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[The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War, The Complete and Unabridged Series as Published by The New York Times, taught me that sometimes the truth is hidden in plain sight. In this case, all I had to do was open a book, and some of the truth spilled out. Bolded text is my emphasis.]


[Gen. Nguyen Khanh]


Gen. Nguyen Khanh, the nominal commander of the South Vietnamese armed forces, had ousted the civilian cabinet of Premier Tran Van Huong on Jan. 27. Led by Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, a group of young generals – the so-called Young Turks – were in turn intriguing against General Khanh.

(A footnote in the account of the first reprisal strikes, on Feb. 8, says that Marshal Ky, who led the South Vietnamese plans participating in the raid, caused “consternation” among American target controllers by dropping his bombs on the wrong targets. “In a last minute switch,” the footnote says, Marshal Ky “dumped his flight’s bomb loads on an unassigned target in the Vinhlinh area, in order, as he later explained, to avoid colliding with U.S.A.F. aircraft which, he claimed, were striking his originally assigned target when his flight arrived over the target area. Adm. U.S. Grant Sharp, commander of United States forces in the Pacific, reported the incident to the Joint Chiefs.)

Referring to the political situation in Saigon, the account says: “This Alice-in-Wonderland atmosphere notwithstanding, Taylor was undaunted.”

“It will be interesting to observe the effect of our proposal on the internal political situation here,” the Ambassador cabled back to Mr. Johnson in Washington about the bombing. “I will use the occasion to emphasize that a dramatic change is occurring in U.S. policy, one highly favorable to GVN interests but demanding a parallel dramatic change of attitude on the part of the GVN. Now is the time to install the best possible Government as we are currently approaching a climax in the next few months.


[The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War, The Complete and Unabridged Series as Published by The New York Times, taught me that sometimes the truth is hidden in plain sight. In this case, all I had to do was open a book, and some of the truth spilled out. Bolded text is my emphasis.]


[Gen. Maxwell Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, 1964-1965]


According to the embassy’s cable to Washington, the conversation began like this:

Ambassador Taylor: Do all of you understand English (Vietnamese officers indicated they did…)

I told you all clearly at General Westmoreland’s dinner we Americans were tired of coups. Apparently I wasted my words. Maybe this is because something is wrong with my French because you evidently didn’t understand. I made it clear that all the military plans which I knew you would like to carry out are dependent on government stability. Now you have made a real mess. We cannot carry you forever if you do things like this.

Marshall Ky and other Vietnamese generals denied that they had staged a coup and said they were trying to achieve unity by getting rid of divisive elements, the account goes on.

The Ambassador tried to persuade them to support the civilian regime of Premier Huong and apparently to restore the High National Council. The Vietnamese officers would not agree.

The embassy cable describes the end of the conversation:

“In taking a friendly leave, Ambassador Taylor said: “You people have broken a lot of dishes and now we have to see how we can straighten out this mess.”

Ethnically Perplexed by Sume

Years ago my father sent me a folder containing a family tree that stretched back to 1776, an old newspaper article about one of his ancestors and a picture of the family crest.  He is a proud Southerner, and his pride naturally extends to his European ancestry that he’d traced all the way back to Wales.  Throughout my childhood, he’d never failed to impress upon me the importance of heritage.

Even as a little girl, I remember him taking my brother and I to an old family graveyard in Louisiana.  Many of the graves had deteriorated to little more than piles of stones, and the names were no longer readable.  None of this mattered to my father.  He told my brother and I to stand next to them so that he could record our pilgrimage to the old family plot.

He often boasted about his grandmother’s strength of character which he attributed to her French-Canadian/Cajun roots.  During our visits, his ears would perk up as he heard her and his father speaking Cajun, a language he never learned to speak.

I vaguely remember him urging me to ask my great-grandmother to see a sword she supposedly owned that had been passed down from the Civil War. Being a proud Southerner, he impressed the significance of the Confederate flag upon me at an early age.  As a teenager, I proudly displayed it in the corner my room.

Rebel Yelling by Sume

I don’t remember my father ever associating the flag with racism.  For him, it symbolized his Southern roots and nothing more.  I might have had no problem with that except for the fact that my father was racist.  He still is – and this is the part where I get really uncomfortable.

Writing about my family’s racism is always painful for many reasons.  I am ashamed and ashamed of being ashamed.  He is my father, the only one I’ve ever known.  Some part of my conscience kicks me in the back of the head every time I mention my father’s racial prejudice.  I feel the urge to apologize for him and even cover it up, but I’m tired of covering for my family, exhausted from carrying the burden of their deceptions.  No matter how good their intentions, it’s not mine to carry.  Furthermore, as I slowly re-align my perspective to one of a woman of color rather than a white woman, my brain must reject much of my father’s view of the world as unacceptable.

He has mellowed out some over the years, but it’s still there and manifests itself in more – and still occasionally less – subtle ways.  He’s not the only one, but most of my family is less obvious about it.   It always surprised and filled me with such shame and anger when I’d hear members of my family say “nigger” as if there were nothing wrong with it – even more so when I’d confront them about it.  Sometimes I’d get arguments and excuses.  Sometimes, they’d just look at me as if I were crazy.  Except for my father, I’ve since learned to avoid those particular family members.

There was a time when I tried to compartmentalize Dad from his racism just as he seemed to compartmentalize racism from the Confederate South.   Yes, I’ve read the debates, but cannot escape the fact that the South and part of its history included slavery.  It’s not that I buy into the idea that the North was absent of racism and exploitation of people of color, but just as with my father, there are things to be proud of and things of which to be terribly ashamed.

Ironically, the only photo he seemed to be able to find of one of his early ancestors was that of a Union soldier (see first photo).  On it, he’d written: Don’t claim no kin to this one.

On the inside of the folder, my father wrote:

My Dearest:
Forget not from Whence
The lineage in your Vein
Was born of Suffering and Pain
In abeyance of Life’s Penance!

The infuriating thing is that all the while he was impressing upon me the importance of his heritage, he was contributing to the erasure of mine with his lies.  Well intentions be damned.  One does NOT compensate for another.  One does NOT trump the other.  Because there were so many pieces missing, the few remaining fragments became all the more valuable – and irreplaceable.

Despite any wish he might have had to ensure I felt a part of the family, a true sense of belonging is only true when you don’t have to work too hard at it.  The burden of proof felt more put upon me than upon him.  All he had to do was lie, but the responsibility for maintaining the illusion was mostly mine.

And I refuse.

[The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War, The Complete and Unabridged Series as Published by The New York Times, taught me that sometimes the truth is hidden in plain sight. In this case, all I had to do was open a book, and some of the truth spilled out. Bolded text is my emphasis.]



But behind these foreign-policy axioms about domino effects, wars of liberation and the containment of China, the study reveals a deeper perception among the President and his aides that the United States was now the most powerful nation in the world and that the outcome in South Vietnam would demonstrate the will and the ability of the United States to have its way in world affairs.

The study conveys an impression that the war was thus considered less important for what it meant to the South Vietnamese people than for what it meant to the position of the United States in the world.

Mr. McNaughton would later capsulize this perception in a memorandum to Mr. McNamara seeking to apportion American aims in South Vietnam:

70 pct. – To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat (to our reputation as guarantor).

“20 pct. – To keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands.

10 pct. – To permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.

“Also – To emerge from crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.

“NOT – To ‘help a friend,’ although it would be hard to stay in if asked out.”

[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.]


At this hour when the survival of their regime was on the line, none of the political and military leaders had the stomach for a last stand. It was everyone for himself. Those leaders who had not already fled now scrambled to get out. The CIA flew Nguyen Khac Binh, the chief of police, to the Philippines. Other high-ranking Vietnamese flocked to the American embassy, hoping to be evacuated. General Cao Van Vien, the head of the Joint General Staff, sneaked into the embassy through a back entrance and wrangled a helicopter ride to their airport. General Dang Van Quang, national security advisor to Thieu, pushed his way through the sea of Vietnamese mobbing the embassy and was let in by a Marine guard at the order of the CIA station chief. Others were less circumspect. Some armed senior officers showed up at the DAO compound — where the secret flights were being carried out — and demanded to be flown out of the country. Air Marshal Ky, who had called those leaving cowards and traitors (but whohad evacuated his family to Guam) flew out in his own helicopter, taking General Ngo Quang Truong, the commander of what was once Military Region I, with him. There were scattered individual acts of defiance and courage, like the few pilots who flew their last missions against the communists. But no one was left to give orders. The whole command structure had collapsed as the Joint General Staff personnel abandoned their posts and fled.


A blog by three adult Vietnamese adoptees as they move forward, reflect back and express their thoughts on just about everything in between. More...

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