VIETNAM: How WE Got Here

WW II is in full swing. The Japanese defeat French and take over Indochina.

US sends Army teams to help Viets fight Japanese. US teams work with, among others, Ho Chi Minh and lead him to believe US will support independence of Vietnam after Japanese are defeated.

Japanese are defeated, US and Brit troops disarm Japanese forces in Indochina. Lots of Japanese weapons disappear.

French assume they are still owners of Indochina, the Brits still own India and Burma, the Dutch still own the East Indies and the US is still in the Philippines. And what with rebuilding, now that the war is over, the French need the rubber plantations, (that is spelled Michelin) the tin mines and the cinnamon forests (spell that McCormick’s).

US president is Harry Truman and while a good man, foreign policy is not his strong suit. Nobody objects and the French are back in Vietnam.

Of course Ho is mad but who cares? Ho writes Vietnamese constitution, modeled on the US one, and declares a war of independence. Lots of the lost Japanese weapons reappear and the Vietminh are in business.

The French are great cooks, their women are class acts but when it comes to fighting a guerrilla war they know nothing. Even the very good Foreign Legion (they do know how to fight but their senior commanders are French) cannot subdue the Vietminh.

The US is all screwed up with the Korean war. We send the French weapons and equipment and even consider using an atomic bomb around Din Bin Phu but Truman and his successor Dwight D. Eisenhower are smart enough to not send any US troops into the fight.

The French win almost every battle but lose the war (they have riots and anti war protests in their larger cities and they have problems with the Algerian folks wanting their independence). In time they surrender their forces to Ho. (It would be a real work to study the so called spontaneous student rebellions and peace movements that started in France and then reappeared in the US. Follow the money trail. Where did the peace loving hippies get the cash to travel and live? There has been some work in this area and money from Cuba and East Germany is clearly documented but where did they get the cash? Can any one spell USSR?)

The French and Vietminh sign peace accords dividing Vietnam into north and south. The north to be ruled by a government led by Ho and the south by Diem. Ho has developed close ties with the USSR, visited and studied there and accepted much aid from them during his war with France. Now he uses Russian advisors and establishes a tightly controlled Russian type communist society. Ward leaders, block captains, building monitors, children watching parents and of course a strong secret police body. As an aside, the control of North Vietnam is so complete that not a single Special Forces team, Vietnamese, Nung or American, survives more than 24 hours after insertion into North Vietnam. Ho continues to maintain a strong military with advanced Russian aircraft, rockets and weapons. He also infiltrates the south with many loyal families who in time will form the basis for a new insurgent force to fight the government of the south.

All this while the south, with assistance from the US, is attempting to establish a working government. In the south major problems exist. Religious differences split the people. Bao Di maintains his right to govern based on a blood tie over two centuries old to the original emperor of Vietnam. A confederation of river pirates establishes a Mafia type hold on the southern delta area and the vital rice bowl of the country. And woven through all this Ho’s guerrillas harass and disrupt all efforts by the government to set up basic requirements such as electric power, road and railway nets and open markets.

The United States continues to support the south’s efforts with money and military advisors. The first US military advisors were there by ’54 and worked as trainers and maintenance personnel. By 1963 there were over 10,000 US military in South Vietnam but only about 200 of these were actually with combat units in the field.

Eisenhower had been replaced as US President by J. F. Kennedy, a young congressman who had made his mark in WW II in the south Pacific after being run out of Washington for an affair with an admiral's wife. Although over half his crew were wounded due to his over exuberance in the attack of a Japanese destroyer, spin doctors made him a hero and with his father's money he rode his popularity into politics. (I loved him and voted for his class act, tall, sharp and he just looked like a leader.) Within days of his taking office the CIA presented him with a plan that they inferred had been approved by Eisenhower while he was in office. Not approved by State and only weakly supported by Defense (Could work if all assumptions are met they noted). Kennedy approved the plan and the Bay of Pigs was on the books. At the last minute, at the request of his political advisors, Kennedy canceled US air support and naval gunfire support. No support, no Cuban uprising and the Bay of Pigs became a disaster. This shocked Kennedy and made it necessary for him to prove his manliness in some other forum.


As the US was a signer of the Southeast Asia Treaty and a presidential agreement existed to defend South Vietnam, Kennedy felt he was honor bound to continue and, when necessary, increase US support for the South Vietnamese. More money, more equipment and more troops.

Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson becomes president. He believed it proper to continue with the US support of South Vietnam. More money and as the South Vietnamese cannot stabilize the rural areas, the US continues to send in US combat "advisors" and Special Forces teams. Johnson desired to pursue his program of social reform, The Great Society, but the fighting in Vietnam was consuming more and more of the federal budget. Johnson needed more money which meant congressional support. A non action by the US Navy gave him his lever. Doubtful that the Maddox and the Turner Joy were attack but ship commanders frightened and over excited make contact reports and Johnson used these reports to rally congressional support for the fight. Congress voted him a blank check and US combat troop units were sent to Vietnam along with attack aircraft and all sorts of spooks, spies and straphangers. By 1967 the US combat units had for all practical purposes eliminated the Viet Cong as a real danger to the south. In a last ditch effort to try to swing the opinion of the world the north ordered a full up attack. Tet 1968. This attack virtually eliminated the Viet Cong but made a major impression on the world TV watchers. The north sent in front line large units to continue the fight. Casualties increased and there was no end in sight short of invading the north. Johnson, heartbroken that an undeclared and unwanted war had stalled his social programs, did not run for reelection.

Nixon is elected president and promised to end it all by turning the fight over to the Vietnamese military and negotiating an agreement for US withdrawal. These talks, called the Paris Peace Talks, drag on and on. Ground combat continues with NVA regular units replacing VC guerrilla units in the field. US casualties continue and the protest movement in the US continues to grow and turns nasty. President Nixon uses the air force (Rolling Thunder) in an attempt to influence the bargaining position of the north with little success.

With Nixon embroiled in the Watergate Affair and congress seeing their political base eroding to the protest movement, the US signs an agreement with the north and withdrew from VIETNAM. This agreement was not what the north wanted but to continue to receive support from the USSR and the support of Soviet leader Brezhnev (detente and trade), they signed. Shortly the north repudiated the agreement and the NVA attack the south in force. The US Congress refuses to release money to re-supply the military of the south and as the world watches the US evacuates its embassy and Saigon became Ho Chi Min City.

Not defeated in combat but none the less defeated, the US accepts refugees fleeing from the northern invasion and the saga of the boat people becomes part of our history. None of the US protesters move to the worker's paradise established throughout VIETNAM. Little effort is made to reestablish the morale of the combat units returning from the longest war in US history. The world continues to spin and the REDSKINS win at football.

Now who lied to whom? Was there any presidential action to aggrandize the president or were all the acts really done by less than perfect leaders trying to carry out agreements and treaties approved by our duly elected congress? Did the warriors of politics defeat the warriors of the military? And except for a great number of Vietnamese and a large number of US military and their loved ones, who cares?

In truth, the history of the 1st BN 61st Infantry (MECH) while in VIETNAM is less than a footnote in the history of the world. But to me, and to those many others that were part of it, it was a very important footnote.

If the gentle reader would like to learn more about the conflict and in particular the thoughts of those who did not support the fight or the people from the US that were doing the fighting I refer you to The Vietnam Anti-War Page with the understanding that, in my judgment, there is little truth to be found here. This is the world of the revisionist historian and the world of authors who in their youth were above the need to support the government and scared that their soft life might be interrupted by work. One would think with the events after the fall of SOUTH VIETNAM and the horrors of the reeducation in the south that these "historians" would run and hide. Some have but some are on the web. Look and judge. Remember what you saw and did, make up your own mind.