As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. George M. Kahin
So we now have thanks to the support of you and our other allies a strong military instrument. But we are without a political instrument that can compete with the NLF and the south. Such a political instrument we must now begin to create a process that will take a generation. It is unrealistic to speak of a ceasefire until after we have built up our political strength to a point where we can compete with the NLF successfully a decade from now at least. Does your president statemented know that American troops would begin withdrawal within six months of a settlement. Makes no sense. We must have a military victory. Plus. Political superiority. First. It is a matter of enduring and patient. This struggle Napoleon said if he can maintain his forces that extra quarter of an hour on the
battlefield when in this case it is the side that can maintain itself. That extra decade on the battlefield that will win. I must observe that the sentiment in the calculations which way were not very different from those of our own military when they were talking off the record. Well you can see Becky later as well as I can as to what another decade of this is going to bring. Even if North Vietnam could be counted. On not to send additional troops out. Bear in mind that no more than one night of the combat forces of North Vietnam have been deployed in the south yet one night even if they didn't send more down south by this kind of calculation it would mean American casualties to be computed in over a period 10 years 10 times at least that we've had this
last year and you know what they've been. It would mean a fiscal expenditure of 10 times presumably what we have spent this last year which was conservative estimate or 330 billion dollars that would double our national debt in 10 years. But you could probably speculate as well as I can about this but these are the expectations people who run Saigon today. And I would ask you this that if we do have a commitment in Vietnam is it to this narrowly based on the darky of a corrupt and militarist most of whom it would link all the two men above the rank of lieutenant colonel with the French against the Vietnamese independence movement and this is one reason why it's impossible for them to attract any significant popular. Finally.
When I talk to you this far about a polarization the political polarization polarization one in terms of political leadership and yet none. But I should add that the winner is Asian which we've done so much to inflict on Vietnam is not limited to the spectrum of political leadership. It has another dimension and I think much more hostile and in the long term probably the most disastrous as a consequence as a consequence of our search. Can destroy operations because a tremendous areas which we have designated as free firing zones free firing zones and harassment and interdiction areas. We have indeed changed the basic pattern of man and land in Vietnam. Apropos of this if you have an opportunity I would particularly commend to
you a series of two long articles in the last two New Yorkers by Janet shell the author of the village of bin so this is the New Yorker March 19 March 16. He's a correspondent that really spent time in the areas which you didn't. It's not emotional reporting but it tells exactly what does attain there this register does was particularly with me because he visited areas in the first quarter that I did shortly before during the last two years in particular our military tactics in Vietnam have drastically altered the human landscape. It population that before the advent of American fire power was. Overwhelmingly rural has been increasingly clustered and forcibly clustered in do huge urban glamor a city.
A country that was previously 70 rural You could say in 100 there have been a scant when it has been transformed into one that is now proximately 50 percent urban and 50 percent rural Saigon six seven years ago it happily and people that over 3 million today most of them are refugees. I'm sure you know our original preservation strategy was predicated on the assumption that the search and destroy operations that we and our Korean allies mounted that these would be followed by complimentary action on the part of our South Vietnamese allies the South Vietnamese army which would be designed to hold and pacify the territory into which our armed forces it penetrated. Now that strategy failed in large part because of the incapacity and sometimes the unwillingness of the South
Vietnamese forces to carry out their half of the operation. And thus although our forces were capable even though sometimes of very high cost of cutting into and through any of the extensive there is a South Vietnam controlled by the Viet Cong. This did not secure those areas where Saigon these actions were almost always merely transitory with no effective follow up in terms of either military or political control. And since American battalions were unable to remain on and nail down control over the area they penetrated their military operations in an overall sense yielded not. Merely zero in terms of political impact but actually a very large minus. But they couldn't help but
antagonize the civilian population which had been so badly mauled in the process. Since we lacked the military and political resources for an effective follow up to our military penetrations and since we were unable to consolidate political control over disputed territories because of this commencing a little over a year ago we began to concentrate instead. A basic change in tactics to concentrate instead of one trying to deny as much as possible to the enemy. This in fact constituted a wholly new strategy involving a dramatic break with the pacification goals we previously tried to pursue and which during last year officially officially at least we still were pursuing. In fact the official publicized line did not change but the
substance of policy was dramatically altered so that what one thought might with some stretch of the imagination have been described as nation building. It would now better be designated as nation destroyed. Now in giving Americans some understanding of the political and military balance in Vietnam that used to be regarded as helpful to construct a map. Indicating two kinds of barriers possibly three white areas controlled by Saigon Saigon and American forces black controlled by the Vietcong and perhaps gray areas indicating what were regarded as contested territory. But during the course of the last few years this kind of cartography is no longer a safe place. A whole additional dimension
was added and a new and certainly extensive and growing. What category had to be superimposed on the old maps. I eluded to this a little prematurely a minute ago a minute ago. This new area that spread so rapidly. During the course of the last 18 months. Is made up of the often. There are many many square miles many harassment and interdiction or free firing zones areas that are artillery and planes calculatedly rendered uninhabitable in order to deny them to the Vietcong or to potential he had Kong and will and in many cases to flush out their inhabitants so that they could be removed to places where they could be controlled primarily in and around urban areas.
Now while the original way the creation of free firing zones was apparently exclusively in response to military activities to keep the C units based and to deny them staging areas for possible assaults. Towns and military camps such as I described this now began to be undertaken widely with a specific purpose of denying and habit in rural areas to the Vietcong. And that's where Saigon was not able to exercise its authority over villages which was the case in most of rural South Vietnam. It was assumed that these villages were therefore probiotic own and thus suitable targets were American military action. Thereby an artificial but certainly
deadly political polarization was induced one where those that were not with Saigon were almost automatically assumed to be against it. And thus subject to application of massive American firepower. In terms of the domes Max. Which I'm sure you're all acquainted with it. In order to deny the Vietcong the water in which to swim in we now undertook to drain the water not through positive political means not through any system of political attraction doesn't train. But rather in most cases negatively through the application of brute physical force aimed at making areas so impossible habitation as to oblige the peasantry to remove itself to plead
in practice. It is this that is meant by rooting out the MLS infrastructure. If one is to describe the objective of warfare as control over people in the land and. The land they inhabit that's the objective I think you could appreciate how effectively we were losing the war even before the Tet offensive started. Here's what we had come to control as more so today was not the normal human mixture of people in the land to which they're rooted but rather in these two categories discrete and separate the land albeit he often badly devastated and the people
obliged to live apart from the land. Often a long distance away and generally a city someone bitter neglected and usually hungry occupants of what we choose to call refugee camps. When administration spokesmen stated as did Ambassador Bunker and General Westmoreland last November that the population under Saigon control was growing. You can be sure that any apparent increase reflected the increased number of these refugees a population which was under control yes but for the most part hardly loyal to psycho or disposed to back at war. Now clearly among these refugees were some who were dissatisfied with
NLF control and taconite money anywhere. But after the trauma of their uprooting and the squalid misery of the refugee camps whatever the limitations of previous NLF will that regime can only look better by comparison. People who are so torn from their homes and their fields were previously neutral in the struggle between Saigon and the NLF. Simply can't be expected to remain you. And it is in this way that we end Saigon have been building up a huge fifth column in our rear. As was of course dramatically demonstrated in the NC but it was certainly already discernable a year ago. In fact it was clearly foreshadowed at least six months before Tet when during last spring and
summer. Oh my provincial capitals in the first core area were overrun at least once by the Vietcong. Unfortunately this attracted very little notice of the press among not only the provincial capital the city the size of the a hundred twice by the Viet Cong and I don't know that I think the reporting. I would suggest that these undertakings of last spring and summer were made much easier. The NLF because of the attitude and the huge refugee populations in and around these provincial capitals. Today the Saigon government administers less of the country much less than when we sent our combat forces to support it
three years ago. The National Liberation Front. It come on the other hand dominates much more and is a great deal stronger politically as well as militarily as compared to when we first went in. Whatever we accomplished in Vietnam will have nothing else. And I don't mean to be facetious. We have proved decisively that military means cannot yield political solutions. We've been in Vietnam a force now for three years and if it is arguing that we have at least a block time time for those outside NLF control and that's the argument then the effort has been futile because we have not let the South Vietnamese use this time to save themselves.
We have in fact refused to permit them the freedom to use this time in accordance with their own political inclinations and their own best judges. Consequently for most of those Vietnamese who were opposed to the NLF the opportunity has been lost to build up a political organization strong enough to negotiate with the NLF on reasonably equal terms. Actually the policy is that we have pursued or permitted our Saw get me a military proteges to Brazil have not only destroyed much of the cohesion and organization of the anti NLF forces but actually many of their in better do and frustrated members to cross over and join in.
The recent Tet Offensive accelerated this process. But it was already well under way. We have destroyed so much that we needed to work with. Destroyed it politically as well as physically. And we ask what can we do it. What is now certainly the eleventh hour. What could we accomplish. Let's say if tomorrow our president were suddenly to recognize that America. Nation of massive firepower and his own stubborn will can not attain political ends his political land even when this blind untutored ever gets supported by the bravery of a half million American soldiers. That's certainly basically the question and I'm afraid that if we're honest we must recognize that there is really very little left for us to sell it.
But I would submit that anything is to the selvage that we must give the self Vietnamese the freedom to do it themselves according to their own best judgment. They do have some idea. Let me refer to the ideas of one of these groups of other groups that I. I was in contact with I think me. It was the anti-government Buddhist leadership that most impressed me with their relative political realism. And the fact we heard so little about the political ideas of the Buddhist leadership reflects a number of things but primarily it reflects anyone who goes to Saigon knows that it reflects their studied and President effort of American officials over the past two years to denigrate the existing
and potential political importance of the Buddhists. And this is an attitude which I'm afraid it rubbed off on some of our correspondents. Same time let me try to condense for you paraphrase the views of the Buddhist leaders and these include those in the underground as well as above ground their approach goes something like this. Now what I'm giving you is their view. Continuation of the warfare turns the Vietnamese more and more against the United States and against Saigon and makes the NLF more acceptable to the present government is unable to secure sufficient popular backing either to wage a war or peace. We cannot negotiate through the present government because it is weak and without
popular support. It was parenthetically because it doesn't want to negotiate back to the borders. If the United States allowed a representative. Government to come to power inside and it would be a government of peace. It would ask the United States its representative government to stop bombing the North and sell and to stop all open civil military operations and to stay only in strategic positions itself. Then. This would have a tremendous impact on the South Vietnamese population. Where the South Vietnamese including those many members of the front or not communists will see that this government has ended the fighting and thus removed the major cause of the suffering and most importantly has been able to prove that it is not as it is the present Saigon regime and instrument of washing. The popular support for such a government would be tremendous. It would be a draw
away. Many of those you know back the front the front would have to cooperate. Or else it would demonstrate that it is fighting for something other than peace and independence and thereby losing much of it support. Negotiations with the NLF. We will find a noncommunist. Non-pro American interim central government that neutral interim government will talk with Hanoi and Washington about the removal of both North Vietnamese and American troops. It would also prepare for subsequent Countrywide elections in the south whereupon the interim government would yield place to a more representative one with administrative authority throughout Also it now. Well while this approach of the Buddhists is quite unacceptable
to the present administration in Washington it is one in which a great many saw Vietnamese not merely Buddhists. Most of the Southern Catholics for instance also white trash. And it is an approach which might not be acceptable to the NLF. Well let me conclude by looking at our present position. But in the future. There is I think no doubt but that our own bargaining position is much weaker today than it was six months ago and that it is becoming weaker and increasingly. Whatever is called for compromising. Whatever basis there is for protecting the interests of those of Vietnamese who not yet joined the NLF. It's clear that this can be dealt with more effectively
by a neutral international arbiter when it can by the United States. Because of this it seems evident that any possible bases compromise not provide for a major role by a mutually acceptable international mediating authority. It should also provide for procedures whereby the current political polarization among the South Vietnamese is sufficiently relaxed. So that what remains of the almost unrepresented middle. Others saw him at least political spectrum has a school to play a significant role in the subtle but most important role is an undertaking by the
United States to divest itself of its self proclaimed responsibility for the political future of Vietnam. A responsibility which we have proven incapable of properly discharging and which we never really had a right to assume. But if we are fortunate enough and securing the help of such an international body to relieve us of this incubus. We must make it absolutely clear that this time we will honor. And support the settlement which it would be hoped the Vietnamese could reach under the aegis of this international body. At this time we would not renew at this time we would support a settlement
reached which is I think you're aware we did not do weapons 1054 said. The most well I'll let me just there is I cast about for some way out. This is to me to be the most honorable possibly available to us. And apropos that I would think that the most suitable procedure likely to be available would be a reconstituted Geneva Conference recode to serve as the international body charged with responsibility not merely for negotiating but also for ensuring implementation of the settlement reached me but obviously sent Hanoi has a charter member of the Geneva grouping.
We cannot expect that the conference will reconvene unless we first stop bombing this key member of the UN. Let me just add that we can't afford to continue evading the political realities in Vietnam. The longer we delay the harsher and more intractable those political realities will become. When we do face up to them as Ultimately we must. Thank you. You've been listening to an address by Dr. George M. Kagan director of Cornell University's Southeast Asia Project and author of several books on Southeast Asia. Dr. Kay unspoken the series as we see it Vietnam 68 this form of opinion featuring noted spokesman on the war in Vietnam was sponsored by the Miami University student senate and
organized by Dave speller Burke recording an editing was done by the staff of Miami University Radio WMUB in Oxford Ohio. This is national educational radio.
- As we see it: Vietnam '68
- Dr. George M. Kahin
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