The Unwinnable Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was a historical turning point for the U.S., a moment when political leaders plunged the military into an unwinnable colonial struggle that killed millions and bred distrust of Washington’s word, as Fred Donner explains.

By Fred Donner

Although the Vietnamese had been rebelling against the French since their arrival in S.E. Asia, World War I was the initial catalyst for Vietnam’s independence. Vietnamese and other Indochinese troops, notably Cambodians, in the French colonial forces went to Europe and the Middle East in World War I to serve in both combat and support roles.

Photos of victims of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam galvanized public awareness about the barbarity of the war. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

French estimates vary as to the numbers killed and wounded. However, the  surviving veterans were exposed to western literature and political views that they took home.  Simply put, the “independence genie” was out of the bottle not to be recorked.

Having already promised the Philippines independence, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) did not want the French, British, or Dutch back in their previous S.E. Asia colonies after World War II.  FDR’s postwar plan for Indochina was a three-power high commission somewhat like the Allied partition of Berlin with a 25-year duration to work out independence. The Chinese would get the northern sector, the British the central, and the Americans the south approximating the three regional divisions of Tonkin, Annam, and Cochin China.

But with FDR dead, the 1945 Potsdam Conference divided Vietnam along the 16th parallel just south of Danang with the Chinese Nationalists to the north and the British to the south.  The Chinese Nationalists promptly proceeded to loot the north fueling centuries of traditional Chinese-Vietnamese animosities while the British used surrendered Japanese troops to chase Viet Minh in the south before returning French forces arrived in late 1945 and early 1946.

U.S. military aid began flowing to the French shortly after VJ Day thus turning the French colonial restoration effort into an anti-communist war that in Western thinking trumped anti-colonialism. In the 1950s the U.S.  assumed an ever-expanding role in the Vietnam conflict to help keep France in the newly-formed NATO alliance. Predictably the Vietnamese simply took the U.S. as French replacements to be battled likewise.

In reality World War II marked the fast-approaching end of European colonialism worldwide. Ho Chi Minh, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and other anti-colonialists were at the Versailles Treaty negotiations in 1919 seeking at least token recognition for colonial subjects. Spurned, they never gave up but after the independence stimuli of two World Wars future Vietnam independence was effectively unstoppable regardless of what France or the U.S. might do to contain it.

The only U.S. option that might have worked, at least temporarily, would have been a full-fledged military invasion of the north or perhaps a North Vietnamese rebellion. The U.S. and South Vietnamese commando raids and psychological and propaganda warfare against the north were hampered from all-out efforts to prepare an invasion or stimulate a rebellion for two reasons.

First, after encouraging  Hungary to rebellion in 1956 against their Soviet-backed government and failing to back them up, it would not be U.S. policy to do so again, although there has been a notable exception or two.

The Hungarian rationale is explained in The Secret War Against Hanoi by professor Richard H. Shultz, Jr. of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. And second, an invasion of North Vietnam was an automatic war with China that would have violated Gen. Maxwell Taylor’s well-known dictum of no more land wars in Asia.

Incremental Escalations

The only “secrets” the Pentagon Papers revealed in 1971 were that U.S. policy makers made continuing small incremental escalations of the war desperately hoping each one would mysteriously negate the need for another. This was simply wishful thinking that Vietnam resistance would weaken and the nightmare would disappear. Finally, there was no defined “end state” describing what specific conditions would constitute a U.S. victory in Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson meeting with South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu on July 19,1968.

The logical question is what other policy might have produced a different outcome. Obviously FDR’s three-power plan could have been tried. Could Ho Chi Minh have been the Tito of Indochina? Could Charles DeGaulle have taken a different tack? Could the U.S. have found a way to work with a Ho Chi Minh government? The U.S. has worked with all manner of undesirable governments around the world never demanding  perfection so we will never know what a theoretical different outcome for Vietnam might have been.

In April 1964 I was an Air Force lieutenant on Taiwan when I volunteered to go directly to Vietnam to command a unit at Bien Hoa Air Base. (Lieutenants as commanders were a rarity in the Air Force.) It didn’t take me long to realize that Vietnam was a lost cause when I heard how some Americans were speaking about or, worse yet, to some Vietnamese.

I realized “this turkey ain’t gonna fly” if this is what we think of our alleged allies. I was in Vietnam a combined seven years in the Air Force, as an Air America manager, and later a church group staffer,  but nothing changed my mind as to the eventual outcome.

Many bemoaned the fact that the U.S. Congress did not fulfill its Paris Peace Accord obligations to support the South Vietnamese, specifically ignoring President Ford’s pleas to do so in April 1975. The Case-Church Amendment of June 1973  prohibited any further U.S. military activity in Vietnam. Rarely mentioned is that in 1973 President Nixon wrote a secret letter in carefully couched language offering the North Vietnamese $3.25 billion in reconstruction aid.

In the atmosphere of 1975 Congress was not about to send money to North or South Vietnam. Whatever anyone may think of how it happened, Vietnam was finally and fully independent as Ho Chi Minh  declared it on September 2, 1945, the same day the Japanese  surrendered on board the U.S.S. Missouri. Unfortunately for 58,000 American families who later lost loved ones in Vietnam, only the latter event was newsworthy at the time.

Fred Donner holds two degrees in East Asian studies. In addition to his seven years in Vietnam, he was five years a Foreign Service officer in Manila and Washington, DC, and ten years a S.E. Asia intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. [This article first appeared at Counterpunch and is republished with the author’s permission, ]

85 comments for “The Unwinnable Vietnam War

  1. geoff
    March 29, 2017 at 08:12

    i am always disheartened when military personnel give us an analysis in hindsight and create nothing but blind obedience for the future debacles of american hegemony. mcnamara lied knowingly perhaps thinking it was necessary for a good cause but surely provokes anger. today the lies are in your face creating so much distrust for the government that we are fast approaching a spiritual breakdown. with d.trump hope has been manipulated and when that disintegrates we will experience change. caution!!

  2. Jim cantrell
    March 28, 2017 at 14:56

    As a former american expat to vietnam. Who loves his viet wife and family and the vietnamese people…i find it tragic that nothing is ever said about the two million plus viet who died in this terrible conflict

  3. Michael Kenny
    March 28, 2017 at 13:44

    Guerrilla wars are always unwinnable for the state party. There is a lesson there for Putin. His transformation of Syria into a colonial puppet state can only end with his defeat. The Russian Federation is, of course, the last of the European empires. It contains within it about 30 million non-Russians living under Russian colonial rule, essentially in the Caucasus and Siberia but with some European ethnic groups in the far north-west. Most of the natural resources being sold as “Russian” are in fact being pillaged from the lands of the colonial subject-peoples. Sooner or later, all the subject peoples will want their independence. Some, like the Chechens, are already seeking it by means, precisely, of a guerrilla war, and there known nationalist movements elsewhere (Sakha, for example).

    • Gregory Herr
      March 28, 2017 at 19:50

      The only “transformation” that has taken place in Syria since the Russian Air Force began supporting the Syrian Army in Sept. 2015 is that the tide has turned against the vile terrorist mercenaries supported by, among others, the CIA. Putin is not “running” the government of Syria, he is upholding principles of sovereignty and defending a civilian population from murderous rampage.
      Your twisted views notwithstanding, why it is your pattern to wait until a comment thread has run its course before “weighing in”?
      I know I should just ignore you, but I feel deeply for the brave defense of the Syrians against the forces of barbarity, mendacity, and malevolence. The Russians should be applauded and venerated for their support for civilized values and human decency. Your comments are tripe.

  4. Stefan andersson
    March 28, 2017 at 05:14

    Very interesting. With regard to the photo from the My Lai massacre I have the pleasure to inform the reader of a new book, which Will soon be published by CambridgeUP, with selected writings on the Vietnam War and International Law by Richard Falk, who just coauthored a report on the treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, which really upset the secretary general. Falk and Virginia Tilley came to the conclusion that the Israeli government treats the Palestinian worse than black people were treated during the South African regime. Their report is still available on the web, although the UN has tried to remove it. And what did the UN do during the Vietnam War about American war crimes? Correct – Nada???

    • John Hawk
      March 28, 2017 at 09:13

      Good catch here! Another book which addresses the same issues in this thread is ‘State of Terror’ by Thomas Suarez.

  5. March 27, 2017 at 17:16

    Thanks for the insightful article. A few comments:

    – World War I so weakened European countries that their demise as colonial powers was inevitable. World War II served to cement this.

    – The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was not US policy but rather the misspoken mischief of Secretary of State Dulles and his brother Allen.

    – The Pentagon Papers also revealed that Ho Chi Minh had made 11 attempts to contact Truman to plea for independence. But, like at Versailles, Ho was ignored; and his correspondences hidden.

    See my Facebook page on Vietnam and my post today on Ho Chi Minh:

    And the Vietnam Memorial of One:

    • John Hawk
      March 28, 2017 at 09:11

      Excellent comment!

    • Jim cantrell
      March 28, 2017 at 14:59

      Thank you James as the whole truth is rarely told about the American war in vietnam

  6. LJ
    March 27, 2017 at 15:24

    We have a permanent airbase in Afghanistan, We will be there as long as the US flies military jets. We never left Iraq and indeed Trump’s Generals want to increase out troop presence at a time when the war is already won in Mosol and this is basically a mop up operation. That the President of Iraq recently stated that he wanted a draw down of US Troops has gained no traction in our media. Trump and his general’s are increasing US boots in Syria 200 more today and obviously we are going to be part of , THAT MEANS RESPONSIBLE , for the occupation of RAQQA where we will be hated by all with the exception of our Kurdish lackeys who will be hated by the locals also. In short, WE never learned any lesson in Vietnam. Nixon and Kissinger got us out because they were realists and it was necessary given the political climate of our nation at that time. . There aren’t a no realists in the Federal Government or in the Sttae Department anymore. Constant War and projection of US power and militarism in Asia , in NATO , in Ukraine and the Baltics is here to stay. Where’s a young Nixon or a younger Kissinger when they might be of use? Well, It wouldn’t matter , . No realists allowed anymore. When people write about Vietnam or Nixon or the 60’s and how great it all was it makes me wonder why. It’s subjective and self serving and so over. There’s a new struggle.The state is bigger. It’s Nixon on steroids with better technology. . 50 years ago Light My Fire was the Number 1 song of the year. I still hear it on the radio. It still plays today but as for what lessons were learned and how it applies to todays reality if any way at all I can’t tell.

  7. Chris Cosmos
    March 27, 2017 at 12:46

    Donner completely misses the point of war in the post-WWII era. It has nothing to do with “winning” anything. There are three reasons for the permanent war footing we are on. First, war makes money for a particular set of oligarchs and they will reward their friends in Congress, the military, the media and so on. Second, a focus on war distracts the public from keeping an eye on larcenous activity–the crime spree conducted by Wall Street and the real estate industry is a prime example of how that works and it always works; and, third it scares other countries into submission when the end-result of U.S. wars is not victory by the U.S. but the destruction of civil society through death, trauma and so on. The end result is the maintenance of Empire.

    As for Vietnam, the deal was that Johnson agreed to put War! Inc. at the head of the usual pack of grifters in exchange for the Presidency. I think he ended up regretting it.

  8. March 27, 2017 at 12:33

    Many factors in US finally deciding to get out. Nixon had quite a time with antiwar protestors, especially when he announced invasion of Cambodia. It just became too costly as well as unwinnable. Started snowballing the gigantic debt which never stopped. The press at the time actually did their job, instead of hewing to government controls as we see now.

  9. Terry Washington
    March 27, 2017 at 12:06

    So that’s what led to the US defeat in Vietnam. NOT the”antiwar movement” or “the liberal media” stabbing
    “our boys” in the back as some contend even NOWADAYs( although H.R.Master’s “Dereliction Of Duty” firmly scotched this canard) but it was unwinnable to begin with(except if the US launched a full scale invasion of North Vietnam which might have brought Chinese- and possibly Soviet- intervention).

  10. March 27, 2017 at 12:05

    I am grateful for Consortium News and the forum it provides for thinking people, and very glad comments don’t have to go through Facebook. There is a comment here about how controlled the public discourse has gotten, but I still hope that enough people are talking and writing that the attempts to control are exposed. Andre Vltchek has a piece on Paul Craig Roberts website about how people are showing awareness worldwide of how colonialism and western imperialists, especially the US, have operated to the detriment of a humane world.

  11. Bob Van Noy
    March 27, 2017 at 11:39

    Thanks to you Jessica K and to Joe. Thanks too for Robert Parry…

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 27, 2017 at 16:35

      And thank you Bob!

  12. March 27, 2017 at 11:32

    Thank you, Bob, for that link, which I read but have to reread to get a better grasp of details of that awful time. Joe, that was a pivotal time in our history, you certainly relate. I find Noam Chomsky sometimes too intransigent in his viewpoints, despite his incredible importance in shedding light on truth of empire. Thanks to both Chomsky and Peter Dale Scott for very important historical work.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 27, 2017 at 11:39

      A little of one historian, and a little of another, add to that your living it, and there ya go you have an opinion. We are all somewhat the authors of our world’s history, and sometimes the best history is told by average people who lived it. Always good to read your comments Jessica.

  13. David Hart
    March 27, 2017 at 10:28

    Unfortunate, too, for the millions of Vietnamese who lost their lives….no matter what their political “persuasion.”

  14. Bob Van Noy
    March 27, 2017 at 10:11

    Please read the discussion in the link that I’m providing to see an extended and updated conversation on JFK ending the war in 1965. I have researched this argument extensively and thoroughly believe the reason JFK was assassinated was because he would have issued orders to end the War on Monday morning 11/25/1963…

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 27, 2017 at 10:38

      Bob as always great information. To further extend your point in regard to JFK’s quest for peace read James W Douglas ‘JFK and the Unspeakable: Why he died and Why It Matters’. Douglas writes about how JFK back channeled with Kruschev and Pope John the 23rd with the hopes of including Castro, into a forum for peace. Although we know Kennedy’s search for a peaceful solution would end, we now have more evidence that JFK was attempting to get us out of our country’s further involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. We also know how LBJ deliberately steered our country in the direction of the war profiteers, and there is where our nation’s history must rest.

      • Bob Van Noy
        March 27, 2017 at 11:36

        Thanks Joe. This discussion is the key that unlocks the past. Kennedy as a Senator and war vet visited Vietnam in 1953, he knew both its geopolitical importance and its history. John Kenneth Galbraith was keeping him informed about local pressures from India and he (JFK) would not be drawn into a further “false” scenario without resistance. The CIA continued to resist his wishes… Those of us that were part of the New Frontier were co-opted by bureaucrats of a past and deeply flawed political philosophy. The irony is that both JFK and
        Nikita Khrushchev had similar problems within their respective governments. This, the red phone…

        • Bob Van Noy
          March 27, 2017 at 11:43

          Thus, the red phone…

    • FobosDeimos
      March 27, 2017 at 18:09

      Great link Bob! Thank you. The most compelling piece if evidence for JFK’ determination to pull out of VN seems to be General Taylor’s memo to the other Chiefs of Staff, dated October 4, 1963, paragraph b., where the December 1965 deadline is stated as the White House policy. I wonder though if JFK’s plan did not amount to just a Vietnamization of the war, similar to what Nixon announced in November 1969 (and actually implemented in 1973), and whether or not Kennedy would have pursued a full withdrawal at all costs. But that is obviously counterfactual.

      • Bob Van Noy
        March 27, 2017 at 20:09

        Thank you FobosDeimos. I think JFK had his fill of war again, like Khrushchov. Check this link…

        ”Kennedy had always questioned the imperative of American military involvement in South East Asia. In 1953, while serving in the Senate, Kennedy suggested that US war aid to France be contingent on its promoting the Independence of Indo-China. In a 1957 Senate speech he stated: ” The most powerful single force in the world today is neither Communism nor Capitalism, neither the H-bomb, nor the guided missile. It is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent. ”

        And This:
        ”By summer, after the failed summit in Vienna and the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy felt he could not walk away from Vietnam. But he remained very reluctant to commit US troops. An April 28th memo by Ted Sorenson, said to reflect Kennedy’s thinking on Vietnam stated, ” There is no clearer example of a country that cannot be saved unless it saves itself€“ through increased popular support; governmental, economic and military reforms and reorganizations; and the encouragement of new political leaders” .


  15. March 27, 2017 at 09:21

    Anon, do you speak for all? And who decides what is an unsupportable conspiracy theory? The narrative of control by Jewish is also certainly overdone, many plutocrats are not.

  16. March 27, 2017 at 07:38

    CN spell check screwed me up, it’s Medger Evers, corrected to “Merger” by the program — please let me correct my own mistakes!

  17. March 27, 2017 at 07:27

    Kids are indoctrinated from infancy by parents who are only trying to make a living. The “American Dream” had been sold big time when I came of age. I went to Africa as Peace Corps volunteer–naive, idealistic, was an awakening to colonialism only as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in my undeveloped mind. I came back to the US in the throes of the Vietnam protest movement. One slogan was “Join the Army, see the world, go to exotic places, meet unusual people, and kill them”.

    I think Kennedy’s assassination was an awakening, it was a coup and many people started to get the falseness of the power structure. Who believes that magic bullet theory that turned around in midair? The power structure had to keep tightening to keep people in check, and we’ve arrived at today’s lying age. After all, as Bob Dylan said, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”, which was about the assassination of Merger Evers, but just as well applies all around. Only, people are waking up because they see a very messed-up world by these greedy controllers. I love the quote from Hegel, “The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk”.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 27, 2017 at 10:44

      Jessica you bring back memories. When I was 19 in 1969 there I was walking down the street in my Navy dress blues feeling all salty and cool when there in the window of a record store was a pretty looking Susie Creamcheese so I gave her the peace sign, and she in return gave me the finger. Boy those were the good ole days, weren’t they?

  18. Brad Owen
    March 27, 2017 at 05:36

    The telling phrase is where he talks about this French colonial restoration project was reconfigured (propaganda-wise) as an anti-communist war, because in Western thinking, ANTI-COMMUNISM TRUMPS ANTI-COLONIALISM. The turnabout in the post-war forties, a covert coup actually, against the remaining forces of the FDR administration, is hidden in this phrase, and disguises the Patriot/Tory (terms used to define our Pro-Revolution/Pro-Republic vs Anti-Revolution/Pro-Crown Pro-Empire factions) see-saw battle constantly going on in our history. FDR represented another Patriot turn at the helm. This was quickly shut down by the Wall Street American Tories in the post-war, post-FDR forties. Anti-Colonialism/anti-Empires was always Patriot policy. The embrace of Empire and that Oligarchy that owns and rules it was always Tory policy. FDR’s WWII was a war against the latest and most malignant expression of Empire/Oligarchy: the Fascist/NAZI movement, which contained the deliberate policy of free all colonies and helping develope them, while resolving problems and issues through the UN agency. That all changed when the Tories took the helm, and we have all the colonial restoration wars of the forties, fifties, and sixties…and even now. There was a brief Patriot push-back under JFK, which was violently ended once again by the Tory Faction. Trump represents another, rather awkward, Patriot push-back, according EIR analysis, hence the furious campaign to oust him, in favor of the Tory VP.

    • Anon
      March 27, 2017 at 08:15

      People here do not like diversion into unsupportable conspiracy theories. We all know that the richest 1-5 percent control the show, and that the primary ethnic correlation where relevant is Jewish. Hardly any prominent oligarchists are British.

      • Brad Owen
        March 27, 2017 at 14:15

        I’ll stick with EIR analysis.

    • David Hart
      March 27, 2017 at 10:58

      Oh, what could have been. The three greatest tragedies of United States history: 1) The ridiculous “electoral college” that allowed southern states in the US to have far more influence and representation in Congress than they should have. They refused to abolish slavery–indeed, it is what made them fabulously wealthy, they didn’t need to “pay” their workers a living wage, they simply worked them to death and allowed very little freedom of any kind. Yet they still wanted to be represented in the government far beyond the actual numbers of “people” whom they represented. The southern stranglehold on US foreign policy has always held back the United States from actually accomplishing worthwhile legislation and being more humane in its foreign policy. The other two tragedies were the deaths of both Abraham Lincoln and FDR. How different might the US have been had Lincoln lived instead of having Andrew Johnson as President? And Harry Truman? He was a voice vote away from receding into obscurity at the 1944 Democratic Convention, which was stampeding toward re-nominating Henry Wallace as VP. Had Roosevelt lived, I don’t believe we would have ever dropped the Atomic Bombs on Japan–no real way to know that, but for sure we would have had a different foreign (and domestic) policy than we ended up with when Truman became president.

      • Brad Owen
        March 27, 2017 at 14:31

        eah we need a Harry Turtledove treatment of “What if Lincoln survived the assassination plot”. We would have had Nat’l banking-via-Greenbacks (public banking in today’s parlance), breaking the back of Wall Street (City-of-London asset). Somewhere on EIR I read about Lincoln’s intentions to mount an offensive upon Canada (colony of British Empire, where assassination ring operated from), build a fleet of Ocean-going Monitors and naval ships to lay siege to the British Isles. Ireland would have been willing staging area, and the Russian Empire would be interested in a joint operation. If it all succeeded and King Edward prevented from the throne (to plan WWI), the World Wars and the Russian Revolution might have been prevented from hapening. Peace and progress would have been much more prevalent, and we would be enjoying a 22nd Century lifestyle by now, with a thorough-going space program, industrialized Moon, Mars, exploring the Solar System. That’s one possible “What if”.

      • Gunther
        March 27, 2017 at 18:19

        We could have a Second Bill of Rights if FDR was still alive.

  19. Big AL
    March 27, 2017 at 03:22

    We r still doing this around the world!

  20. Tomas Ross
    March 27, 2017 at 02:05

    The whole Vietnamese conflict, should have been, the use of well trained Advisors and the Special Forces. There was no need for the large buildup of men and equipment. A large increase was so that Corrupt Politicians and the military equipment manufacturers could make billions. We had Politicians and there bureaucratic henchmen, that thought they were Generals, and Generals that though they could fight an unconventional war, like they did in WW ll, and Korea.

    • Sam F
      March 27, 2017 at 08:00

      There was no need for military advisers or special forces either, Tomas. The problem was not one solved by force, it was a problem of understanding and cooperation to direct the formation of government structures best able to serve the people.

      We had lost the ability of our government to serve our own people, and it no longer cared about other peoples either. The is the problem of infection by the rich tyrants, and their use of the unquestioning loyalty of the military, which is deceived to betray its own people.

  21. liam
    March 27, 2017 at 01:00

    Highly Revealing New Doc on US Psy Op on Syria – Tapestry of Terror – White Helmets Exposed As FSA Terrorists Linked With ISIS

    • Gregory Herr
      March 27, 2017 at 18:45

      Thanks Liam. This needs all the exposure it can get.

  22. Plincoln
    March 27, 2017 at 00:46

    Winning wars ends wars. We don’t always want to win, we want perpetual war. The end of the war came about because drilling off Vietnam showed far less cheap oil than projected and we were entering the trilateral era where appeasement with China was sought (too woo them from the Soviets with Mao out of the picture) and stability in the region was deemed important. We then turned our interests to Afghanistan and destabilizing Iran by introducing Islamic extremism to both countries which were more important long term resources for oil(iran) and poppy (Afghanistan) than Vietnam. They were also more important areas geopolitically in countering the Soviets

  23. RBD
    March 26, 2017 at 23:46

    It’s not true that “the only ‘secrets’ the Pentagon Papers revealed in 1971 were that U.S. policy makers made continuing small incremental escalations of the war”.

    The Pentagon Papers were mind-blowing at the time. They revealed the context of the Gulf of Tonkin incident that was the basis for the Congressional resolution that enabled the war.

    The official story had been that North Vietnamese committed two unprovoked attacks on an American destroyer in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin.

    What the Pentagon Papers revealed was that the US had been secretly waging war against North Vietnam for months. American ships had been landing Vietnamese troops in North Vietnam, and one such raid had taken place just prior to the incident. The American destroyer was well within North Vietnamese territorial waters when it was approached by North Vietnamese ships. (Revealed not in the Pentagon Papers but later was the fact that the US fired first). Finally, the Pentagon Papers also revealed that the second attack probably never took place – the destroyer had mistaken radar “noise” for North Vietnamese vessels. The second “attack” was the real justification for the resolution.

    I was 16 in 1971, and this made a vivid impression on me. The US military and the Johnson administration lied like a rug in order to get Congress to support military intervention. I have never forgotten that. I wish younger people now would be more skeptical of government claims about US strategy and military actions.

    • Plincoln
      March 27, 2017 at 00:55

      We didnt have the government control over education that they have now. Young people were actually taught to question authority. One of the most popular teachers in my HS taught us that the official story of JFK assassination was a lie. Supporting the war made you pretty unpopular-in my neck of the woods

      Today the brainwashing and propaganda is relentless and the MSM is all on the same page in promoting militarism and covering up the misery we cause. The kids dont stand a chance.

      Also, its an all volunteer military now and the pay and benefits are better than the private sector. Private contractors remove much of the tedious labor, skype allows constant communication with family and friends, more limited tours of duty and much lower casualty rates make wars more appealing to those who buy in.

  24. March 26, 2017 at 23:37

    This article was presumably written in a spirit of sincerity and scholarship. Yet it combines wrongheaded premises about the legitimacy of US control of Vietnam, with a massive omission of info on the amount of sheer barbarity, murder, and destruction in Vietnam by US military and covert forces. This negative synergy is somehow worse than the sum of its parts. US forces in Vietnam conducted deadly bombings, toxic chemical defoliation, and extra-judicial civilian assassination that is still mind-boggling today. A variety of civilian casualty estimates place the numbers at between 1.5 million and 3.8 million depending on how inclusive one when the death occurred, who caused it, and other factors. Roughly 17% of the forested area in the entire country was sprayed with the toxic life destroying chemical Agent Orange. This involved over 20million gallons of chemical poisons. Over 7.5 million tons of explosives were dropped on VIetname, Laos, and Cambodia – roughly 3 times the amount from all of World War II. Even today, hundreds of people die annually in Laos from unfortunate encounters with undetonated explosives dating to the US aerial campaigns. The CIA run Operation Phoenix assassinated an estimated 20,000-40,000 South Vietnamese civilians on suspicion of active political opposition to the US installed South Vietnamese governments.

    Those statistics of destruction are difficult to comprehend. What goal did they serve? Was Minh so bad and the corrupt, US-installed, puppet governments in the South good enough to justify even 1/100th part of that onslaught?? Did it justify the intentional lies to the US public claiming that the North had started the conflict in the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident? Would it have justified the use of nuclear weapons to help the French in the 1950s as Eisenhower originally proposed? Did it justify the FBI’s criminal, Gestapo-like attacks on domestic critics of these policies? Did it even justify the U.S. reneging on their promise to hold unifying elections in 1956. Did it justify the US reneging on its end of the war promise to pay reparations? Our side claimed to be in favor of things like elections and rule of law, and against assassination, wanton destruction and bombing the other side into submission…but that turned out not to be true. There is no way to look back at those events today and say “Aw shucks. We tried. It just didn’t work out right.” The truth of this history is incredibly ugly. And it’s better for present day US public interest to see it in an honest light, because the structural factors in US government and media that allowed it to happen are still in place today.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 26, 2017 at 23:57

      Josh, I wish you were teaching our youth history.

      • March 27, 2017 at 04:52

        Thanks. Stone & Kuznick’s “Untold History of the United States…” does an excellent job with the Cold War era, and provide both a documentary video and a scholarly history book containing all their references.

        • Joe Tedesky
          March 27, 2017 at 16:40

          Josh I too like ‘the untold history’. I wish Oliver Stone would continue with that series. Also I read where Oliver Stone had a suggested reading list, and out of the 10 articles he listed, 7 were Robert Parry essays. I hope Oliver Stone reads your posting, because everyone needs a little praise and lifting of the spirit…and Oliver really needs our supportive applause!

    • Gregory Herr
      March 27, 2017 at 18:39

      Truly mind-boggling. Though I had heard of Phoenix, I had no idea how extensive it was and that in truth it was essentially an indiscriminate terror campaign. Douglas Valentine’s new book on the CIA has opened my eyes. I had thought My Lai was more or less an anomalous isolated incident, but apparently not. The extensive bombing and environmental poisoning was bad enough….but Phoenix, my God the depravity! And Bob Kerrey still had the temerity to write in a 1999 column for the Washington Post that “I believe the cause was just and the sacrifice not in vain.”

  25. FobosDeimos
    March 26, 2017 at 23:13

    The title is misleading, as Mr. Donner quickly reveals that deep in his heart he fantasized over a “winnable war” after all. A North Vietnamese rebellion? An all out invasion? I can’t believe that fourty years later we still have to put up with this kind of arrogance and lack of historic perspective from those who raped, maimed and destroyed a proud country like Vietnam. Mr. Donner should be tormented by the ghosts of the two to three million Vietnamese killed by the US in an abominable war of aggression, not by ridiculous academic blabber about how that criminal war might have been won.

    • Sam F
      March 27, 2017 at 07:50

      Yes, the article should re-examine causes and principles not merely tactics.

  26. Ser Korz
    March 26, 2017 at 22:52

    The Unwinnable Vietnam War; & McNamara knew that from the beginning, he stated that in his own words.

  27. Zachary Smith
    March 26, 2017 at 22:07

    This is the first I’ve heard of the Nixon Letter, so I made a search for it.

    Does anybody have any idea why he bothered? Who was he trying to impress?

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 27, 2017 at 11:35

      Zachary I could be wrong, but I think Nixon’s empty gesture was another way to placate the Vietnamese, and another way of showing support for the release of the POW’s plus away to find out more about the MIA’s. Funny how we never paid the Vietnamese, but yet we hand over this kind of money yearly to Israel. Yes the same Israel who killed 34 US Navy crew members aboard the defenseless USS Liberty back in those years of the warring sixties gets more than enough US tax dollars so as they may suppress the indigenous Palestintian…there again America is no better for our treatment of the Native American, and the African we forced here to plough our fields. I refuse to accept this as my American ideology, and will do all I can to inform the youth of our country how it doesn’t have to be this way.

    • Paul G.
      March 27, 2017 at 12:48

      Re the Nixon letter: Read it closely and it is an attempt to save face by having Tricky Dick appearing to be the initiator of the reconstruction aide. He wasn’t , the other side was. There are enough contingencies, Congressional approval etc., to make it easy to not honor it. .

      Of course, no one is going to admit (either side) that full prisoner release was contingent upon reconstruction aide. The Vietnamese released most of the prisoners but kept several hundred in case the US had done what it does with flair and skill-lie.

      Over time the affair became embarrassing for both parties so it was never officially brought up. John McCain, Mr POW, was instrumental in classifying records of MIA’s in Vietnam; which covered the sordid mess up. This is why MIA families hate him, he even assaulted one of them who confronted him in a Senate office hall,

      There is an extensive article on this issue in by Sydney H. Schanberg
      who won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting on Vietnam and Cambodia. A shorter version was originally in : the Oct. 6, 2008, issue of The Nation.

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 27, 2017 at 16:31

        Paul G I’m glad you brought up that McCain MIA incident.

    • Zachary Smith
      March 28, 2017 at 11:26

      Thanks for the responses. Nixon was a very strange character!

  28. Joe Tedesky
    March 26, 2017 at 21:33

    Every time we come to that point of reflection regarding Vietnam I have to stop in disgust that we Americans have learned nothing from that horrible Vietnam Conflict. For any of us who lived through that era, there is a good chance you were there in Vietnam, or you loss someone too that unnecessary war. When will my generation learn? Why do we Americans still believe it our duty to invade and destroy other people’s lives and do it all in the name of the self righteousness of liberty and freedom? Is it our American Dream to make every human on this earth hate us? It’s at moments like this when I have the most angst and despair that our country was founded on the backs of African Slaves, and land which we so treasure as ours that was stolen from the Indigenous Natives of the Americas, and then it hits me it’s all in our DNA as a nation….this is what must change!

    • John
      March 26, 2017 at 21:55

      Joe, This is the vile spirit that uses the USA citizens and their hard earned tax dollars to further their agenda ….now world wide…..If we can’t put the finger on who the perpetrators are we at least know who carries their narrative……The MSM…..and possible part of consortium news……

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 27, 2017 at 09:21

        The proof to how strong an influence the media is could be seen when in 1968 Walter Cronkite questioned the Vietnam war. Some say this was a turning point. I think it was for many, but I also believe there were many turning points depending on the person. Yes the media is the front lines of any war.

        • March 27, 2017 at 13:23

          Well there certainly is a lack of Walter Cronkites in the MSNBC of today isn´t there? Walter could dare critisize Washington and it´s policies, today no one dare speak up and even dare contact people within the government and military who are aware of what is going on. They would all wind up in prison and their careers ruined. Daring to speak truth to power in the USA is a one way ticket impoverishment and or prison or if the President so so choose death by drone strike.. Look at Gary Webb. Chealsea Manning and Edward Snowden. No one working for the New York Times , The washington post or any other mainstream media outlet would dare challenge the government on it´s lates demonization of a country and it´s leaders. Or question the push for war against a country legal or not.

          • Joe Tedesky
            March 27, 2017 at 16:25

            I agree Dan, it is pitiful to no end how our MSM negates the responsibility of reporting the news factually and objectively as they should. When or If the MSM gets their hands on controlling the internet we will all be sliding notes to each other under the table, and being watchful of the gestapo who may be watching us. There was a time I would have never thought how true worrying about big brother would be, but then there is the now we all live in.

            America has to have that come to Jesus Moment, where we will admit to ourselves as a nation all the wrong we have committed in the name of hegemony of world power. This can’t go on forever. We are still a young nation up against many other nations who are ancient by their culture. All of these aged nations have good and bad history, and for the most part this has made them grow in some ways, so when will America come to that moment where we admit to our wrongs, and try and better ourselves?

    • Eddie
      March 26, 2017 at 23:11

      JT – Once again, I agree strongly with what you’ve wrote, especially about the “’s all in our DNA as a nation…” Not only the obvious tragedies you mention (the Native Americans, the slave-trade), but the underlying greed that drove so many exploitative individuals to emigrate here. It obviously wasn’t all the emigrants — there certainly were waves of desperate people (and British criminals) that came over — but there was also the hucksters looking to make a quick-buck from any number of scams played on ignorant immigrants.

      Somewhat like yourself, I was for a long time disturbed as to why a generation like ours (I’m 67 yrs old) would seemingly forget the lessons of Vietnam and lapse into ‘good-ol US militarism’. However, I came across an idea in a book by Godfrey Hodgson (a Brit who was a US reporter in 60’s-70’s, and wrote a good book debunking American ‘exceptionalism’ which I had previously read) called “America in Our Time – From WWII to Nixon — What Happened and Why”. His analysis (backed by various polls/studies) of this situation was that there were essentially two groups in the US against the Vietnam War, a hard-core anti-war ethical group (my phrasing) and a pragmatic anti-war group. The former was made up of people who were against most wars in principle. The latter group was against a specific war that wasn’t perceived as being won, as costing too much in ‘blood & treasure’, but they weren’t especially averse to wars in-general (other than when their own son came home in a box). The ethical group was much smaller than the pragmatic group, but they were the more vocal, more organized, more media-savvy/articulate/interesting to interview, so they were the anti-war voices that got the most media attention. So there was a perception (at least by myself, and many others) that there had been a major shift in US public opinion against war in general. However, once the memory of the Vietnam debacle/horror faded, while the ethical group still was against wars, the much larger pragmatic group reverted back to being OK with military actions pretty much anywhere/anytime, which brings us to where we are now.

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 26, 2017 at 23:43

        I’m going to make sure to read that book you mentioned written by Godfrey Hodgson.

        About what got us out of Vietnam Andrew Bacevich in his book ‘Breach of Trust’ said that ‘fragging’ officers was what convinced the military’s top brass to want to get out of that no end in sight war of destruction. I myself think it was many things. I served in the Navy, I put in for Vietnam, but my Company CO who had served in Vietnam twice took my request down, and told me how it was an a winless war.

        I’m the same age as you Eddie, and now that I don’t work as much as I use to, I decided to read a lot, and try and figure out just what the hell happened in my lifetime. Pretty amazing history has brought us to this place, but what’s even more amazing, is how no one at the top at least has learned anything from our past. The saddest part, is America by and large has some pretty terrific things we could offer the world. Of course it seems that our country needs boogeymen and villains, or we just aren’t being Americans. I find that narrow minded and a waste of our resources both natural and monetary, plus deadly.

        Sorry to say, we whoever we are have beat up the Native American once again. This Dakota Access pipeline thing is a sin. You know the Native American has the better sense on that subject. I mean why do we put oil over water. For crying out loud humans need water to survive on.

        Our military has a lot of Blacks and Hispanics, but by the attitude of some in America you would never know it. And by the way these minority military joined not just out of patriotism, but to hopefully get an opportunity to better themselves. Yet racist still don’t appreciate them, do they?

        Eddie my hope is that our children, and especially our grandchildren will do better. You and I must as much as possible make an impression on these young people that they can do better, but first America has to join the world, not kill it.

        • Chris Cosmos
          March 27, 2017 at 12:34

          The disease is far too deep and the mind-control regime we live in too powerful to substantially create change. Permanent war is required for the oligarchs to stay in power–they must have it and they are able to manipulate the public even if the public is against war–there will be war of some kind.

          • Joe Tedesky
            March 27, 2017 at 16:27

            Chris your words are no doubt true. I feel the same way that it will take something truly awful to happen before we all rise up and change the world for the better…if we can.

          • Gunther
            March 27, 2017 at 17:56

            Reminds me of the movie Battle of the Bulge where Colonel Hessler told his subordinate that he and many Germans knew that they could never win and that the war would go on and on, and that the reason why Hessler and others like him kept fighting was to stay in uniform. You can apply that to the wealthy people and corporations because they need permanent war to stay in power and to make money.

          • Sam F
            March 28, 2017 at 05:47

            Yes, Gunther, the “disease is far too deep” but I would suggest that any public demon is enough for the tyrant demagogues to stay in power. The choice of hot vs cold war and the place of war depends on who funds the corrupt politicians. So the cold war in Europe and war in SE Asia in the 50s-70s and wars in Central and South America in the 1980s onward were due to a generally anticommunist oligarchy. But the wars in the Mideast have been for Israel alone, attacking all kinds of governments the US people had never heard of.

            All of these wars, in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, etc., will be known in history as the Jewish Wars, because the sole motive is zionist greed, and the warmongers and their mass media are all Jewish or their paid opportunists. The false rationales used to fool the US will be exposed: the US did not get free oil by attacking its suppliers, it promoted the worst extremism, it retarded democracy and social justice, it killed millions and spent itself deeply into debt. All of this was done for no one but the Jews and their bribes of the universally corrupt US politicians. Let us call these the Jewish Wars from now on.

          • Gunther
            March 28, 2017 at 09:33

            Sam F, lets called the wars in Central and South America from the beginning of the 20th century to beginning of the 21st century as the Corporate America Racket Wars since our government was used to maintain American corporate interests as well and USMC General Butler stated that war is a racket.

            Let’s also called our wars against the Native Americans The Imperialist Wars as well or The Manifest Destiny Wars.

        • John Hawk
          March 28, 2017 at 09:20


          I had a family friend who did a tour in S E Asia, Captain in an Army Reserve Engineering Battalion, who when he returned Stateside worked as the aide-de-comp to the General in charge of the Selective Service in my State. When my status showed up as 1A, he consciously and directly changed it to 4F. When he told me about this, his comment was equally direct: ‘Your family has suffered enough already, this war is a rat hole!’.

          • Joe Tedesky
            March 28, 2017 at 23:10

            John I don’t feel so alone hearing your story. The only thing I can tell you was on that day when I volunteered I had visions of a couple of friends of mind who served over in Vietnam. The one never came back, and the other loss his legs.

            The one who loss his legs went on to do really well in life, I mean extremely well. He never let his handicap be a handicap. Jimmy went from 101 Airborne to his becoming a successful artist, and musician. Jimmy also helped other wounded veterans deal with their trauma.

            My other friend Walt had been on one tour through Vietnam and when his camp was overrun with VC he made a quick decision and shot the VC dead. Later he identified the dead VC he had just killed as being a woman. He cried when he told this story to my cousin Pete, and myself. Walt was 17 when he enlisted in the Marine Corp.. Later Walt for some strange reason put in for a second tour in Vietnam, and never came back. Cousin Pete and I had often wondered if Walt upon being confronted by the VC once more hesitated and like they say, ‘think long thing wrong’. All war sucks.

      • David Hart
        March 27, 2017 at 10:40

        Every page of Nick Turse’s book “Kill Anything That Moves” makes me sick to my stomach. What did we do to that country, and to the millions of people whose lives we disrupted and destroyed? And we still do it today–in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, in Somalia, in Yemen, in Libya. I’ve lived overseas for a total of 8 years, and traveled the world. How Americans can talk about being “proud” of their country just baffles me. I feel as though I can barely look people in the eye for the horrendous destruction we have rained on this world. Anyone who reads American history should be reduced to tears over our historical “legacy.” And with continued huge increases slated for military spending, and the slashing of money for the things that are really important to the majority of US citizens, it is certainly not going to get much better.

    • Bill Bodden
      March 27, 2017 at 00:32

      Why do we Americans still believe it our duty to invade and destroy other people’s lives and do it all in the name of the self righteousness of liberty and freedom?

      In some cases, we may be like the busybody neighbor instead of minding his or her own business keeps intruding in the lives of others instead of getting their own houses in order. The big problem comes when this sickness evolves on a national or international scale with megalomaniacs calling the shots and they are aided and abetted by “loyal” citizens who have pledged their allegiance to the flag even though it is in the hands of those who put the republic at risk.

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 27, 2017 at 01:49

        Bill until America comes to admit it’s wrongs, nothing may change. It’s the natural evolution of time being a nation that hinders America’s admission to what it has been to where it could be, I think it’s the easy money that flows from these endeavors of war and famine where most priorities are put. If only we could become more humanitarian in place of this dynamic of blowing up things to build things to transfer natural resources that is ruining our whole civilization…and that’s too bad, because we could do better.

      • Chris Cosmos
        March 27, 2017 at 12:39

        Normally, we don’t want to do any of that but the ruling elite cannot maintain power without permanent war so the people, who have been softened up by almost a century of ubiquitous advertising, PR, and propaganda will blindly follow their leaders even when they don’t believe in those leaders. Note that the military is the only institution (besides the police) that has the approval of more than half the public. All sides right and left approve of the military and derive a sense of meaning from that institution (thank you for your service). People in the military become addicted to the danger, the friendships, teamwork, and sense of mission the military supplies when the rest of life is filled with ambiguity, confusion and drift.

        • Gunther
          March 27, 2017 at 18:01

          I don’t have respect for military people and police officers who became addicted to those things that you mention Mr. Cosmos because they will destroy their country and the rest of the world in order to enjoy those addictions forever.

        • Sam F
          March 28, 2017 at 05:56

          Both of you are right. The misplaced “public spirit” of military “service” that ruins the country is a fundamental problem. William James spoke of a “moral equivalent of war” that would translate that spirit into real public service. The JFK era attempted that with the Peace Corps and Carter quoted James in encouraging that service, but of course the oligarchy went the other way. The military and others who served the US were the ones who refused to serve in the oligarchy wars.

    • Sam F
      March 27, 2017 at 07:20

      The US was the first colony to fight against colonialism and the last to defend it.

      The US failed to see that anti-colonial rebellions could ally with a democracy and become democratic, even though Ho Chi Minh read the US Declaration of Independence to his people and repeatedly sought Truman’s support.

      We now know that if the US had waited for the collapse of the USSR and the economic opening of China, all of Asia would have gone the same route without killing of millions.
      There was no need for military action there, merely patience and understanding.

      The US failed to see that the revolutionary government structure of communism required an enemy to prevent evolution to broader democracy, and made itself that enemy where it was not threatened. The US gave itself a worldwide Cold War, discrediting itself as the killer of millions struggling for nothing more than escape from poverty and tyranny.

      There was no threat to the US: coastal Asia is bounded by seas, Russia and China and other former colonies seeking liberation. The US could simply have aided and encouraged broader democracy, deciding to “work with the Ho Chi Minh government.” But the US had been colonized by warmongering tyrants supported by oligarchy-controlled mass media, posing falsely as defenders so as to demand domestic power and accuse their opponents of disloyalty, as Aristotle warned. The US oligarchy tyrants chose war to gain power for themselves.

      1. The US killed up to two million innocents bombing N Korea after losing that war.
      2. The US supported killing of over a million innocents in Timor in Indonesia on an anti-communist theme although it could have bought the oil from any government.
      3. The US killed over a million innocents in Vietnam.
      4. The US killed over two million innocents bombing Laos and Cambodia on the same pretext that it must “win” where it was not wanted or needed to benefit people there.

      The US itself became the anti-democracy tyrant, repudiated the Western heritage of liberal democracy, and made itself the colony of its economic aristocracy. The US is no longer a democracy, and should learn from those rebellious colonies how to liberate itself again.

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 27, 2017 at 09:30

        Yeah Sam you said it well. This is what I found happened in my lifetime. Here I grew up and thrived in a country with more than enough of an abundance of almost anything, but yet we are a nation who kills for more of everything, and why because we have some who always want more.

      • Joe Tedesky
        March 27, 2017 at 10:17

        Sam you may already know about this site which I’m leaving a link to, but if you go to the link page I’m providing I can only encourage you to stay on that site and read as many of the articles you might have interest in. It will be worth the time, if you find the time to discover what these Vietnam Veterans have to say. Lots of stuff here, even current opinions of what we are all dealing with today. If you only have one life to live then be proud you supported peace while you walked along this earth.

        • Sam F
          March 27, 2017 at 10:38

          Thanks, I will check this site.

        • Bill Bodden
          March 27, 2017 at 13:05

          Good and useful link. Thanks, Joe.

          • Joe Tedesky
            March 27, 2017 at 16:28

            I love that site.

      • Gunther
        March 27, 2017 at 18:06

        Americans think that their war of independence and revolution is glorious while believing that everyone’s else war of independence and revolution was nothing..

      • Gunther
        March 28, 2017 at 09:37

        “We now know that if the US had waited for the collapse of the USSR and the economic opening of China, all of Asia would have gone the same route without killing of millions.
        There was no need for military action there, merely patience and understanding.”

        Unfortunately, patience and understanding are not part of the American character. We want things and we want it now and if we can’t have it, we take by hook or crook.

      • Rich
        March 28, 2017 at 22:02

        1. You might not know this, but the Communist North Koreans invade the South. The Americans and their allies pushed the Communists back above the 38th parallel. Hardly a loss.
        2. I have no idea where you get “over a million innocents” killed in East Timor by the Indonesian government, nor do I understand where the US would get the blame for the estimated 200,000, not 1 million, who died during that war.
        3. I guess if you want to cherry pick numbers and go with the highest you can find, you can say 1 million were killed in N Vietnam, but would you really call murderous communists “innocents”?
        4. I have no idea where you get 2 million killed in Laos and Cambodia by US bombing, but it must be the same place you got your other fake numbers. I suppose you believe the Khmer Rouge were the good guys in Cambodia?

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