As we see it: Vietnam '68; David Halberstam
And in 1962 the distinguished French journalist historian on Vietnam Bernard Fall went to see Pham Bandung and the prime minister of North Vietnam a rare visa for someone like Paul or anyone to see him in and come on I was in a very good mood the war was already going on south and he knew he was almost sympathetic as in the set up for Seattle. He's not very popular and because he's not very popular the Americans must give him a theory and because the Americans must give him aid he will be a little less popular and because he is a little. Popular they must give him a little more aid because they give him even more even a little less popular. And Bernard fall into that. Sounds like a vicious circle. Oh noes are determined not a vicious circle. A downward spiral of national educational radio presents as we see it
Vietnam 68 a series of appearances of noted spokesman presenting their various views on the war in Vietnam. As we see it Vietnam 68 was conducted over a period of five weeks last spring on the campus of Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Under the sponsorship of the Miami University Student Senate because of the time period that has elapsed between the time these discussions were presented and the president these speeches should be taken to represent the views of the speakers at that time. Nevertheless even with the current events concerning the South-East Asian area these speeches represent valuable background on the Vietnam situation. The speaker for this program is Mr. David Halberstam. But what surprise winning Vietnam correspondent for The New York Times and author of The Making of a quagmire and one very hot night. Mr. Hubbard Saddam is also noted as a writer for Harper's magazine particularly on the subject of Vietnam speaking in as we see it Vietnam 68. Here is Mr. David Halberstam.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Can you hear me like this. I don't have very good news for you tonight. The war in Vietnam. In any real sense is over. We have not won it. We are not going to win it. And I think the only great question left is how long it takes Washington to find this out. I think that the recent Tet Offensive.
Which should have come as no great surprise to anybody who has followed. The course of the war in Indochina for 22 long years. Twenty two years of optimistic statements by Western generals. And 22 years of resilience and Dura billeting on the part of the Vietnamese Communists who should not have been surprised by this offensive this offensive coming three years into the major American combat commitment to the end Naam. And six years into the American commitment because we had fewer copters and troops there as early as nine hundred sixty two. Showed I thought how little had been accomplished there. And indeed destroyed as if overnight
all that thin fabric. Called pacification which had been so painstakingly built up since 1965 all of it washed away. Until now. General Wes Martin is asking for 200000 more troops and the Americans are back in the base camps and the countryside is going to be is even now and will be increasingly in the weeks to come. Overrun by the Vietcong and the NBA often without a shot being fired. And what this means in strictly American military sense and I will talk about this as military problem instead of as just a moral problem we can come to the morality of the war later in the question. But in the military sense it means that the Vietcong who have been
able to recruit replenish keep coming all these many years are going to find it easier than ever because they are going to have the whole countryside all the rural population to change and they're going to find it easier than ever to recruit. They're going to have better intelligence than ever about our movements. We are going to find it harder than ever to recruit. We are going to have less and less intelligence. About their movements. You're going to see increasing numbers of ambushes closer and closer to our base camps. You're going to see ambushes and Mining's right around because they're going to move out with very little to lose right outside the miles of these base camps or they're going to lay their ambushes and nobody is going to warn anybody inside until increasingly the Americans will be forced to move around the country by helicopter and they will lose even more control of the land. And indeed this is exactly what happened not once before but twice before it
happened during the French Indochina War where the French were systematically driven off the land until they themselves were an outpost and they lost that war. And it was happened was what happened in 1963 when the RVN which is the Army of the Republic of Vietnam our the enemies were systematically defeated by an essentially weaker Vietcong and I say weaker they were weaker the sense that they started out that particular phase of the war with a great deal less in weaponry and they were systematically defeated and driven back in the Vietcong systematically built up its strength until by late 963 they had us in the base camps and I and the ambushes we got closer and closer to the city lines. And I remember those days going and seeing a very clever man named father Walker who ran his own army the CSW walls down in the southern part of the country and I asked Father wall what was
happening all these ambushes and he said they have us in the caves and now they want to make sure that we stay there. And so essentially I think it's gallant American effort all this bravery in the last three years has really been to very very little. Achievement. We're back ready in a sense where we were in 64 and talking about a pacification program. And it is very late in the day. We have I think very little time we have our promises to keep at home miles to go many miles to go home. Time is running out on us here at home and we the amount of tolerance I think this country has for a war which is so frustrating and I think so futile because I think we are already throwing good money after bad we have very little to offer these people. We really have nothing to help them with them.
I think that this Tet Offensive is in a sense sealed the end that it show that despite our three years of great our air power our military our fine young men we were not able to break their system and they were able to keep coming. And that's why I say to you that I think the war is really in a sense over and now we must hope that Washington will find it out and I thought I would talk to you tonight using those pessimistic words and trying to describe to you. On how we got that way and I think I would like to introduce myself with my own introduction with all due respect to David and that is so you all know who you're talking to. I am neither a hawk nor dove. I belong to a small group of American correspondents who are in Saigon in one thousand sixty two and sixty three who would have liked to have seen the
war one who believed in a sense that we had a right to be there that there was nothing immoral and I being there. But I always doubted the effectiveness of that effort and finally believe that the war could not be won. Need a dog nor a hawk but pessimist. And I think in trying to explain to you here tonight. Why the war cannot be won why it is so futile why we have so many men under arms and so much power and yet it is so frustrating. I thought I would try and concentrate tonight on the French Indochina War and the effect of that war on present day Vietnam and on the history of of that country because what is happening there is not a happenstance thing. It is not happenstance that there the enemies are braver than ours more willing to die.
They're the enemy had better leadership and are the enemies. And when he trained and despite all their material United use fighter planes the weapons and so forth they do not find it will be any different. This isn't a happenstance thing it isn't a happenstance that they haven't done as well it isn't the fault of General Westmoreland that. He who is charged with among other missions the training in the revitalizing of the enemy's army failed in that capacity because he is a good soldier and a very honorable man. But he was fighting history and that's very difficult in 1945 and World War 2 came to an end and the the enemies of a calendar and sophisticated people who had been under French subjugation.
For many many years under the colonial subjugation we're rising up and thinking now that they would get some form of independence something in the French Union that the end of the war and the new nationalism stirring in Asia which was not unaffected by the Japanese conquest earlier in that war of the white man. Their hopes have been shattered and indeed the words of President Roosevelt had led them to believe that the French probably would not be coming back at the end of that war. The Viet men and the enemies moved for some kind of Independence and the French had the choice then of accommodating with them giving them something or trying to take the country back by force. Unfortunately they chose the latter course and the Viet Minh communist led a communist dominated took over a
war of national liberation and it became for all the most talented Vietnamese of a generation because they had men. It was very well-organized and very tough very well led and it systematically got rid of the very few and divided that other Vietnamese nationalists. It became for the most talented to be enemies of a generation I mean the kind of people who are the counterparts of those Americans who would be the first to the recruiting station on December 8th and one thousand forty one became a choice of fighting with the French or fighting with the Viet men because this was a moral liberation it was an enormously popular war. And in so doing we in America read about the war against the communists which was taking place there. And it was a communist led but the Viet Minh captured the nationalism of that country and
all the most talented and most able men of that country rallied to their side. And in the process they defeated the French and they drove the white man out of Indochina and they became ever more popular and they came up with a system which worked which had a dynamism to drive their most talented people. You were promoted on the basis of performance and they touched on raw and powerful lately forces in that country forces xenophobia which had been dormant but there all these years under the French and they fought a brilliant war and I can remember David Schoen run the very distinguished CBS correspondent. I've seen films of this talking to ho Chih men in 1946 when home made his last and futile effort to go to Paris. And John Brown said President Ho if the French do not give you some kind of French union What will you do.
And host said oh well we will fight. Of course and a shown bunch of but the President Ho. How can you fight. He you are a weak Asian people you have no weapons. The French have airplanes. They're powerful Western nation. They have tanks guns our Murray uniforms and your presence and host said we will. Retreat when they are strong and we will attack while they are weak. We will be like the tiger saluting the elephant until the elephant is tired and so they did and they would capture outposts if the outpost had only 30 minutes. They would arrive with 60 men and they would capture it and capture the 30 more weapons until systematically they were able to attack bigger and bigger outposts and on the way they built up a very dynamic and popular system to us.
They may have been Communists but to their own people they were heroes. And this is something that has come back to haunt us to all these years because not only did they get the most talented men but the pro-Western the enemies you know who were they. Who did we get. We got the black marketeers and the whores the amps the piaster dollar men the people who were out for standing the Saigon bourgeoisie. We got the less dynamic. Part of that society and the Viet men did something else very powerful in that country because M.E. society had been fragmented and divided until with great suspicion of each other. Nobody really trusted anybody other than his family or maybe one or two other people in his small circle.
And the Viet men in giving this very high order of national liberation of driving the French out of telling each other that they must sacrifice and lay down their lives for the for the nation made made a force which united them that which united them was stronger than that which divided them. And I cite this as a very important thing because all the petty jealousies were moved aside and on our side despite the protection of the Americans and it is something which exists to this day in Saigon where you would think given the seriousness of the situation where their necks are virtually being fitted for the rope that they would rally together that they would make common cause. No that which divides them is more powerful than that which unites them. Their real enemy is not the Communist it's some other kernel or some Buddhist or somebody here the petty other than the man next door. There is no unity there.
So that at the end of that war the great division was not really the seventeenth power although it was divided to 73 but the great division was really the political division of the Vietnamese of all their talent their dynamism their system their unity on the one hand all be a communist. It worked and our divided fragmented ashamed of itself leadership which had done nothing for its own people. And so in 1954 the country was divided. The French unessential withdrew and we Americans moved in as part of our containment policy. And we were looking for the middle ground. The third force something that was both anti-French and anti-communist and unfortunately there really wasn't anything like that. I must say that I'm going to this description a great night because we are really prisoners of the past there.
There wasn't anything really there wasn't a major force of anti-communist nationalism. The Viet men had captured it all. Oh yes they were not certain. Very small percentage of disillusioned North Vietnamese who are finding out that the BNN were not only nationalist but communists left but that was a very tiny minority. And so we had to create this government and we looked around and we found a new golden GM who had a very pleasant honorable record he was a mandarin origin man but he had both been anti-French and anti-communist but it was I think symbolic of Godin ZM that those most dynamic and revolutionary years he had sat on the sidelines what the French call and at Tante East at a time of great revolution. He sat on the sidelines on Ramon but no feeling for his people a time of great your revolution all the most powerful forces coming to the surface
and GM was a mandarin in concept he was the he was not the duty of the leadership to feel the deep and powerful pulses of the people. It was a duty of the population dawn of the ruler. But worse a ZM really never had any base. He was a central Vietnamese in the south. Catholic in a Buddhist land has had no political party. His people had really done nothing during the war and given no political base he set out to do it create one himself. And he did by using Catholic refugees from the north and the minority Catholic there rebuilding his entire government around them. And thus in 1955 and 56 sowing the seeds which were again to come back on him in 1983 and the religious strife which is wanted his country since and he also set out to round up all the ex Viet men in the south
thereby making sure that there would be a Second Indochina War because once more the men decided that they had no alternative. It was just as before they would have to fight instead of being the choice of the French now they had to fight because they would be otherwise. You know in prison unders E.M. And so in nineteen sixty one the Second Indochina War began with a very very limited base terribly dependent on American then I don't you can imagine how popular Caucasians were in this country which I'd just given the French out. And of course we do not think of ourselves as colonialists and we are not we were there to help them not to exploit them like the French and it's quite true and Americans were more popular and they did in a large way behave better but we were Caucasians and there was no great love for us.
Nor could any government as dependent on us as that government was ever be really a genuinely popular government. And in 1962 the distinguished French journalist historian on Vietnam Bernard Fall went to see Pham Dandong and the prime minister of North Vietnam a rare visa for someone like Paul or anyone to see him in. And common knowledge in a very good movie. War was already going on in the south and he he was almost sympathetic as in the set up or is he out. He's not very popular and because he's not very popular the Americans must give him aid and because the American must give him aid he will be a little less popular and because he is a little less popular they must give him a little more aid and because they give him even more aid he is even a little less popular and Bernard Fall into Iraq get him and said oh that
sounds like a vicious circle. Oh noes a defense and not a vicious circle. A downward spiral. And it was true. There was no base CM's army could not fight because the OEM's army first job was to protect the CM because GM had no base and no popularity and therefore you could not promote officers on the basis of rank on the basis of courage or valor competence because the society was so insecure. You had to promote them on the basis of loyalty loyalty and personal petty loyalty is not the way great wars are are won. There are greater causes for man and so that more ready in 62 and 63 in Adderley 64. Seem to me to be doomed we talked about pacification and
revolution and strategic hamlets and because this was a place where Revolutionary War had been taking place. We tried to match the revolution and we would have programs designed to win the population over or we would give them free papers and barbed wire and all these things and barbed wire to protect them so that they never really that much wanted to be won over. We never marched matched them with a real revolution and indeed our very presence in the country was a stabilizing force of the rich got richer. There was no social mobility in the in the society. If you are a peasant you could never be an officer in the Vietnamese army are beyond me. I mean instead you had to have the two diplomacy which meant you had to be from the upper middle class already which was a part of the society which had very little interest in going out
and fighting the war. We had no social mobility and the army really wouldn't fight or it was ineffective. And so by the end of 1963 the same thing that happened in the French war to happen again the war was really virtually over indeed need the army when we talk about our B enemies and where they're fighting a war. You're talking about a defeated army twice defeated. Not a bad thing to remember from time to time here. This is an army that has been beaten by its own countryman. And so in 64 the American military mission was saying how well the war was going and I thought the war was virtually over. But a guerrilla war is not really like a desert war it's not like the Arab-Israeli War and the Arab-Israeli War that one side is stronger than the other. Everybody knows it the next day because tanks move 30 miles a day and they're going to be red faces they'll be red the very next day but in a guerrilla war where you have two sides one stronger and one weaker the weaker
side often has airplanes and artillery in larger numbers and ability to reinforce so that at the end of the day even though in a sense it has lost it may hold the Turks and as such it is a kind of war that lends itself to self-delusion. Because I think that people I don't think it's a credibility gap I don't think the people in charge of this war have pretty good never had lied to us. I think it's a reality gap I think they have just simply not understood the war nor the enemy nor their ally. They just simply victims of their own statistics and their own and their own concentric circles of psycho fans. Anyway in 64 of the industry three ready the war was over but we were able to paper it over for another year until by the end of 64 it's quite obvious that we would either have to get in or get out all the way in or all the way out in
1965 a decision was made. To send American combat troops to Vietnam and because it was the idea was to shore up the government to sort of turn back the tide in the south. And as I understand it from people who were in on the decision making and this is the weakest part of the Vietnam reporting has been the reporting of the Washington governmental decision making and as you hear occasional attacks upon reporters out in Vietnam. I would say very simply that for six years the reporters have been writing for six years the officials have been wrong but we don't really know exactly what our government was really thinking it was going to buy in 1965 with 100000 troops. But apparently the idea was that we would blunt them and this would turn it back and it was and it was so that in mid 65 and the first big battles of the monsoons in the intervening Valley when it became quite clear that the North Vietnamese would pay the price that they would send a uniformed
tough regular troops down. That McNamara realized that it probably would not work and indeed friends of mine tell me he has been semi dovish ever since he realized that from then on no matter what we put in they could probably match it. And so over the last two or three years we have come in with all our military power and they have in a sense in the front line warriors and in many many little wars and big wars in Vietnam. But in the main force in war they have in a sense blunted us. We have not dominated them in the main force. What we are probably a little bit ahead any time a battalion of American troops. Engages a battalion of North Vietnamese regulars. We are probably going to get in a very limited and modified chance a victory we will probably kill more of them than they have US largely due to our air power.
- As we see it: Vietnam '68
- David Halberstam
- Producing Organization
- Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- For series info, see Item 3509. This prog.: David Halberstam, Vietnam correspondent, New York Times, winner of Pulitzer Prize
- War and Conflict
- Media type
Producing Organization: WMUB
Producing Organization: Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-28-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; David Halberstam,” 1968-07-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 21, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8s4jr403.
- MLA: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; David Halberstam.” 1968-07-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 21, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8s4jr403>.
- APA: As we see it: Vietnam '68; David Halberstam. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-8s4jr403