Asia Society presents; 62
The Asia Society presides. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. Although our government is officially phasing out of the war in Vietnam many of us still don't know what the war was about exactly what part of it was shall we say accurate. What part of it has been distorted. In other words we wonder how do the various news media report the war. Did they do it properly. Should they be criticized. We don't know. I suppose they would know better than we would and yet our government has often criticized them for the way they've handled events that is a reporting of events. This is a subject which I think is most pertinent even though we may be leaving that area one of these days. And so our guest on this program is a man who is well versed in the events of that time and of that area
because he is Everett Martin who is an important member of Newsweek magazine. He's a highly regarded journalist. He served in the Hong Kong Bureau of Newsweek from 1968 to the middle of 1970. He served in the Vietnam bureau from 66 to 68. He was asked by the government of South Vietnam to leave in January sixty eight. We will find out exactly why. He has been in Asia since August 1965 more or less on and off so you can see that having been there five since he was there five or six years. He would have something of value to tell us. At the present time I'd like to add he is a journalist in residence at the like just School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Mr. MARTIN Could we just begin with that what is that school's purpose. Well such a School of Law and Diplomacy is affiliated with toughs and Harvard and it's a diploma it's a graduate school training people who want to go
into diplomacy. People from all over the world come and it's a small school about 200 and get degrees in international law and diplomacy. What would you be doing there as a newspaperman. Well they have a department which deals with what they call public diplomacy which is really propaganda efforts of governments to sell their story abroad. And they have a journalist there to teach. Course in information gathering abroad and reporting back. From the standpoint of a journalist and diplomats and so forth. Well one of the complaints of our government towards the press has been as you are well aware that negative stories were given because they are more dramatic and make front page headlines and therefore they attract people's interest whereas the positive side of the story might be dull and never was promoted properly. Well I disagree with that. This is there's this is a very first of
all I'd like to say was probably the hardest story in the history of journalism to cover. And in our old ideas the positive story the person doing the good work and all that sort of thing. Is one of the ways you approach any situation but in Vietnam we did do the positive story I personally did many of them and I know that most of my colleagues did a great number of them somebody working with our family just good person out in a pacification effort not sort of thing. But I I really regret the ones I did because the impression we gave the public from all these stories were that all of these little positives and add up to one great large positive. Well in actual fact you could see that it was adding up to a negative and the story really was Why are all these positives adding up to a negative. And I started going back to the scene of the story I had done which was a positive story. And I found in every case that in
within two or three months after I had finished the story it was in the magazine that this program had stopped a man had been transferred. Something had come about so that this was no longer going on. And this is one of the keys to why we had trouble in Vietnam because there was never any execution of a single program. And so by doing a positive story and then forgetting about it the public is led to believe that this is continuing with actual fact. I think the number one unit has become very expert in fighting a girl in the delta. I went out followed them for three months every week I went out and I found a story I want to wait for two weeks out of the country came back again immediately went out there and that two week period they had been transferred the entire program had been changed and I found this unit had learned to fight a guerrilla so well up in the hobo Woods guarding bulldozers who were knocking down trees that were not no trees and this was a course a
tragic misuse of some people who had really learned their business. I recently interviewed someone and I wonder whether you met him why you were there Giles Graceland Flug do you know him. No I know he's a journalist the author of a book called The Innocence. He spent a year not as a newspaper man although he is one by the way he's presently American pen. Sent to him and attached to a fighter unit to see exactly what was going on he said. And I'm quoting him pretty accurately that he agrees with the government that the news was not reported in a positive manner ever and therefore if it was let's say it was done in in in in significant way so that the public did not get a true picture of the war he said there was much more good that was never mentioned. Since he is one of your fraternity I yam what I know of course we disagreed among ourselves but I would disagree wholly and totally with him and the fact that he was attached to one unit doesn't impress and he was minded to a number of units as well.
But i doesn't impress me in the slightest because you have these units in there and they're maybe going to stay three months or even longer the average stay of a district advisor in Vietnam the Korean ambassador part was about three months. He didn't even get to know us yet and his counterpart in that time. But if you go in and and you go in and talk with him you'll get the most tremendously positive picture in the world about how as little tigers are fighting and it takes a great deal more digging and in-depth knowing of the situation and circulating around the country to find out the people who do it in order to get a true picture and so people have gone through their entire service in Vietnam thinking with absolutely. Got the war in the bag when Quite obviously we don't. And so I anybody who says that it was a lot of good going on. It's almost a so-what question because obviously the overall thing is lousy and rotten.
His theory was not so much that there was a lot of good going on but there was a lot that was not reported and he seemed to feel that many of the men were unhappy. Not so much because they were there although Lord knows that's no place to be. You can avoid it but that they were not given the go ahead they needed to do a better job. Was that your impression. No restraint practiced. I don't know of any cases who are giving them more leeway would have done a better job. There was always the army argument. Certain army men would argue and of course this is going to be argued for decades after this that had we the army was or had one arm tied behind its back but I thought think this was true at all because all through the Westmoreland era he was fighting with the wrong strategy and so had we let him. Had he not been hampered as much as he was the strategy would have been even worse than it was. Subsequently they have not changed the strategy
and which is something some of us are advocating as a result of talking to military men. Come to realize this and the situation is much better. Pacification certainly has advanced late but it was not the kind of past its not the kind of pacification that we were dealing with when you were there in the war and what we were criticizing. What would you say is the basic change in strategy between the Mid West Moreland period and now. Well Westmoreland strategy was search and destroy as they call it. And basically if you talk to General Westmoreland as I did over two year period he gave the same assessment of the history of what the enemy was up to and he said the key to Vietnam is holding the Highlands and then the enemy wants to hold the Highlands cut the country in half and advance down the. River valley is towards the cities. Well this is talking conventional war
terms it's talking about the plane of Europe. He would see the in the population. After you get out of the Delta runs along the coast all the way north to the DMZ. We would time and again have a operation for clearing the girlies out in the coastal areas and then the North Vietnamese would show up in regimental or division strength on the Cambodian or Laos and Border way up in the highlands the mountains where there is no population and because we had helicopters which was a mixed blessing we could jump in them in within two days have the entire Air Cav or something fighting in the Highlands. And Westmoreland said he was hoping to break the enemy's back this way. Well what happened then on the coast was that the guerrillas moved back into the area we just vacated reestablish their infrastructure and the peasants had once more gone through another flip flop. And if you put yourself in the place of a Vietnamese
person who is going to see the Americans or the Vietnamese army there for say a month and then the next month is going to be the Viet Cong again and maybe to be a big fight for a month and the Americans come back when they leave and the girls come back. We had areas in Queen Anne province in the Bronx and claim we took three or four times and each time we suffered severe casualties. Going back to the same area we just cleared. So this seesawing. Give the peasants no security and of course they couldn't afford to cast their lot on one side or another. So now the change in strategy is. Quite simple we just simply focus on the populated areas and try to keep the gorillas off the back of the people. Now you and you go into the high lands with your B-52 and small patrols operating under a fan of artillery so they locate a concentration of enemy they can call artillery on it but we don't risk and tie up our.
Large units fighting in these unpopulated mountains and we get fewer. Well we haven't really had one of these spectacular Hill taking since Hamburger Hill but we witnessed a number of the more we charged up a little hill lost a half a battalion of Americans going against what may have been a squad platoon are even a company of enemy who could hold this narrow ridge. And then we took it and we came back down the next day with no no apparent reason to take it except as a nervous reaction of a weather soldier who's trained in conventional warfare. Now mind me welly the idea now of pacification is to give security of it to the Vietnamese peasant However the best things have been done in guerrilla war. Based on lessons in Vietnam by military man so that you also have to move good government into the area you have secured and this of course is what we cannot because we don't have good government
and that is what any American are trying to follow Vietnam should keep his eyes on. You say good government you mean government from the central government in Saigon. Exactly as you have to come in there with a good governmental system functioning government and one that does things for the people in this. This can't be done. And the land reform that we talked about I was when I was back just most recently in Vietnam. There are many many claims again of thousands of deeds being handed out and so forth but these have the typical smell of. Of too many deeds going out obviously it's not being done well and people who have looked into it find the plots are too small for anyone to subsist on are in fact they are given out at all. Would you say that the efforts that land reform us in CA. If not it very efficiently carried out. No I don't think there is in Syria. You did it by the Vietnamese go it's not a sincere government.
Well you take the example that you know it's people who live in the mountains who are forget how many hectares they were to be given. But a friend of mine who's the leading expert on mutton yards is minute Vietnam since 56 and is the only one who speaks most of their languages. An anthropologist could finally talk the government into paying some attention among yards and setting up a program to give them land. I then saw him recently and he said Well they've changed their program they're only going to give them administrative control of the land which means they can take it away whenever they want to and he said he in his opinion from long knowledge of yet. Is that the generals and their wives right up to the top have decided that they're going to take areas of the highway and for coffee plantations when the war is over. And this is exactly the kind of thing we get all the good intentions poured out in their talks with us no agree with
anything but they know they don't have to do it. Is there not a possibility Mr. Martin that the government in Saigon. Good or bad. No way man he was going to evaluate it. That the government because of its insecurity until this thing is settled one way or the other cannot be that free in handing out land because it doesn't know what will happen to that land the land has to be in a more secure militaristic hands. We are giving them credit for things I wouldn't give them credit. I know not to belittle. These people have an investment in the war they don't want the war to end. What is their investment. Well they are making a lot of money out of the war. Any general controls division controls the resources that division covers. And one of the reasons I got thrown out of the country is because I was I suggested in print a system which would end their control of territory make them armies which went out to fight like the American Army did. And this
means you lose control of the resources and the resources how they make their money and these people provinces and so forth are actually corporations. People get together to buy their jobs for them and they expect a return on their investment. And in a corps commander particularly as a very big job he has to pay money a lot of money for and he gets a. Has to produce income for it from taxing things going into town and they collect ranch for the landlords even though supposedly the land lines have been out there for years to try to click back grants once. How did this information come to you. Well we get it through people in the US government who are dealing with it and are fed up. We don't dream this up when we criticize the military strategy this is coming from military men and it comes from good foreign service officers who know the situation. During the Johnson administration it was a blockage of a no man's land between the State Department and
Johnson where Johnson literally only got his information from Rostow who told me he underlined in yellow the things that Johnson was to read. So these this information was coming up in desperation when they couldn't get it through they would turn to us with it and. And so by our circulating around the country and hearing these people and knowing the good ones people who really invested time and effort in learning about Vietnam these people gave us the information which we use now we had for instance a devastating story on the vine which is I mean the Republic of Vietnam. About one case built they built the Raffles 33 Rangers built the brothels and the snack bar so-called. Or and be north of Saigon and we General Westmoreland
challenged us on this and sent a team of investigators out and reported the next day and a letter to Newsweek that this was simply not true. Well it was true because we got the information from a Marine advisor to the Vietnamese Waynes who walked up who saw them building these went up to them and said Who are you and this is where the thirty third Rangers and what are you doing were building brothels are our commanders orders doing these brothels were quite clearly there. And i still are. And the same thing happened in DR-DOS Highlands a Vietnamese army when we had a very serious fighting and Doctor built a red light district at this little town doctor and this came from the army information officer reporting US Army information but when you report a thing like that is that such a major event. I mean it is it is it your way should exist in every war it is if and this is the situation when we were reporting this we had a Manila conference of nine thousand nine hundred sixty six.
It was quite clear from the document that came out which we offered to clear out and six in six months if they lowered the level of fighting that Washington. People people in Washington are running a war. We're of the opinion the Vietnamese army was ready and willing to fight. We knew that the Vietnamese army which had been defeated in 1065 had not. Nothing had been done for that army. It had had the old weapons and not been retrained they had this ghastly desertion rate and so forth and so on and we never dreamed that anybody in Washington thought it was a good army. So we started then stories to straighten the record on this. So we went through the period of 67 studying the Vietnamese army looking at and and doing stories about what they really did instead of fighting because this was this was why American lives are being lost because they were not fighting. And men like General Creighton
Abrams who were was deputy commander would quietly tell you that you know these were truly stories we had and the and the all the statistics of the U.S. public was deluged with in the fall of 67 about how well the Vietnamese army was doing were made basically. Hoped up statistics they were if you took them at face value it looked like the thing was going great but somehow it wasn't because the Tet Offensive came along very shortly afterwards which was indicated that nothing that had been said before was really true. Ms money you take for granted that all of the past was more or less correct that the Vietnamese army did not fight well but it needed new weapons retraining perhaps building up their morale. Would you say that if we speak of today which is by the time this program is broadcast would be nine hundred seventy one. If we speak of now are there any major changes you spoke of a major change in strategy. Yes now since this since we did the stories
and we I think. Won that battle with the government because. Westmoreland put out orders that the image of the RMN was to be changed not the RMN and subsequently after the Tet Offensive. We the whole program in the US changed the one to which I agreed with us in that they gave the Vietnamese army modern weapons they were fighting automatic weapons with the Viet Cong had automatic weapons. The Vietnamese army had little M1 car beans. They couldn't stand up against and in many cases there's some of that. Well they know it wasn't a lot of was in there for but so we've improved their weaponry. Most important we have worked with the militia the popular force and regional force and have armed them better and we have and they have. I'm now defending their villages and so forth better. However there still is the extremely high desertion rate which indicates something is wrong
and so you would hesitate to say they are a good army. And the attack in Cambodia doesn't prove a thing on that score. So we but we have started we make it we're making the effort now which we should have made many many years ago. Would you say the main thrust of the effort is to improve in whatever way we can. The ability of the South Vietnamese army so that we can gradually withdraw is not totally right. To great extent yes I think that is progressing well it's progressing Yes I think we're going to see it's progressing faster than than it really is but we want to get out of there faster. So I would I would I don't object to this kind of talk. Since you were expelled in January nine hundred sixty eight which I suppose is an honor in a way. Well if you want to look it up that way long forgotten it let me back you as I do that why do they let you back. Well a new minister is very very busy in 19 new minister information came in. The old one went into oblivion though and threw me out and he was a friend of mine and he got me back
yeah. Would you say that the people of South Vietnam whether they're in the army or whether they're citizens whether they're in the hills or in the city are interested in pursuing this war. No no do they not feel any aversion to having a communist take over which is what would result if there was no resistance. No that wouldn't result. However it would not you know however well because there are too many groups in Vietnam who would resist on their own level the communists would have would not just plain walk in and you've got too many regional groupings too strong I don't think that the icon is strong enough to turn it over so we're not not not not clearly no. I think I think what you'll get in Vietnam is chaos. Will that withdrawal with the withdrawal you've gotten chaos with the US victory. You would have gotten chaos under any circumstance you would have gotten chaos five years ago you were gone. If we stay five more years you'll get chaos then the enemies have had 40 years of peace. You know
over a thousand years of history and they are they are in a struggle which are going to settle themselves. I don't like at all to leave a subject in the Middle East. But I think that's why I believe you have no answer for absolutely about the past present and future. Well you hope that some of the government officials are right and that you are wrong. However I appreciate your being here and I think you've given us a glimpse of all about all of this that we didn't have before. Our guest has been on this edition of the Asia Society presents Martin. Mr. Martin is now journalist in residence at the public at the center of the public display diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University is a valued member of Newsweek magazine. Thank you and good bye. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. This series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at
WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents. This is the national educational radio network.
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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