Saturday, July 16, 2011

Do I have a choice?

In my last post I asked:
And if I do have a duty, is that duty sacrosanct?  Do I have a say in how much effort should be put in for that honor?
What if honor was taken out of the question?  What if honor is only there because of the effort itself?  A gift with purchase kind of arrangement?  Start a war, honor comes forward.  Can't stop the war in any other way but to preserve honor.  The war must continue for the honor or end with honor.  Chicken or the egg...

So here is the real kicker, the one thing I can't seem to rectify or come to a nice clean feeling about.  I can't be objective about it, because it pisses me off.  But I know I am being objective about it.  There is no other way for me to look at it.  I must accept it for what it is or ignore it for what it shows.

Had the war and draft continued, here would have been my choices:
  • Go, if my number was called.
  • Get a college deferment, and allow someone else to go and fight in my place.
  • Go to Canada, and let someone else go and fight in my place.
  • Say "no" and go to jail, and let someone else go and fight in my place.
  • Pretend something is wrong with me, and let someone else fight in my place.
  • Enlist in one of the branches that has little chance of seeing combat, and let someone else go and fight in my place.
Those would have been my choices.  Only one - the first bullet - is fair.  All the others put my needs ahead of someone else who was not as smart or savvy or willing to choose another way.  It sucks to be you is not something I can live with.

This, by the way, does not condemn nor condone what anyone else did.  Regardless of which choice someone picked who actually had to choose, bullet number was to only fair choice to pick.  If x number of men were needed, those that did not show up when called were replace by someone else.  Fundamentally, there is no difference between dodging and joining the Texas Air National Guard.  Not going required someone else to go in your place.  A legal way to get one's self out of combat is no different than burning a draft card.  If 150,000 troops are needed, someone else would be in the 150K.  It sucks to be you.

That's the pisser in all of this.  Maybe that's what they want with a draft.  Can you live with the guilt if you don''t do your duty or you allow some other lesser educated or less connected sap to take your place?  Well...can you punk?

Which bring me back to my question?  If I do have a duty, is that duty sacrosanct?  Do I have a say in how much effort I should put in to fulfill my duty and/or expunge my guilt?

At some point the ones who are drafted must have the ability to say: stop!  They are the ones that not only shed their blood, limbs, and sanity, but are also the ones put in a situation where the choice is not simple duty and honor, but one of fairness.

There was no choice for those drafted who began to understand that the Vietnam war was not a war we should be fighting.  For me, as I look at it now, to do anything other than go would bring about a profound sense of guilt, especially when I would come to realize that I had passed the buck onto someone else.  It sucks to be them, like I said, does not work for me.

So yeah, I think I have a right to question my country's motives.  I think I have a right to go against her wishes for my blood.  Even if I am wrong regarding the 'worthiness' of the war, I have that right to do so - since I will be the one asked to be the blood and treasure required to do her bidding.

And therein lies the problem.  Had I concluded that the war should stop, it would have been counter to those in charge who said it should continue.  To stop it, I must not participate and must get others to not participate as well.  I must now actively be involved in sedition.  Hell no I won't go requires many others to get the damn thing to stop.

But hell no I won't go places me at odds with those, like my father, who think duty is what matters.  It puts me at odds with those who think America's honor is at stake.  It puts me at odds with my government's requirement of me as one of its citizens.  And worst of all, it places the burden on another young man who simply does what their country has asked them to do.

So the path of least resistance would have been to take my chances with the draft.  That would have been the most fair way to go about it.  To accept it, do it, and hope for the best.  To be a sheep, so to speak.  Go where they tell me, do what they tell me.  No questions asked, simply do what you have been asked to do.

As I look at it now, it kind of pisses me off.  Mainly because I would not have seen it back then.  I would have been a sheep because that's what they want and need their citizens to be.  It's not that I don't want to die in war - hell, I don't want to die period.  It's the inability to have a say in whether I should, or should not participate.  That's the pisser.  There is no choice at the time but to fulfill their request for blood and treasure until someone in power stops it.  They knew in 1967 that it was not working.  They ended it 1973.

But even to this day, 38 years later, stopping it has never set right with the absolutists who never got their peace with honor or a check mark in the 'win" column.  They didn't lose the war for us.  It was those that questioned why we were there and if we should continue.  And in asking that question, they conclude, our will to win was diminished.

So if I don't have a choice, is it appropriate to ask: what exactly should doing my duty demand from me when it is demanded of me?

Next Post: Does opposing the war wound those who are not opposed to it?


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Country Right or Wrong

Antipathetic: Opposed in nature or character; antagonistic.

I have been struggling to understand how I should feel about the Vietnam war.  As you can see by the number of posts on the topic of Eddie Adams, General Loan, and Tet,  I find this topic interesting.  But there is something else driving it, and it's only been in this last week that I am coming to terms with it.

I have been reading Michael Sandel's book: Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? and was fascinated by his chapter on John Rawl's "veil of ignorance" theory on how to come up with a fair and impartial point of view.
The veil of ignorance”: to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. (1)
To be objective, which is what I strive for, I need to put aside the fact that it could have been me over there.  The fact that it wasn't does not remove that fact.  And with that fact, I know that how I feel about the war is not objective, even if my conclusion is valid.

I have gone back in time.  I am back at my childhood home, eating dinner with my family.  I am driving from Garden Grove California to Carpinteria Beach near Santa Barbara with my family.  I am young - but old enough to understand.

I don't recall ever getting into a discussion with my folks regarding the war.  We must have talked about it, we talked a lot during dinners.  My folks, especially my father, share very black and white views of the world.  I remember their disgust for hippies, and one of our relatives who dodged the draft, if I recall.  I don't recall anything else except my dad stating a number of times that the reason you do your duty is because your country asked you to.  Your country right or wrong he would say.

Now that I am older, I understand a bit better why my dad and others feel that this premise is the guiding reason you do your duty.  It's not your place to question when called on.  He did it in Korea, his father did it in World War I, my mom's uncles did it.  And if the time came for me in Vietnam, the expectation would be that I would do my duty too.

My dad never saw combat, something he regrets, especially when he is with his friends who were called over before the Korean war ended.  Maybe had he seen combat he would have had a different opinion.  Most likely not.  My great uncle Joe lost an arm in D-day.  He never spoke about the war and forbid my aunt, who came form Nazi occupied Germany, to speak about the war as well.  I am sure if I had talked to him about Vietnam he might have told me something. Most likely not.

Had the war not ended in 1973 and continued on, when I turned 18, I would have been of draft age.  And that's the angst I feel right now when I ask my 54 year old self, what would you do now, without your 18 year old veil of ignorance on? (yes, I know that's not what that term means).  Hindsight is 20/20.  So let me put a figurative veil of ignorance back on and try to look at it objectively.

The problem with the premise of "my country right or wrong" is that it assumes that the "wrong" is an honest mistake or miscalculation.  It does not assume manipulation by people to further their own gains and egos.

I am faced with this knowledge of what it was, as I struggle to form my opinion:  Should my duty to my country be based on a real need or the need expressed by those who hold power and sway over me?  Did Richard Nixon prolong the war because he did not want to be "the first President to lose a war?" (2)  Was the desire for "peace with honor" a reason to continue throwing more blood and treasure at it till that objective was achieved? (3)

Did I owe it to Nixon, or any other president, to shed my blood?  Was our honor worth giving up my life?  Was this what my dad wanted for me?  No, I don't think so.  What he, and so many others wanted, was for me to concentrate on the duty part.  The reason you went was irrelevant when your country called you.  That's what young men did.  My country, right or wrong!

But that's a romantic notion of war and duty.  It assumes nobility, purpose, rationality.  Vietnam, as we know now, and started to figure out as it became more and more a cluster, was not a traditional war.  And this is where the dynamics in play become antipathetic.
  • If I am to perform my duty for my country, shouldn't my effort be for a worthy and rational cause?
  • And if it turns out that the premise for the cause was miscalculated, should that miscalculation be rectified?
  • And if rectifying it, we choose to end it, does that make the effort up to that point a waste?
  • Does my country's need for honor require of me the same effort as for her defense?
Where it became antipathetic was the requirement to rectify it was pitted against the honor of those who had fought, died, and suffered.  Should it be called a mistake, as John Kerry did: in 1971?
Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doen'st have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can't say they we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won't be, and these are his words, "the first President to lose a war."
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we are trying to do that, and we are doing it with thousands of rationalizations... (4)
It can only become antipathetic because guys like General Brady honestly and truly need to believe::
The American soldier was never defeated on the battlefield in Vietnam; our defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard. (5)
General Brady has no choice but to voice his displeasure of having his honor taken from him.  Honor that is important to him and others.  Honor worth dying for.  Honor worth perusing, regardless the cost.  To call the war a mistake, makes the nullifies the effort.  There is no honor in a lost cause, in a mistake.  "We were never defeated" General Brady states, but those bastards that looked behind the curtain took from him something he was willing to die for: his country right, or wrong.  Duty...honor.

And now it becomes personal once again.  Do I have a duty to my country to give my life for something that is no longer rational?  Do I have a duty to others who have fulfilled their duty, regardless of that rational?  Do I have a duty to uphold the honor of those who did fight?  Do I have a duty to them?

And if I do have a duty, is that duty sacrosanct?  Do I have a say in how much effort should be put in for that honor?  Does honor and duty trump the reality in play?  What if the needs of those who hold power and sway or nothing more than a want?  What if it is ego, pride, profit, or promotion dictating what my country wants from me?

Can I question it?  Can I disagree without being called cowardly, horrible, or bastards?  Can I admit it was a mistake without taking honor from those who fought and those who need purpose attached to their effort?

I think I can.  I think it can be done without it being antipathetic with the views of General Brady.  For this to be done, however, requires us to lose the romantic notion of war, and to see duty as just that; duty.  I am called and I answer.  And if it turns out you mislead me, manipulated me, or made a terrible miscalculation, my duty is no less noble than anyone else s effort.  And that duty goes above and beyond the battle field.  We have a duty to point out the mistakes of this country when it has the power to call on its sons and daughters to give up their life for it.

My country right or wrong?  No...I don't think it's that simplistic.

There but for the grace of God go I....

Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
To send your sons off before it's too late.
And you can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box. 

Country Joe And The Fish, wrote that and made the Vietnam Song famous during Woodstock.  Gimme and "F"...Gimme a "U"...

I thought about that song when I started writing these posts on if our effort was worth the cost.  Was the condemnation of  Kitt, Cronkite, Kennedy, King, the hippies justified?  Were they the one's who "lost" the war for us, or, like I believe now, the war was never ours to win since South Vietnam had nothing to offer its people other than being not-communists, which for a peasant, means very little.

I want to go back to Carl von Clausewitz understanding of war:
[T]he use of power involves two factors. The first is the strength of available means, which may be measured somewhat by numbers (although not entirely). The second factor is the strength of the will which can not be specifically measured (only estimated) as it is intangible.  Once a state has gained an approximation of the enemy's strength of resistance it can review its own means and adjust them upwards accordingly in an effort to gain the advantage. As the enemy will also be doing this, it too becomes reciprocal. [third reciprocal action] (1)
We had the strength, no doubt about that.  But in Vietnam, it really did not matter how strong our military was, without the other factor needed to meet our objectives - a stable south Vietnam government - all our military could do is keep the bad guys at bay, which Tet showed in 1968, was not going to be easy.

Now that we knew, and by "we" I mean the people of the US, Carl von Clausewitz's second factor kicks in:
The second factor is the strength of the will which can not be specifically measured (only estimated) as it is intangible.  Once a state has gained an approximation of the enemy's strength of resistance it can review its own means and adjust them upwards accordingly in an effort to gain the advantage.
Walter Cronkite and Robert Kennedy saw what it was going to take, and understood how difficult, or most likely saw it as impossible, for the United States to "win" this conflict.  Which is why Robert Kennedy said in his February 1968 speech:
For years we have been told that the measure of our success and progress in Vietnam was
increasing security and control for the population. Now we have seen that none of the population
is secure and no area is under sure control.
Four years ago when we only had about 30,000 troops in Vietnam, the Vietcong were unable to mount the assaults on cities they have now conducted against our enormous forces. At one time a suggestion that we protect enclaves was derided. Now there are no protected enclaves. 
This has not happened because our men are not brave or effective, because they are. It is because we have misconceived the nature of the war: It is because we have sought to resolve by military might a conflict whose issue depends upon the will and conviction of the South Vietnamese people. It is like sending a lion to halt an epidemic of jungle rot. (2)
I think that was a reasonable and fair analogy.  It is also an accurate understanding of what was happening in Vietnam.  So if we can't "win" with our military alone, how much "means" should we put into it as we "adjust upwards accordingly?"

This is where it hits close to home for me.  I could have been the "means" had we continued.  Without fully understanding my reasoning for taking exception to General Patrick Brady's San Antonio Express News article, I understood when I read it that he was incorrect in his premise:
[O]ur defeat came from the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard.
General Brady is an absolutist (in addition to being delusional).  Had we pressed on; "Unbelievably, there was no military follow-up." would that have changed anything?  I can't say, but neither can he.  But the fact still remains that we could not achieve our objectives with the military alone.  Unless you don't want to believe the CIA's analysis in May, 1968:
"The situation thereafter will largely depend, as it has in the past, on the question of the will to persist of either side rather than on the attainment of an overwhelming military victory."
General Brady, as an absolutist, thinks the lion can cure jungle rot.  Walter Cronkite and Robert Kennedy, as realists, understand that the lion cannot.

General Brady is one of "those who said that we could win and must" and Cronkite, Kennedy, Kitt, and "the elite in the courtrooms, the classroom, the cloakrooms and the newsrooms, from cowardly media-phobic politicians and irresponsible, dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard (3)" are "those who said that even if we could win we should not and that the military considerations were a complete obfuscation of the basic issues." (4 page 2)

General Brady is free to express his reasons as to why he thinks we could win and should have continued on, something he has not done other than denigrate those who share the other view and make up stories in an effort to right a wrong that is there but not there to the degree he thinks it is.  How he feels about what took place is uniquely his own, and. like for me, his objectivity can be compromised by factors that fall close to home.

Without a crystal ball there is no way to determine what course taken - or not taken - would have resulted in a better outcome.  What we do know for sure is that the enemy had the capability of making us work for that victory.  That's where Carl von Clausewitz's "it can review its own means and adjust them upwards accordingly in an effort to gain the advantage" comes in.  Evaluate and re-evaluate.  Left to General Brady, Kid Rock, Hawks, and absolutists, the means is "whatever it takes."

In 1968 I was 11 years old.  When I was 12, Country Joe was telling me what could await me.  When I was 16, Richard Nixon finally put an end to "whatever it takes."

There but for the grace of God go I.

Next Post: My Country Right or Wrong


Sunday, July 10, 2011

In case you don't understand the lingo, that's marijuana."

Continuing on with the theme of two sides to a coin.....

A colleague of David Culbert wrote this to him in July 1978, regarding an essay he wrote on the Adam's photo as well as a proposal for a grant he and Peter Rollins were submitting for the film they were working on.
You seem to be deliberately ignoring the ways in which government press releases, especially the releases from the  Saigon  government, but from  Washington as well, were propagandistic in their insistence upon the corner being imminently turned, the tunnel-end being imminently reached, the democracy of southeast Asia being imminently saved  (as though it had ever existed in the first place).
In short, the government was doing what you and Peter [Rollins]  seem to be doing: acting as though the military truth were the determining context, and, Dave, I swear that readers  and  viewers will remember that the context was one in which the traumatic divisions that tore the country apart was not one in which there was a division between those who thought we were winning and could win on the one hand and  those who thought we weren' t winning and couldn't win on the other, but between those who said that we could win and must and those who said that even if we could win we should not and that the military considerations were a complete obfuscation of the basic issues.  
What I like about this paragraph is the author's contention that the division in the country over the Vietnam war was between "those who said that we could win and must and those who said that even if we could win we should not."

What happens, as far as I can see, is that this Highlander - there can be only one - reality pits one against the other.  How do we handle a situation like that?  How about democratically, you know, put it to a vote?  We don't vote on war.  Our elected officials - who we did voted for - decide, and they decided that blood and treasure should be spent trying to meet our objectives in Vietnam. And, as was pointed out:
"[i]f we stick to it long enough - and this is not a short term proposition - [we were] confident that we shall have reasonable success in achieving our objectives."
See that word "reasonable" in that sentence?  Lets look at how that's defined:
"Having modest or moderate expectations; not making unfair demands"
In other words, based on what we set out to do, and what we knew about the enemy (see post), sticking with it should bring about the success of those objectives.

And then came Tet, the Eddie Adam's photo, and a reevaluation of the cost associated with achieving that reasonable success.  You know that saying "freedom isn't free?"  Well that's a tacit way of telling you it is going to cost blood and treasure.

Did "Uncle Walt" and the use of the Eddie Adam's change the hearts and minds of Americans to go against the war, or was it simply more a realization by more and more people that "even if we could win we should not?"

Here is what George Bailey told Rollins in an interview for the film (Lichty also talks about Walter Cronkite's impact) :

Rollins interview with Prof Lawrence Lichty and George Bailey
This assessment on the cost - and to whom it is applied to - had been going on way before Tet.  Case in point was a confrontation between the actress Eartha Kitt and Lady Bird Johnson (from: Lady Bird: A Biography of Mrs. Johnson By Jan Jarboe Russell):

Before Tet we weren't quite ready to hear about what the cost of the war was doing to those who were the "blood" part of the blood and treasure commitment to achieve our objectives, and Eartha Kitt paid the price - a la the Dixie Chicks - for being "ill-mannered negro."

I guess what I am struggling with in all of this is how should I feel about it now, compared with how I felt about it before I started doing my research on this?  It's not as easy as it should be because I am also troubled by my ignorance as a teenager heading into draft age who really was clueless about what it was all about.  That's where this is heading for me now.  I was, back in 1973, while the war was still going on, sixteen.  Had it continued I would have been that "blood" my fellow Americans were willing to spend to meet our objectives.

It hits close to home now, and that makes my objectivity towards the war, Tet, General Loan, and the absolutists tainted.

Should my near-miss play into how I see the war? Should it dictate how I feel about our effort, my government, my military, and General Loan?

It can't help but not affect my view of the war, which is exactly the same situation General Loan was put in on February 1st, 1968 when Nguyen Van Lem was brought to him with hands tied behind his back and wearing civilian clothes.

How one sees a situation is uniquely their own.  How dare we punish Eartha Kitt for voicing how she saw the conflict in Vietnam.  How dare we criticize Walter Cronkite and Robert Kennedy for speaking what they saw as the truth. How dare we degrade the men and woman who willingly and unwillingly offered their blood to give us "reasonable success in achieving our objectives."  And how dare we condemn General Loan for this one particular act - committed during a war, during an invasion - elevating ii up to a classification of "moral turpitude."

Condemnation is deserved for those who ignore the cost and reality that comes in to play when you go to war.

As Charles Heston said in Plant of the Apes: Damn them!  Damn them to hell!

Next Post: There but for the grace of God go I....

Friday, July 8, 2011

The "Good Guys" Government: Equally important as the military effort in winning the war

Starting at the end of the memo....

Sometime before July 19, 1967, Ambassador Bunker met with Secretary McNamar and Secretary Katzenbach, concluding his meeting with this:
"I believe that we are gradually achieving out aims in Vietnam.  If we stick to it long enough - and this is not a short term proposition - I am confident that we shall have reasonable success in achieving our objectives."
And just what were "our objectives?" (1)

Meeting between Ambassador Bunker and Secretary McNamar and Secretary Katzenbach,
Okay, so that's the objective, all we need to do is "stick to it long enough."  Simple!

Now let's look at the reality....

Remember that "good guy" General Loan?  Well he plays into this reality for us.  Let's look at what we knew to be true in July 1967: (1)

Meeting between Ambassador Bunker and Secretary McNamar and Secretary Katzenbach,
So we are fighting a "limited war" locked in a "bitter and savage struggle with an enemy determined, disciplined. well equipped and resourceful."  And in the midst of all this we are trying to do is carry out a "social revolution" in Vietnam.  Whether we should, or should not, is not going to be discussed here.  I am trying to look at the reality in play to show why the view of our involvement as  "whatever it takes" would not work in Vietnam.  Tet and the Eddie Adam's photo did not change the reality that "whatever it takes" would take and take and take without ever bringing to fruition our objectives.  Time, on the other hand, was on the enemy's side:

The objectives we set out to achieve are not unworkable, however, the priorities we were to focus on in an effort to meet those objectives were a pipe dream to say the least. (1)

Meeting between Ambassador Bunker and Secretary McNamar and Secretary Katzenbach,
But above all that, there was no way to bring about a "social revolution" as long as Ky and Loan were part of the process. (2)

Herewith a first view of Thieu after the [Ky/Thieu ticket] deal
What Ky, Loan, and their allies wanted was different than what Thieu wanted.  But there was no way there would be ANY government in Vietnam unless both sides joined together and each got something.

This was the reality we were faced with and why there would be no way to "win" this war.  This was not a defeat-your-enemy-and-win-battles type of war like we were used to.  Even the fact that it was gorilla tactics and house-to-house fighting, had nothing to do with making this war un-winnable.  Simply put, the amount of effort that would be required to vanquish the enemy would do little if the "good guys" were not really good guys. (1)

Meeting between Ambassador Bunker and Secretary McNamar and Secretary Katzenbach,

What was known in 1967, before Tet, was that this war required not just the military aspect to achieve our goals, but a political one as well.  Further evidence that the proponents of stay the course would never get the "win" they wanted.

What were the political realities of Vietnam in 1967 that would work against our objectives and priorities... those things we needed to see to bring about a "win?" (1)

Meeting between Ambassador Bunker and Secretary McNamar and Secretary Katzenbach,
Why we thought we could overcome the political realities AND fight an enemy that was "determined, disciplined. well equipped and resourceful." has a lot to do with our arrogance as a superpower.  We knew in 1967 that the military aspect could only go so far.

So why to this day do some - including scholars and Generals - insist on looking at Tet in terms of winning the battle but losing the war?  They seem hellbent on getting the "true" story out...if only the American people knew the real story instead of the one presented to them as microcosms of destruction.  Look what David Culbert has to say about this.

TV  Interview  with  David  Culbert
Did the North Vietnamese gain a "stupendous psychological victory" here in the US or was what happened during Tet the inevitable harbinger of exactly what should have been understood and known in 1967 by the American people?  Are we that gullible that we would could not formulate an understanding of what we saw based on what we had been told.  The North's victory on changing our will was the result of a fabricated reality perpetuated by our government.

In other words, had our veil of ignorance been off and we known about the true strength of the enemy, the understanding that they would be in it for the long-haul, the dysfunction of the "good guys" we needed to meet our objectives, and the lack of understanding we had for what the Vietnamese people were thinking (see page 28), would we have concluded anything different after Tet in 1968?

I don't think so.  Now I'm not talking about how we felt about it at the time, or how we feel about it now.  I am talking about how we would conclude it objectively.  Had we been kept in the dark or shown a more positive picture would that have been better for us?  Better for the absolutist point of view, maybe.

All Tet and General Loan did was rip off the facade that had been put in place to bolster our own need for a psychological victory in order to keep Carl von Clausewitz's "strength of will" firm and undaunted so that we could "stick to it long enough" to have a chance at meeting our objectives.

Any other conclusion, in my opinion, is a logical fantasy.

Next post: In case you don't understand the lingo, that's marijuana."


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kid Rock, Carl von Clausewitz, O'Brien, and General Loan

I read an old copy of Maxim my son had.  It had an interview with Kid Rock, dated 10/8/2007, in which he is asked the question: How would you run the war differently?  Here is his response:
I’d kick the media out. War’s not pretty, and you can’t fight a war diplomatically. We didn’t win the Revolutionary War like that. We were the original terrorists, ducking behind buildings and crap. As harsh as this sounds—and I’m sure I’ll get crap for it—if somebody kills an American soldier in a certain section of town, I’d blow up that section of town. I’d do what the Israelis do and take out 50 motherfuckers. I’d say, "Next American who gets killed, 50 more innocent people. Start giving up insurgents or we’ll wipe out your fucking block." You gotta fight fire with fire.
Would you not conclude that Kid Rock is an ardent believer in Carl von Clausewitz's first reciprocal action:
"Therefore, war in its most natural manner would involve each state continually reciprocating each other's use of force (plus some) to maintain a superiority, until both were using violence to its utmost extent."
Could one reasonably infer that Kid Rock believes that war allows a nation to "fight to war's natural extremes," that is, to perpetuate acts of violence without compromise" and "without political and moral moderation." (1)

And, if that is true, if confronted with a hypothetical, he would have to answer in a similar manner as he did when he stated " "Next American who gets killed, 50 more innocent people. Start giving up insurgents or we’ll wipe out your fucking block."

Since he has already stated unequivocally that it is quite acceptable to kill 50 more innocent people, had he been asked, like Winston was in 1984, he would quite eagerly respond exactly the same way, would he not?
O'Brien: In general terms, what are you prepared to do?'   
Kid Rock: Anything that we are capable of.
O'Brien: You are prepared to give your lives?
Kid Rock: Yes.
O'Brien: You are prepared to commit murder?
Kid Rock: Yes.
O'Brien: To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?
Kid Rock: Yes.
O'Brien: If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child's face -- are you prepared to do that?
Kid Rock:    Yes.
So if Kid Rock, who has never been to war, who has never been in a battle, who has never had to decide who must suffer, or witness the pain and agony of the aftermath, finds it so fucking easy to condemn 50 innocent people to death for the actions perpetuated by others, doesn't it seem plausible that General Loan's actions on February 1st, 1968 could have been the result of seeing the situation through that same prism?

If Kid Rock can find it reasonable to kill 50 innocents because one of our soldiers was killed, isn't it also reasonable that General Loan could execute an enemy soldier who had just invaded his city?  I mean look at it objectively.  Our soldiers are basically an invading force in another country.  Some of the people who live there don't want us there in THEIR country.  They have every right in the world to try and kill us.  General Loan, on the other hand, was in HIS city which had just been invaded by others who were trying to force their will on him.

Now, look at the definition of moral turpitude:
Moral turpitude refers generally to conduct that shocks the public conscience. 
When looking at what Kid Rock would do and what General Loan did do, which one meets the definition more succinctly?

Now you may be thinking that Kid Rock was just being boastful, that he would never do that.  I say he would, not directly, but indirectly.  Most likely he would pussy out when it came time to pouring the sulfuric acid onto the child, or shooting 50 old ladies and children in the marketplace.  That's what most of these "fight fire with fire" types become when the situation calls for action; pussies.

Instead he would turn a blind eye to what was happening, play nudge-nudge with those that would carry it out, and hide under his flag poncho as others did his dirty work in furtherance of Carl von Clausewitz' first reciprocal action.  He would find a General Loan and unleash him under the rhetoric that "War’s not pretty, and you can’t fight a war diplomatically."

This is one side of the coin.  Like it or not, this is an absolute theology as distasteful and real as that of an absolute war.  On the other side of that coin, however, is something different.  Not, as one would think, the complete opposite to what is absolute.  No, this side of the coin is a bit more nuanced, a bit more reasonable, a bit more humane.

Look once again at what Robert Kennedy said on February 8th, 1968:
Nor does it serve the interests of America to fight this war as if moral standards could be subordinated to immediate necessities. Last week, a Vietcong suspect was turned over to the chief of the Vietnamese Security Services, who executed him on the spot—a flat violation of the Geneva Convention on the Rules of War. 
The photograph of the execution was on front pages all around the world—leading our best and oldest friends to ask, more in sorrow than in anger, what has happened to America? 
Somehow, as I have gotten to know and understand General Loan, I can see him being asked the same questions by O'Brien, but when it came to pouring sulfuric acid on a child, I really think General Loan would have told him 'no'.

But I could not see Kid Rock, Dick Cheney, or John Yoo having moral standards high enough to where they could not be "subordinated to immediate necessities."  These three, and others like them, view the world and our nation's behavior regarding our wants and needs, as absolute.

What does this say about some of my fellow countrymen who wield a great deal of power and influence over my fellow citizens?  What does this say about those who would denigrate Robert Kennedy for questioning what we are doing, why we are doing it, and the cost of said actions?   What type of behavior should we all see as corrupt or depraved, as a degenerate act or practice, regardless of why it is being performed?

Which side of the coin do we want America to land on, Kid Rock or Robert Kennedy?

Next Post: The "Good Guys" Government: Equally important as the military effort in winning the war


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why the lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust....

As I have said a number of times in my posts regarding Eddie Adams and General Loan, there is a lot I did not know about the Vietnam war.  There is a lot I still don't know.

However, through all of this research, through reading the declassified CIA and military documents, visiting websites and reading comments, looking at the reporting done at the time, reading the speeches written, and studying the journal articles written, a clearer pictures as to why the lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust, emerges.

Basically, it boils down to this:  There are some people who hold a logical fantasy as the truth regarding war.  That is, they believe that victory in a war is achievable if it were not "directed or constrained by political motives or concerns, nor limited by the practical constraints of time or space." (1

In other words, had the public been kept completely in the dark, had Nixon dropped bombs for one more week, had we pushed through across the border, had we used nukes, had we done and used everything in our power, we would have achieved victory in Vietnam.

That's a logical fantasy because it ignores all of the realities in play.  War takes money and effort.  That money and effort comes from somewhere does it not?  To allow the military to do whatever it takes to achieve victory assumes, naively, that victory can always be achieved.

And that assumption ignores the cost.  How many more lives are required to be taken to achieve victory?  As many as it takes?  What weapons should be used?  Anything and everything?  What will happen if victory is obtained?  It doesn't matter, aftermath is not the military's concern, is it not?

Now that may sound like I am being harsh on the military.  I am not.  I am simply pointing out a reality, their reality.  Their job is to move forward or keep the other guy from moving forward.  It is not nation building, or refugees, or bad blood, or destroyed infrastructure, cost in money, dead or wounded troops, or anything else.  It is simply to successfully complete their mission.

And therein lies the problem with Vietnam and any other war that does not involve an invading army.  It is not something that can be won.  At best, as Walter Cronkite said in his newscast that pissed so many off:
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.
To say we could not have won is incorrect.  We could have, and those that served and those who believe in the concept of absolute war, know this as the truth.  And, once again, therein lies the problem with the Vietnam war.

If we could have won, why weren't we allowed to win?  Was it because of the press, the hippies, the defeatists, the weak-minded....  No, it wasn't, but yes it was!

Two academics, Peter Rollins and David Culbert have written an number of journal articles on how the press, especially TV, was responsible for changing the US attitude against the war.  Everyone has bias when they write.  As much as I try to be objective, it is possible, even without my knowledge (which sounds crazy cause' I'm the guy typing!) that what I write may fail to take in consideration those viewpoints and facts I am adamantly opposed to.

That being the case, lets look at from where Peter Rollins, a Vietnam vet, is writing from:

Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80

One can reasonably understand what biases Peter Rollin's may have.  What he puts is, leaves out, positioning, context, all go into the making of his film.  It is a logical fantasy in play here, made that way by a certain reality.  He, as well as his brothers in arms, were denied not only overall victory, but were not given the full respect they felt deserved for the same sacrifice and duty other veterans were offered.  That's a reality.  That's what drives and motivates the need to show not just the truth, but a truth more reflective of a need to overcome these two losses.

Case in point.  Does it really matter if the VC entered into the embassy building itself or blew a hole in the wall and entered into the compound?  Does it matter that the pistol that was tossed up to the ambassador "just in time to shoot the VC coming up the stairs" took place in the stairs of the bungalow and not in the embassy?

In other words, had we been told that the VC entered only into the compound and that the ambassador was able to catch the pistol and shoot the VC in the bungalow, our opinion of what happened during Tet would have been different. Do those facts make their effort more...I don't know, deserving of respect?

It is true -  that had there been no press or cameras - we would have come away with a whole different opinion of Tet, as was pointed out by one of Rollin and Culbert's colleagues regarding their film:

Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80
And what would have our opinion have been?  Would it have been one that ignored the realities we could see?  Would it have been one that resulted because we were kept in the dark?  Should our opinion have been left solely to what our government and the military wanted it to be?

The reason we have lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust.... is simply because the those who think in absolutes cannot except a reality that does not work in absolutes. So thy build and perpetuate myths as to why it did not work out their way.

Look at what Rollins is quoted as saying:

 Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80
This assumes that we would be easily swayed by the "eye-for-an-eye" defense for the actions performed by General Loan.  That one must "fight fire with fire" so it's all okay.  Had we been told what General Loan said to the reporters (see post) during the broadcast, it would have made it "more complex" and less about "the drama implicit in the images - never mind the fact that the day before in all the newspapers Loan's "they killed many of my men" statement was reported.

Somehow had we been told and shown something different, the results would be different.  But this also brings forth the premise that had we not been told or shown, the results would have been different as well.  The inability to control the message is what these absolutists are reticent about.  But up until Tet, the absolutists did control the message, even Rollins understands that:

Oklahoma State University  News Service 10/20/80
So why the need for lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust.... if what we had been told up to that point was "pure propaganda?"  Shouldn't what we saw, heard and read, about Tet lead us to a more reasoned understanding about our involvement there?  It should, for how could it not.  The only problem is where it led us was away from where the absolutists wanted us to go.  This is what Robert Kennedy meant when he said:
The third illusion is that the unswerving pursuit of military victory, whatever its cost, is in the interest of either ourselves or the people of Vietnam. 
For the absolutists winning the war, whatever its cost, is a given, an absolute.  For the soldier, to have their effort used for anything other than pursuit of a victory, is unconscionable.  When Rollins says about Tet that "we won the battle, but lost the war" he is looking at it from both an absolutists and a soldier.  And here is the reality that some, like Robert Kennedy, understood after Tet.  There was not war to win:
This has not happened because our men are not brave or effective, because they are. It is because we have misconceived the nature of the war: It is because we have sought to resolve by military might a conflict whose issue depends upon the will and conviction of the South Vietnamese people. It is like sending a lion to halt an epidemic of jungle rot. 
The reasons, therefore, for these lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust.... are understandable. The reality, as Robert Kennedy was pointing out, does not sit well for those who think in absolutes and those who gave their effort, blood, limbs, minds, and lives fighting in a war that was misconceived.

I understand it.  That doesn't mean I condone it.  The truth may hurt, but it is still the truth.  But there is another ugly truth out there, and that is even with this understanding, there are still absolutist out there who believe we should do whatever it costs to win.

Next post: Kid Rock, Carl von Clausewitz, O'Brien, and General Loan




Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Carl von Clausewitz, the CIA, and General Loan

Like I said in the beginning of this series of posts; there is a lot I don't know about the Vietnam war, a lot I should have known at the time, a lot the public should have known, and especially my parents who, for them, I would have done my duty as asked of me by my country, should have known as a means of helping me decide what I might have gotten myself into.  I turned 18 in 1975, so I missed all the fun by just a couple years.

Carl von Clausewitz, the guy who wrote the book "On War," talks about the concept of "Absolute War" explained as follows:
"[A]bsolute war is a philosophical abstraction--a "logical fantasy"--that is impossible in practice because it is not directed or constrained by political motives or concerns, nor limited by the practical constraints of time or space. He called warfare constrained by these moderating real-world influences real war."
When you read all the comments regarding the Eddie Adams photo (example), you start to understand that most people see a situation in the most abstract, and fail to connect all the different parts in play.  What they cannot grasp is how things that run the gambit from ego, to pride, to faith, to superstition, to history, to culture, to logistics - all the way down the basic laws of physics - mold, shape, and confine a war.  All of these things, plus more, interconnect and places constraints on our ability to perform, as it did with Vietnam.

Such is the truth about what took place during the Vietnam war as well as what General Loan did that day on February 1st, 1968.  The outcome - the reality - was the result of all sorts of things in play before and during.  Anything else brought into the conversation about the how and why that is not factual or interconnected is a logical fantasy perpetuated by those that cannot accept the truth as it really is.

"He was one of us," Eddie Adams said.  We were there for for him and he for us. Simple!  And that's why it's a logical fantasy to think of it in such an absolute way.  We must have been there for a reason, if General Loan was one of us.  That assumes that there must have been a "them" in order for there to be an "us."  The "them" was the communist north.  If  you can remember the time before the Berlin wall fell, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and China became capitalists, communism was a big scary boogieman for the US.  You cannot look at it with 21st century eyes, you need to see it with eyes that viewed the world in the 50's and 60's.

Fighting communism was the main political motive that directed our involvement over there.  That's what gave us an enemy...a "them."  Now let's look at that enemy from a grounding in truth (assuming that declassified CIA documents are truthful).  What did we know about our enemy eight months before Tet?

From: The Vietnam Situation: The Vietnam Situation: An Analysis and Estimate - May 23, 1967, Central Intelligence Agency Collection.
"The situation thereafter will largely depend, as it has in the past, on the question of the will to persist of  either side rather than on the attainment of an overwhelming military victory."
That was the conclusion, derived from this:
"Although the enemy hopes to overrun a number of allied field positions, his principal aim is to inflict maximum attrition on our forces at whatever cost to his own, and to check the momentum of the pacification effort."
Here is what Walter Cronkite would say on February 27, 1968, for which he took a lot of flak and was accused of losing the war for us by turning public opinion away from one of support.
"To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion."
What does Carl von Clausewitz had to say about war:
"Therefore, war in its most natural manner would involve each state continually reciprocating each other's use of force (plus some) to maintain a superiority, until both were using violence to its utmost extent." [first reciprocal action]
And in 1967, what did the US understand the situation in Vietnam to be?

The Vietnam Situation: An Analysis and Estimate
And what does Carl von Clausewitz have to say about this type of knowledge that was known to the CIA?:
[T]he use of power involves two factors. The first is the strength of available means, which may be measured somewhat by numbers (although not entirely). The second factor is the strength of the will which can not be specifically measured (only estimated) as it is intangible.  Once a state has gained an approximation of the enemy's strength of resistance it can review its own means and adjust them upwards accordingly in an effort to gain the advantage. As the enemy will also be doing this, it too becomes reciprocal. [third reciprocal action]
Why all this lecture on the theory of war?  How does this relate to General Loan?  Lets look at this particular sentence from the Wikipedia page on "Absolute War."
Absolute war can be seen to be an act of violence without compromise, in which states fight to war's natural extremes; it is a war without the 'grafted' political and moral moderations.
What does an act of violence without compromise entail?  Is it collateral damage?  Is it torture?  Is it killing woman and children in  My Lai?  Raping women in Nanking? Or was it executing a bound man who was part of an invasion force into your city?  In other words, what does an act of violence without compromise allow?  Surely it cannot allow for everything, or do we allow it to because it is war?

War brings forward certain truths, like it or not.  War will always move towards more and more extreme actions.  War will always require two factors; strength of available means and the strength of the will behind the effort.  If we can assume this premise to be true, what General Loan did that day on February 1st 1968 was simply an absolute.  Without any other considerations taken into account, what he did was no more or less extreme than any other act committed that day, if the premise is true that war is an act of violence without compromise. 

Then why is he singled out?  Quite simply, it is because we cannot accept the Carl von Clausewitz premise and call ourselves human, compassionate, or Christian.  What we saw in the photo and the film was the reality in play when one group wants to make another group comply with its will.  That's what war is all about.  What the US, General Loan, and Nguyen Van Lem were doing that day was fulfilling war's ultimate purpose: trying to force the other into a position from which it cannot resist the other's will.

This does not justify - nor condemn - General Loan's actions that day.  It only helps explain it.  And for those who believe that the photo and Walter Cronkite lost the war because it changed public opinion, that places blame for our lack of a "victory" on those who did not accept the cost in blood and treasure for the purpose of forcing the opposing group to accept our will.

And if Carl von Clausewitz and the CIA in May of 1967 were correct, the extreme that this conflict was going to let lose was going to be bloody, long, and severe, a point Walter Cronkite made succinctly in 1968 after Tet:
For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.
It would take five more years and 58.209 US deaths for our strength of will to stop reciprocating and put an end to the war's natural extremes. Had we continued, had we deemed this effort to continue whatever the costs, what might those extremes be?  Anything and everything, including nuclear weapons and countless more deaths, hence Cronkite's logical conclusion - which is sound based on Carl von Clausewitz's first reciprocal action: "...each state continually reciprocating each other's use of force (plus some) to maintain a superiority, until both were using violence to its utmost extent."

What General Loan showed us February 1st, 1968 was the ugly face of what war is really all about.

Next post: Why the lies, misstatements, half-truths, and downright disgust....


Sunday, July 3, 2011

General Loan: "Probably the most feared man in the country"

And what about General Loan in all of this?  Can he really be characterized as a "good guy?"

It is 1966, and General Loan is responsible for creating a whole mess of turmoil for the Vietnamese government that was in power at the time, before Thieu and Ky would be "elected" in October of 1967. (1)

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)

Seems the good General not only dislikes communists but he is not to keen on the "southerners" who were on his side.

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)

So how does the General spend his time....

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)

A regular J. Edgar Hoover...or Richard Nixon!

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)
Remember my last post when I asked WHO are we fighting for?

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)
Still a free-press mind you, just nothing to print it on.

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)
C'mon....if that's not Hoover and Nixon-like nothing is.  Makes Carl Rove look minor league!

Political Activities of Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (LBJ Library)
And if they said "No?"

Another good read is another secret document on the same matter, with this little gem:

CIA summary on the activities of Brigadier General Loan, Jan 26, 1967

Which, if you look at it objectively, tells you the bind the US was in (see last post).  This is the reality we faced.  It was not going to be a fair election, the Vietnamese military had to win or they would have just taken over anyway.  The other reality here, is that because of this, Robert Kennedy's remarks on Feb 8, 1968 were also spot on:
You cannot expect [the South Vietnamese] people to risk their lives and endure hardship unless they have a stake in their own society. They must have a clear sense of identification with their own government, a belief they are participating in a cause worth fighting for. 
So when the New York Times writes:

It kind of sounds like they are accurately describing General Loan, I mean, unless you want to discount all of the secret documents reference above and in my previous posts.

And if the NYT's description of General Loan is true, when the ABC cameraman, who is Vietnamese, said he was "afraid of General Loan" that sounds like a pretty accurate feeling, all things considered.

Once again I ask you; is General Loan a "good guy" because he was one of us or because Eddie Adam's said he was?  Or, is it more likely that he fell somewhere between "good guy" and "most feared man in the country?"

Nevertheless, it would appear that the category one would place General Loan in, "good" or "feared" seems to be wholly dependent on what side of the fence he saw you on.

Next Post: Carl von Clausewitz, the CIA, and General Loan


Friday, July 1, 2011

And it's one, two, three WHO are we fighting for?

Before I can continue on with why I feel General Loan should not be viewed as a "good guy," I need to delve into a bit of background on the Vietnam situation in 1967. All of this is, in my opinion, necessary to understand General Loan the man.

I am going to start this post off with a picture:

Wearing matching flight suits and scarves, South Vietnam’s Premier Nguyen Cao Ky strolls hand-in-hand with his wife as they make aninspection tour of the battlefield near Bong Son, South Vietnam on February 4, 1966. Ky visited the area where American and SouthVietnamese troops killed a reported 700 Communist guerillas in recent battles.  (Photo: © Bettmann/CORBIS
The question I want to pose is this: can one looking at the picture tell the difference between drama and information?  Can one read meaning into what is shown?  Is this photo a half-truth?

There is a reason for showing that particular photo.  In my opinion it supports what was known to the US and to the Vietnam people about the men who were leading them.  This should become evident as you read on.

Historian David Culbert writes:
Robert Kennedy, who entered the presidential race on 10 March 1968, made his first major speech following Tet on 8  February, at the Chicago Book and Author luncheon.  He insisted that Tet was a military disaster for the Americans, and that the South Vietnamese government was "a government without supporters."
I'll let you read the full speech by Robert Kennedy to see if you come to the same conclusion.  Anyway, more to my point in trying to support why General Loan is not a "good guy," lets look at what Robert Kennedy said in this speech and how his comments on  February 8th 1968 compares to what the CIA knew at the time.  All of that, and the above photo too.

Here is what Robert Kennedy said in his speech:
You cannot expect [the South Vietnamese] people to risk their lives and endure hardship unless they have a stake in their own society. They must have a clear sense of identification with their own government, a belief they are participating in a cause worth fighting for. 
People will not fight to line the pockets of generals or swell the bank accounts of the wealthy. They are far more likely to close their eyes and shut their doors in the face of their government—even as they did last week [Tet offensive]. 
More than any election, more than any proud boast, that single fact reveals the truth. We have an ally in name only. We support a government without supporters. Without the efforts of American arms that government would not last a day.
General Loan was one of those Generals.  He was not flashy like his best friend Ky, but he was just as powerful.  In addition to Adams calling Loan a "good guy" he also called him a "goddamn hero."  I have my doubts about that.

So what do we know about Loan and these Generals Robert Kennedy speaks about.  Was it really a government without supporters?  Without the efforts of American arms would that government have lasted?

Here is what the CIA states in their declassified document.

October 1998
Only relevant sections referencing General Loan are included.  Interesting tidbits of information and enlightenment are in blue.
In mid--1966, with US combat forces carrying the burden of offensive operations against the Communists, government, stability was still the dominant political issue. Station disengagement from Palace liaison had now endured a full year, while CIA expanded its programs in the countryside. Ky was planning elections to a' constitutional constituent assembly that summer, and the problem of campaign financing drew the Agency back into involvement with the military leadership."
One of Prime Minister Ky's closest confidants was Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who as chief of both the National Police and the Military Security Service also conducted liaison with the Station on intelligence and security matters, He importuned the Station for money to replenish police funds he had used to subsidize the campaigns of Ky allies, Ambassador Lodge asked the Station to oblige him, and Headquarters approved a subsidy of 10 million piasters (about $85,000) which the Station passed to Loan on 25 August.
This return to active involvement with the leadership coincided with the departure of Gordon Jorgensen. His replacement, John Hart, had run other large Stations [redact] He seems not to have shared Jorgensen's reservations about direct dealings at the top, and in midOctober asked Headquarters to consider giving Loan another 14 million piasters to replace police and MSS funds diverted to the election campaign. According to Loan, Ky needed this support to avoid having to declare to his peers in the Military Directorate that he had used money from the Prime Minister's secret fund for political purposes. Hart noted that Ky was trying at the moment to resolve another cabinet crisis, and thought Lodge would approve CIA support designed to strengthen Ky's position
No reply has been found, and the proposal may have been overtaken by the controversy over Loan himself that came to a head when Headquarters suggested his removal. As for the original 10-million-piaster subsidy, while it may have spared Ky some embarrassment, its influence on the electoral outcome was apparently slight, as the only available reference to its use concerns support to two unsuccessful candidates in Da Nang,
The discussion over Loan's future - it did not address the means by which he might be unseated - brought into focus once more the perennial problem facing the Agency and the rest of the US Mission as they looked for Vietnamese officials meriting US support. Loan was energetic and highly intelligent, manipulative, and entirely loyal to Ky. But he did not look to the US for guidance, and in personal style sometimes appeared to be playing the clown. COS Hart later recalled having liked him; even if Loan "never agreed with anything I ever said," he was "absolutely honest," and perhaps the only Vietnamese official of Hart's acquaintance who would openly disagree with an American
To Russ Miller, who saw them together after he returned to Saigon in early 1967, the fastidious Hart looked repelled by Loan's "scruffy fatigues and open-toed sandals," and put off as well by Loan's chronic unavailability for an appointment. But there were more substantial reasons for reservations about Loan. Among them were his contempt for individual legal rights and for programs aimed at ingratiating the government with the peasantry, an attitude that put him at odds with American convictions on these issues.
Whatever his retrospective opinion of Loan, Hart described himself  as "not an admirer" when the Ambassador pressed him, in October 1966, to object to the Headquarters call for Loan's removal. Swallowing his reservations. Hart agreed that the police chief was indispensable to Ky at a moment when the US was counting on Ky to produce a constitution and a stable civilian government. Loan soon became important to CIA as well, as events unfolded that led to the Station's two most important political initiatives of 1967.
We seem to be mightily involved with forming the government that is to be out ally.
In the first of these initiatives, the Station tried to establish clandestine contact with the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLFSVN. usually abbreviated NLF), which although directed from Hanoi was composed mainly of southern Vietnamese. The Station proposed to identify presumed moderate elements in the NLF and to set up a commununications channel to any of these who might be interested in a dialog that excluded Hanoi. The second initiative involved a renewed effort tn deal with perpetually unstable government in Saigon. Here, the May 1967 arrival of Ellsworth Bunker as US Ambassador and the approach of presidential elections in South Vietnam ushered in a new CIA effort to influence Vietnamese politics,
Say what?  Yeah, that needed to be underlined, italicized, and made bold!  A few paragraphs later....
Ky's man, General Loan, visited Washington in May [1967] and made it plain that he saw no reason not to exploit the government apparatus to get Ky elected to the presidency. CIA Headquarters seemingly paid little attention to this, perhaps because DDP Richard Helms and FE Division Chief Colby were more interested in the approach to the NLF. Helms forcefully urged more initiatives like the one to Tan Buu Kiem of the NLF Foreign Affairs Committee, and Loan tepidly agreed that the Central Intelligence Organization might be the best instrument for this. Meanwhile, in Saigon, the rumor mill impeded American efforts to be perceived as having no preference between Thieu and Ky. The chief of the police Special Branch told a Station agent that the rumored imminent removal of John Hart and Ed Lansdale would serve local politicians as proof of US bias against Ky, if it took place, and of favoritism toward him if it didn't.
Ellsworth Bunker had been in Saigon less than two weeks when on 12 May [1968] Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky announced his presidential candidacy. Unlike Lodge, Bunker had no reservations about using CIA's political contacts in Saigon. He promptly enlisted the Station to help fulfill a Washington mandate to ensure fair elections, and to prevent a split in the Vietnamese military while the US preserved its neutrality between Thieu and Ky. As it turned out, Bunker needed all the help he could get, as this objective was threatened from the outset by General Loan, who upon his return from Washington had put into conspicuous action his belief in using government resources to promote Ky's bid. Washington and the US Mission now switched their earlier positions on Loan, as State rejected Bunker's 19 June proposal to force Loan's removal, and suggested using Miller to approach .Ky directly to curb campaign excesses. George Carver, the DCT's Special Assistant for Vietnam Affairs (SAVA), thought Loan's activities a symptom of Saigon's political malaise, not a cause, and suspected that Bunker's proposal reflected little more than the influence of John Hart's "personal distaste for and dislike of Loan."
Miller saw Ky on 21 June, probably before the Station learned of Washington's response to the Bunker recommendation. Ky acknowledged the possibly damaging effects of Loan's activism, and said he intended to remove Loan from command of the Military Security Service, and reduce his engagement in the electoral campaign. Ky also proposed to convene all province and district chiefs to enjoin them against any campaign excesses on his behalf. Ky did not know, presumably, that the two aides who had spent five hours with him that day, advocating precisely these measures, were [redacted] Station guidance. Ky said nothing of this 'session to Miller, who had the satisfaction of hearing his message presented as if it were Ky's own idea. The Station reported that the Ambassador was delighted, and that he proposed to use the Station's "advisory services" as a regular supplement to the direct consultation with Ky being urged on him by State.
Bunker and the Station thought they would enjoy more leverage if the Station funded a front organization of religious sects and political groups favoring Thieu and Ky and supported those of its contacts running for the National Assembly. But Washington was smarting under the exposure of CIA funding to the US National Student Association and other domestic organizations and refused even to consider it. Secretary of State Rusk cabled Bunker in Agency channels, urging him to establish a closer relationship with Thieu even while pursuing the CIA advisory effort with Ky, and to ensure that Thieu and Ky arrived at a clear mutual understanding of their respective roles during and after the election.
Who's yer daddy!
Miller succeeded in getting Phong to press the funding question with Ky, who released 5,000,000 piasters in mid-July to support the religious political front. Ky had instructed Phong both to keep Miller fully informed or campaign planning and to give full consideration to American suggestions. Phong began to do both, and his 20 July account of Thieu's having "swallowed a bitter pill" in accepting a circumscribed presidential role lent credibility to the claim of Ky's ascendancy. Miller noted that Phong seemed to think he could run a subtle campaign, keeping government employees from any egregious abuses while encouraging them to advertise Saigon's accomplishments. But the Station apparently feared that an election completely honest could be an election lost: it accepted without comment Phong's stated intention to exploit General Loan's police apparatus "in critical areas which require more effort to swing the vote to Thieu and Ky."
....and I'm proud to be an American.....
On 26 July, Miller gave Phong a list of platform suggestions approved by Bunker, and the next day Ky said they agreed with his own thinking, especially those dealing with civil service pay, corruption, and increased emphasis on the rural population. Ky did not, apparently, vet the ideas with Thieu, whose participation in the campaign he at one point derided as "completely silly." Meanwhile, the campaign was faltering, at least partly for lack of money, and Ky threatened that, lacking US funding support, he would be forced to rely on General Loan to extract "loan-type levies on various citizens with resultant, unfavorable repercussions." Phong wanted to avoid this kind of coercive fundraising, and the need to make deals with unsavory people, but Miller stood on his instructions. The Station rationalized that an impecunious Thieu-Ky campaign might look more like an honest campaign, but also anticipated the same effects from an unresolved money crunch that Phong did. A few days later, Phong mentioned the distribution of 8,000,000 piasters in the Mekong Delta. Ky had not revealed the source of the money, and Phong could only surmise that it came from General Loan.
What did Robert Kennedy say..."We support a government without supporters."  That 8 million had to come from supporters.  Isn't that what" loan-type levies" refers to?
In the week before the validation vote on 2 October, the Station mobilized its political contacts, making fifty separate approaches aimed at preventing an embarrassing repudiation of the election results. One opponent of Thien and Ky, in an access of "naivete or crudeness," acknowledged that he and his allies were concerned less with rectifying electoral fraud than with "the possibility of extracting a certain profit through political blackmai1." Whatever the effect of the Station's pressure tactics, the members of the Provisional Legislative Assembly were left in no doubt about the US preference for a validated result. The Constituent Assembly approved the result, 58 to 43, and Thieu and Ky were sworn into office on 31 October 1967.
What did Robert Kennedy say..."People will not fight to line the pockets of generals or swell the bank accounts of the wealthy."
In the last week of November, with the authenticity of the Dang channel still at issue, General Loan provoked a crisis that threatened to end the affair amid mutual embarrassment and recrimination. Miller confronted him with evidence of Saigon leaks about the operation, and at the same time expressed US concern about rumors that Loan was resigning as national police chief. Loan confirmed having submitted his resignalion, adding that Ky had rejected it. But Loan anticipated trouble with Thien's new civilian government, saying that its apparent indifference to pro-Communists among its appointees would inevitably collide with his aggressive approach to countersubversion.
On the even more contentious question of the Dang channel, Miller wanted to know why the government, after ten months of cooperation on approaches to the NLF, now appeared to be sabotaging the venture. US objectives had not changed, he noted, from the original goals of prisoner exchange and communication on "any broader political matters the NLF might wish to discuss." Loan insisted that he still favored the program, but acknowledged some disagreement on tactics. At the policy level, he noted, there was President Thicu's fear that the Americans were acquiring too much leverage on Saigon in pressing for release of VC prisoners. And there might indeed have been leaks, Loan added, but as a result of poor security in the Interior Ministry and not as a matter of deliberate sabotage.
The depth of the disagreement over tactics became evident when Miller and Loan met again the next day. Miller, speaking for the Ambassador, wanted the release of all the prisoners requested by Tran Bach Dang, while Loan insisted that the NLF would regard such a concession as a sign of weakness on the anti-Communist side. He thought only two should go back, Tong and the bearer of Dang's original letter, pending the release of prisoners in NLF hands. Miller insisted that such an insignificant gesture would provoke Dang into closing the channel. Loan then took refuge in a jurisdictional argument, asserting that Thieu's delegation of authority to him did not apply to the question at hand, which involved not just operational planning but strategic national policy. He would not, he said, decide whom to release, and Miller asked if he could at least quote him to the Interior Minister as having no objection to the US proposal. After a painful silence, Loan agreed.
Miller tried to restore a collegial atmosphere, emphasizing the need for a joint approach to the venture, and wondered aloud whether Loan would really prefer to see bilateral US-NLF contacts that excluded the South. Loan pessimistically but presciently replied that it would surely come to that, if not now then later. When this happened, he said, Saigon's forces would face the combined NLF, VC, and North Vietnamese Army alone.
On 1 December [1967], seeing President Thieu on Ambassador Bunker's instructions, Miller got an even stonier reception to the US proposal to release up to ten VC. Thieu accused thc Americans of naivete and Loan of playing anti-Thieu politics by opposing the release in order to make the President look like an American puppet if he granted it. Professing anxiety that this could undermine his support in both the military and the population at large, Thieu said that, against the background of his internal political problems, prisoner exchange was a "drop of water in the ocean

Here is how Robert Kennedy ended his speech:
No war has ever demanded more bravery from our people and our Government—not just bravery under fire or the bravery to make sacrifices—but the bravery to discard the comfort of illusion—to do away with false hopes and alluring promises. 
Reality is grim and painful. But it is only a remote echo of the anguish toward which a policy founded on illusion is surely taking us. 
This is a great nation and a strong people. Any who seek to comfort rather than speak plainly, reassure rather than instruct, promise satisfaction rather than reveal frustration—they deny that greatness and drain that strength. For today as it was in the beginning, it is the truth that makes us free. 
Was Culbert correct about how Robert Kennedy viewed Tet and our involvement in Vietnam?  Did Robert Kennedy "insist that Tet was a military disaster for the Americans, and that the South Vietnamese government was "a government without supporters."  Or did he say and mean something different, something closer to maybe the truth?

And what about General Loan in all of this?  Can he really be characterized as a "good guy?"

Well that's only one CIA author's opinion of what went down and Loan's involvement,  I got more....

Next Post: General Loan: "Probably the most feared man in the country"