[NOTE OF EXPLANATION: Duong Van Mai Elliott’s book, The Sacred Willow, is a well-researched account of her family’s long history in Vietnam. Particularly interesting for me are the historical narratives of political intrigue and corruption that rooted themselves in the Republic of South Vietnam. The following excerpt from Elliott’s book recounts the general situation during the last several years of President Nguyen Van Thieu’s regime (1967-1975). Bold is my emphasis.]


In a bid to extract more aid from Washington, Saigon claimed it was facing a severe shortage of ammunition and limited the use of ordnance across the board.

… No doubt the aid cutback forced Saigon to economize, but the measures taken were extreme and ill-considered. When the Pentagon sent its own logistics expert to assess Saigon’s needs in 1974, he reported that South Vietnam still had huge stockpiles of ammunition, and that much of its gasoline was being diverted into the black market. Even as its army began to fall apart in March 1975, Saigon still had two-thirds of the ammunition supplied by Washington during the massive buildup prior to the signing of the Paris agreement. Unfortunately, this ammunition was stored near Saigon and not available to field soldiers and officers.

The cut in aid made Thieu’s position precarious. As long as he could extract bountiful aid from Washington, the generals left him alone. But now, his usefulness was gone. Precisely because his position had weakened, Thieu became even more reluctant to clean house to win the popular support he needed to defeat the communists. He clung even more to officers whom he could trust, although they were incompetent or dishonest — or both. And the more he felt threatened, the less he tolerated opposition. The more he cracked down on dissidents, the more unpopular he became. It was a vicious circle, and he grew more and more isolated. Opposition to Thieu continued to intensify, fed by discontent over the economic crisis and also by war weariness. Even among the middle and upper middle class, among people who had the most to lose in a communist victory, more and more voices were rising to protest Thieu’s belligerence and intransigience. The yearning for peace grew, even among some Catholics. Encouraged by the Vatican’s 1973 endorsement of a policy of accommodation with the communists, a small group of Catholic priests came out in favor of peace. They joined their demand with that of Buddhist leaders, who had been their bitter political opponents in the past. …

Thieu refused to listen to these voices, dismissing those who demanded a negotiated settlement as “communist sympathizers” and “communist dupes.” … Thinking the United States had invested too much blood and too much money in Vietnam to simply walk away, they kept waiting for the cavalry to come to the rescue. The Americans themselves had created this dependency, which permeated not only the top leadership, but all levels of government. No one took the initiative to do anything, and no one was held accountable for not taking action. Passing the buck became a favorite pastime for everyone, from the militia in the outpost to the ministers in Thieu’s government. At the most critical times, when Saigon’s survival hung in the balance, Thieu would press his closest advisors for comments on a policy he was contemplating. Used to letting the Americans plan and execute for them, these advisors would be at a loss as to what to do, and would keep silent or defer to Thieu’s judgment.