As we see it: Vietnam '68; David Halberstam
So we have probably got a small edge in the in the front line. Hard core part of the war but the rest of the war has gone on much the same. We have never been able to match their political facility and they have been able and we have not been able to crack their system despite all the pressure we have put on them because they have got great political sophistication. They have been able to keep coming and they are able to keep recruiting and we are able to keep killing and they're able to keep coming until finally we are really fighting the birth rate in that country. And our pacification we decided we dreamed up a very good pacification program and we sent some very fine young Americans out to run it. But it didn't work because we are again prisoners of the Vietnam. The first you know China war because our the enemies are
corrupt cynical urban oriented have little sense of their people no desire when we Americans go out to long on province and we think that the long on province chief is going to be just like us he's going to want to see that of the province people they don't have or want to rip or with them he's going to walk among them say the way an American politician walks among people in a factory and not so the average long on province chief likes nothing better than to keep that great gap between him and the peasantry. Exactly the way it is. In fact I I think you can understand the war a great deal by looking at say a typical province and measuring up who are the two opposing factions of their political commissar. Twenty years of revolutionary war are always on the winning side in revolutionary wars rather like an art form it is a skill. It is a complex thing
political psychological ne been winning this thing winning their own population walking among their own people for 20 years. He's a man who's risen through the ranks. The survivor of a bitter tough campaign after bitter tough came in after all. We've always had the air power and the French before us in the capacity to kill therefore someone who has risen up to battalion commander in an army or hire somebody who is skillful who's tough and resilient and has lived through it. They're very good at cadres are very good. And he is a peasant origin. He knows the local dialect he knows the local people he's from there. He has everything to gain nothing to lose and up against him you have our Vietnam needs a province chief who is if he's been trained and all trained by the Americans or the French who is urban oriented. No sense of the population probably have long the wrong accent no sense of the present and does not want to know.
Go out and die. And I looked around Saigon the last time I was there in September and August in October of this year and I thought of all the worlds words that we were using about nation building we have the pacification the nation building and we are not nation building. Our presence there has inverted the values of this country while it is at war. All the Worst values are being corrupted are not being rewarded you are rewarded not for going out and being a brave man and dying for your country you are rewarded for getting a job on the docks and getting a hold of American materiel and selling it in black marketing it. And when I talk about corruption it is fashionable for people in the administration to say well those reporters are out there are naive they don't understand about Asians Asians are always been corrupt and they gotta be tougher we I you know you gotta expect that
well out. The simple truth is that the North Vietnamese are not corrupt and that corruption is not a small minor factor. It's not mine and the administration a while we got corruption in New York City our corruption in Washington we had to haul ass to not the same thing it is corruption is a way of life it starts from the very top the very chief of staff. By someones greatest friend Col. Van de NS wife runs over Saigon building buildings on government land getting American money renting American and even thousands of dollars each month and it works on down in the entire population is cynical. The society is tired cynical and numb the war is very old. We're not nation building we are reversing their values. The sons are more corrupt than the fathers. It is too late to turn it back. It is not a happenstance thing. We are prisoners terrible prisoners of all our past and all of our mistakes and we are paying very
heavily because history is going to be very cruel judge of us. This time it is not we are all sitting there now making our decision. Go in get out at dominoes and all these things and and you know the decision of whether reporters been too pessimistic Well you've got to balance things out I tell you. When it comes 20 years to read a chapter of that's going on China is not going to be very much balancing out it's going to be a very clear story. A lack of intellectual integrity of a lack of understanding the war understanding that and I mean the whole thing is going to be very very sad chapter and at this late day we have nothing going for us at all politically. Our enemies are all divided. They're all former French corporals. They have no sense of nation they have never done anything for their own people nor can they me. Americans go out there and they keep writing stories about President
when Ventrue and we can only get when venture to do a little bit in the way of or formal invent you can't reform because he's a prisoner of the system he rose up with it betraying systematically the last four men he worked for he is what's known in Eastern Europe as an apparatchik little man who rises in the apparatus. He could reform he's a prisoner of that system. There's not going to be any reform it's too late for reform you can't reform in that sick beaten society and so I give you this this very pessimistic harsh report I think we are going to have to negotiate our way out. I don't think I think we are hurting those people more than we are helping them I think we are tearing ourselves apart at home I think we are too powerful too great too rich a country to let this get in the way of our real destiny. I think we have some great things that we can do in the world with our power and riches and I've been a correspondent in East Europe. I've been thrown out of communist
countries expelled from Poland and one of the things of the communist world taught me is how much real power we have. I think we have to get on with the real business in the world our real business here at home in our ghettoes and saving ourselves before the enemy because I don't think we can save them. I don't think they can because they can't save themselves. And I think we are already carrying their country apart and tearing our own country apart and I think it is time now to make these decisions to disengage we're going have to lose. It's going to be painful messy a medicine. We're going to lose some face is not going to be very much fun. But I think we have another destiny to keep and we're on to it. So if it's a dark I think if it's if I'm giving you dark news today I'm sorry I think it's going to get worse. And if I had a 19 year old son I would hate to see him having to go up to case on I wouldn't mind a son of mine or young American going out and dying in his country's security but I don't think that a
young American auto giant case on because of vanity because we've made mistakes and we can admit it. We're not that weak. We're ready to provice so that in the dark some nation I really would be pleased to answer any questions you have I'm sure there are a lot of things I haven't touched on. And as you asked the questions perhaps we'll touch on it and I'll come back and we'll have some more points to touch on top of the in the. Ooh thank you.
I'd like to again remind all of you that Mr Hall was damaged that he'd be more than happy his day or the night in the Cauchy hours long as anyone liked his then talk to him. He's extremely interesting and hearing what you want to know about Vietnam and trying to answer those questions as he's thing and out there in the end zone. Now open up a question and answer period for about half years and. It's more than a rumor it's true it's printed and the question was it was rumored several years ago the Kennedy administration tried to have me removed from Vietnam because of my dispatches and it's quite true. I printed the story in my own book because I thought that if it had been somebody like a Nixon or a Johnson there would never be any doubt in the reporter's mind that he would print the story
and though I was a great admirer of President Kennedy I thought that a reporter was under the obligation to print the same thing it was a time in in late 1963 when it was quite obvious that Vietnam was becoming. A major foreign policy disaster and the country was falling apart and I was one of about five or six reporters there I don't think that I was particularly the best one but I had the best vehicle because if you work for the New York Times as I then did you you greeted the president of the United States for breakfast every morning and you came through like a rocket in that in that decaying situation somebody like myself who was known was the main critic of the Vietnamese government at that time and the more the Vietnamese government attacked me every day the more every Vietnamese encountered wanted to tell me things and the more the Americans would tell me things and it was a rare time for a reporter I have never been so clued in and had so many people telling me inside things in my life so every day I just back it would come rocketing right
through it. You know another getting a raw nerve after war nerve after on earth and I finally have the brand new publisher the New York Times Arthur Ochs Sulzberger with Orvil Dreyfus had just died and a punch went down it was his first meeting up with the president and he went to see Scotty Reston before he said to Scotty I'm nervous a little light which I say and Scotty said don't worry about it. He'll ask you about your children and you ask him about his so punch walked in and first thinking. When you think about your young man of Saigon and punch we like him fine and he said you don't think he's too close to the story which I don't oh no not at all certainly not. Then the president said you wouldn't tell me one thing about sending him to another assignment over you and InTouch said no and I was about to go out for a vacation
about that time so I got a big cable saying under no circumstances leave I should point out that I think that the president did read my dispatches and pay attention to them because when I did come back in 1964 I ran into Arthur Schlesinger who had been one of my professors and we created our read each other in a New York disc of fact go where else. And he said you did a very very good job out there the present United States has to say why could he learn stuff from your dispatches he couldn't find from his generals and ambassadors. And I should say finally that I don't think that Robert Kennedy and I are that far apart on Vietnam today so I'm getting right on the issue. Yes yes do you mean do I believe that the Romanian the Chinese and annoy the enemies in the polls and that I don't believe it
is a communist monolith of the world at all I think that where I think it is quite obvious that the two blocs are are severing Indeed I think it probably is true that one of the great great tragedies of Southeast Asia really is that had had to be enemies with their traditional fear and distrust of the Chinese gone Communist it probably because of HOAs instincts towards Moscow rather than taking out that it probably could have been not too far from a Yugoslavia a communist Yugoslavia on the Chinese coast and might have been a country that we would have had something in common with. I don't mean to be you can't you know be absolutely sure on this I don't believe in a communist monolith but I think I'd be a very great mistake to think of these people as agrarian reformers I mean this is a very tough hard nosed conspiratorial outfit. They use assassination very very cleverly and very systematically It's one of the weapons in their in their repertoire and I mean we have no illusions when we leave it will become a communist country it's
something I think we have to live with. It's painful to me it's going to be painful to very many of my friends but I I I I think what we're doing to the country right now is worse because I think it is hopeless and I don't think we have the moral right to grind up a country when it if I thought the war were being won that it would move to a quick conclusion that we had something to offer them I would feel differently but I don't think we have anything to offer them and I think we are grinding them up to save our own vanity. Yes. When I say it the question is what is the difference between an NLF and Hanoi. I think that Hanoi is largely in charge has to a large degree orchestrated the war. There are I think I did. Difference is that there has always been a very great difference between the coach in Chinese and the South Vietnamese in the south of the coaching Chinese who were the Vietnamese in the south and Hanoi in the north of the Tonkin East Hanoi attended
North the enemy tend to be tougher and be more ideological not as they have been headed down a hole but I would think that largely it is Hanoi you that there the the the difference is between the NLF and only would be a lot smaller than we think. I think that anything that shows a difference tends to be seized upon and blown up and I would not bet too much money on very serious differences there. Yes we have a case on which the great battle which I don't think probably will take place. I never have a variety of reasons First off case on. We shouldn't be there. We should not be in any place where we are static and they can use artillery. We should be always in this war as mobile as possible and stationary and being in place like a song.
Just allow them to tear us up with already very little retaliation there after all their I don't know how much you know about grower but there they're really not able to use artillery very often so you have to be right up there in very rare places and I suppose Keyshawn was originally intended as some kind of patrol base by some American general who really didn't understand the nature of the enemy's war he probably really thought that there was a whole team in Iraq ha highway it was a super highway that we would bomb it in was like bombing this U.S. route between here and Cincinnati and therefore you would stop in coming down whereas anybody who's seen any photographs at all I mean we have really not learned from history I mean anybody who's seen any photograph knows and has had any knowledge at all about the French Indochina War and what happened to Deanne beyond who knows that they will keep on coming that you really can't bomb the Holcim in grouted it's not a highway it's an idea. And they will keep coming and they do keep coming so obviously we sent this patrol base up there and they kept coming and very soon they started squeezing the perimeter in an in an in an in and until Little tiny little
patrols could barely go outside because they get ambushed and mined and so forth and so what do we have left a case on nothing but our own vanity because we don't want to retreat that would be a serious psychologically. And so our young men are being chewed up there where one of the rare places in the country where they can use artillery. They're not mobile but I don't think they'll launch an attack upon it. And I think they won't for a variety of reasons one I think they'd have to pay too high a price for what little they get. Secondly. I think that they will faint at it case on and possibly strike again at the city's or faint at the cities but meanwhile their real thrust will be at the entire rural countryside it will be a lot of it will be taken over without a shot being fired. Just a total destruction of all the that fragile pacification system that we work inside adn they will get no pay a very small price for this and get very big rewards in the sense of manpower recruitment
and finally I don't think they will for a very real reason and that is I think that they will look at this country here which is so divided and they will not risk a 30 days each of our boys there because if they have a long siege of case on it might unite this country and I think they are too clever for that they are very clever people they're very good mad they're masters of psychological warfare of revolutionary war there and indeed I think they will use their strength and their resources to further divide this country and they will do those things militarily which will continually embarrasses those Americans who have staked their careers on victory on all this optimism. They were set out in little ways as they did in the Tet Offensive to show that they are still there they can still keep coming. All these people like Rostow who have said you know the last rattle the death cast they will keep pointing out until they see it step by step silence
and humiliate all those people who have doubted their effectiveness. And I think this will be their main thing they will make the main effort in this way. Yes. What kind of negotiations. The question on negotiation how do you do it how to get out. Sonny Reddy you have to come to grips with it. When you finally decide the war is over you know you don't just stop the bombing and that's that's a false issue at that this minute of stop the bombing I mean Lyndon Johnson can stop the bombing on stop it for 15 days or 16 days or whatever and nothing will happen they'll go the war will go right on. Nothing is going to happen until I think the government of United States decides the war cannot be done. The price is too heavy and we must seek some kind of honorable way of disengaging even though it in means in a way losing losing face. And then possibly through the Russians or through the French or through whoever you start moving
back it can be done you're going to me is going to be painful I mean don't underestimate this country's going to feel the shock wave the rest of Southeast Asia is going to feel the shock wave the question is do delay it. Do I have to come back to Oxford Ohio in 1972 and give this same speech which I could have given in 1964 demeaned because they as I say there we are fighting their birthrate. So I can't give you specifics on negotiation I may be a mistake for me to say stop the bombing tomorrow because I think you know I think the tone is wrong I think to stop the bombing a mano thing really happen but I think when you decide at the very top that it cannot be done and then you start getting Who few specific things here and there then you will have negotiations largely on their terms I'm afraid. Yes. Well let me let me touch on the domino theory here which is a great and off debated thing I think that there is a certain semblance of truth in the Domino
Theory of a good deal more now than there was four years ago had we not gone into Indo. We have in a sense not only escalated the war we haven't escalated the humiliation and therefore the domino theory is more important now than it was in 1984. But I think you have to look at them if you're going to look on them as dominoes are being all different sizes shapes and colors because each of these countries is very different. Thailand which has never had a colonial background is that as a politically secure base that there probably is not going to be political warfare or where the FF or the embers of the French Indochina War as as as as ours is the nationalism of all of Thailand is is anti communist. The nationalism of Vietnam is communist and each country is a little different and Indonesia is a different country virtually ungovernable with special problems. The Philippines have there's Cambodia Obviously there are countries which will feel the shock I think Malaysia Singapore will be countries I
think places hurt by it I think it will have a some effect on Cambodia although I think the Cambodians are very uneasy about the American military presence. So each of these. Reason is it's different there will be an effect. It will move them a little bit but the world is I mean we will not be back to Pearl Harbor. It is despite what do you know Joseph Alsop says it will not be back to Pearl Harbor. And if we have anything to offer these countries then then we can still operate there I think the great lesson of the other war in Vietnam is that if if we have something to offer people they can accept only a very limited amount of aid to those that need a lot of aid need 30 billion dollars a year and five hundred thousand troops of those people can't be helped at all. So I think our capacity to help is really quite limited frankly I think there's a very low ability this low saturation point of aid military assistance there. And I think this is one of the things we have to learn coming out of here. Yes.
Well I think again the question is if we withdraw what would be the implications for Latin America I don't think there's any doubt that if we withdraw insurgencies will be encouraged. But I would like to take two things one again Latin America. Each country is different. Why does change who succeeded in Cuba fail in Bolivia. Why did the president say he went away right up the draw there you'll find him a mile and a half up. This is what this is what guerrilla warfare is about when the peasants tell you where they are. When you read in guerilla warfare about ambush the VC striking a government post 20 miles from Saigon and it's true they there were 600 VC involved and 200 were killed and only 30 of ours were killed because we came in with airplanes finally unveiled our Vietnamese out. And it's claimed a victory it's not a victory. What it means is that six hundred of an entire battalion of the Viet Cong walked up to the door.
That goes without one single present warning anybody. And that's that's the important thing about what what you offer the population. So I think each country in Latin American is different I don't I'm not a great authority on Latin America I've never been there I think that there will be some shock waves there but I think you go back to what you said if we if we're doing other things that are right if we have anything to offer we'll have some success but on the other hand I think the great danger of the war in Vietnam now as it continues is it is sapping our strength sapping our resources quite obviously sapping our goal and we are not as strong a country as we were three years ago. The greater for a variety of reasons not just the gold but our domestic situation our ghettos are in flames which we can really go around helping other people when we are torn up in a home where we know where we're at with that much weaker. And so I think the first thing as long as war is there it's draining us so much that we really don't have any answers for Latin America we're much weaker we're gonna be we're too weak to deal with Latin America which because we're so overextended there. Yes.
Well the question is I'm ISOs pessimistic but I think our continued presence there would do lead to World War Three. Well I don't know that. I mean I don't think we I don't think anybody wants to get into World War Three So not only am I in this country really does I think you are in a slightly dangerous situation when you when you have as many important and powerful men with as much of their vanity staked to this war as they have and I think as you Finas the frustration gets greater. There will be a tendency to lash out and strike out but you know and in anger but I just can't I mean I just I'm too good an American to believe that you know that we would do it I think that our problems are ready. I think there are there are other problems that we will have to face which are domestic repercussions after a with drawl and you know us accusations of from beachside of having sold out sold out our country having let down the boys and so I think that will face this but I would think. I don't know certainly hoping that we would
want to be there just too many sane voices in the country to get into World War Three. Yes. Well in the original South Vietnamese government underwrites the question is whether out of the CIA had been setting up the South Vietnamese government and what role do they still have they had. We were going to set up a government anyway and the role of one major distinction of the CIA was that a general Lansdale who was I forget the name of him and the Ugly American. But he was a key figure he was the good guy who goes around and knows how to charm the local guys Lansdale who would come fresh from his victory with Mike's a say in Philippines and defeating the insurgency there went out to Vietnam and he helped as a
CIA man he helped convince the Dulles brothers Alan and John Foster that goatee NCM was the proper man to support and as such he was not only CIA had a special role not so much in creating the first government but in determining it would be the end. And oh I'm sure they're very. Back you know they've been active in a number of pacification programs I must tell you and I think that they're probably the only people now reporting back to Washington. What's really going on as far as I can tell and formed the CIA's white domination Helms white dovish now whereas state and you know what carriers you'll be you know putting out just select your positivity and reporting I think the CIA is probably giving a general some of reporting not very good not very different from that of the you know major American correspondent. There are I'm wrong I think I'd like to say one thing that it is very easy to think of the CIA in a conspiratorial terms I happen to have a very high regard for many other people
- As we see it: Vietnam '68
- David Halberstam
- Producing Organization
- Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- For series info, see Item 3509. This prog.: David Halberstam, Vietnam correspondent, New York Times, winner of Pulitzer Prize
- War and Conflict
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Producing Organization: WMUB
Producing Organization: Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
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