case as discussed in “Enter the Revisionists,” on this page.

The Editor subsequently spoke with Lt. Col. Hunter Holliday, the Public Affairs Officer for the Commemoration. He gave convincing assurances that this is not the case. The program’s sole intent, he said, is to honor the service of those involved; all interpretations of the merits of the war will be left to others. We have no reason to doubt him.

In a perfect world, we would request a revised cartoon. The general shown above would be replaced by a historical revisionist. Alas, time is too short.

Why not pull it? We thought about that. Here’s why we did not.

Having been charged by Congress with commemorating the war, the Pentagon is compelled to do exactly what it is doing — it is honoring those who served, without questioning the cause. It could not do otherwise. As it was during the war, the Pentagon is in an impossible position. Forced to honor the sacrifice of those who served, yet unable to acknowledge the unworthiness of their cause, it is compelled to do a disservice to the truth.

* By any rational measure they’re reactionaries. Here, though, we’ll use the term “conservative” to spare their tender feelings. We wouldn’t want to get sued.

† Dog whistle politics — “A type of political speech using code words that appear to mean one thing to the general population but have a different meaning for a targeted part of the audience.” — Taegan Goddard

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