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"

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