Washington, D. C.
Summer of 1986
ADMIRAL THOMAS MOORER
. . . When the Congress passed the Cooper-Church Amendment,[The Cooper–Church Amendment, Public Law 91-652, passed both houses of Congress on 22 December 1970, and was enacted on 5 January 1971, although this version had limited restrictions on air operations and was attached to the Supplementary Foreign Assistance Act of 1970. By that time, U.S. ground forces had already officially withdrawn from Cambodia, while U.S. bombing missions in Cambodia (Operation Freedom Deal) continued until 1973. The Nixon administration denounced all versions of the amendment, claiming that they harmed the military effort and weakened the American bargaining position at the Paris peace talks] I guess it was, forbade U.S. air action in Southeast Asia, I said at the time that I thought Saigon would fall as soon as we left or within a short time after we left. You got to go back to the Vietnamization program where the idea was that we let the South Vietnamese do the fighting and we would withdraw U.S. troops. And of course that came with what was previously our policy in a general sense from Nixon doctrine that the president announced when he visited with President Nguyen Van Thieu on Midway[June 8, 1969] – that we were going to provide air assistance and supplies but ground fighting would be done by local forces. To stop the Soviet penetration and so on. Consequently as a result of that we considered that additional air action, particularly offensive air action that would be required to keep the North Vietnamese at bay, so to speak, after the U.S. forces left and it would be cheaper to supply that by the United States because it takes so much training and so much, in the case of the South Vietnamese. You had to translate everything from English into Vietnamese. In other words they weren't prepared to operate sophisticated aircraft, and we weren't prepared to pay for what it took to qualify them to do that. Therefore the aid in the air department, so to speak, was more or less tailored on the assumption that we would augment the air capabilities against the North Vietnamese should they try to come down. Then the Congress cut that out entirely.
And that was the end.
After that there was no deterrent, no concern that we would repeat the 1972 Christmas bombing.
Q. Did President Ford in the crisis in the spring of 1975 have the option of going back to the Congress and asking them to repeal the Cooper-Church, or asking for permission to use fighter bombers?
Well, you always have that option.
Q. But he never chose to try to exercise it.
Never tried to exercise it.
Q. Was that because he thought it would be fruitless?
Yes. They'd just gone crazy, led by Senator Frank Church and his assault on everything, Gerald Ford just felt that it would be fruitless. But anybody who knew anything about the military system knew darn well that if you left the North Vietnamese under complete sanctuary in their own country and left them free to focus their entire effort on South Vietnam without any opposition from the United States or any sophisticated air opposition, it was just a matter of time. That was the point, I think, where the Congress in their zeal to bring this war to an end, and you've got to remember the American people are very impatient. One thing they can't stand is long wars. Whatever it takes to spend, lives and money, get it over with. And we'd tackle any problem like that. I don't care what it is. We think we can cure it and forget it. We don't have the patience that the Asians do.
For instance you just take a simple thing like weapons procurement. Nixon starts one procurement. Carter cancels it. Mr. Reagan reinstates it. And if you want to talk about the causes of waste of money, when you stop and start a project of that size over and over, that's about as inefficient and costly as you can get.
Q. There were a couple of points people brought up. One, budgeting, did you think it was especially humiliating at the end for Congress to nickle and dime the South Vietnamese?
It's crazy. Most of the problems we have are self-inflicted. Sometimes I just think we are nuts. And we do this over and over again.
Q. What was your understanding of the effectiveness of the Christmas bombing of 1972? The Peace Movement has a different viewpoint from the Vietnamese and our government. The interpretation that I've gotten was that the North Vietnamese were literally on their knees by the time that bombing came to an end. Another two weeks of it and there would have been a major substantial change in their stance.
Of course. Because what was worrying the hell out of me, when I saw that we didn't have the guts to win the war like we should have at the very outset -- because that's another story what went on before the period you are covering -- but we started a troop withdrawal which made us the only nation in history that was withdrawing troops in the middle of a war. And when we started that I kept saying, pretty soon the only Americans in Vietnam are going to be POWs. If that happens we'll never get them out. When I was asked what to do about it I told the President that these people are not any more than little revolutionaries and only understood one thing, and that's brute force. And the only way you are going to get the POWs back -- see after Kissinger made his "Peace is at hand" speech, the North Vietnamese paid no attention to that. Like the Soviets, they kept violating what Kissinger agreed to. Therefore we had to do something to get their attention, so to speak.
So it was the President himself who ought to get full credit for the Christmas bombings, because I don't think anyone else in the Administration would support it. I was involved in every detail of that, including the fact that I wrote the whole plan at the President's direction to do it. He didn't get into detail, he was just "yes or no", do it or don't do it. But he didn't bother you about how we were going to do it.
Q. It was extremely costly in numbers of B-52s?
It was not extremely costly. The President asked me how many sorties, and I said two percent. We flew seven hundred and forty some odd and two percent of that is fifteen and that's what we lost. That was exactly what I told him.
Q. But that was a large number. There hadn't been fifteen lost in the whole war.
That doesn't make any difference. They hadn't been up there the whole war. It was a very small number to use against the most heavy anti-aircraft concentration in the world. And of those fifteen only five went down in North Vietnam.
Q. The casualty rate came precisely because it was not carpet bombing, is that true? In other words there was a sustained effort on the part of the B-52s to bomb only specific targets.
There was never any carpet bombing.
Q. That was one of the criticisms.
Well of course it was. It was nonsense. In fact if we had done carpet bombing you wouldn't have been able to find Hanoi afterwards. Even old Walter Cronkite went up there and came back and said he was surprised, but there had been no carpet bombing. After all, remember, all of the foreign ambassadors stayed there in Hanoi and survived. And of course, you're quite right in saying had we continued it for just -- you know, during the last two days they were completely out of SAM missiles.
Q. Why did it stop when it did? Was there a rationale? A date set up ahead of time?
No. But it stopped because of the mind set that was in -- there was only one Congressman that supported us. I did all the testifying on that because everybody was away. Kissinger was in Acapulco. Ladd was in Hawaii. And Mr. Nixon was down Key Biscayne -- of course he wouldn't testify anyway. And I had to testify before all the committees.
It was stopped because the papers were saying we were carpet bombing. They were saying that we were destroying all the hospitals, and I get a telephone call that Hanoi puts out that we're killing the POWs, which we never touched a damn one of them because we knew where they were. And I called the Washington Post -- rather they called me -- to talk about this, "Please don't put that in the paper." I said it was not true. And I said, "Are you an American?" They said, "Yeah, we're Americans." And I said, "Why does one American turn a very unhappy Christmas for a miserable Christmas for the wives and fathers and mothers of these POWs? Why do you want to do that? It's a damn lie." You ask the POWs if they got hit. Have you talked to any POWs?
Q. Yes, I did. They cheered.
They cheered. And the North Vietnamese ran away. We should have done that six years before.
But you asked me why we stopped. Mrs. Nixon was down in Key Biscayne crying because we were hitting hospitals. Everybody -- all the Executive Branch, members of the Cabinet, were all upset because they thought it was going to ruin the next election. There were all kinds of things. For Christ's sake, Stop! Stop! Stop! Which was nonsense. We should never stop until we made them do everything, release the POWs, get the hell out of South Vietnam. We could have killed them. On the last two days we didn't lose any airplanes.
Q. How did the other side get such effective publicity?
Because most of the press are liberal. They don't want the Federal Government to function. And look what's happened to Jane Fonda. And the press have set up such a mind set following the line of Church and that crowd that every time you read something, our own papers are attacking the CIA, foreign allies attack the CIA, and the youngster who got forty years in prison for working for the Soviet Union -- Christopher Boyce -- said he did it because he was mad at the CIA. So that ought to tell you something about mind set that was created and promoted in this country about our own system. I can tell you all kinds of instances. For instance: when we finally got the South Vietnamese in shape and they went into Laos on the way to Tchepone, which was called Lam Son 79, which don't mean anything because Lam Son is a historical reference that means a lot to a South Vietnamese but doesn't mean anything to us. It was done in 1979 -- the papers came out and said, --the rules were that we could not send U.S. troops into Laos, so the paper came out and said that a major told me that he'd just seen a helicopter unload a whole load of American dead. Not only was there no dead, there was no major. This guy was just making this up. Anything to break down their own government. That major, I call him the ubiquitous major. President Nixon called me and said "Court Martial that major." Next thing I knew he wanted me to court martial a major in the Mekong Valley, he was down there. He leaped down there in a matter of a couple of hours.
The press would quote to provide authenticity. They never left their bars in Saigon. And I went up to talk to the Executive Board of the New York Times. They got so bad. They just said you're wasting your time. Don't come up here. We're against the war and we're going to write everything bad about it we can. And they wouldn't even listen to what I had to say. I don't know why the media never missed a chance to put the United States in poor light on every detail. And the Congress picks this up. The Congress don't know anything. They're stupid as hell. All they know is what they read in the Washington Post and the New York Times. They grab that every morning and if they're from Omaha or Seattle, or some place like that, they got to prove back to their constituents that they are sophisticated like the easterners. Where do they get their information? They got it out of the New York Times. And 99 per cent was a god damn lie.
Even General Vo Nguyen Giap who was the top General of the North Vietnamese, made a public statement in Paris in 1985. He said that the most effective guerrilla force that he had in his power was the U.S. press. I can cite you so many errors. This is not in Vietnam, but when we were going to build the base at Diego Garcia: I went over to testify about it. It was built because when the British withdrew their forces from the Indian Ocean east of the Suez, when we were trying to balance the exposure of our pilots in the Atlantic fleet and the Pacific fleet, we were sending several carriers from the Atlantic fleet to the Tonkin Gulf. Of course the way they went was around the African cape and then around through the Indian Ocean. The British had tankers over there and we'd just make arrangements and use the British tankers. Then after the British withdrew we had to send a tanker with these ships, which was very very expensive. So we said here's the Indian Ocean. We don't have one single fort we can operate out of without all kinds of diplomatic monkeyshines. So we made a deal with the British and we took Diego Garcia for just three reasons. One is there wasn't any question about the ownership. Two, there was no industry on there that would claim that we were destroying their property. Three is there were no endangered species birds, which we had one problem down on another island Paul because they wouldn't let us build an airport because the birds wouldn't like it. So that's why Diego Garcia was selected.
But I was testifying about that, and so they started talking about the B-52s. I said it was not for the B-52s. Well Senator Paul Simon says --he has to get in his nasties--well, you want to build things just for the Navy. You don't want to build things for the Air Force. He says, "I think the B-52s --" I said, "Well, B-52s might land there in an emergency, but this is not built for B-52s. The minute you say "B-52s" people think you'll be bombing. As a matter of fact it was so bad we had a big typhoon at Guam and we wanted to fly the B-52s over to Okinawa and evacuate them for safety, and the Japanese wouldn't let us. Although we took it away from them and gave it back. We had to bring all of them to Hawaii. It cost hundreds of millions of gallons of jet fuel. Because the B-52 connotes bombs. So I said to the Washington Post reporter. I said, "Don't put that in the paper, because if you do, I guarantee you in less than three hours that the Indian Ambassador will be in the State Department clamoring to see the Secretary of State and bitching about that. And he was. They put it in the paper and the guy was over there, just like I said.
I can't explain to you why Americans are so anti-American and why the press is. I wish I knew.
Q. Was there any doubt in your mind, right down through the spring of '75 that at any moment we might have blunted the North Vietnamese offense, that B-52s or fighter bombers from Laos.
Q. You don't think it was an overwhelming assault that was beyond our capabilities to stop?
Q. I mention it because the B-52s and the interdiction of the Ho Chi Minh trail did a fairly good job but of course --
No, that wasn't any good. You know what that really did--I mean it wasn't the B-52's fault. Out where I live in McLean, Virginia and they've got Giant and Safeway grocery stores and so the ladies go in there and fill up these little carts and then they run and put them in the trunk of their car and drive in every direction and put them up on the shelves in their pantry. It was like that. We waited until that had all been done before we decided we were going to go around and collect these damn things, instead of knocking out the Giant or Safeway grocery store. If we could have knocked the Giant grocery store out it would have been an important mission. That was what was going on.
And then people always talk about the JCS's strategy. The war plan called for us to go to Vinh in North Vietnam. If we'd gone into Vinh and cut straight across there wouldn't have been any Ho Chi Minh trail. All the access to the Ho Chi Minh trail is south of the line between Vihn and Laos. The reason we didn't do that is because we're so sanctimonious we couldn't violate the Geneva Accords. The North Vietnamese did it and didn't give a fuck about the accords. That's the kind of thing you get into when you talk about strategy.
People like AverellHarriman and that crowd said you can't do that. We're talking right now the Soviets have violated every damn aspect of the ABM and every treaty we ever had with them. Now we're going to sanctimoniously stick with it, which is a lot of nonsense. You've got to play hard ball with those guys.
Q. Was there a point when you thought that Vietnam was going down the drain inevitably? Was it not until the Spring of '75, or did you already in '74 with the Cooper-Church --
Yeah, when the Congress started cutting off funds, I said that's the end.
Q. Was it a tragedy for the Vietnamese people as well as for the Americans?
We had made a commitment to the Vietnamese people. I think it was a terrible tragedy. They kept saying, well, we were also involved in Cambodia, and Senator Church was always talking about the blood bath that we were inflicting on the Cambodians. Well all we were doing in Cambodia really was to A, keep the line open from the port of Kampung Chom that Sihanouk built to Phnom Penh, and B, making certain up the Mekong Valley that the people in the city got the three things they had to have, kerosene, rice, --because everything they cook was with kerosene, that was a big issue -- and I think salt. But anyway, look what happened after we left. It was genocide of the worst kind.
I don't know what brought about that type of thinking in the Congress. I think the Congress kind of demonstrated the matter of impatience in the sense of what they really said to start with -- see, Kennedy really started it, the Vietnam war. He said we had to help any friend meet any foe, and he had to look around for a foe. So we got deeper in and Johnson was anti-military, and on top of that he was obsessed with his great plan for the Great Society, but in any event, he got the idea with McNamara's help that they weren't going to let the American people know that we had a war. So what did he do, he handed it to the Draft Department. He wouldn't call up the reserves. To begin with he wouldn't declare war. They like to think the Tonkin Gulf resolution was a declaration of war. It was not, because according to the Constitution and several laws, the President gets tremendous power if you in fact officially declare war. Then the wives of the POWs were admonished to keep quiet. He didn't want the American people to know that the POWs were being tortured because that would have gotten their dander up. That was why I was so strong for the Son Tay Prison raid. We knew there was a ten per cent chance of them still being there, but I said if we could just get a few of those boys back and let the American people find out what's been happening to them. That would change their whole attitude and we could defeat the President.
I never spent such a terrible time in my life. I was in command of the Seventh Fleet and was involved down there. I was Commander of the Pacific Fleet when Tonkin Gulf incident occurred, and then as Commander of the Atlantic Fleet we sent many ships over there to Tonkin Gulf. Then seven years, three years as C and O and four years as Chairman, as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And it was just absolutely crazy what we went through. We had so much power--one things that's going to mystify fellows like you when you write about this thing fifty years from now, is how in Christ's name did a country with the power we had down there, five aircraft carriers, something like thirteen Air Force bomber squadrons, not counting the B-52s, and fighting against a country that had fewer people than Los Angeles and Orange counties and one of the fifty states, and we let that happen.
You see, Johnson said three things. He made a speech, I think in Houston. He said we seek no wider war. That was point one. That was the guiding statement. He was trying to tell the Chinese and the Russians to stay out of it, so to speak. For that reason, for instance, we were never allowed to bomb the Phu Kin air field outside Hanoi and so the North Vietnamese weren't stupid. They put all their MIG 23s in there. We could only attack them when they got the wheels up, after they took off. Of course on top of that the Chinese trawlers were hauling supplies like mad down to the Viet Cong. They'd steam right through our fleet. We weren't allowed to touch them. We knew what they were doing. All we could do was sit and watch them.
Then the next thing was we would not overthrow Ho Chi Minh. The only reason that you ever go to war is to for one single purpose, to remove a government that is doing something that you don't like. That's what you go to war for. War is a breakdown of diplomacy, or diplomacy by violence if you want to put it that way. You've tried like hell to get the by diplomacy to do something and they wouldn't do it, so you go to war. But he said we were going to war but we're not going to have an objective.
Then the final thing he said we were not going to invade North Vietnam. And North Vietnam was the only nation that was ever allowed to deploy every operational division they had outside their country, because they knew they weren't going to get invaded.
Q. The whole thing was tainted from the beginning by the Tonkin Gulf incident. That's a hell of a way to go into a fight. Were you disappointed with the way the President focused in on that rather than something else. The second incident. The whole thing has been called into question. Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp was not quite clear as to the second incident and I don't think to this day he is quite clear on it.
Well, that doesn't make any difference.
Q. I know, but Johnson tended to hinge so much on the actual fact--
Well, the Press got a hold of it. You've got to think about Senator William Fulbright. He was head of the Foreign Relations Committee. Johnson promised Fulbright that if he would support the Tonkin Gulf resolution, that when he, Johnson, got elected on his own, that he'd make Fulbright Secretary of State. And he welshed on the deal and kept Rusk. And Fulbright set out right then and there to make life just as painful as he possibly could. It was miserable to testify before Fulbright. He was so nasty. He won't talk to me. I saw him the other day and every time I see him I say, "Are you still as nasty as you used to be?" And he'll walk away. He won't even answer. He dodges me. I can chase him down and ask him that question every time. He was so bitter over the fact that he had been frustrated out of receiving that kind of honor. So it went.
Q. When Saigon finally fell, what were your personal feelings?
I suppose you saw the message traffic coming in and knew when Frequent Wind was invoked. Did you have the feeling that this was like a Waterloo? Or a watershed point in American history?
What I felt about it -- I was very sad, because A, I felt that it had a very negative effect on our credibility and it told the world at large to be careful how you are friendly with the United States. I feel the same way about the Taiwan people. I think once you make a friend, at least that's the way I do people, once I have a friend, I'm a friend. I don't betray them or throw them to the wolves. But I also recognized, and I think very few people did, the global impact, in several ways. One, was this business of deserting a friend. Two, it brought about for some reason an absolute major assault on the intelligence community, primarily the CIA. It is still carried out today. As a matter of fact this young fellow that we just mentioned, Christopher Boyce, said he got mad at the CIA. And that happened.
But I think that from a global point of view, I knew what was going to happen. I felt very strongly what was going to happen. I told them-- on this business we seek no wider war -- they kept saying the Chinese will come across the border and assist the North Vietnamese. I said the Chinese are not going to assist the North Vietnamese. They were in there two hundred years and it took two hundred years to get them out. As soon as we leave they'll be fighting. And they're fighting right now.
Q. You never feared the Chinese?
No. Look, if you want to fight the Chinese, you got to go to China. They're not going any place. Korea was up by their -- what little industrial effort they have in Shanghai and so on was right there and they considered that as kind of a threat to them. They sent those troops because they could walk in. Their logistic support was right there. Don't forget that South Vietnam is seven thousand miles away.
Also I had a very interesting visitor the other day, a Japanese who lived in China during the Korean War. And he says that No Chinese general will ever accept the command of an expeditionary force because there's never one that left the circle of the hierarchy there that's had a job when he got back. That's what happened to the general that was in charge of the Chinese that went into North Vietnam there. He was fired.
I didn't think the Chinese were any problem.
Q. You foresaw the Russians stepping in.
But what worried me was -- see I'm so salt water oriented, I consider we are a maritime nation with an ocean to the east and an ocean to the west and no threat at the moment from the south and north. Cam Ranh Bay is probably the finest seaport in the world and we spent a billion dollars and we dredged it out, it's got oil storage and got airfields. It's got hospitals, barracks, and a beautiful runway. You name it. Now, the Russians are there, and you know how much it cost the Russians? Nothing.
Q. None of that was destroyed? When the Vietnamese pulled out they destroyed nothing.
Well you can't destroy something like that. You can't destroy dredged harbors.
Q. They didn't destroy docks, buildings, anything.
Whether they destroy them or not is academic. Those are the things that are easy to replace. A barracks or something like that is nothing in modern war in terms of the cost compared to the strategic position. The Soviets have a squadron of nuclear submarines. Two squadrons of search aircraft that can search all the way around. They can easily make the cruise from Tokyo to the Indian Ocean over a thousand miles longer than it is now. They can stop every tanker coming from the Middle East where the Japs get most of their oil. And they got all this for nothing. You even see people today say, well, it doesn't have any global importance. It had terrific global importance, the Vietnam War.
Q. You don't think they'll ever give it up diplomatically?
Christ no, they'll never give it up.
Q. You don't think the Vietnamese could ever force them to leave Cam Ranh?
No. The Soviets have got an objective of world domination. This just gives them the finest port and the most rapidly developing area. I just flew out on a tour at Christmas time and I'm on my way back to Singapore. You go Brunei, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Indonesia, that's going to be the biggest markets in the world, because they are just now beginning to wake up. They've got resources. They've got oil, tin, timber and they sit down in this strategic position connecting the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, and those people don't have anything that we take for granted. They don't have toasters, washing machines, tvs, and all that. But they are beginning to get some money and you wouldn't recognize Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. I used to go there was commander of the Fleet. Christ, maximum height of any building was two stories. And it was dirty and filthy. Now they got the finest hotel there you ever saw. A beautiful hotel with perfect service and every floor is rimmed with bougainvillea and a big swimming pool down below. And if you ring a bell to get your suit pressed, before you can get it out of the closet the guy is there. It's really something. It's what's happening down there. I think it's the biggest market for consumable consumer goods in the world.
Q. How secure is Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, in the western or neutral orbit? I heard it's a cake walk for the Viets into Thailand, except for us. The Thai army is nothing.
The Thais will give up. The Thais pride themselves on the fact that they've never been a colony. When the Japanese went into Thailand they were really going up toward Burma, so the Thais not only cooperated with the Japanese, but they declared war on the United States. And we told them, "Oh, you fellows don't really mean that." And we never did declare war back. And then when the Japanese left, we made buddies again.
Q. Are you concerned about them then with the Vietnamese on their border?
Yeah. I think if the Vietnamese operating for the Soviets wanted to go into Thailand, they could go in tomorrow. The Thais would quit. They're not going to fight. All you have to do is let them keep the king and pretend to be a country, and they'll go do whatever you tell them to.
Q. How about Burma? I don't know why the Viets would want to go into Burma, but they could walk in too. Who's there to contain Vietnam if there's no internal containment in the government itself. Are the Chinese a force that would prevent them from expanding further?
I think so, more than -- but now the Chinese have a problem they never had before, namely the Soviets. What the Soviets are trying to do, they've got a global outlook too. It's not just a conflict in a certain geographic area between Vietnamese and Chinese. It's a move on the part of the Soviets to establish a strong global position all the way around the world, just like they did in Cuba. And they want to get in position. I can't get through anybody's head what happens all the time. They establish these positions right on what I call the key maritime gateways of the world. The Panama Canal, they're sitting right there looking down the throat of the Panama Canal. And even getting more in Nicaragua, closer to it. As a matter of fact if you read my testimony, I was violently opposed to the Panama Canal treaty. I testified, I think, six or seven times. And I told Church, "Do not be surprised if in less than one year's time troops will be staged out of Panama to overthrow a Central American country." Nine months later the troops were flown from Cuba to Panama in Panamanian aircraft into Nicaragua to overthrow the Somoza government. Never mind that Somoza was a son of a bitch. But look at what the result is. But then nobody paid any attention to that. I told Church in my testimony, "All I hear out of you is emotion. You say if we give it away everybody will love us and if we don't give it away they'll tear it up and if we don't give it away they'll hate us. The whole world will hate us." And he never comprehended in the slightest what the Panama Canal was all about.
Twelve thousand ships go through there a year and eight thousand of them are either destined for U.S. ports or left them. You can't get that kind of stuff through people's heads.
Q. Have you visited the Vietnam Memorial?
Q. Do you think it's a good memorial? Marines in particular are disappointed that the services weren't listed with the men's names.
I have mixed emotions about it. I would have never built a memorial like that. I don't like the idea that A, it was not designed by an American, B, it was not built of American material, and C, it's under the ground. I at least get some satisfaction that they have a memorial, period. And it seems to ease the frustration and pain of those that participated, because those boys were ashamed to wear the uniform when they got home. There was no public support because the press saw to it there was no public support.
Of course when Richard Nixon came in most of the options had already been used up and he didn't have an entirely unified cabinet or administration. No President does. I never will understand that, except for the fact that the political system is such that no President wants to antagonize an individual who he feels has a small following, because most Presidents and Senators and Congressmen, get elected by 51 or 52 per cent of the vote and most of them have got a block of 45 to 48 per cent, so what they are doing is trying to pacify the swing vote. So they will do things that they swore years before they'd never touch. No politician -- I don't give a damn if he doesn't have any opposition -- don't think he's going to get elected.
Q. Do you get a sense of waste when you see those 57 thousand names? At least for the Marine Iwo Jima memorial, you get a sense of something heroic.
There were no heroes in Vietnam in the traditional publicity sense. But there was plenty of heroism. For instance, you could write a book about the helicopter pilots who pulled people out of the jungle at night when they couldn't even see them. They had to let their cable down through layers of canopy and pull them out despite gunfire and everything else. Talking about heroes, they had plenty of heroes, but nobody -- Johnson didn't want to give Congressional Medals of Honor because he was afraid . . .
As a matter of fact I was in -- '65 -- and before I got back to my office I got a telephone call from the Pentagon by Arthur Sylvester, who was McNamara's public relations guy, who said, "We don't want you to use that phrase any more." What phrase? "'Dirty little war'. It's not a war. We haven't declared war."
I said, "Well, by god the people out here think it's a war. Why don't you people come out here and take a look." But I got orders not to use it.
And to answer your question, yeah, I won't say it's a waste. I think that those young boys did what they thought they should do and their parents thought they should do. They got a democratic system and they were drafted in most cases, sometimes volunteers, but I've had press people tell me, talking about POWs, most of them were pilots, and very straight faced, they said, the POWs, “served them right. They had no business volunteering.” All the pilots were volunteers.
I don't know why the Press were so antagonistic towards their own government. Because after all Mr. Johnson was elected by a pretty heavy majority over Goldwater. If Goldwater had been elected, of course, it wouldn't have happened. It's a very sad experience in our history. It should never have happened the way it did.
For instance, I'll tell you the kinds of things at the very beginning. I was probably more involved in it than anybody at the high level. When the North Vietnamese started putting in their SA 2 missiles, I asked permission from Washington to attack them, because I could have prevented them from setting up any missiles if I had been allowed to attack them at the outset. Of course you know they built the big missile assembly building inside Hanoi and there was always a ten-mile circle we couldn't come inside of. I sent word and asked permission to attack them. I said I wanted to prevent them building a missile defense. And this fellow John McNaughton who handled those kinds of things for McNamara says, "Well, they're not going to shoot at you, they're trying to deter you. If they ever shoot at you we'll let you attack them." Well, of course, the first thing they did was shoot down airplanes and kill pilots. We could have prevented that.
The young American soldier in that war had the most difficult time, because he was admonished all the time, don't kill a friend. But they all looked alike, friend and enemy. They've got on sandals and a little black suit and a silly looking hat, and women were carrying hand grenades in their brassieres and the baby's diaper. In fact I was over there one time when the Marines were teaching these little boys to play volleyball and one of them pulled out a hand grenade and killed two marines. He was only eight or something like that. They were taught to do that.
The rules of engagement, as we call them in the military, were ludicrous. For instance, we had the rule that, when escorting a reconnaissance plane, you couldn't fire at the ground unless you knew they'd fired at you first. You couldn't tell whether somebody's shooting at you or not at 600 knots. You've got to go first. It's like a boxer standing out in the middle of the ring and I say, "You can hit him first."
Q. You killed Russians in the Christmas bombings and they never protested a thing. There were several killed, I believe, on a Russian ship.
We didn't kill enough of them. But anyway, it never worried me, you know, if we don't kill a few Chinese. But you see, the Chinese came in -- the courier came in on Tuesday, and the Russian courier came in on Thursday. That's why they wouldn't let us fly or shoot. We had these two beautiful cruisers and had the Talos missile, with a hundred mile range, and I tried several times to get permission to put them up in Haiphong Harbor, withdraw all our airplanes, and then any airplane that they picked up on radar, shoot it down. They wouldn't let us do it because they were afraid it was Russian or Chinese. It was crazy. Just with those two cruisers out there we could have practically made it impossible for an airplane to fly in that area.
Q. Johnson seems to have been petrified of both the Russians and the Chinese in his policies.
Let me tell you about that mining in Haiphong Harbor, because I'm the world's expert on that I think, because I was so heavily involved in World War II. I went over and laid mines when the British first started in the North Sea. I wrote the first instruction in how to mine with what they call a "ground mine". Everybody thinks a mine is something that's got an anchor and a round thing with horns. Modern mine lies on the ground, and looks like a bomb.
I was in command of the Pacific Fleet, so I get in an airplane and I fly all the way back to Washington to try to get them -- now this is 1965 -- to give permission to mine Haiphong Harbor. And it's the same old crap. "Oh no, the Russians would come down and sweep them up." And I'd say, "The Russians don't know how to sweep these mines. The Russians don't have a vital interest down there." Later on I pointed out the Russians spent about a billion dollars a year and we were spending twenty-six billion and that so far as they were concerned it was a hell of a damn investment. They'd just keep it up forever. They weren't going to help us end it. They thought the Russians would help negotiate with the North Vietnamese. So they said "Oh no, we can't let you do that. You'll sink our friends' ship and so on."
Eight years later, about, Nixon says to me, "How long will it take you to make a plan to mine Haiphong Harbor?" I said, "Three seconds. I've made the plan. I'll just get it out." So he said, "Maybe we'll do that. Can you guarantee it won't leak? I want to go on tv the minute the mines splash in the water." I said, "I'll guarantee it won't leak, because I know what carrier to use. Only the Navy can guarantee that because I know what ship to use. If reporters happen to be aboard, they can't go ashore and if some are coming out, they can't come out. It won't leak." We won't let them have a radio circuit to communicate.
Q. He didn't say, he hoped we didn't sink a Russian ship?
No, he was desperate at that point, because they had come across the DMZ in force onn Easter of '72. So we did it. At that time we were flying a thousand sorties a day in all of Southeast Asia. It took twenty-six airplanes, out of a thousand. They were gone an hour and a half. Not a single person got killed or scratched, and not one ship left or entered that harbor again until we went up there and took the mines out. That was seven or eight years after I tried to get them to do that.
They were getting most of their support by ship. And our air power was criticized heavily here in the papers for not being able to stop the support on the railroads. The reason for that is it was seventy miles from Hanoi to the Chinese border and there was a thirty mile buffer zone on China. They were so afraid we were going to bomb the Chinese. There was ten-mile circle around Hanoi. So ten and thirty is forty. So there was only thirty miles of that seventy mile railroad they ever let us bomb. And they didn't need the railroad anyway, because they were getting everything by ship.
If you are going to attack transportation, you have to attack all of transportation. You can't leave part of the transportation inviolate as was the case of the ships. It was crazy. These East German, Soviet, Yemen, South Yemen and even British ships would steam right through our fleet and we knew damn well they were loaded with ammunition and machine guns and everything that were going to kill our boys maybe a month later.
Q. Even British ships?
Yes. Carrying cargo. Whatever the Russians wanted to ship to the North Vietnamese. It was the craziest war I ever heard of. I've been in three of them and this one takes the cake.
The Stars and Stripes had a big headline. I had made a speech about something on the order of what I just told you about the fact that we hadn't been able to really work over the railroad lines like we should because of these buffer zones and sanctuaries and so on, and the fact that we hadn't mined Haiphong Harbor both combined to give the North Vietnamese means for operating without access to the railroads. The railroads weren't vital to their continued operations. I thought it was a pretty good speech. So the Stars and Stripes come out with a big headline and says, "Air Power has Failed". Well I was on the way out to Seoul South Korea with Bill Clements, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense at the time, and I got all these telephone calls, from the pilots down there. Really they were bitter and said that I had criticized them. I said I hadn't criticized them. So I walked into the hotel in Seoul and there was a copy of the Stars and Stripes with that headline, and it was very critical of the Air Force. So I got so mad that I picked up the telephone and called the editor at their headquarters in Tokyo, his three top people, and I said, I want you over here in Seoul in four hours. And so they all came over and I said, "Look the only reason that Stars and Stripes is financed by government funds, the only purpose of having the Stars and Stripes, is to bolster the morale of the men in combat. And this headline and story you've got, in the first place, that isn't what I said, and your headline has caused grief and unhappiness throughout the Air commands. That's a very stupid thing for you to do." So I said, "I tell you what you can do. You are going to write another article right now. Sit down, and I'm going to write the headline." Which I did. I said, "Stars and Stripes blew it". As soon as I got back to Washington they jumped on me. I had a Congressman call me over for interfering with freedom of the press. So I told him, "God damn it, if that's the way you want it, we won't have Stars and Stripes. We'll just shut it off. We're not going to pay money. It's only for morale purposes. We're not in the news business." And to have the people over there come up with something like that. They fancied themselves as being part of the media and they got caught up in the trend. But I straightened those little bastards out.