Could it be that we teach our Vietnam history wrong?
That’s a question I’ve been mulling over after a recent email conversation with a Vietnam vet, who went back for a second tour late in the war.
He wrote me a couple of months back, introducing himself and making a comment about a past article I wrote. He mentioned in the introduction of his email that he had served in Vietnam as a Marine and returned for a second tour from November 1970 to June 1971. It was just a side comment of a broader email, but I was really curious why someone would return so late in the war.
I asked him: “So tell me, in ’71 — as they teach history these days — it seemed clear that America was headed out of Vietnam and the public was completely against the war. Was it that clear back then when you returned for your second tour? Or has the 10,000 foot look back at history tinged how it really was and it wasn’t until more like ’72 that things were so clear (for the American public)?”
His reply blew me away and I begged him to let me share it on my site. He has authorized me to post it as long as I protect his identity. Here is his answer:
“As they say, the victors get to write the history. In this case, the ultimate victors were the tiny minority of leftist radicals in the media and in the Democratic party.
“We knew in ’71 that we were going to continue to draw down the numbers of Americans in country, but would continue to provide Naval Gunfire and aerial support. We would also keep advisors and special ops types of folks active.
“General Abrams had replaced General Westmoreland as MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) Commander and was making real improvements in overcoming the horrendous World War II tactics we had been forced to use. Abrams reinstituted the “CAC” (Combined Action Company) approach first advocated by General Lew Walt and we were seeing real results. My platoon had an RVN (Republic of Vietnam) platoon (Regular army, not militia) we buddied up with for patrols and operations. This was a great concept. Most of us spoke a few words of Vietnamese, but they always had several people who were fluent in English (and French). It helped both of us do a much better job.
“As far as the on-going lie that ”the majority’ of Americans were against the war — not true. Never was true. A clear example of telling a lie often enough that it becomes ‘fact.’ Keep in mind that in 1972, Nixon won re-election by taking 49 states, and he was the one in charge of the on-going war. Hell, McGovern couldn’t even win his own state (South Dakota), and only managed to grab the very liberal state of Massachusetts.
“The really big point about the ’72 election is that McGovern was the ‘Peace’ candidate — vowing to end the war in Vietnam even if he had to “crawl on his knees to Hanoi” to make it happen.
“Nixon was the ‘Peace with honor’ guy, vowing to end the war but keep our allies safe. The 49-1 thumping in the presidential election was an indisputable statement of how the people of American really felt about the war. It wasn’t “popular,” and neither has any other war been — but it did have the support of the vast majority of people.
“Every survey through about 1973/74 showed a clear majority of Americans supporting what we were doing in Vietnam. They were a ‘protected entity’ of SEATO and we were a member nation. The North (and CHICOMS and Russians and North Koreans) had clearly invaded the South and we were meeting our treaty obligation to help defend against the invasion. We — and about 12-15 other nations.
“The RVN government was pretty screwed up (by our standards), but quite good compared to most of the rest of the world. During WW II, the Japanese did a thorough job of slaughtering any emergent leaders and the French had been screwing things up for about a century. Even though they had been a nation for thousands (yes, thousands) of years, they were having a hard time of it trying to quit being a colony and start being a nation. Their politics (and politicians) were about as mucked up as Hogan’s Goat.
“The much maligned ‘Domino Theory’ was proven to be true after the downfall of Nixon and the subsequent cutting off of funds to the RVN’s by the ‘Watergate Congress’ (93rd or 94th). The NVA blitzkrieged over the RVN’s in their communist bloc armor, the South fell, and the only stabilizing influence in the region (that would be us) was gone. The subsequent massacre of millions throughout SE Asia by the NVA, Pol Pot over in Cambodia, and various warlords in the remote areas created a void that may never be filled.
“Lewis Sorley wrote about the best account of the latter years of the conflict in “A Better War’. He pulls no punches, but demonstrates clearly how close we were to finishing the job over there.”
So, having not lived in that time, I’d love to hear from some of you on how you perceive it. I really want to especially here from those who lived and experienced the war and its ending, not just those like me who are forced to look back on it through the way it’s taught in history.
Was there still pretty solid support (in your opinion) for the Vietnam War in 1971 and 1972?
Have the “victors” rewritten history and altered it for the younger generations such as myself who only know of it through books, movies, and historical accounts on TV?
Love to get some good feedback on this.
Stan R. Mitchell
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
P.S. If you enjoy fast-paced books, you just might like my works. “Sold Out” tracks the life of a legendary Marine Sniper after a CIA unit decides to kill him for reasons of national security. “Little Man, and the Dixon County War” tells the uphill fight a young deputy faces after surviving three years of war only to find himself in the sights of a mighty cattle baron. And “Soldier On,” a short novel, follows the lives of several German soldiers in a depleted infantry company trying to make it through the final, miserable months of World War II.