[Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg, 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.]

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

[Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, 1963-1964]

p107

Lodge…responded to this opening with a good deal of reserve, launching into a long commentary that put him on distinctly different ground from Thang, Porter, and Landsdale. He began “When you talk about honest elections, you can mean two things: (1) lack of intimidation – this we must have; (2) the fear in some quarters – not, I think, in the highest quarters [i.e., LBJ] – that we won’t be nice enough to the people who would like to tear the whole thing down.” This last referred to concerns expressed in a cable in that morning from State about the prospect that Buddhists, who had been the major force demanding the elections and were suspected of wanting peace even if it meant negotiations with the NLF, would be excluded from the candidate lists.

[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.]

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

p484

Their report evaluating the results of the Rolling Thunder campaign began:

“As of July, 1966, the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam had had no measurable direct effect on Hanoi’s ability to mount and support military operations in the South at the current level.”

They then pointed out the reasons that they felt North Vietnam could not be hurt by bombing: It was primarily a substinence agricultural country with little industry and a primitive but flexible transport system, and most of its weapons and supplies came from abroad.

These factors, the scientists said, made it “quite unlikely” that an expanded bombing campaign would “prevent Hanoi from infiltrating men into the South at the present or a higher rate.”

In conclusion, the Pentagon study says, the scientists addressed the assumption behind the bombing program – that damage inflicted on a country reduces its will to continue fighting. The scientists criticized this assumption, the study says, by denying that it is possible to measure the relationship.

“It must be concluded,” the scientists said, “that there is currently no adequate basis for predicting the levels of U.S. military effort that would be required to achieve the stated objectives – indeed, there is no firm basis for determining if there is any feasible level of effort that would achieve these objectives.”

[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]

p391

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]

p337

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.]

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

p255

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.]

pp.394-5

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.

[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.]

pp.380-2

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.

[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.]

pp.375-7

…When they left, the Americans had taken their dollars with them. The economy dried up. Jobs disappeared. … In all, two million people — 30 percent of the workforce — were thrown out of work. In the second half of 1973, inflation rose drastically, eroding income even more. … the ripple originated with the Yom Kippur war and the Arab oil embargo, which led to a fourfold increase in the price of gasoline. The cost of oil and other commodities that the South had to impart, such as rice, then shot up. With every dollar in economic aid that Washington continued to provide, Saigon could only import fifty cents’ worth of goods. To reflect its declining value, the currency had to be devalued almost monthly. This only made imports more expensive and inflation worse.

The Thieu government made some attempts to cope with the crisis. But lack of planning and sheer incompetence, combined with factors it could not control, such as worldwide inflation and the continuing disruption and instability caused by the war, doomed its efforts. Except for a few feeble initiatives, such as hiring workers to sweep the streets and clean the gutters of Saigon, the government had no strategy to cope with the worsening situation. Instead, it pinned all its hopes on foreign investments and especially on the prospect of striking oil off the coast of Vung Tau. But the continued fighting made foreign investors leery, and although oil was discovered, it was too little, too late. …

… Waste and corruption were also undermining their fighting capability, as vital supplies were siphoned off and even sold to the communists, and equipment left to deteriorate. The malfeasance reached the highest levels of government. General Nguyen Vinh Nghi, the army commander in the Mekong Delta, who was later dismissed for corruption, pilfered tens of thousands of small arms and sold most of the equipment to the Viet Cong. Some senior officers were even pocketing their units’ payroll.

Government corruption had been endemic and brazen. Bribery was the grease that kept everything running. Even getting a passport and exit visa required bribing the powerful. The daughter of one wealthy family was said to have paid President Thieu’s special assistant for national security six million piasters, which were delivered to him stuffed in a suitcase in exchange for a passport and exit visa to France. Government positions that could provide opportunities for graft, such as district and province chiefs, were up for sale through the prime minister’s office or Thieu’s own political party. Those that paid huge sums of money to get these positions could count or getting their investment back several times over through corruption and extortion. …

The corruption had become so widespread that even those who would normally shy away from doing anything that might undermine Saigon and bolster the communists were moved to action. A group of Catholic priests — usually the staunchest supporters of Saigon and the most ardent anticommunists — publicly indicted Thieu and his family as corrupt and accused Thieu and his prime minister of involvement in heroin traffic. They also demanded that Thieu’s wife be prosecuted for corruption. Thieu knew he could not ignore this movement, so he responded by firing two division commanders for selling rice to the Viet Cong and dismissing three of his four region commanders. In addition, he forced four of his cabinet ministers to resign. But this hardly scratched the surface, and left top officials like Thieu himself, General Dang Van Quang, and Prime Minister Tran Thien Khiem and their wives untouched. They continued to make their fortunes in real estate and other business deals.

[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.]

pp.326-7

But the huge American commitment did blunt the communist drive and buy time for Saigon. Instead of using that time wisely to consolidate the gains against the Viet Cong, however, the generals were squandering it in endless squabbles. By this time, they had monopolized power in Vietnam. The only faction that could have challenged them — the Buddhists — had been squashed for good. In September 1967, a semblance of stability returned. General Thieu finally outmaneuvered his rival Ky and became president in an election held at the urging of President Johnson. The election produced a surprise for the Americans: A candidate who advocated an end to the war got the second largest number of votes. Thieu quickly had him thrown in jail for five years. The new government did not gain in stature or popularity. Yet it did not matter, because Thieu had the support of the Americans, who at this point were backing him by default, to avoid making a bad situation worse. And he could buy loyalty from his key commanders through a growing web of corruption. Province and district chiefs could buy their posts, rake in money by diverting funds or trafficking in military supplies — and in some cases even smuggling drugs — pay their kickbacks to those above, and still make a fortune. My father, watching the shenanigans of the generals and officials, would shake his head in disgust and tell me, “With leaders like these, I’m not at all surprised that we’re not making any headway against the Viet Cong. It must be terribly frustrating for the Americans to be the patrons of such greedy idiots. One of these days, the Americans will have enough and they’ll pack up and go home, leaving us to fend for ourselves.” …

It was not surprising to anyone that many of the foot soldiers were not willing to die for a regime with such cynical leaders, a regime that talked about democracy and clean government but never acted on its promises. They saw no point in trying to win the goodwill of the peasants for a regime in which they themselves did not believe. Often, when they went on operation, they stole from the villagers. (Once, Giu [one of the author’s brothers] saw soldiers coming back from a sweep pulling an ox at the back of an armored personnel carrier.) Other problems that plagued an unmotivated army were a high desertion rate and, after general mobilization came into force, widespread draft dodging. As a military prosecutor, my brother Luong saw a long parade of people who tried to get out of the fighting. … he had obtained a law degree, which allowed him to switch to the military tribunal, the harshest in the land — at least for those without the connection or the money to obtain a favorable outcome from the presiding judge. It tried criminal cases involving the military, as well as civilian cases that fell under the broad rubrics of “disturbing order and security,” “treason,” and “hoarding and speculation.”

Some of these clients had powerful connections or were rich, and usually prearranged the outcome of their trials. They hired Luong as their defense lawyer only to maintain the façade that justice was being exercised; yet my brother, and his colleagues in the legal profession, did not question the charade, shrugging it off as the way things were in Saigon. Fortunately, in his private practice Luong had opportunities to help people who did not have the wherewithal to engineer their verdict and for whom the trials were real, such as deserters and draft dodgers from impoverished families. He did not seek them out or become their champion, but for those who came to him for help, he would argue their cases for free and, since their guilt was evident, try to get them a reduced sentence.

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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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  • Call for Submissions: Vietnamese Adoptees November 21, 2013
    I’m so very excited to announce this particular call for submissions.  We are looking for entries from Vietnamese Adoptees across the globe.  Please help spread the word! CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR “Vietnamese Adoptees 2.0: In Our Own Words” Online Submission Deadline: March 1st, 2014 Type: Essays, Poetry, Short Stories, Art & Photographs Theme: Adoptees/A […]

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© All rights reserved, Misplaced Baggage, Sumeia Williams, Anh Ðào Kolbe, Kevin Mînh Allen. 2008. May not be reproduced without individual author's consent. The rights to all referenced content is held by the original owners.