Saturday, January 29, 2011

And you were there! (only we forgot to film it)

I am perplexed.  I am also flabbergasted.  I like these two words because you would never use them in speaking, but in writing, they really work well.

I was in San Antonio this week and was reading their newspaper, the San Antonio Express News.  I make it a habit to read the Opinion Page, especially the Letters to the Editor.

So I read a rebuttal to a January 20th commentary written for the paper by some guy named Patrick Brady.  The letter starts:
There is a line responsible journalists draw between giving columnists leeway to express opinion and allowing them to give demonstrably false information to the public.
It then goes on to show why various "facts" described by Patrick Brady regarding President Obama are untrue.  So this, unbeknown to me at that time, sets in motion this blog and my perplexedness and flabbergastedness experienced this morning as I dug further into it.

On Friday I am reading the San Antonio Express News and there is a column called: "Despite reports of the day, Tet battle was American victory" written by Patrick Brady, who is identified as a "Retired Army Maj. Gen. [who] earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam."

Now there are certain words that conservative types use when they write.  They, at least to me, standout like little beacons warning me to be wary of an ideological bias.  So when I read:
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.
I pretty much knew what message he was wanting to convey and the demon(s) he was to hold responsible.  In that one single sentence, General Brady laid down the reason as; everyone lied to us about what really happened in Vietnam.  Even Walter Cronkite's name was invoked as a member of the "dishonest media"!

Now I don't know enough about Tet to argue whether General Brady's description of the event in Vietnam 43 years ago accurately reflects the truth.  What I do know is that he had been called out for giving "demonstrably false information to the public" just a few days earlier, and his bashing of the media and professors put him squarely into the neo-con corner of journalistic types.

So I go on line looking for what happened at Tet, first looking at Wikipedia's version.  I was particularly interested in General Brady's comment that:
Years later, to help correct the lies about Tet, Gen. William Westmoreland asked me to go to Vietnam and meet with [Gen. Vo Nguyan Giap, supreme communist commander] Giap to arrange a documentary wherein Giap agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was.
There was something about that statement that just did not sound right. What kind of General, especially one that was victorious over his enemy, would ever declare that something he was responsible for was a "calamity"?

That just did not sit right with me. But it was coming from a General himself, a two-star no less, and a decorated Vietnam War hero!  Who is this non-military participating guy that did not endure Vietnam (or any combat for that matter) to doubt such a man?  It was that last line that followed it that got me doubting its truthiness:
"I met with Giap, but we never got the film done."
Like I said, I don't have enough knowledge on Tet to say if the General's contention that General Giap did indeed think the battle was "a calamity" or "would marvel at the mess we made of our victory."  So I went a Googling, because if the media and professors are all liars, they do not have domain over the internet.  Surely I would find others that support General Brad'ys contention that Tet was an American Victory, a calamity for General Giap, and "Walter Cronkite and his ilk had saved Ho Chi Minh."

I found this statement, attributed to General Giap, made in 1982:
This is to tell you that in this, as in other things, the imperialists underestimate the strength of a people, of an army fighting for independence and freedom, for their rights to life.  It seems to me that even today the Pentagon and Washington and the White House are far from having learned the necessary lessons. In the classroom of History the imperialists are really poor students. 
I read the whole damn transcript of that 1982 interview, I can pretty much tell you that there is no damn way a man such as General Giap would have ever "agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was."

And a few Google search links later, there it is...on an urban legend website, "General Giap on How U.S. Lost the Vietnam War." which discusses an email that has been passed around now for a while:
The quote surfaced most recently in an anonymous forwarded email (example above) composed in December 2007, days after being mentioned on Rush Limbaugh's website, which in turn cited an October 3, 2007 column by Geoff Metcalf as the source. According to Metcalf, the passage came from "[Giap's] memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi."
Going to the NewsMax article link, you read " The following quote is from his memoirs currently found in the Vietnam War memorial in Hanoi::"
What we still don't understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender! It was the same at the battles of TET. You defeated us! We knew it, and we thought you knew it.
Only problem is, that there is no such memoir, that is, General Gaip never said that.

Now I want you to go back and read the transcript of the 1982 interview with General Giap and compare his wording, tenor, and explanations with the one attributed to him above.  Then go and read the NewsMax column and compare it to General Brady's San Antonio Express News column.  I'll wait.......

Do you see some similarities between the two?  Tet was, is, and always will be, just what Walter Cronkite said it was on February 27, of 1968:
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.
So if General Brady finds this analysis of the events that happened 43 years ago, unsatisfactory to the conclusion he would like to have in its place, that's his right as a free American to do so.  What he does not have a right to do, in terms of integrity and honor, is to mislead people into believing a history that is not borne out by facts.  

To claim it is true by stating he was there ("Years later, to help correct the lies about Tet, Gen. William Westmoreland asked me to go to Vietnam and meet with Giap to arrange a documentary wherein Giap agreed to declare Tet the communist calamity it was.) and then boldly telling us that "we never got the film done"  - but - we should believe him over the "dishonest media and professors from Berkeley to Harvard"  even though there is no other evidence out there to support General Giap's declaration of Tet as "the communist calamity it was," - and - it smacks as the same type of story telling found in that urban myth. Well I am just left perplexed and flabbergasted!

[note 1/30/11 - After sleeping on it, my previous conclusion was a bit harsh and not as objective as it should be, so it has been changed.  Also corrected to "Medal of Honor"]

Patrick Brady is free to spin the take-away message of Tet in any way, shape, or form, he wants.  But because of his standing as not just a two star General, but as a Medal of Honor winner and Vietnam vet, what he says about it will carry a lot of weight.  However, what he states in his column contradicts the historical record (in reference to Giap's comments).  And because of his standing, and the fact that he also invokes General Westmoreland's standing to put words in another man's mouth, his assertion is bolstered to an even higher degree of credibility.  But with history, as in a court of law, this is still just heresay.

So I contend, that based on what I know about Tet, what I know about General Brady's leanings, and what I have been able to uncover, the burden to prove the historical record is false is in General Brady's court.  He owes history, as well as General Westmoreland and General Giap more than just his word to prove his assertion.  Show us the directive from General Westmoreland that discusses the documentary.  Show us travel orders indicating General Brady met with General Giap.  Heck, I would even be a bit swayed if I saw a picture of the two men in the same room together. Excuse me if I remain skeptical until then.

Note 1/30/2011 - See Snopes article for more information on this urban myth regarding General Giap.

And I also found this from the Oakland Museum of California - a May 1996, CNN interview that has been translated from Vietnamese:
The Tet Offensive is a long story. ... It was our policy, drawn up by Ho ChiMinh, to make the Americans quit. Not to exterminate all Americans in Vietnam, [but] to defeat them.  It could be said [Tet] was a surprise attack which brought us a big victory. For a big  battle we always figured out the objectives, the targets, so it was the main objective to  destroy the forces and to obstruct the Americans from making war. But what was more  important was to de-escalate the war -- because at that time the Americans were escalating the war -- and to start negotiations. So that was the key goal of that campaign.  But of course, if we had gained more than that it would be better.  And [after Tet] the Americans had to back down and come to the negotiating table, because the war was not only moving into the cities, to dozens of cities and towns in South Vietnam, but also to the living rooms of Americans back home for some time. And that’s why we could claim the achievement of the objective.
Does that sound like a man giddy to declare Tet the "calamity it really was?"

Notes: 1/31/11 - A pretty good (recent) story on Tet: War Stories With Oliver North: Tet Offensive Full Episode.

Now if you watch it you will see two things leaning in the direction that General Brady would find acceptable.  Oliver North and Fox News.  And yet it offers a pretty even-handed analysis, description, judgement, and comments about Tet - with an interview with Eddie Adams thrown in as well.  And it too declares the Tet offensive a communist failure in military terms, but it explains why it should be seen that way.  It does not, however, put words in General Giap's mouth as a means to prove that contention.  North 1, Brady 0


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