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Ed Driscoll

Video from Prager University: How the Vietnam War Was Won and Lost

April 13th, 2013 - 1:55 pm

“Most of what you believe about the Vietnam War isn’t true,” the YouTube page for this Prager University video notes. It features Prager’s 2011 interview with “foreign policy expert Bruce Herschensohn, [who] explains how the U.S. Congress turned victory in the Vietnam War into defeat.” Herschensohn is the author of 2010′s An American Amnesia: How the US Congress Forced the Surrenders of South Vietnam and Cambodia.

It’s understandable that America would want to forget that period, as 1968 through 1980 was an extended nadir in America’s history. Back in 2011, I assembled a lengthy post titled “Welcome Back My Friends, to the Malaise that Never Ends,” which rounded up quotes and videos from liberal elites in 1968 such as Bobby Kennedy, who had abandoned the optimism of his late brother’s New Frontier-era worldview, through Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech of 1979. Midway through that period were the events captured in the above video, including the Democrat Congress pulling the plug on our funding to South Vietnam in 1975, and ushering in its defeat.  About which, this quote from Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-AR) appears at the 3:15 mark in the video:

On the night of the surrender of South Vietnam to North Vietnam former Senator J. William Fulbright announced that he was “no more depressed than I would be about Arkansas losing a football game to Texas.”

Carter delivered his “malaise” speech in 1979, which further signaled the exhaustion of postwar liberalism. This was the self-defeating atmosphere in the west that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II turned around the following decade, as Mark Steyn noted this week:

In 1979, Britain was not at war, but as much as in 1940 faced an existential threat.

Mrs. Thatcher saved her country — and then went on to save a shriveling “free world,” and what was left of its credibility. The Falklands were an itsy bitsy colonial afterthought on the fringe of the map, costly to win and hold, easy to shrug off — as so much had already been shrugged off. After Vietnam, the Shah, Cuban troops in Africa, Communist annexation of real estate from Cambodia to Afghanistan to Grenada, nobody in Moscow or anywhere else expected a Western nation to go to war and wage it to win. Jimmy Carter, a ditherer who belatedly dispatched the helicopters to Iran only to have them crash in the desert and sit by as cocky mullahs poked the corpses of U.S. servicemen on TV, embodied the “leader of the free world” as a smiling eunuch. Why in 1983 should the toothless arthritic British lion prove any more formidable?

And, even when Mrs. Thatcher won her victory, the civilizational cringe of the West was so strong that all the experts immediately urged her to throw it away and reward the Argentine junta for its aggression. “We were prepared to negotiate before” she responded, “but not now. We have lost a lot of blood, and it’s the best blood.” Or as a British sergeant said of the Falklands: “If they’re worth fighting for, then they must be worth keeping.”

Mrs. Thatcher thought Britain was worth fighting for, at a time when everyone else assumed decline was inevitable. Some years ago, I found myself standing next to her at dusk in the window of a country house in the English East Midlands, not far from where she grew up. We stared through the lead diamond mullions at a perfect scene of ancient rural tranquility — lawns, the “ha-ha” (an English horticultural innovation), and the fields and hedgerows beyond, looking much as it would have done half a millennium earlier. Mrs. T asked me about my corner of New Hampshire (90 percent wooded and semi-wilderness) and then said that what she loved about the English countryside was that man had improved on nature: “England’s green and pleasant land” looked better because the English had been there. For anyone with a sense of history’s sweep, the strike-ridden socialist basket case of the British Seventies was not an economic downturn but a stain on national honor.

A generation on, the Thatcher era seems more and more like a magnificent but temporary interlude in a great nation’s bizarre, remorseless self-dissolution. She was right and they were wrong, and because of that they will never forgive her.

In America, Barack Obama will never forgive President Reagan for ushering in an era of America rebirth in the 1980s, as Jonah Goldberg wrote this past week, when the news of Lady Thatcher’s death broke:

Obama’s stated desire to become a transformative president — unlike Bill Clinton — stems from an ambition to return to the pre–Thatcher-Reagan era when conservatives were expected to agree with liberals in principle, but have small business-like quibbles about the details. That’s why he so often waxes nostalgic for Eisenhower and the old Republicans who played the “me too” card on domestic policy. His idea of a reasonable Republican, to borrow a term from WFB, is a castrated Republican.

But when you think about it, 1979 was even more significant. That was the year that Deng Xiaoping introduced market reforms in China, in effect beginning the era of “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” that replaced the horrors and ineptness of of Mao’s “Marxism with Chinese characteristics.” Of course, the Communist party kept a good amount of its Leninism, lest its leaders lose the ability to boss people around while becoming billionaires. Still, if you look back on the almost inexorable rise in intellectual and political respectability for statism, 1979 looks increasingly like the moment when the arc of history started to bend away from the inevitability of socialism.

For a moment, at least.

Related: By the way, good thing our current elites would never try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, eh?

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Top Rated Comments   
Do you know that the kids of today are being taught that the Vietnam war was Richard Nixon's war not LBJ's. LBJ is hardly mention except for his Great Society program. If you tell a lie long enough eventually people will believe it and THAT lie will then become the "new" truth.
Vietnam vet 11D Armor Recon, 25th ID wounded Tet 68.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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Do you know that the kids of today are being taught that the Vietnam war was Richard Nixon's war not LBJ's. LBJ is hardly mention except for his Great Society program. If you tell a lie long enough eventually people will believe it and THAT lie will then become the "new" truth.
Vietnam vet 11D Armor Recon, 25th ID wounded Tet 68.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Absolutely true.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One thing I've learned about Vietnam over the years is that there are plenty of facts to support lots of theories. I just missed the Vietnam era but I did live in the Philippines and then Peace Corps in Africa, so I know a little bit about the third world. I also had good friends who were in Vietnam (one for four years) and discussed this for long periods of time. (BTW, his take is, "We were winning when I left.")

My own take is just my two cents, but here goes: LBJ and the country got sucked into this war one step at a time. Both sides constantly misjudged each other. I think within six months, way back in 66, LBJ realized he was screwed. He kept doubling down.

When Nixon took over, he did some things right. Had Nixon not done Watergate and completed his second term untainted by scandal, he may have been strong enough with Congress to avoid a complete collapse of the South regime. Possibly.

But what about Chinese-backed Cambodia v. Soviet-backed North Vietnam? Remember that North Vietnam invaded Cambodia and in retribution, China invaded North Vietnam.

It's all too complicated. I'm not sure anyone can.

On one hand, our fight in Vietnam may have completed its geopolitical purpose: To forestall communism's spread and allow the development of the Asian tigers, until the Cold War was won. By 1979, China was rethinking communism and by 1985, the Soviets were.

On the other hand, you don't ask people to be pawns.

We won the Cold War; Vietnam was the equivalent of a queen sacrifice. And we as Americans don't play chess with our people.

FWIW. I may have no idea what I'm talking about.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We should review this not-too-far-off-topic item:

Note from the video clip that France admitted 96,000 Vietnamese refugees from their former colonial fief while we Americans admitted more than 400,000....

This is also a good opportunity to remind all readers here that unsung heroic Americans were involved for a long time in that South East Asian cauldron...... note that Civil Air Transport airdropped supplies to the besieged French at DienBienPhu in 1954, and it wasn't until 2004 that the French Ambassador in Washington awarded the legion of Honor medals to the very few living website ...pasted:

Home Page : News: Newspaper Articles

Last Updated March 10, 2004

This article appeared online on February 15, 2005
France Honors CIA Pilots for Vietnam Service

By Robert Burns
ASSOCIATED PRESS....."......end paste

There is so much involved in this lengthy complicated conflict that we should not be too quick to jump to any conclusions.

By extension, let's get the hell out of Central/West Asia as soon as possible.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Zeke 1: Thank you for a better summary of events.

So often overlooked is the fact that when the French left, Eisenhower and Ridgway put their heads together and inserted a single regiment of Marines into Northeast Thailand. They had the Ho Chi Minh Trail interdicted. The NVA were stymied and the VC could not be built into a meaningful force. (Hence a widespread assasination and terror campiagn in the South, which could have been countered with a "well-regulated militia" .) The McNamara crowd failed to utilize those Marines and then withdrew them and Westmoreland did absolutely nothing to compensate for the lackof an interdicting force. The only thing that saved our posteriors was Harold Johnson getting Abrams out there. In turn "Abe" had a victory-in-waiting while keeping a retreat from becoming a rout. One of the most remarkable Generaling jobs of all times.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This shoehorns well into a point I was going to make. As I have read, it is considered that a fatal flaw was Westmoreland's monomania about "Search and Destroy," which didn't amount to much. However, Abrams altered this to "Clear and Hold," which did work well.

I suppose to support this is the fact that post-Westmoreland, the VC were never able to re-establish themselves in the RVN and that all major Operations following were by large scale NVA units.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My Dear Fail Burton: May I suggest you summarize your knowledge on a 22 caliber cleaning patch, writing with a 50 caliber chamber brush. Don't worry, you will have plenty of space left over and if you use disappearing ink, nobody will be the wiser.

The FACTS of the matter are as follows: The Armed Forces of South Vietnam were for a few years quite inept and corrupt. The reason was the Kennedy and Johnson adminstrations paid them to be that way. Plus there was William Westmoreland. Then came Nixon and Creighton W Abrams plus some better blood in the State Department. By 1972, Ruff Puffs and White Mice had defeated the insurgency and defeated it in detail. And ARVN regulars conducted themselves extremely well in fighting off and NVA offensive that left said NVA more than decimated.
As a reward, ARVN was left to suffer attrition while NVA were rebuilt.
In spite of this ARVN held on for two years and only broke when there was nothing else they could do. And the final battle, that of Xuan Loc was an ARVN victory when their last undersized and under-equipped Division destroyed a complete NVA Corps. Your version of the fall of Vietnam is erroneous. Herchenson's is closer to the truth.

And BTW: American Victory does not cause hatred of America. The warm feelings the generality of Vietnamese have towards Americans are a result of how American soldiers conducted themselves during the war. Not because RVN was ovverrun in 75.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Our side won tactically, didn't fight the war strategically, thereby leveling the playing field and undoing the tactical victories, and we eventually lost the political will to continue. That was not malaise but the realization that fighting a war in that specific half-assed way could not be won. The costs all around, financially and politically, were simply too high to rationalize backing a failed paradigm any longer. It was a war crime.

I understand the fear at the time - that a greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere would be founded ideologically rather than strictly militarily as Japan had done, and that it would be hostile to us and constrain trade and access to raw materials. Nevertheless our response was a failure of vision. With a victorious and free hand afterwards, many in the region simply rejected communism, and the whole thing came to nothing.

Our politicians did indeed lost that war, the moment they started it. Restrain an effective army and it is not effective.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sorry blert: but the loss of POL and other blunders were not the reason ARVN failed. Those errors could have been corrected. (also there would have been no OPEC squeeze had not Nixon imposed wage and price controls.) In 1975 a cabal of Congressional and Senatorial Democrats were determined to wreck infantile and ideological vengence upon those Vietnamese who were on our side. This sort of attitude prevailed throughout the Carter years----led by Jimmy C himself. And now resurrected by Barack O. Friendlies are to be punished, hostiles rewarded. That is the core reason Vietnam fell.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You're re-inventing history.

Go back and check the history of the testimony and the impact.

ARVN -- in every sense -- was de-mobilized by the attacks -- which COULD NOT BE MADE GOOD.

Cutting a Congressional check would not rebuild the facilities nor restock them in time. The all out invasion by the North came shortly thereafter.

Sorry, the record disappoints. But, it is what it is.

BTW, most popular histories entirely omit this 'little' detail. It's glossed over.

But it grounded the RVN Air Force -- which was the fourth largest in the world at the time. It stopped Saigon from bombing the trails -- and Hanoi. Both options were considered -- and set aside.

Even if fuel were bought, the infrastructure was GONE. It would take a re-intervention by the US Army to reboot their logistics.

It deserves a book. But, I'm not willing to be that author. I've got bigger irons in the fire.

It is a FACT that this POL fiasco lost even conservative Republican votes.

Hence, it was BIG NEWS at the time. It's been swallowed up by the larger tragedies -- so the younger folks know nothing of it.

Do not trivialize the loss of an entire years worth of POL -- with the embargo still in effect on America -- gas lines and all.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
He missed a HUGE event: the mass destruction of ARVN POL which had been (over) concentrated in two depots over the most strenuous objections of the American colonels advising them. These two officers testified before Congress during 1974/75 -- to the utter disgust of both parties in committee.

THIS was the reason that Congress rebelled. It was big news at the time. Ultimately, even the most conservative members of Congress came to view Thieu's government as being terminally stupid. Saigon wanted our money -- but wouldn't take our advice on even the basics -- like not over crowding POL.

Why did Thieu cram in so much POL? The Arab Oil Shock, that's why. Because ARVN had received a one-chunk Congressional appropriation for the fiscal year -- the brainiacs in Saigon ran out and bought every dang barrel on the high seas.

Their own buying caused the panic price move. The more it moved, the more they panicked! This showed that they had absolutely no market sense. Without this single buying surge, OPEC would not have had the pricing power to jolt Saudi Arabian Light quite so high. All the other buyers were paying with their own money -- and were gagging at the new price levels. Not so Saigon. Thieu had compressed his annual need into a splurge of mere weeks.

When the POL arrived, there was a logistical panic. Saigon had bought without figuring out where to store it. The upshot: they were 'forced' into stacking gasoline in tins, drums, and whatnot.

(It never seemed to occur to Saigon to simply have the POL professionally stored overseas. -- All of this activity being roundly protested by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the time.)

A mere handful of 122mm Soviet rockets (aka GRADs) were enough to start fires that swept through everything -- destroying all -- including the infrastructure. Now, Saigon needed to replace tanks and pumps and valves that had been installed over years of time -- just to get operations back to normal. It never happened.

Consequently, the RVN Air Force -- to include helicopters -- remained grounded. Only emergency flights drawing from yet other (minor) depots could be fueled.

Even rescue flights out of Da Nang by World Airways (IIRC) had to fuel up outside Vietnam! Instead of getting non-combatants -- Daly (IIRC) picked up terrified ARVN troops -- film of which made international news.

One cannot study the period at issue without examining this pivotal time.

It was the absolute rape of the Congressional appropriation that killed the morale of Congress. BTW, the dollar value of the missing fuel was well past $140,000,000 -- about $1,200,000,000 at todays going price for fuel. That figure did not represent the cost of the facilities -- which would triple the damages if figured in.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The video is nothing more than unsubstantiated propaganda. What in the world does "malaise" have to do with the very real fact S. Viet Nam lacked the innate resolve to win a war against N. Viet Nam? Is "malaise" a realization we had no business being there and had failed to make it look like S. Viet Nam ever really cared?

America could've won that war any time it wished if that was the goal. That wasn't the goal. The goal was to make it seem as if the S. Vietnamese people could hold the line without us and wanted to in the first place. We could've fed them all the tank units and ammo in the world and it still would've fallen. Even half a million American troops barely held their own strategically, though they won virtually every tactical encounter. That tells you our gov't never fought that war in the first place.

A war that says, "Well, we're not going to bomb here or invade there isn't a war - it's a stupid game that kills people to no purpose. If we'd let nature take it's coarse a zillion people wouldn't have died and even more outside Viet Nam. In the end, it went commie anyway and it's a peaceful place, with American tourists and no rancor that flies planes into buildings.

It was an American war crime, plain and simple. If we'd won we'd have two nations staring at and hating one another today and for what? "Malaise" in this case was an epiphany, and one that came too late, but better late than never.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A fantastic video and an accurate one - though it’s a lone voice in the darkness.

In regard to Vietnam, the superb historian Mark Moyar argues that the war lost in the LBJ administration. The idea is that it was then that the prevalent belief in Washington was no longer "How do we win?" but "How do we get out and not lose?" This video is quite correct in its argument, but it should be noted that Nixon never allowed the bombers to completely cripple the North - rather, he halted the bombardments whenever the North agreed to American terms. It was argued by Curtis LeMay that, had these strikes continued until the North was completely crippled - buttressed by the mining of harbors and maybe even the occupation of North Vietnam - South Vietnam would have survived.

That said, the witch-hunt of Watergate was undoubtedly the cause of South Vietnam’s fall. I think Ben Stein said it best when he said that Mark Felt had blood on his hands, not only for abandoning Vietnam, but in the fall of Cambodia, Laos, and Burma as well.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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