CHAPTER THREE - Why and How We Went into Vietnam
In Chapter 3 Nixon begins by setting out what Ho (North Vietnam) was willing to do and why the U. S. needed to fight. He suggests the "rules" by which we should have fought and exposes the means and ends for which Ho and the North Vietnamese did fight. Nixon exposes J. F. Kennedy’s insistence on finding a "diplomatic" solution and contrasts this with Ho’s decisive actions. Nixon shows how Kennedy binds the U. S. and South Vietnam with the Geneva agreement of 1962. With the establishment of the Ho Chi Minh trail the "dominos" begin to fall. Nixon then lays out the role of President Kennedy and the media in the coup the to overthrew and murdered South Vietnamese President Diem. The death of J. F. K. places Johnson’s presidency on the line. Nixon explains the justice of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and foreshadows the Congressional [academic] hypocrisy that will follow. Nixon observes Johnson’s political dilemma and his errors in judgement (later admitted by Johnson). Nixon explains how Johnson could have won the war and how the limits on U. S. forces which L. B. J. sets derail victory. Nixon shows how the media turn the U. S. /South Vietnamese victory during the Tet Offensive into a defeat on T. V. Nixon exposes the massacre at Hue and how the media ignores Communist atrocities. He finishes off the chapter explaining how Johnson’s halt of the air war allowed Ho to exploit America’s political dilemma.
1. "North Vietnam held one decisive advantage over the United States: Its leaders had a limitless capacity for barbarity and tenacity. ... Our enemy could never defeat us; he could only make us quit." (Pg 45)
2. "The United States intervened in the Vietnam War to prevent North Vietnam from imposing its totalitarian government on South Vietnam through military conquest, both because a Communist victory would lead to massive human suffering for the people of Vietnam and because it would damage American strategic interests and pose a threat to our allies and friends in other non-Communist nations." (Pg 46)
3. ""Our critical error was ignore one of the iron laws of war: Never go in without know how you are going to get out. . . . Policymakers based their decisions on what was needed to prevent defeat rather than what it would take to reach victory." (Pg 46)
4. "The first rule of war is that one must know the enemy and understand his strategy and tactics. The second is that one must adopt strategy and tactics suited to the circumstances of the war." (Pg 47)
5. " Promotion of hatred," stated one National Liberation Front directive, "must be permanent, continuous, and directly related to the struggle movement as closely as a man is to his shadow." (Pg 51)
6. "Violence was the other key to the success . . . Their purpose was to promote instability and insecurity, to destabilize the government by killing its most able officials, and to intimidate the people by demonstrating that they could not be protected."
7. "The National Liberation Front also had a systematic policy of assassination or abduction of anyone likely to stand up to it and provide anti-Communist forces with leadership. ... The target list also included anyone who improved the lives of the peasants, such as medical personnel, social workers, and schoolteachers, ..." (Pg53)
8. "Kennedy’s advisers displayed not only appalling naivete but also fundamentally poor judgment. They failed to understand guerillas war. Guerrilla warfare is a military operation, revolutionary warfare is a political operation. ... The real war in Vietnam was an invasion from North Vietnam that came in the guise of a guerrilla insurgency." (Pg 55)
9. "One week later, however, Kennedy backed away from his commitment to keep Laos independent. . . . Kennedy also told an aide that one of the lessons he had learned from his defeat in Cuba was that the United States should pursue a political solution in Southeast Asia rather than a military one." (Pg 58)
10. "Ho viewed all of Indochina . . . as one strategic theater. His motive in signing the Geneva agreement was simple and cynical: He hoped it would enable him to restrict our zone of operation while his armies continued to operate freely throughout Indochina. . . . they virtually annexed southern Laos and constructed . . . the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" – into South Vietnam and Cambodia." (Pg 59)
11. "The Geneva agreement on Laos in 1962 paved the way for the Communist victory in South Vietnam in 1975." (Pg 60)
12. "But it was obvious that North Vietnam had already widened the war by taking over southern Laos and eastern Cambodia. By failing to defend Laos, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations made it easier for North Vietnam to wage their war against South Vietnam by sending tons of weapons and thousands of men down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. . . . Years later it would be fashionable in academia to deride the domino theory. But whatever academics would say about it, the dominoes certainly believed it. . . . By allowing the Ho Chi Minh Trail to become a freeway for Hanoi’s invasion, we put Ho Chi Minh in the driver’s seat in the Vietnam War." (Pg 62)
13. "We made our third critical mistake in South Vietnam in 1963. The Kennedy administration, increasingly frustrated with President Diem, encouraged and supported a military coup against his government. This shameful episode ended with Diem’s murder and began a period of political chaos in South Vietnam that forced us to send our own troops into the war." (Pg 62)
14. "The suicides [of Buddhist monks] were political ploys by a few fanatic extremists, but the media said they represented the mainstream opinion of South Vietnamese Buddhists. The press played up the Buddhists as oppressed holy people, and the world blamed their political target, Diem." (Pg 67)
15. " He [ Kennedy’s ambassador to South Vietnam] instructed the CIA in Saigon to make the rounds of their contacts in the military. Several South Vietnamese generals later testified that they had been sounded out by United States officials that summer on the possibility of leading a coup. . . . Diem, who had personified stubborn resistance to communism, had been eliminated without their [Communists] having to life a finger. Nguyen Huu Tho, the head of the National Liberation Front, said, "The Americans have managed to do what we couldn’t do for nine years."(Pg 69& 72)
16. "The Kennedy administration sowed the seeds of intrigue that led to the overthrow and murder of Diem. Now we would reap a bitter harvest." (Pg 73)
17. "While some respected military observers have questions whether the attack [the Tonkin Gulf Incident] took place, I have concluded that it did and there is no credible evidence that we provoked it. ... it [the resolution] was an honest effort to get congressional support for the deepening involvement that had been forced upon us. . . . We did not go to war because of two brief naval skirmishes but because North Vietnam was trying to take over Indochina." (Pg 74)
18. "Those who supported the resolution but later turned against the war tried to absolve themselves by accusing Johnson of duping the Congress about the extent of the powers it was delegating or of acting beyond his authority. Neither was the case." (Pg 75)
19. "It was a terrible dilemma for Johnson. He could not afford to lose the war, and he could not afford to do what was necessary to win it. Either way he could lose the Great Society. He made the worst possible choice: He would fight – not to win , but only not to lose." (Pg 78)
20. "Making the point that Vietnam was a just war would have been easy, but Johnson deliberately chose to avoid the question. . . . American leaders cannot wage war without the solid support of public opinion, and the American people will go to war only if they are convinced that it is a just cause." (Pg 79)
21. "Sound strategy in Vietnam would have begun with the recognition of five facts.
First, the theater of conflict included all on Indochina ....
Second, North Vietnam’s external aggression was the central cause of the war. . . .
Third, while we dealt with North Vietnam’s invasion through Laos and Cambodia, South Vietnam ideally should have taken responsibility for defeating the guerrillas within its borders. . . .
Fourth, the war against the Communists guerrillas in south Vietnam could not be won with conventional military tactics. . . .
Fifth, Laos was the key to a winning strategy." (Pg 80 - 81)
22. "Johnson said that "we seek no wider war" and pledged not to invade North Vietnam or to overthrow Ho Chi Minh. But by dispelling North Vietnam’s fears that we might make use of our enormous military superiority, he eliminated any incentive for its leaders to cease their war against South Vietnam." (Pg 82)
23. "No targets apart from roads, railroads, bridges, power plants, barracks, and supply dumps were attacked. No bombing was permitted within a twenty-five to thirty-mile-deep buffer zone along the Chinese border, and thirty-mile radius around Hanoi, and a ten-mile radius around the port of Haiphong." (Pg 87)
24. " . . . the administration carried out a limited bombing campaign in fits and starts and sent out a cascade of peace feelers almost begging Hanoi to come to the negotiating table. Ho Chi Minn, who had deliberately begun the Vietnam War and who had never indicated a willingness to settle on any terms other than his own, could only have interpreted our gradual escalation as a sign not of restraint by of weakness." (Pg 88)
25. "A concerted, nationwide Communist assault – the Tet Offensive – caught The United States and South Vietnam off-guard and shocked the American people. Our forces quickly crushed the enemy. It turned out to be a major military defeat for the Communists in South Vietnam, but grotesquely inaccurate news-media reporting turned it into a major political and psychological victory for them in the United States. (Pgs 88 - 89)
26. "Although it [Tet Offensive] was an overwhelming victory for South Vietnam and the United States, the almost universal theme of media coverage was that we had suffered a disastrous defeat." (Pg 91)
27. "Even more glaring was the news media’s failure to report on the massacre at Hue. . . . Communist death squads quickly killed the 200 targets on their lists. But didn’t stop there. . . . It should have made a big story. . . [but] nothing appeared on network televison . . . the discovery of the first mass grave. . . estimated the death toll to be between 200 and 400. No reports came out when another eighteen mass graves were found in the following days. Nor did reporters flock to the area as more burial sites were found in nearby mountains, jungle clearings, and coastal sand flats. The death toll would climb to 2, 810 by mid-1970, while another 1,946 remained missing. During their twenty-five days in power in Hue, the Communists had killed between 5 and 10 percent of the city’s population, but the news media did not find it newsworthy." (Pg 92)
28. "On March 31 . . . Johnson declared a unilateral halt to all bombing in North Vietnamese territory above the twentieth parallel, and later the nineteenth, in the hope that Hanoi would take reciprocal steps toward peace. But reciprocity was not in character for Ho Chi Minh. . . . Hanoi was demanding in effect that we lay down our arms before preliminary procedural negotiations could even begin." (Pg 94)
29. "We had traded away our most important negotiating asset – the bombing of North Vietnam – for a set of fuzzy "understandings" that Hanoi had never agreed to and had no intention of honoring. . . . Ho, who had made a career of exploiting the weaknesses of his adversaries, did not miss this opportunity. We had limited our intervention to South Vietnam’s territory. We allowed North Vietnam to send men and materiel freely down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. We let Ho Chi Minh fight the war at his leisure, on our turf, and on his terms. We ignored the fact that war particularly guerrilla war – is a question of willpower as much as military power." )Pgs 95 -96)
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