Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jean Sauvageot: Kiss Vietnam Goodbye

Jean A. Sauvageot.

Just on the eve of the signing of the Paris Agreement, I was the liaison coordination officer in the Vietnamese prime minister's office. And prior to the, just prior to actually initialing the Paris Agreement, I really didn't have a whole lot of time in the Prime Minister's office because I was put on a special task force comprised of Ellsworth Bunker, and deputy ambassador Charles Whitehouse, political counselor Josiah Bennett and myself as the fourth guy. The task force was to take these drafts of the Paris Agreement that were coming out of the Kissinger-Le Duc Tho dialogue, in its final hours, and to present these various drafts to President Thieu and to his nephew, Hoang Duc Nha. And also to present it to foreign minister Lam. And so now my function in this thing was to compare the Vietnamese and the English language versions of the text. It was my responsibility to tell Ambassador Bunker that in my opinion the texts were the same, or different, and if different, how different. And then Ambassador Bunker could decide, then based on my comparison of the Vietnamese and English language versions whether he wanted to send a cable back to Paris to Kissinger and raise this as an issue to be resolved, or whether to live with it, ignore it or whatever. One of the reasons this was important is that the Vietnamese on looking over the text of the Paris Agreement, often raised questions of differences in the text, because remember the Vietnamese we are talking about, President Thieu, himself, had a fair English language capability, Hoang Duc Nha had a very good English capability, so they were quite capable of comparing the texts for themselves. And they did. And because one of the provisions was that the Vietnamese and English language versions are equally binding. So the Vietnamese saw a certain differences in the text and would raise these as an issue to be resolved. I think it is worth bearing in mind that the South Vietnamese, our allies, the Republic of Vietnam, had a vested interest, a legitimate interest in pointing out any discrepancies in the text, with the view towards either slowing down the process, tightening it up, or whatever, because the basic context in which they were operating is in the context of an agreement they perceived correctly was stacked against them. It doesn't take a military strategist to see that when we agreed to sign an agreement that would leave North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, the so-called leopard spots, that quite obviously the agreement was stacked against our allies and in favor of the Hanoi regime. So, therefore, there was a very understandable propensity for them to point out all of these things.
I'll give you an example. This did not occur during one of the meetings that I attended, this was before Ambassador Bunker brought me into it. One of the Vietnamese, I don't know who, objected to the term that the Vietnamese text used for the United States. After all there is more than one Vietnamese word for the United States. I can think of three right off the top of my head. And they all mean the United States. And the South Vietnamese, told Ambassador Bunker who in turn relayed to Kissinger, that the term Hanoi was using in the Vietnamese text, was pejorative, that did not show the respect for the United States that would be connoted by the other term. And the term that the Hanoi government was using at that time was Nuoc My, that simply means country and My that is generically it means pretty or beautiful, but the two together are a fairly common Vietnamese word for the US. Now in more formal connotation for the US was in the word Hoa Ky. And that is also a common name for the US, but it is somewhat more formal in its connotation. And then there are other words. But anyway, again, they raised this question, sometimes in fact when I was at the meeting, and Ambassador Bunker did turn to me and ask me about it and I explained the differences to him, and we all went along with at least raising their objection in Paris. Kissinger did apparently take it up with Le Duc Tho because in any event the Vietnamese made the change in the Vietnamese text to Hoa Ky and they took out Nuoc My. I don't think the Vietnamese cared one way or another and frankly I can't tell you whether they meant it to be mildly pejorative or not. And I did point out to Ambassador Bunker, and I don't remember whether I did this privately or in front of the South Vietnamese, but that I had seen the term on some occasions, Nuoc My, in South Vietnamese official documents. So it was not in my mind, a big issue. But I point this out to show the sensitivity over these issues.
Now here is another example I discovered on my own, the Vietnamese never raised this. And I raised this issue with the ambassador, the ambassador did telegraph it to Kissinger and nothing was ever done about it and I don't know why, whether it was Kissinger thought it wasn't worth broaching or he did broach it and Hanoi wasn't responsive or they decided they could just live with it or what. But, the without referring to the document right in front of me I may not remember word for word, but the gist of it was this, in the English language version, the this part of the paris agreement stated that the US would not intervene in the internal affairs of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese language version connotation was that the US would not "continue" its intervention in South Vietnam. The difference being, as I told the ambassador, that in the Vietnamese language version we in effect confessed that we had been intervening in South Vietnam. In the English language version all that we were making was a pledge for the future. We would not intervene in the affairs of South Vietnam after signing the agreement. In the Vietnamese language version it meant that we would not continue our intervention, which meant a confession of a sort that we had been intervening. Now to my personal point of view, that was a more substantive issue than the term used for the US. Yet they changed the term in Paris, the Vietnamese made the change, but not about the continuing intervention.
And I don't know why. I was never disturbed by it. I didn't look at it as a big issue. But it was simply my duty to point these discrepancies out. It may very well have been a considered decision by Kissinger that this was a difference in nuance that we could well live with. If the Vietnamese found this satisfactory, and we found satisfactory, in English, it might just simply complicate the process of raising too many issues of this type, particularly when whichever way you read, it doesn't lead to any difference in what you actually do to implement the agreement. Nevertheless, in the Vietnamese language version there was that little nuance in that we confessed that we had been intervening in the internal affairs of South Vietnam.
anyway, that was what I was doing for the few days of transition between my assignment between liaison coordination officer at the prime ministers office, which was coming to an end with the Paris agreement, and my new assignment, that began on, as I recall, 28 January 1973, as the interpreter to the chief of the US delegation to the Four Party Joint Military Commission. The chief of the US delegation was Major General Woodward. Remember he had a background in negotiating with the Communists in that he had been involved in the negotiations with the North Koreans on the Pueblo. So I don't know if that had some bearing on his being picked for this or not. But he was picked for it. And, then, I was assigned, taken out of the prime ministers office, took off my civilian clothes, went back into an army uniform, after all I was on the four party joint military commission, and served as General Woodward's interpreter throughout the sixty days of meetings of 28 January 1973 until 28 March 1973. And of course the four parties to the Four Party Joint Military Commission were the US delegation, our allies, the Republic of Vietnam, the DRV, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam or the North Vietnamese, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam, which were the southern communists, and the PRG had specifically been created by Hanoi to serve their interests in the Paris Agreement. And the interpreting arrangements were that each delegation chief, the chiefs of each of these four delegations, had his own interpreter, and each interpreter was to listen to his chief speak in his language, and then interpret into the other language. So it was my job to listen to General Woodward speak in English and then restate what he had said in Vietnamese. The other interpreters listened to Vietnamese and interpreted it into English. The thing of it is that some of their interpreters were not really up to speed, particularly at the beginning, and so I would have to help them, even from Vietnamese to English. And of course I was glad to do that. And then they, it was very strange, the South Vietnamese had the capability to have the best interpreter in the room, but they chose not to have. They had no dearth of people who could graduated from American Universities and everything, but they didn't use anybody like that. The Hanoi delegation started with a very weak interpreter. He tried very hard and I tried to help him, but they removed their competent one first and replace him with a major who was quite competent, and the PRG used a number of interpreters and most of them were competent. That was just some of what I was doing.
On March 31, my wife, my daughter and I all got on a plane and returned to the US. And after that I had only returned to Vietnam only occasionally for various kinds of temporary duty.
I think it's been well established, in literature, that the South was dragged into the agreement, pressured into it. I had a lost of close Vietnamese friends. They were trying to put the best face on it, but they certainly knew that this agreement did not favor them.
There was one thing that this agreement, that some of them had some confidence in. And that is the secret pledge given to them that should the North Vietnamese violate the treaty with large scale military operations, that we would retaliate, militarily, and that our response would be effective and we would do what it took militarily to preclude a North Vietnamese military success in the case of an invasion. And I can only conjecture that the pledge was given in good faith. But anyway, it wasn't realistic, because as anybody might be able to surmise, in a political democracy like the US, the government cannot get out too much in front of Congress and the popular feeling, and once we got out of Vietnam, there was no support for getting reinvolved. And then of course at that time nobody could foresee the weakening of the presidency through Watergate.
The Vietnamese with whom we were working during the negotiation were quite insistent that they have access to the English as well as the Vietnamese form of the treaty. So I would discount Nha's complaint that the treaty was presented to them only in English. They had an English language capability and they would have been absolutely paranoid and rightly so if we had tried to restrict their access to the English language only. They had access to both and they reviewed both in lock step with us, and the story that they got the treaty in English just doesn't ring true based upon my own personal involvement.
We were, of course, the agreement was that the North Vietnamese could stay in the South but there were supposed to be all kinds of stipulations as to how they could be resupplied, through what ports of entry and all of that.
The Four part military commission. Generically what it was supposed to do was to meet for 60 days in Saigon, after the Paris Agreement was signed and work out the implementation of the Paris Agreement in its specific aspects. One of the major ones being the monitoring of the prisoner exchange and implementing the prisoner exchange and another big one was the withdrawal of the US troops.
Now what one of the principles of implementing anything in the four party joint military commission was that everything had to be on the principle of unanimous agreement. If any part objected to anything it didn't happen. There was no feasible way for any party to object to the major elements of the Paris Agreement which had already been negotiated and agreed to, most notably the withdrawal of the US troops and the prisoner exchange. Those things had to go forward or there would have been a breakdown of the Paris Agreement right from the very beginning. We didn't want that and Hanoi didn't want it -- a breakdown. So it would be reasonable not to expect a breakdown of that type.
However, the Four Party Commission was also supposed to try to implement a whole lot of other provisions. For example, it was supposed to monitor the early days of the ceasefire before getting the Intl Commission of Control and Supervision set up. And that meant that a lot of administrative things had to be decided in the very first meetings in the early meetings. Such as what kind of ID cards would the members of the commission have so that they could have access to the various areas under the military control of either the South Vietnamese or the Communists, what kinds of colors would the helicopters be painted if, and what would be the procedures for investigating allegations of violations of the ceasefire. Now these provisions never worked out too well. Another specific one was that we were supposed to try to set up meetings between battlefield commanders to work out the details of the ceasefire in their respective areas. This was never implemented, at least down below the corps level. The idea was to go down to the regimental, battalion and even company level, down to the lower level troop units. That never could be done because one of the four parties objected consistently to it. And therefore it could never be done. Because they felt that they weren't ready to engage in that kind of confrontation with the Communists who were trained, or who they felt were trained to do political proselytizing or whatever kinds of activities you would expect Communist troops under trained communist political cadre to engage in, for which the South Vietnamese would not be prepared.
My feeling when I finally saw the treaty in its final form was sort of "kiss Vietnam goodbye." That was my feeling, exactly. In fact, I was pessimistic even before the treaty was signed, but after the Paris Agreement was signed, I figured that Hanoi felt that, and probably rightly so, that it was only a matter of time until they could take over the South. I don't think they themselves knew by which route they would take over the South. I think they felt that at some point they could perhaps take the South over by predominantly military means or perhaps, depending how things evolved, there would be more emphasis on the political struggle, supported by, of course, military pressure and proselytizing and terrorist activities and the whole spectrum of weapons in the communist arsenal. And I don't think that in 1973 the Hanoi government itself knew by exactly which of those routes they would take over. But by one of the two, they would take over. When South Vietnam was forced to fight the poor man's war due to the reduction of logistical support and everything, why the future was fairly easy to see. I remember one time a just on the eve of the signing of the Paris Agreement, right at that time, early 1973, some of us, some of the old Vietnam hands had supper with deputy Ambassador Whitehouse, and during that supper we discussed a number of agenda items of business, such as the efficacy or lack there of of certain South Vietnamese military units, observations about the government and so on. After the dinner he asked the $64 question, of every participant to the discussion, which was, "What is the future of South Vietnam?" He was very shocked, he said he was shocked by what he heard, because among the participants, only one believed that a noncommunist South Vietnam would survive. All of the others, as he observed, all of the others of us, were only arguing among ourselves about how long it would take to unravel. I was the only one that erred on the side of pessimism, giving it about one year. Another person who was very close to me hit it right about on the mark with an estimate of about two years. And then others were giving it three, four or five years, but what was shocking to ambassador Whitehouse was that only one of this group of people with long experience in country, and for whom he had a high regard felt that it would last.
Not before I saw the final form of the agreement did I give it one year. Although I was overall pessimistic. I used to tell my South Vietnamese friends, the ones that I was very close to, that sometime the US was going to leave South Vietnam, really would be leaving. And that when this process of Vietnamization started, my personal emphasis to my best South Vietnamese friends was that they really had to make Vietnamization work. That no one should delude himself that the US could stay in Vietnam indefinitely. Or, having left that it could feasibly return, given domestic politics. And I used to tell my friends that first of all one could not fully understand how the US got involved in Vietnam in the first place without a good understanding of domestic politics in America. If you relied only on geopolitics, the explanation would be insufficient. You have got to get into domestic politics, the relations and the competition between the Republican and Democratic parties and all this kind of thing to understand it, and by the same token one would want to make a prognosis about the period of Vietnam in the post American involvement, then one also would have to understand the domestic American politics by which the US would some day leave, and what the likely politics would be after it did leave. Failing to take those factors into account was very dangerous.
I'll give you another illustration of this coming at it from a very different way. One of my temporary duty assignments, post war, was from Christmas of 1974, as I recall I got into the country the day after Christmas on 26 December, and stayed there until about 17 January 1975. Now at that time I was my permanent assignment was a the US Army's command and general staff college at Leavenworth, Kansas. But I left Leavenworth to team up with an officer from the DIA to make an assessment of the situation, and the reason for this was that many people in Washington were getting increasingly skeptical of Ambassador Martin's reporting from Saigon, as to whether it was really realistic or not. And so it was decided to send a couple of people to take look. Now, during this period of TDY, we went all over the country and talked to people from Vietnamese generals down through the field grades to sometimes enlisted men in the military, village chiefs, hamlet chiefs, very wide cross section of Vietnamese society, and a number of Americans. During this period I had occasion to meet with an old friend of mine, General Hai, who was the at that time the division commander of the 7th division in Me Tho, and I had a long supper with general Hai. We had a long conversation about many things, very private. And he told me about an experience of his when he was the director of national police, as a Col. and I remembered him from that time, to, when he had been assigned as the director of national police. As a colonel. And he told me about his interviews he had conducted of Vietnamese communist cadre who the national police captured and how he interviewed them over a period of time, a number of them. And he used to ask them who they honestly believed could win the war. And most of the Hanoi cadre men forthrightly stated that their side would win, not the South Vietnamese. And so he always asked them why. Over a period of time he built a little matrix of their prototypical answers, the answers that he most frequently got. And the reasons that they gave were this, these three: First, they said that Hanoi would win because the North had political unity and the South was factionalized; the second reason that they gave was that the South suffered from endemic corruption and that the North did not tolerate corruption, at least of any magnitude. And third, they said was the difference in the nature of foreign support that the North received and that the South received. They said that the American support might be more effective than the Chinese and the Soviet support for the North on a temporary basis in that the Americans provided very modern weapons and very modern fire power and sent a half a million of their own troops to do a lot of the fighting and that was a help to South Vietnam in the short run. But these cadres said that the thing that they understood was that the Americans could not stay forever, some day they would leave. The South Vietnamese being used to fighting the war with half a million troops in country and with all the support mechanisms, the air and everything, would suffer "lethal withdrawal symptoms," when they were withdrawn, and that would create the opportunity by which the North would be able to seize South Vietnam. And I would say that was a very prophetic analysis.
Now they did do well in 1973, militarily. But I think part of the prophecy was that the high levels of logistical support would not remain.
The war in South Vietnam was infinitely more complex than the war in Korea. In Korea you really had a situation where a communist North was pitted against a non Communist South. And to that extent there were political front lines. After all, some of Ho Chi Minh's most effective allies were communist cadres in the South, and there was a strong communist organization in South Vietnam throughout the war. But by no means defunct after 1968, although some people led themselves to believe that.
When I got into South Vietnam in late December in 1974, I had a very early audience with Ambassador Martin, and Ambassador Martin, he told me that there was no more effective Southern Communists in the Delta, that it was just North Vietnamese Army units controlling the action. But frankly that was not what I saw when I went down there. And in fact General Hai told me specifically that the that there were still local cadre that were committing acts of sabotage against his installations. Those, he said were not NVA, they were locals with legitimate South Vietnamese identification cards. In the end if things are going badly in a war situation it is hard to see how a protracted cover up of the truth can serve our interests. But at least covering it up among those who are responsible for public policy, for the implementation of the war effort, that kind of cover up could never be justified and could never be effective.
We had no press censorship as we did in WWII as we did when we were involved in a struggle for our own survival, we really do play into the hands of a totalitarian adversary, such as Hanoi and its supporters like the Soviet Union and China, which in their own countries totally control the press, which learned the art of playing to the foreign press, they learned the art of disinformation as it applied to the Vietnam situation, so that many prestigious publications in the west were carrying basically the Hanoi line.
I was not inured to the press in Vietnam. But I may have a broader perspective than some of the people who are very bitter in their denunciations of the press, some of it richly deserved. But I think it is very simplistic to say that the press did us in in Vietnam, because to say that almost asks more questions than it answers. In the first place it makes the generic mistake of attributing the loss of Vietnam to a single agency or a single causitive factor, which is itself ridiculous because in fact there were many factors at play. It is even difficult to assess which of the several independent variables that account for the collapse of Vietnam, its difficult to weight any one of them because any number of them played a factor. Some of these were interrelated factors themselves. You get into methodological problems of assessing multicolinearity, the interrelationship among independent variables, and if people don't think in those methodological terms, it is difficult to bring a rigorous analysis to a phenomenon as complex as the fall of South Vietnam. However, having said that, the press really was culpable, in my view, towards the end of the war. But people who do nothing but dump on the role of the press in Vietnam display a very short memory because as a matter of fact, I believe if you look back at a number of American publication in the early days of Vietnam involvement, you would find the press almost uniformly supportive of our effort. So they did not start out negatively. They became negative later. And I remember now reading in various magazines, Life, Time, Newsweek, a number of articles that were quite laudatory of our efforts in Vietnam. And it would be not at all unusual for editors of a magazine to send a reporter out or a reporter and a photographer out to follow some American adviser around and do a really nice write up for the hometown paper, whatever. Here's Captain So and So of the Special forces or somebody advising a Vietnamese battalion and they would say very nice things about what we were trying to do in Vietnam and it was very positive and very upbeat.
And people forget that, some of them because they were probably very young at that time. They turned against the war later. And frankly, some of their later opposition was as unexamined and as superficial as perhaps their early support was also superficial. At least patriotic in its basic sense, but one could hardly say that it was rigorously analytical in all the dynamics involved. You don't want to tar everybody with the same brush, of course. There were, I had good contacts with some very fine journalists throughout the war. People I had very much respect for. But having said that, they certainly did our effort a tremendous amount of damage, once they turned against the war. But to put it in perspective, you have to realize that much of the rhetoric that responsible officials in Washington and Saigon put out about the war was incredible, insulting to the intelligence, many of the things that were happening on the ground didn't compute, that is they didn't correlate to what journalists could see on the ground. So the relationship became more and more adversarial. So none of this, I remember one example, where a briefer at MACV gave a precise body count in a briefing that resulted from an air strike, and somebody asked the airspeed and altitude of the jet fighters delivering the airstrike over a jungle canopy. It was so many hundreds of knots and a thousand or more feet up in the air, and of course the next question was obviously, then how did the pilot render this count through the jungle at this speed and this altitude and speed. And people get their backs up on things of that sort. And people get angry, they know they're being given a line, and they start looking for dirt, and all that sort of thing. But again this calls into question a lot of other things that bear on this, if we're the generic one is, we should not get involved in a serious effort to guarantee, to aid and abet, the national survival of another country unless we do it to win. And if the decision is made that it is important enough to US interests to keep Nicaragua, for example, from going communist, or from being a country dominated by Cuban or Soviet interests, or if the decision is made to keep South Vietnam or South Korea out of the hands of the communists, then the whole range of measures necessary to insure success need to be taken or you don't do it. And it seems that unless you put the economy in the case of South Vietnam, on more of a war time footing, LBJ thought we could have guns and butter, at the same time, unless you're willing to control access by the press, censorship if you will, for that war zone, I'm sure there would be a big hue and cry about it, just as it was in Grenada where they couldn't hit the beach right away. But Grenada was a big success. It was a liberation, the communists were denied access to that area, but anyway we didn't have pictures coming out of Grenada immediately, showing whatever the worst side of the initial conflict might be.
So the message is that we gotta go in with a war-winning strategy when we go into these places and be very circumspect about where you go in.
When I came back in 1975, the report was written by an officer from the DIA. I only contributed trip reports to him, so that I could go right back to Leavenworth and keep teaching my classes. And I gave him a really in effect the results of interviews that I had independently that I had with a number of Vietnamese.
My personal conclusion was more pessimistic than the report that came out, although the report itself was disturbing enough. And it made a big correction for Martin's reporting. But my personal conclusion was that things were going to fall apart very fast. While I was there they took the province capital of Phuoc Long. The South Vietnamese, I'll tell you some of the things I based my impression on. One thing is, the South Vietnamese were already fighting the poor man's war. Denied adequate logistical support they had to ration ammunition in a way that they never had before. The withdrawal effects of the diminution of American logistical support and the withdrawal of American troops would be lethal. And it wasn't just the Vietnamese communist cadre that were telling this to General Hai during these interviews, but there was a very prominent South Vietnamese Colonel, who was saying that over and over again years before this happened. And his name was Col. Nguyen Be, and Col. Be was the commandant of the National Training Center for Rural Development Cadre, or Revolutionary Development Cadre, as the Americans chose to call it in English. But Be was trying to train these cadre that came through the school to operate in a more independent manner in the hamlets and villages from which they came. Going back they were supposed to work with the people back there to build what they called the people's self defense forces, using all kinds of methods to safeguard themselves from communist penetration and communist infiltration. And they were , part of the thrust of Be's thinking and training and theory stated often publicly in speeches and in his writing, which he made available for his own chain of command was that the Americans would go home some day and that they ought to be ready for that day and that they would have to begin sooner rather than later to cut the apron strings and to be able to do more on their own. And that it is to the credit of the South Vietnamese government that they gave him the support that they did by having him in that training center. But it was not something that was institutionalized throughout the country as he would like to have had it be.
So, they were fighting the poor man's war, the North was increasingly strong and rich in its fire power. Logistics. The Defense Attache, at his end of the tour report, predicted in the summer of 1974 that there would be a virtually irresistible violent large scale North Vietnamese invasion and he was looking at it from the standpoint of what he could see. The North Vietnamese were training to do this. In their improvements and in their logistical posture, in their pipelines of petroleum going into the South, with their logistical network, and he could see the improvements through his intelligence gathering. He could see the improvements in their conduct of fire and maneuver, the coordination among infantry and artillery and armor branches, which they were sorely lacking in 1972 when they failed in their effort to take over the South. But he could see all these things and put them together, being a man of eminently sound mind and all, he was one of those guys who believed that if it looks like an elephant and it talks like an elephant then you're probably looking at an elephant. And he said they were coming and that they were going to strike with violent power. He knew this, Murray knew this, and he was very pessimistic and very sad as he left in the summer of 1974. And when I got there the situation was further exacerbated, it had further deteriorated. And in this same context, Congress was denying even a $300 million supplement. And that had another bad impact on the morale of the South Vietnamese. Which is not to say that I believe that the $300 million supplement would have rescued them. But not having it was still another kick in the teeth. And then another thing, in my direct interviews I saw such a pattern of dysfunctional behavior, it reminds you about the old saw of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, they were on a downward spiral, they didn't have enough, yet they were making very poor use of what they had.
I'll give you a little story of the hand grenades. My, my. It's a little story but it tells you a lot. I had heard that there was a village down in Cho Gao district down in Binh Duong province in the Delta. That the village chief was described as a very heroic figure who had been marshaling his paramilitary forces, the popular forces, to stand up to the night raids of the Vietnamese communists, but that he was fighting a losing battle and that he had suffered from many desertions in the ranks of the popular forces. I don't remember now but it must have been that 2/3s of them deserted or something like that. Now a Vietnamese friend of mine that used to work with me when I was in Vietnam persuaded me to drive out there to take a look. And meet this guy. I was frankly worried about doing it. Simply because having relocated my family in Kansas I didn't want to get knocked off at the end of the war or something, but he convinced me that I really wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't go out there. I loaded him up in an old civilian car, you couldn't go any more than about ten miles an hour, in little dirt road with big potholes and everything. We got out there and I met this village and talked to him and he was really a tremendous person, and he was resigned to dying in that village, resisting the communists. But he explained that one of the reasons that people were deserting was that he could not give them adequate supplies of ammunition. And a case in point was hand grenades. That the district would not issue him enough hand grenades. He could not provide more than one or two grenades, per popular force soldiers going on night patrols, which resulted in people not wanting to go night patrols. Which resulted in people not wanting to go on night patrols. He felt that the district had sufficient stocks but they were reluctant to hand them out to the district and hamlet level. The story is worth telling in that I found this pattern many many places. I found district chiefs with mortars who wouldn't let their mortars out to villages to use. They felt they had to keep the mortars up in the district compound to protect the district. So if you don't let your front line troops have the equipment because you feel it's too scarce and you want to hoard it for yourself, you simply exacerbate the process of erosion by which the communists quickly arrive at your doorstep. Now, I went up to Saigon several times, and one of my stops in the defense attach office, to meet with major general smith led me to tell him the story that I just told you, about this village chief and the hand grenades. And that led him to introduce me to another major general who had just come in from Bangkok. He had a lot of computer printouts that showed stockage levels. And he what he really told me in effect was that the story that I was telling him couldn't be relevant to anything in the war because he had his computer printouts that showed that the stockage levels of hand grenades in South Vietnam exceeded the highest levels ever, and they had plenty of them. And of course my response was that I knew nothing about the computer print out and second I would not deny the figures that he had in them, but that was what was irrelevant. What was relevant was not how many grenades existed in South Vietnam. What was relevant was that they were not being passed out to the troops. And the political and psychological implications of that. I could envision communist North Vietnamese taking over South Vietnam with high stockages of a whole lot of things in South Vietnam, which they did. But this was the kind of surrealism that confronted me on a number of occasions.
The other thing was that I saw, a lot of Vietnamese told me stories that a lot of them didn't feel that there was any use in continuing the struggle any more against the North. I had a full Colonel tell me that his troops were not going to fight if the North Vietnamese came in force, because the perception was that they would die uselessly. There was no more effective American support, they had been abandoned and the North was getting stronger and stronger. I had stories of parents telling their young sons, if the North Vietnamese come in force, take off your uniform and come home, because it's not worth it. Now that was a departure from the past. They did not use to tell their sons that. Some may have, but never on that scale. But thee was more and more of that. And when you see this and hear this over and over during a two week tdy, you know something is amiss.
It would be very hard for any South Vietnamese person to convey that kind of information to a Vietnamese official and keep his job. I was a nonthreatening figure and a trusted person, somebody who could be trusted to keep secrets, and there was just this terrible deterioration of morale.
I'll tell you a little bitter irony associated with this tdy. And that is, a number of South Vietnamese that I talked to in the Delta, in Long An province specifically, rice farmers and people at that level. I saw evidence and heard evidence from their conversations with me that thee had been a shift in attitudes away from the Communists, away from supporting the communists, toward supporting and in favor of the Saigon government, since 1970, when I did intensive interviews in Long An province and found widespread support for the communists and the national liberation front. What I found was that in 1975, when I went through some of the same areas, I found a decided shift, a sentiment away from the communists, toward support for the Saigon government. Now the bitter irony is, that this shift could not be and was not translated into actual physical support for the Saigon government, because the change in sentiment was accompanied by a perception that, like it or not, the communists were going to win, and therefore, it would be dangerous to stick one's neck out for a losing cause, and few people cared to go on kamikaze missions for causes, no matter how noble.
When Saigon fell I was in Guam to help with the incoming refugees. It was a feeling of great tragedy and in my case, at least, expected tragedy. But, you have to remember there were a lot of people who had been in Vietnam many years, even more than a decade, who knew the Vietnamese well in some ways, and yet remained optimistic almost right up to the end. Personal optimists, in other words, they weren't deceiving other people, they were deceiving themselves. Because I had close friends who told me that they thought I was too pessimistic, and of course my feeling always was that I hoped they were right and I was wrong. But unfortunately that wasn't the case. And I find the loss of South Vietnam for me personally, to be something that bothers me more and more as time passes,rather than less and less. Time is supposed to heal, but for me it doesn't. Because I guess since I expected it to be taken over long before it was taken over, so the fact that they took it over was not a surprise. So I was able to deal with it in the short term. Then, too, in the sense of psychological sense of a death in the family. People go through a sort of subliminal denial process for awhile. But after a while you can't do that anymore. The reality sets in. This is permanent. It's not going to go away.
And the continuation of so much suffering in Vietnam and in Indochina, in Cambodia, the whole protraction of military struggle and everything is depressing, the fact that you have these resourceful industrious people of Vietnam confined and constrained within a communist system, not only a communist system but a system that is even more austere and more harsh by dint of itself being involved in a struggle with China and Cambodia, and that this just spreads the misery. That is part of it. Another reason for me is that at least I am more and more, as time goes on, aware of the tremendous number of opportunities, both personal, in terms of the things that my wife and I could do with her family if there was still a free Vietnam where one could go back and forth, personal opportunities to the geopolitical benefits that would accrue to the US if we were still allied to South Vietnam....

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