As we see it: Vietnam '68; Rowland Evans/Robert Novak
I think perhaps this this sense of alienation is heightened by the by the draft laws of the country which in a sense have said that those who are not who are neither intelligent nor wealthy enough to go to college are going to be the ones who fight the war. All those who go to college can sit by and up until recently go on endlessly. Sitting by while the middle and lower middle and lower classes of the country fight the war. That's why I think you are finding two separate kinds of opposition to the war in Vietnam. The older kind the kind that began when we first got in on him big scale in 1965 and his continuing is of a moral variety. The other kind and this is the more important kind in the reason that Gene McCarthy is going to do a lot of folks in New Hampshire tomorrow is are pragmatic kind. That is there is generally support for the war for its purposes. But there's a feeling that we are winning and so we're not
going to win it. We'd better get out. 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 current events concerning the South-East Asian area these speeches represent valuable background on the Vietnam situation. Today two noted columnists present their views on Vietnam. Speaking first as Mr Rowland Evans syndicated columnist and contributor to Harper's the reporter the New Republic and other magazines. With Mr. Evans's Robert Novak. Mr.
Novak is a former congressional and political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and now is a political columnist for The New York Herald Tribune syndicate. Here was Rowland Evans and Robert Novak speaking in as we see it Vietnam 68. I read a piece the other day in the new leader magazine by kind of sneer which described a scene in the White House. In 1965. It was just before the president made up his mind to get involved in Vietnam with major ground forces. And he doesn't all the arguments from his generals from Buzz Wheeler the chairman the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Johnny Johnson the chief of staff and the army and the rest of his military advisers the Secretary of State Dean Rusk and having heard all the evidence he announced at the end that he'd made a very serious study of the issue of the momentous character of the decision he was being asked to
make and he decided not to make the decision to go into Vietnam with ground troops but to withdraw from Vietnam. This is in 1965 it was a bit of fantasy. It just occurred to put that with the United States in the war in Southeast Asia is a political situation at home got worse and worse he was called an appeaser. He was called a sellout artist and he came into the 1968 election campaign in almost as bad political shape as he is in today. Now in fact leading fantasy aside if you can imagine the scene in the White House cabinet room in July of 1965 This was five months after the decision to bomb the North had been taken. If you can imagine what would have happened if when the president said to General Wheeler general where will I be in March of 1960.
What the president's reaction might have been had general we had a said Mr. President we will have the casualties of close to twenty thousand dead. We will have one hundred twenty five thousand total casualties. We will have lost perhaps twelve hundred United States of Warcraft aircraft war planes. We will be in a political situation at home which could be comparable only to Abraham Lincoln in the hundred years ago the situation he found himself in in 1864 or possibly. Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. You will be spending 30 billion dollars a year on the war. There will be a golden dollar crisis abroad and you will be the enemy of many American citizens. If in this situation the president had had among his advisors someone with a presence. To be able to look ahead with that kind of a Cassandra view it is very
very possible that he would have opted out. I don't say he would have. No one can possibly know Joy the tragedy of what is happening and what happened has happened since that fundamental decision. July 19 sixty five. Is that so many of the things that have happened were unpredictable and at so many so much of the torture and the difficulties of the situation which the president the American people find themselves today was totally unpredictable. I think in a way that Ted Sorenson. Who was as you know the White House counsel for President Kennedy in 61 two and three put it rather well the other day. When he said the problem today is that our commitment the U.S. commitment has now grown too large. And the amount of prestige we have placed into the Southeast
Asian pot is too great and the ability of the other side both from the standpoint of in response to our military power and from the standpoint of their will is too great that these two these two situations in there can flow once can never end in a situation where one side or the other is going to get anything like everything it hopes to get out of the war. It must therefore seem to be an accurate statement that the only way this war can be brought to an end is through a negotiation negotiation process. Some kind of give and take on both sides. And I don't think this is too harsh a thing to say if the other side as it now appears is willing to sit down and talk with us. There is a
chance that the other side will never be willing to sit down and talk to us consider the military situation on the ground today in Vietnam. I've been there three times. Each time I come home the first was February 1965 I was there when the bombing decision was made to bomb the North. The second was the fall of 1966 and the third was last fall. And each time I come away with a slightly deeper conviction that the job to be done is far more difficult far more treacherous than I have been told it was in Washington D.C. today in the Delta we face a situation that is far worse than it has been in any other time since we sent ground troops into the war. I tell you a little bit about what the pacification program means and then try to describe it in terms of what happened in the first phase of the winter
spring Tet Offensive. In the province of kin was south of Saigon some 70 60 70 miles. There is a diff big capital named Ben tree and the 18 Moslem Ventry is a cluster of hamlets called cream and I spent two days in those hamlets where we had I should say the South Vietnamese had about 10 pacification teams of 58 men each working to try to arouse in the peasantry the rice farmers. A degree of responsiveness and understanding of what the government in Saigon should mean to them to give them some sense of identification and to separate them. From the economic the political and the military ravages of the Vietcong who were all around in the surrounding countries. Now this
is a very impressive experiment to me. The rice that had four years in the Delta ever since really the Japanese left and the Viet Minh formed their nationalistic their national front and which was very very powerful in the in the delta the very early part of the war Nineteen forty six seven eight nine. Ever since then and bought three of the rice crop had gone to the communist side. There was no traffic in rice or other economic goods between these hamlets and bought free and then free. The difficulty of what this pacification had done was to rearrange the entire economic situation in bought tree the right. When I was there was in fact traveling across roads heavily guarded by troops our troops South Vietnamese troops was going to the capital Ventry the money that that Rice was bringing was being used to buy motorbikes
Honda's radios. There were signs of prosperity in this cluster of hamlets. You could you could tell the difference. The one key fact was that in this area providing security for the for the cadres of pacification experts were no less than three Ranger battalions of the South Vietnamese army. Now they have perhaps a total of less than 100 maneuver to tie into the entire South Vietnamese army. Three were assigned to this one area. The reason the pacification program here was working so well was the presence of this. Hard military force on call night and day to answer any plea for help from these comments that were being pacified. Now what has happened today. In this and countless other situations as a result of the Tet Offensive the tie ins have
moved back. Into the battle. In this case. Ventry Ventry is a town that was about 33 percent destroyed in early February. When it was attacked by the Vietcong and not by the North. To me it was strictly Viet Cong operation. We went in at the request of the South Vietnamese government we bombed that town rather badly destroyed about one third of it and there were pictures of the marketplace a bent tree in the front page of most American newspapers showing the marketplace devastated. The battalions that have come in from the surrounding countryside are still sitting in the district town the district capitals Ventry leaving these that areas uncovered by the South Vietnamese army by pacification experts or by any semblance of a a symbol of the Saigon government. The result being that the Communists
today. And then there is the Delta cart moment. For forcible recruitment for their decimated forces they lost roughly 40000 casualties in the Tet Offensive to forcibly recruit in these areas without hindrance from Saigon. The countryside today in the delta is more fully exposed more thoroughly open to this kind of operation by the South Vietnam by the Viet Cong and then at any time certainly in the last three years. And these of course this means that the sea which is the people the sea. There is plenty of sea for the fish to swim in and the VCA swimming in that sea today with an impunity that they have not known for a long time I was very impressed with the pacification program when I saw it last fall. Today it had ended. I don't say the pieces cannot be picked up
but it will be months before they are. Now I want to discuss just a little bit about what the enemy is trying to do in creating a situation like this in the delta and creating a situation such as it is up north in I Corps. In 1966 a document was captured which revealed in all honesty and clarity the view of General then who is the vice chairman of the vice chief of staff of the North Vietnamese Army. And this was a lecture that he gave to the fourth then meeting of the South Vietnamese Communist Party in 1966. And in it he made one point which I thought was very impressive when I read it although I didn't really believe that it could you could really mean what he was saying I now know that he didn't mean it it said that the South Vietnamese Army and the
American army together are unable to protect the front. That is to say the northern part of South Vietnam. I Corps up here case Sohn Khan chin down I cam no way these cities and areas and bases that today are under such tremendous pressure could not at the same time protect the front. And what he called the front in the rear. What I just described to you is the situation in Kanwar province in the rear down in the delta is the front in the rear. General Ben's point was that unless the Americans were willing to send 1 million troops to South Vietnam they could not get one in the same time perform both these functions. And as he pointed out both were absolutely vital to the success of our mission. We could not both. Guard the borders the perimeters. And restrict the
infiltration from the north and across the Laotian border and across the Cambodian border of North Vietnamese regular troops and at the same time protect the peasants in these hamlets such as free from encroachment and political and economic ravishment by the calm is yet to come on in the center of the country. We have today and I Corps just at case on 6000 Marines as you well know. We've been reading about them every day in the paper. We have roughly 20 to 40 thousand American troops in I Corps corps comes down to the south and it includes way wrong tree in a lot of places I mentioned this is an area perhaps the least population density in all of South Vietnam. And yet in this area today we have 6000 case other thousands tied down
in the ages and 20 to 40 thousand American troops in the entire area roaming around trying to find out where the other side is about to strike. And yet it is they who have us off balance even in I Corps not we who have them off balance. We read in the paper the General Westmoreland is convinced that the attack is going to come out OK son and then suddenly we read the General Westmoreland wonders whether the attack is not going to come that way. And I say this with no slight sense of disparaging General Westmoreland. I spent much time with the general and I respect him I said happy to point out that it is impossible to know under these situations where the enemy is going to strike and what force it is going to strike and how it is going to strike. But as a result of these protections it is excusable with the American people and the politicians and even President Johnson himself are somewhat suspect.
Military predictions out of Saigon. Because what is said to be happening so often turns out not to be happening. I think perhaps the most alarming of these predictions that go back three four years is the fact that the other side now seems to be proving that it can escalate almost on a parity with what we can do in the way of escalation from this country. There are now elements of nine divisions in South Vietnam. Most of them are up along the northern border and down along the ocean in the Cambodian border. The theory of guerrilla war is you know as well as I do the theory is that the counter guerrilla forces must have a margin of superiority roughly 10 to one over the attacking force. The offensive force six to one was the ratio that we decided would be enough in Vietnam. And yet today with an open border virtually open border because we've been unable to close it we find that the
ratio is only like six to one. And it progressively It is getting smaller as for every man we send in the way of reinforcements they send a man of their own from the north. And yet all this time up until the recent Tet Offensive the politicians in Washington starting with President Johnson and all his problems. Have constantly been seeing the light. At the end of the tunnel have continued to sound the bully should know that all will be well if only we hold firm that there is going to be a massive change in the situation as soon as we turn the next corner. I think that part of this is a result of the president not being deliberately hoodwinked but receiving news from his generals and his politicians and diplomats in Saigon that simply is not and has not been for the last five years. Accurate
and this is not an intentional deception. It is the perfectly normal. The attitude of a man in the field warning his commander in chief or his chief president to see the brightest side of the picture. I think it's been a terrible disservice to President Johnson and I think if he were not perhaps as as hard and difficult a man to get along with as he is we would have had perhaps a situation of the reporting situation would not have been quite so bad but I give you one one specific example. The night before I left my last trip over there in October 1967 a hamlet was overrun in Fujian Province which is up there in the what is called the two core areas along the coast of plain and virtually unpopulated region except for that little strip along the coast where there are lots of fishing villages and and right religious a company of yet calm step down of the mountains at midnight and added this Hamet with perhaps a thousand
people in it routed everybody out of their beds and ordered them all to walk at night immediately to the district capital which is some 20 25 miles away. All the four or five old men who were too old to walk got up and obediently left their hamlet and walked to the distant capital. Not a night was drawn not a gun was fired not a fist was flashed in anger. The alarm was passed to the Americans and this is an area of South Korea which is in which the Korean army is in charge the Koreans immediately sent out a force they decided not to attack this hamlet they wanted to keep it intact for the inhabitants to go back. They encircled it and they closed in on it. The idea was to capture this company and yet come out at 5 o'clock in the morning when they're ready to spring the trap the heavens opened up and the monsoon rains came and for two hours they couldn't move they couldn't see their end in front of their face. When they
finally got into the hamlet at daybreak every member of the VC company had disappeared and they had lost enough riot equivalent to about each member of the VC company carrying 60 pounds out of that hammock. That's why they had come down this is in October they were short of rice and they've gone out to get this rice now what is the point of the story. I was told a story by an American general. Then he said he was reporting to Washington that this was a story showing a very great show of strength and a sign of durability and of political sophistication by the South Vietnamese who live in that Hamlet why. Because he said they were willing to go back to their hamlet after the enemy left. And indeed they were they did go and they presumably they're still living in that Hammond. His point was that if they had really been frightened if the pacification program which was then in force and in effect in that part of the
province. If it had not worked these paths would have been too frightened to go back to their Hamad Well I thought to myself that if the situation had been reversed and this had been a damage control by Vietcong. And it had been attacked by a company of South Vietnamese soldiers at night which incidentally would probably never have happened. The South Vietnamese army never attacked by night but if it Han every last person living in that Hamlet would have been shot to death or they would have rounded the attackers. Now that is rather harsh comparison or contrast to make but I stand on it I think it's an accurate one. But in the actual case when the Vietcong company. Attacked the South Vietnamese Hamlet not a shot was fired in anger and I think that this kind of reporting. I happen to know that the general who told me about this in some in some glee and I don't say that in
some sense of rightness in that situation. That report went to the Pentagon. I went to the State Department. It probably found its way into the White House and President Johnson Powell read it. One evening in his night reading a thought to himself progress in Vietnam it is delusion self-delusion and it is a massive delusion. I think it really means that a harsh indictment is in order that none of us an eye exam to no one who has who has taken a real share in this operation. The political side of it in Washington or Saigon has quite had the guts ever to come directly to grips with how difficult the situation has been. Along with this has been the president's intonation to pop one peace mission after another in a kind of Texas hyperbole.
You know after the fall of the 65 66 Hubert Humphrey went around the world Arthur Goldberg went around the world Harriman went around the world Bundy to Canada and so forth a great deal of sound and fury designed to convince the American people to progress toward a diplomatic solution. Sound and Fury actually signifying nothing. And I think the rush trips that the president is taken out to the to the Far East. To. Manila to Cam Ranh Bay where he promised his boys is the soldiers that he was going to help him get the coon skin and they had it up on the wall. I think these things have hurt. I think they hurt the American people and their sense of how difficult this job was. And have constantly deeply she aided the real measure of the task that confronted him in Vietnam. I think also with the president's trip to Rome Italy how many of you now remember that and
yet it was a one or a two day flash in the newspapers he went to Rome for a story in Washington was it. I think this is just about business that he would get to Rome and suddenly the doors of the papal palace would open up and this giant sitting here would step out to the applause of the throng in St. Peter's Square need suddenly halt halfway to the gallery say Oh I brought a friend along for you to meet Pope. Come up with me won't you. And see the pope. The good folks of Rome. But the point is that this was a splurge. I think I think that it was a splurge a diplomatic splurge that did not have the slightest. Chance of any real success. So I suppose that that explains partly why we can perhaps agree with Art Buchwald who says that he likes the president very much. In fact he says he worships the
quicksand he walks on. But I would say as seriously that in my 20 24 24 years in Washington I have never felt so much put sand around and Mr. Novak's been to tell you a lot more about that the political situation that this is led to. But I think that. I think that the the saddest part of the whole story in Vietnam and the one inexcusable part of it is that we are not today quote Winning unquote the war. We are not particularly losing the war either. We have come to a point where I ask myself whether it is conceivable given the wisest use of all the military power. At our disposal. And we're the most powerful military nation in the world whether it is possible to reach through to the objectives that we set
for ourselves in 1954. This escalation has been long it's been very slow it's been by degrees it's been tedious it has never really been brought out into the open. President Kennedy Kennedy left and the American troop commitment from six hundred eighteen thousand in three years. He did that on the basis of President Eisenhower's commitment and pledged in the late 50s. From there Lyndon Johnson without ever really coming to the American people and saying this is where we may end. Has lifted that escalation from 18000 to close to 500 and 7000 that we have never had from the president a really war and guts speech we have never had a tax program. To me the requirements in Vietnam we have never had a really factual account of what we may get what we may have been getting into
- As we see it: Vietnam '68
- Rowland Evans/Robert Novak
- Producing Organization
- Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- For series info, see Item 3509. This prog.: Columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak
- War and Conflict
- Media type
Producing Organization: WMUB
Producing Organization: Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-28-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “As we see it: Vietnam '68; Rowland Evans/Robert Novak.” 1968-07-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 22, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-kw57jg0h>.
- APA: As we see it: Vietnam '68; Rowland Evans/Robert Novak. 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-kw57jg0h