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And like. Tonight particularly to address myself to the problem of the relations of China to be a problem and to play on some of the problems with the Vietnam war against Chinese policy national educational radio presents as we see it Vietnam 68 a series of appearances of noted spokesman presenting their various views on the war and 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 thinking of the speakers at that time. Even with current events in the Southeast Asian area these speeches represent valuable background on the Vietnam situation. Speaking today is Dr. John Lewis a professor at Cornell University and co-author of the United States in Vietnam published in 1967. Here is Dr. Lewis.
And like. Tonight particularly to address myself to the problem of the relations of China to the Vietnam problem and to play off some of the problems with the Vietnam war against Chinese policy and in particular to describe why I think that the Chinese policy has begun to change particularly since the middle part of 1966 and very recently in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. To do that I would in particular like to start with the problem of North Vietnam strategy spell out very briefly what I think that is. Secondly to look at the response of the various communist countries to North Vietnam strategy in the two different periods 964 and at present. And then finally to examine the Chinese part of that in the period of the cultural revolution beginning in 1064 and up through the present with the more recent changes at the time of the Tet Offensive.
Might say in introducing the topic of North Vietnam strategy that when there are available any substantial number of materials that can be analyzed to find out what is Hanoi strategy here and I do and and I will point out later divided Hanoi strategy from that of the National Liberation Front. In any case the strategy of the North Vietnamese can be seen in their own written materials in the captured documents. Dickey those captured at the time of Cedar Falls in Junction City operations in January nine hundred sixty seven. And my I and a colleague of mine at Cornell Mr. David Mills Ingo have gone through these materials in great detail and have had the chance to write on them at least briefly and will have to be doing a rather extensive amount of writing on them in the future. These materials that we have both of the captured variety and of the kind that
come out through Hanoi and through various communist capitals Prague and so on have indicated and indicated since 1984 that the that the North Vietnamese see three central elements to their strategy this isn't new. It indeed was very clear long before the Tet offensive although certainly the Tet Offensive that we saw in ever in in late January early February should have made clear to everyone what it is that the Vietnamese were particularly seeking in the first instance if you talk about their strategic objectives the North Vietnamese see that strategic objective in the first instance as breaking pacification. No other thing stands out so centrally in their materials as that. And in I could read you broadcast after broadcast in which that is the major objective and the one which is the principal purpose for there. The second part their instrument as they put it or the strategic means which is through maintaining what they call the strategic
initiative of fighting stand up types of battles often in battalion sized engagements. But in in every instance of having the initiative be the be the objective the objective which is pacification and in that sense they believed in the earlier period that the. Search and destroy operations of the United States were playing into their hands and spoke of them in this way playing into their hands by keeping us away from passbook ation and disrupting the plan and the whole bit. The whole basis of a society that might lead to the pacification of the South Vietnamese countryside in order to maintain the strategic initiative and thus to be able to carry out the breaking of pacification which by the way would not necessitate their carrying out a strategy of defeating us and thus they do not see it as necessary to defeat the American forces on the ground in order to win
this objective in order to do that. They said as early as they very important plenum of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Worker's Party in April 90 in March and April 1964 that they would have to maintain what they call the balance of forces. And they just said in this and this period that they would pay for every escalation of the United States if you will or every commitment on our side they would need it by an escalation or a commitment on their sign. This was not believed at the time and most of us were were whistling in the dark when we said for every commitment they make you make it on on the American side they have the intention and the capability to make an equal commitment on their sign and you will be constantly facing the situation of stalemate. B Then where the three key elements of their of their strategy. The first was requested cation The second was to maintain as pretty as you can issue leave. And the third in order to do that was to maintain balance of forces. They welcomed
the then the kind of things that we were doing. They did not see them as running counter to their strategy. They were even less impressed by the kinds of things that we used to index this war. In particular they paid very little attention to the threat to do such things as battles won casualties on the battlefield body counts and this kind of thing they saw them as irrelevant to the kind of overall objective that they saw as crucial because they felt they had the manpower indeed. Richard Helms of the Central Intelligence Agency believes that they could maintain this power this man power supply for 100 years and they thought no so no reason to believe that they couldn't keep up this this strategic initiative for that period. And this wouldn't it was not particularly crucial to beating the Americans but changing because of their our inability to maintain pacification or to create It was the main repercussion of that would be on the South Vietnamese people not on American public opinion. They have paid
virtually no attention to dissent in the United States but they pay attention to what's going on in South Vietnam and what they were particularly interested in is how people who could not be pacified by US would then eventually be sold war wary that they would make the decision to go to the communist side. In the strategy. Not all communist state and state and parties agreed in the first instance the National Liberation Front did not agree. And in the earlier period they particularly through their internal Vanguard argued for a strategy a primarily. A political strategy and one which the primary engagements would be fought by low lower level irregular forces ones which would not commit their main force units to battle. Thus they the Chinese in that they excuse me the National Liberation Front in this period was constantly in an argument 1964 65 in an argument with the North Vietnamese over the kinds of strategies that should be followed in the documents here are overwhelmingly clear on this point.
The Russians did agree with North Vietnam particularly as time wore on and they began to make the decision that in part two reasons they would support the North Vietnamese strategy and as you undoubtedly know by now the North Vietnamese are principally being supported in this war not by the Chinese but by the Russians the Russians who have given their principal support through heavy weapons air defense systems and the like. The Russians saw this is important for the reason first of all that they saw that the United States or they thought that the United States would not. Engage in a compromise solution with the with the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front over the issue which is really the only issue in this war of who will control in the south and they and they they also saw increasingly that this provided them with an opportunity which they have now begun to utilize the opportunity to undertake and the kind of build up that would have some effect on the strategic balance particularly in sea power and in Missile Range.
Then the Russians have have changed and begun to change their attitudes toward the toward the North Vietnamese strategy and have begun to support it supported it far earlier than any of the other communist states. The Chinese in 1964 and here's where I'm going to particularly put my emphasis tonight the Chinese in 1064 were particularly concerned with a number of problems and thus many and to a certain extent these were inconsistent with one another and thus their response to North Vietnam strategy was a fairly low level and the sense that that wasn't the primary interest that they had in the first place. And secondly that they they did not see. This as something where they had a clear kind of line. There was a confusion ambiguity in China's response. In one thousandth 64 in contrast to the Russians who were giving actual act who were giving aid but speaking softly the Chinese were speaking what we called intemperately at the time and were doing virtually nothing at least
in terms of in relative terms compared to the Soviet Union. The Chinese in 1964 did it after their review of the history particularly the pre dimmest history and in our American policy in Vietnam didn't favor the continuation of the war. And with with North Vietnam South Vietnam they felt Vietnamese Communist and United States because in part they believe that it would be the only way to beat the United States but they did not favor it as the North Vietnamese strategy would have but they indeed favored it as the Net National Liberation Front would have wanted it fought and there was a long series of discussions in the Chinese press and in the Chinese internal documents about this about the fact that they. That the only people that were who knew Howard as they put it some people don't know about it and the other people who do know about it are the ones who in turn turn out to be the South Vietnamese Communists the National Liberation Front that wanted to break up the units wanted to go back to a lower stage of guerrilla war. They wanted to fight
it then for all the reasons that they felt it would be the only way. Looking back at the history which I won't review but is is certainly extremely relevant here looking back on the history they did feel that this was the way to as they put it teach the United States a lesson. Yes they were in favor of the war and continue for different reasons. I'm going to point out tonight in favor of that war now. The Chinese strategy as they saw it for Asia has sometimes been encapsulated in the slogan of the cities surrounding the country being surrounded by the countryside is the same thing as the underdeveloped world surrounding the developed world and the national liberation wars in the underdeveloped world are the same as against the cities. We have misinterpreted it. We had misinterpreted this in my judgement and thus missed the principal point that the Chinese were trying to make in terms of this strategy. Their point was as most of us understood it at the time and I think it's still correct they point was that the target the target was the developed areas and for the Chinese the
main reason for developing a national liberation war strategy was not so much what was going on in South Vietnam it was what going on in the more developed parts of the world and in particular from their point of view what was going on with it was what was happening in Japan and thus they saw this as a this war in South Vietnam with the bay the countryside surrounding the Japan the city and affecting Japanese opinion on this war and I would commend to your reading of an article in today's New York Times Magazine by former Ambassador rush hour on this on the point of what this war has in fact been doing to Japanese public opinion an ally of ours which it changed its judgment on the United States shifted its position would have a major impact on the United States. Strategic position far more than any other part of Asia including China at this point. China or Japan excuse me now moving into a position where it's roughly a third or
two and a half in terms of the world's ranking industrial power some people even in certain industries say that it's no number two so that the Chinese saw that if there would be a movement by this by Japanese revulsion against the war in South Vietnam a movement of Japanese public opinion and of political opinion away from the United States towards a more neutral opinion not even towards China that this would have grave repercussions on us and very happy repercussions for them. The main third or main reason is that they supported the war at the time and 1060 465 was what they thought it would do to the Soviet American detente as they called it or the duopoly as they sometimes referred to it and to this extent they have been sorely disappointed it has had virtually no impact in fact it's probably going the other way it's had the effect in exacerbating the split between the two rather than bringing together in any operative way although more and more as I'll indicate at the end of the lecture there has been a kind of
correspondence and a coalescence of their strategies even though they're equally theirs by two pretty of against each other as they always were and kept perhaps because of the recent conference they're even more so. Chinese in the North Vietnamese then and this is just repeat what I said earlier did not see the North Vietnamese strategy that I had just spelled out this teacher can initiative to be pesky cation build up by best balance of forces. They did not see that as as good as Chinese but they saw it as in their interests and it at that and they particularly saw it in their interest it would be fought more according to the strategy of the National Liberation Front than according to the strategy of the north. But they saw the war as helpful to their interests it was be it before they did. Again they did not see it as Chinese they did not consider North Vietnam strategy as a Maoist strategy and indeed it is sought is the very reverse of the Maoist strategy a point that I'll come to again in the not the North Vietnamese considered their their doctrinal godfathers in this job and ho team in they did
not see it as Mao indeed they very specifically rejected a number of Mao's crucial principles on on guerrilla war. This northern strategy which was developed at the time of this 1964 country and worked its way out up to the point of the Tet Offensive the northern strategy came at the time of a developing crisis in China and in particular it came at the time of day of a crisis that is sometimes called the second generation crisis or a crisis in leadership of passing on the leadership principles of one generation to the next. And I'd like to turn now from strategic considerations the first part of this very brief introductory remark to what was going on in China how was it what was the environment that was that was present in China that would and to which this doctrine was be this is did these strategic considerations were being fed what was going on at this time within the Chinese People's Republic in particular. It is crucial to note that that there was a crisis in inside China's leadership system.
You have in China probably the world's one gerontocracy the rule of old men that a state that is that is a state ruled by by Mao who's was born in 1903 and who's now going on into toward his seventy fifth year. And either onery or just slightly younger than him was and it was a generation of men who had fought together worked together during the the Hazelwood. Of a build up to the victory in one thousand forty nine and this this group by nineteen sixty four was more and more a group which was preoccupied by death. They met more often at funerals than they met in central committee or other plans and they they began in 61 62 to 63 to talk about death and to talk about our successors the next group. They were fascinated by the subject of death at this point and they began to do it with a with a with a particular kind of urgency say what is that next generation of Chinese the leaders
of the future what is that generation going to believe is it going to carry on the revolution or is it going to be a revisionist generation is it going to go the way of the Soviet Union and this this group was. Particularly shaken and felt a particular sense of urgency then because of it aging because of it's of a sense of his passing and also because of the sense that it had after what was called the Great Leap Forward which was largely a great bust that they sense that they were failing they weren't really capable of carrying out something the revolution was coming to an end and there was a there were times upon signs that things were were were changing in this period and there was a sense then of a deep political problem of a sense that things were changing a work happening among this leadership. We many of us said at the time that the leadership system had ossified. There was a there was a sense in the in this period that they knew that they couldn't really cope with the with the political problem and they couldn't do what they always said they were best at. They couldn't develop policies they couldn't
develop new ideas and thus they they they they refrained from holding the meetings they read. They sat back and they really didn't do very much in these in these years in this in this in the sense of of of frustration of urgency but not being able to do very much about it in that kind of atmosphere they be the main people who took the lead were the people who were associated later with little shouty the president of China. But those whom you could type if you like political science types of typing you could type as the professionals or the bureaucrats. Those who were revolutionaries to be sure but they were also people who had made a compromise with the modernizing system they had begun to to allow a technical and scientific personnel to come in more and more of the subjects mathematics physics science and so on to be taught within the schools at the expense of political program. And these bureaucrats who had been particularly important in in the period of control of the Chinese state were the ones who more and more were coming into or coming into their own during this period where
in the bureaucracy the bureaucracy was prose and in policy wasn't doing very much they were the ones who were trying to at least to keep the lid on it keep things in some kind of controlled and some kind of order. In the summer of 1964 the very time that the strategy was being received and thought through in terms of Vietnam in the summer of 1964. This comes to a head within China when Mao and others at the feeling that they that there had been this is a period of regression or revisionism and particularly a period of regression that had been at his own Mao's own expense in this period 164 mile begins to begin to try to reassert that the more doctrinaire ideas about the about the revolution he says that you the bureaucrats have the wrong view of the revolution there is another view with a view that has as it has come down from from a different tradition indeed you could if you had the time spell out these these two traditions one from the red areas that Mao controlled and one in the white areas that little
control. But leaving that aside there is there was there were two different interpretations of what is the revolution that you pass on. What is the experience that's relevant here to the future and Mao in a sense decides at that time that my brand where politics takes command bureaucrats are no longer the ones who determine it. Politics determines the curriculum in schools the ordering of priorities in the state and if we. And as Mao told a French delegation this time I don't give a damn about plans I don't I don't care about the economy I don't care about these things I care about this message of mine being passed on. Even if it's at the expense of the. Of other goals which you may consider important now then launches at they are often in particularly in the rural areas at the at the contradiction or in opposition to his bureaucratic leadership. Mao attempts to launch a cultural revolution. And I do mean 1064 and I do mean a cultural revolution at that time. Mao tries to to to launch a cultural
revolution but he has the only instrument he has at this point is the bureaucrat is the person who controls the party the operad the person who the apparatchik the person who a company has come up through the organization he turns over to the bureaucrats the mission of revolutionising has he puts it revolutionizing the use and he launches all of the things that came later in the culture evolution that attack on the arts the Peking Opera there is held in July 1964. A. Congress of the Young Communist League at which there was their whole theme is you've got to to revise this revitalizes message. There is even the equivalent of the little red book in this time with miles of a mouse. Selected readings which are publicized and great numbers of copies are generated in pub and promulgated all over the country. There is even a put out at this time under the marvelous title on Khrushchev phony communism. There is even put out a document which spells out what Mao is dreaming about what's the world
going to be like if poor these youth if the revolution continues for as he put it at the time. Ten thousand generations. What will it what what kind of a of a struggle and what kind of a conflict will it. It will come out of this and then what kind of a world will will be generated in that conflict. This was launched this cultural revolution of 1064 in the on June 30th 1964 in the journal red flag which is the central organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. That movement that Cultural Revolution lasted for six weeks. It ended on August 5th 1964 with the Tonkin Gulf with Vietnam. And at that point you got an alignment and that's bad alignment that I'm going to talk about now and alignment between this domestic issue of this whole business of revising and revitalizing the youth and bringing on revolution on the one hand and of trying to cope with this this problem of a of an emerging crisis an external crisis on the other. First thing that one has to point out here is that the bureaucrats who had taken
responsibility for carrying out the Cultural Revolution the ones who had been put in charge of the youth of the arts the Peking Opera and the other things that I've just mentioned were who were of the mind at this point to stop the Cultural Revolution in order to build up the defense of the state. And from that point on till till September 1965 that is a year the bureaucrats do hold the line and begin to prepare for taking some kinds of action in a conventional non People's Liberation War type way. A conventional type of action they do to aid the aid they're there as they put it their comrades in. In Vietnam they actually at that time it's that point in mid sixties and in late 64 early 65 and particularly after the play coup raids in the beginning in March. The Chinese build up to what is now 30 to 50 thousand of their engineering troops that are along the railroads and begin to to take action at the behest of the bureaucrats at those at the the
the the urging of those who would have wanted who did in fact postpone the Cultural Revolution who said the Cultural Revolution must be set aside in order to build up for the security of the state. There was a major argument because of this within the army it went for a whole year it was a fascinating argument many of us wrote on it at the time we said it. It's the crucial thing that's going on in China we don't know quite why but there's a major debate on the whole question of should you postpone the Cultural Revolution in order to have the defense of the country or should you on the other hand as the Maoists and the bureaucrats were arguing is the Cultural Revolution crucial to the defense of the country and it must be continued even though you can't it wouldn't at the at the outset turn to such things as building up a position in Vietnam. And wouldn't take that kind of preemptive action that was being suggested by the bureaucrats at this time. That debate lasted as I've already indicated one year from the time of the Tonkin Gulf strikes in August
1964 till the time of the famous Lin Biao article on September 2nd 1964 65. Long live people's war. The point of that article which many of us said at the time but it is now is now even. Admitted by the government the point of that article at the at the time and it's now overwhelmingly clear was to end the debate a debate that had gone on for a year and to give priority to the Cultural Revolution. The debate going on within the army and Lindau's article the Minister of Defense whose article with it referred to by Mr Dean Rusk as the mind comp of China was in fact a statement by that segment of the leadership which said through such jargon as self-reliance and United Front and other things we must not get into Vietnam we must stay out. They've got to take care of that themselves. We have got to take care of our own problems and in particular we have got to prepare our own way to do through this. This whole
this this whole process of revolution ization this is crucial to the whole sense of what went on after that that they were saying we've got to not and we've we've we've got to develop the culture revolution. And clearly this was so. So radical a position for the for the Army that a whole series of purges had to take place first in the army. The first person to be purged in the Cultural Revolution was the chief of staff of the army a man by the name of lower a chain and a whole set of other Army officers were the ones who went first. Those who would have built up a cultural defense a national defense in order to to be to begin to respond to what they saw as an increasing threat from from the United States in Vietnam and in formal debate this this decision by Lindau doesn't Endy to be the informal debate there's a carry on a very interesting thing in Hong Kong through the Hong Kong press. They have their problems with leaks like our government has its problems with leaks. But there was and there was also some problem in the provinces which if you look back you
should have given us a clue to that the fact that the army wasn't united on a number of points. But in any case there was a there was a formal end of the debate with the with Lindau's article of September 2nd one thousand nine hundred sixty sixty five excuse me. Debate was that we stay out. We develop. We even care the country to pieces if it's necessary would you wouldn't do if you were about ready to get into a war. We do that in order to revolutionize the youth to make this transition to the next generation. And from that Lin Biao said was saying to his some people particularly to the North Vietnamese about their strategy the strategy of break pacification through strategic initiative and balance of forces. The Fed in response to that strategy. These things first of all that you must go along with the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front strategy of breaking up your units of becoming self-reliant and you cannot be self-reliant in the large unit kind kinds of engagement because these engagements will
eventually require support from the outside. That's what he was saying to them and it was his it was it was you know this kind of jargon it's clear right point after after point. In internally he then in this is the second and most important point about the state. Internally it puts that part of the army and by no means the whole of the army. It puts that part of the army which is is oriented to politics in command. Revolution ization Mao's doctrine here breaking the bureaucrats of not getting into Vietnam it puts them on the side of of ind of internal doctrine in building up a Cultural Revolution and with that with that article Long live people's war. The Central Committee meets in September 965 in a secret session and decides to launch the Cultural Revolution anew to put aside the other the other problems to put aside the defense of the country and to begin to reassert this this whole of this whole business of of building up the culture of the cultural revolution the revolution
ization of the youth.
As we see it: Vietnam '68
Dr. John Lewis
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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.: Dr. John Lewis of Cornell U. and author of The United States and Vietnam
War and Conflict
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Chicago: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. John Lewis,” 1968-07-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 25, 2024,
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APA: As we see it: Vietnam '68; Dr. John Lewis. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from