South Vietnam fell to the Communist North in 1975, but the war is in the news again due to Mark Bowden’s book “Hue 1968” and the Ken Burns PBS TV series “The Vietnam War.”
Mr. Bowden’s book is an outstanding work of reportage and storytelling, untainted by his personal anti-war views, which he only discloses in the book’s epilogue.
Alas, not so the TV series. We see John Kerry beginning his political career by telling Congress Vietnam atrocity stories. Mr. Kerry’s tales were later discredited by others who were present, but this was not covered in the series. Also absent from the series were gung-ho Vietnam veterans like Oliver North and James Webb, a Marine Vietnam veteran and author of perhaps the best novel on the war, “Fields of Fire.”
The series offered the views of former North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers and both American anti-war protesters and Vietnam veterans. But one later discovers in the series that the Vietnam veterans most prominently featured all went on to became members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and anti-war protesters. As only a very small percentage of Vietnam veterans joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, this selected roster of talking heads appears to have been calculated to stack the deck in favor of the anti-war narrative.
If one is looking for another view of the Vietnam War, one should read Philip Jennings’ “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War.”
I spoke to Mr. Jennings, a Marine who flew helicopters in Vietnam, a while back.
Mr. Jennings explained that a number of American presidents saw the Communist world conducting an openly aggressive movement in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Malaya and the Philippines. And we chose to take a stand in South Vietnam.
“However misguided America’s leaders might have been in some of their political, strategic and tactical decisions, we still won the war,” Mr. Jennings writes. “We forced North Vietnam to submit to the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. Those accords ended the war and pledged the North Vietnamese to peaceful coexistence with the South.”
Mr. Jennings noted that America never lost a battle during the entire war.
“Were the South Vietnamese worth the effort we made to defend them? Of course they were. They were certainly no less worthy than the South Koreans we had defended — and defend to this day. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese young men fought in the war — and more than 200,000 South Vietnamese young men gave their lives defending the country. Millions of South Vietnamese families risked their lives and livelihoods by standing up against the terrorism of the Viet Cong,” Mr. Jennings writes. “The hundreds of thousands of ‘boat people’ fleeing the Communists after the fall of Saigon should be testimony enough to the willingness of the people of South Vietnam to bear hardship in order to secure their freedom; and the estimated one million South Vietnamese who were forced into reeducation programs (in which 150,000 died) should be reminder enough of what we were fighting to prevent.”
The Domino Theory, which was partly why we were in South Vietnam, is often discounted, but Mr. Jennings writes, “The left sneers that the Domino Theory was a fallacy and has been discredited. They should try telling that to the people of Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam, whose countries fell — like dominoes — after the U.S. departed the region.”
On Aug. 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment and Gerald Ford became the president. In October, the North Vietnamese Politburo met and decided to launch an invasion of the south.
“Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger testified that Congress was preventing the United States from fulfilling its promises to President Thieu of ‘severe retaliatory action’ if North Vietnam violated the Paris peace treaty,” Mr. Jennings writes. “The next week President Ford stated the obvious: The United States was unwilling to re-enter the Vietnam War.”
Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975.
Mr. Jennings notes that it was never the American goal to defeat the North Vietnamese, and this, he writes, “was perhaps our folly.” He explains that America fought a limited war with limited goals and when American troops withdrew in 1973, those goals were achieved — an independent South Vietnam and the containment of Communist aggression.
“Vietnam veterans are not given credit for basically winning the Cold War,” Mr. Jennings said to me. “I understand it was President Reagan, but if we had not held our own in Southeast Asia, I think it might have been a different situation with China and Russia. For 10 years Vietnam veterans beat the Communists and kept them in their holes, and the Soviets spent billions to support them.”
• Paul Davis, a Navy veteran who served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.