Grim Lessons from a Faraway War

Exclusive: At a key juncture of the Vietnam War, the Battle of Hue shocked Americans with scenes of brutal urban warfare, offering lessons that reverberate to the present, reflects Don North in reviewing a book by Mark Bowden.

By Don North

The Battle of Hue in 1968 – the climactic clash of the Tet Offensive, which itself was the turning point of the Vietnam War – exploded the official lies from U.S. commanders about progress toward victory but also delivered a warning about the future costs if the conflict were continued indefinitely.

U.S. Marines try to save the life of a comrade hit by North Vietnamese AK-47 fire at the Citadel, Hue February 24th 1967. (Don North Photo)

In that sense, the Battle of Hue has resonance to America’s current “endless war” in Afghanistan and other military interventions in the nearly 16 years since 9/11, conflicts marked by bravery of soldiers on opposite sides as well as the arrogance and careerism of the top brass and feckless politicians.

As author Mark Bowden writes in his epilogue to his new book, Hue 1968, “Alternative history enthusiasts promote the preposterous idea that the U.S. might have won the war if it had thrown itself more heartily into the conflict. As some of the nation’s more recent wars have helped illustrate, ‘victory’ in Vietnam would have been neither possible nor desirable. It would have required a massive and sustained military presence, and a state of permanent war. Hue illustrates just how bitter that war would have been.”

Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down and 12 other books, was a 16-year-old high school student in Philadelphia on Jan. 3l, 1968, when the battle of Hue began. The attack was part of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) assault across South Vietnam at the start of the Tet holiday by an estimated 80,000 fighters. They achieved nearly total surprise in most areas, as they did in Hue, one of the most venerated places in Vietnam.

Hue’s population of 140,000 made it South Vietnam’s third largest city, with two-thirds of the population living within the walls of the old city known as the Citadel, three-square-miles surrounded by walls 20 feet high and 30 feet thick. Within the walls was yet another fortified enclave, the historic Imperial Palace, home of the Vietnamese emperors before the French took control in 1883.

A giant Viet Cong flag was raised over Hue’s Citadel and flew for 25 days while battalions of NVA occupied the Emperors Palace and other positions in the Citadel. Yet, this reality was denied and obscured by the top U.S. commander, General William Westmoreland, whom Bowden describes as inept and dishonest:

“General Westmoreland continually and falsely assured political leaders in Washington and the American public that the city had not fallen into enemy hands. This refusal to face facts had tragic consequences for many of the marines and soldiers who fought there. ‘Westy’ denied that his official casualty estimates [of enemy troops] were inflated and said the enemy’s offensive was a sign of desperation.

“He also wrote that many NVA and VC had fought ‘halfheartedly.’ To a man, American veterans I interviewed told me they had faced a disciplined, highly motivated, skilled and determined enemy. To characterize them otherwise is to diminish the accomplishment of those who drove them out of Hue.”

First-Person Account

As an ABC News correspondent in Vietnam, I was personally aware of General Westmoreland’s fabrications starting with his announcement at a Saigon news conference on Jan. 31, that Hue had been recaptured and NVA soldiers forced out.

ABC News correspondent Don North covering the Vietnam War.

Later in February, I joined the U.S. Marines of 1st of the 5th battalion as they fought for ten days to advance the last 1,000 yards along the south wall of the Citadel. Bowden’s clear and vivid descriptions of the desperate daily combat brought back painful memories for me.

“The Battle of Hue is a microcosm of the entire conflict,” writes Bowden. “With nearly half a century of hindsight, Hue deserves to be widely remembered as the single bloodiest battle of the war, one of its defining events, and one of the most intense urban battles in American history.”

Despite Westmoreland’s spin, the Battle of Hue and the broader Tet Offensive had a powerful impact on President Lyndon Johnson and some of his top advisers. The intensity of the fighting exposed Westmoreland as an untrustworthy source of information, not just to the press and public but even in his secret communications with the White House.

Westmoreland’s analysis that the enemy attack on Hue was simply a feint to deflect from the fighting at Khe Sahn destroyed his reputation for accurate foresight. Washington lawyer Clark Clifford, replacing Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense, was ready to reject Westmoreland’s unfailingly upbeat view of the war.

After the first two weeks of Hue fighting Clifford told President Johnson, “On one hand the military has said we had quite a victory out there … on the other hand, they now say it was such a big victory that we need one hundred and twenty thousand more men.”

Shortly after Clifford’s assignment to be Secretary of Defense, Westmoreland’s request for over 100,000 more troops was denied and the General was relieved of command.

“Both sides miscalculated,” writes Bowden. “Hanoi counted on a popular uprising that didn’t come, while Washington, blindsided, refused to believe the truth. The armies on both sides played their roles courageously and to terrible effect. The battle’s clearest losers were the citizens of Hue. The systematic executions of Hue citizens suspected of Saigon sympathies are today denied and are an inconvenient memory for the ruling Communist party of Vietnam.”

Bowden quotes civilian casualty estimates of 4,856 by the Saigon government. He cites the American scholar Douglas Pike who studied the mass graves immediately after the fighting, as being likely closest to the truth with a count of 2,800. Total number of Hue civilians killed by U.S. bombing, crossfire between the two forces, and the executions is recognized as 5,800.

An estimated 80 percent of Hue structures were either destroyed or heavily damaged. A total of 250 American soldiers and Marines were killed and 1,554 wounded. South Vietnamese government troop casualties were put at 458 killed and 2,700 wounded. The Vietcong losses were estimated at between 2,400 and 5,000. The final toll of 25 days of fighting numbers well over 10,000 making it the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War.

Pro-War Propaganda

Another consequence of the Tet Offensive was the growing hostility among pro-war Americans toward on-scene journalists who described the U.S. military setbacks and contradicted the upbeat assessments from Westmoreland and the military brass, leading to a narrative blaming the press corps for losing Vietnam.

A U.S. Marine casualty lies on a “mule” trasport vehicle under a Bhudist flag awaiting removal from front lines at Hue on Feb. 24, 1968. (Don North photo)

But Bowden disagrees with this complaint, writing: “Journalism has long been blamed for losing the war, but the American reporting from Hue was more accurate than official accounts, deeply respectful, and uniformly sympathetic to US fighting men.”

Instead, Bowden is critical of U.S. military leadership in Hue and documents many examples of bad tactics and particularly misjudging the efficiency of the NVA by sending under-strength units to engage large and entrenched enemy forces.

Bowden’s disdain for senior officers in the battle is at odds with his admiration for the “grunts” on both sides.

“I was moved by the heroism and dedication of those who fought on both sides of the battle,” writes Bowden. “In the worst days of this fight, facing the near certainty of death or severe bodily harm, those caught up in the Battle of Hue repeatedly advanced. Many of those who survived are still paying for it. To me the way they were used, particularly the way their idealism and loyalty was exploited by leaders who themselves had lost faith in the effort, is a stunning betrayal. It is a lasting American tragedy and disgrace.”

Many other books and analyses of the battle have celebrated the valor of U.S. troops while showing little interest in how they were used.

“The conspiracy of denial also explains why this terrible battle has remained, for most Americans, so little known,” writes Bowden. “It has been conscientiously remembered by the US Marine Corps, albeit with more emphasis on the glory than on the leadership blunders that cost so many lives.”

Bowden’s book also may have put to rest fears that history must be written by those who experienced it. In five years of diligent in-depth research, thousands of interviews on both sides of the battle and an ability to analyze his research in terms of what each day’s events meant for the entire war, Bowden has produced a book critics say is the best understanding of the Battle of Hue and its effect on the war.

Some historians say the sweet spot for understanding an historical event is about 50 years – enough time for a measure of perspective, yet while there are still living eyewitnesses. Since the now-unified Vietnam is welcoming Americans, it also was possible for Bowden for the first time to report the battle from both sides.

“Most American veterans were pleased to share their experiences with me,” says Bowden. “The sheer number of interviews gave me multiple perspectives on nearly every event described. I am indebted to previous accounts, Battle for Hue by Keith Nolan; Fire in the Streets by Eric Hammel; The Lost Battalion by Charles Krohn; The Siege of Hue by George Smith; and The Cat from Hue by Jack Lawrence.”

Bowden says he learned a great deal from journalist’s reports written at the time and even more from talking to reporters and photographers who produced them, particularly Gene Roberts, John Olson, and Mike Morrow.

Bowden lists several viewpoints shared by the hundreds of American veterans he interviewed: most were proud of having served; nearly all were angry over the betrayal of their youthful idealism, mostly at American leaders who sent them to fight a war that was judged unwinnable from the start; all felt sorrow for the friends they lost and the horror the war inflicted on everyone involved; many described their difficulties in adjusting to normal life after returning home.

There are also lessons for the present and the future. Urban warfare has become more common since the Battle of Hue as more of the world’s population leaves rural areas. Although untrained in urban warfare, the U.S. Marines — dispatched to reclaim Hue — soon adapted from the jungles and paddies they were used to in Vietnam.

Bowden describes in graphic detail the tactics of avoiding booby-trapped doors and instead smashing through the sides of buildings, clearing room to room, staying off the streets and open areas, hard lessons of the fighting in Hue that the U.S. Marines brought to Iraq in 2004 when they assaulted the city of Fallujah twice.

Today, with U.S.-backed forces battling ISIS militants in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqah, Syria, the bloody lessons of Hue — and memories of the severe civilian casualties — are relevant again.

Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of Inappropriate Conduct,  the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.

69 comments for “Grim Lessons from a Faraway War

  1. T
    July 7, 2017 at 12:14

    Sorry, but this is still spin — claiming that the people in command in Washington were misled by Waste-More-Land (as we used to call him).

    Westmoreland was never anything but a PR general produced on Capitol Hill and elsewhere as necessary.

    Someone who worked directly for him on a daily basis said later in private that he was “too dumb to chew gum and tie his shoelaces at the same time”…

  2. July 6, 2017 at 12:31

    A brilliant recapitulation of the agony which we inflicted on the Vietnamese people.

  3. Hugh R. Hays
    July 5, 2017 at 14:52

    The gift of peace and gratitude to all of you, North, Bowden, Commenters, et all. Because of people like us peaceful progress
    is being made. Several days ago I read an article that peace organizations were uniting to support a peace issue. Forgive my memory(nearly 85) names like Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, Seeds of Peace, Vote Vet, Win without War, World Beyond War,
    etc. come to mind. I believe as our knowledge grows and we share it more widely the world will come to realize peaceful relations
    are in all our best interests. For a moment this morning as I read your comments i realized a bit of peace. Thank you all.
    Hugh R. Hays
    Veteran for Integrity, Equality, Justice and Peace.

  4. July 5, 2017 at 12:20

    General Võ Nguyên Giáp (1911-2013), a man who knew something about the First and Second Indochina Wars, stated years ago in a filmed French-language interview (which has been suppressed in the United States of America [US] and probably elsewhere) that the Tet Offensive of 1968 was a defeat for the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV) and a victory for the US: Armed forces of the M?t tr?n Dân t?c Gi?i phóng mi?n Nam Vi?t Nam (a.k.a. Vi?t c?ng in the West) were effectively wiped out and DRV armed forces were on the verge of defeat. Giáp was about to advise his superiors at Hanoi to sue for peace, but then Western corporate mainstream media of communication amazingly began reporting that the Offensive was a defeat for the US and a victory for the DRV! Giáp was stunned by this Western denial of reality, but knew a good thing when he saw it; so he advised the DRV’s political leaders to continue the war as long as possible–knowing the US-government penchant for believing ant-war propaganda at that time–and thus earn his nation better terms at any peace conference which might ensue. Is the interview with Giáp presented in Bowden’s new book? Does North even know about it? Blame for another eight years of the War is easy to place, but that’s another matter.

    • mike k
      July 5, 2017 at 15:50

      Thanks Hugh. Good to hear from you.

    • mike k
      July 5, 2017 at 15:51

      You provide nothing to back up the words of your single source.

  5. mike k
    July 5, 2017 at 09:59

    Excellent article about the inner wound of war:

  6. Ted Tripp
    July 5, 2017 at 08:49

    I gathered that the author interviewed NVA veterans, but no mention of them arises. Why?

    • mike k
      July 5, 2017 at 09:32

      Although I heard of this book when it came out, I have not read it. Nick Turse is a well known and reliable investigative reporter.

  7. mike k
    July 5, 2017 at 06:53

    Americans have long been taught that events such as the notorious My Lai massacre were isolated incidents in the Vietnam War, carried out by just a few “bad apples.” But as award-winning journalist and historian Nick Turse demonstrates in this groundbreaking investigation, violence against Vietnamese noncombatants was not at all exceptional during the conflict. Rather, it was pervasive and systematic, the predictable consequence of official orders to “kill anything that moves.” (Amazon review)

    • David Smith
      July 5, 2017 at 09:48

      If Nick Turse’s thesis is My Lai et al was the result of “kill anything that moves” orders then he is inaccurate. The truth is much uglier and can be found in the US Army’s own report, authored by an Army captain in the late ’70s. I found it in a Canadian library in early ’80’s. The most honest account I have read. My Lai et al was an integral part of the CORDS terror program. Orders came from MACV, the top. Orders were: Identify villages unprotected by the NLF, send in regular Army/Marines and kill every civilian. Vietnamese civilian were purposely targeted for terror attacks. The Army’s report states there were HUNDREDS of My Lai incidents, and of course, hideous torture and rape were part of the fun ‘n games. It is important to remember that what broke the My Lai story was not Seymour Hersh, but an American helicopter pilot who landed his chopper between Lt Calley’s scum and further victims and ordered his door gunner to aim at the murderers. He faced death threats when he returned home.

      • backwardsevolution
        July 5, 2017 at 13:59

        David Smith – what a post! So much more to learn. That American helicopter pilot was very brave for doing what he did. Imagine getting the order to go in and kill whole villages. I know I couldn’t have done it. What we hear and what actually happened are two different things, aren’t they? Disgusting.

  8. john wilson
    July 5, 2017 at 04:49

    The one thing the American warmongers have learnt from Vietnam is take control of the narrative and make sure the mass media are embedded with the military and only stories of our courageous and glorious exploits are ever shown to the public. When the Russians and Syrian planes bombed Allepo it was wicked and scenes of carnage were shown daily on the TV news. When the Yanks murdered and continue to murder hundreds of civilians in Syria and now Mosul, nothing is shown on TV or discussed elsewhere in the media. If it wasn’t for the alternative media we would know nothing of the murderous butchery of American bombers and soldiers.

    • mike k
      July 5, 2017 at 06:38

      The evil prefer to do their work in the dark.

    • backwardsevolution
      July 5, 2017 at 13:55

      John Wilson – good post.

  9. Ben Nguyen
    July 4, 2017 at 20:12

    The Battle of Hue is still debated for the accuracy but those thousands of civilians buried alive by N. Vietnamese and Vietcong troops will never be forgotten! Thanks to American and South Vietnam soldiers who liberated Hue to save peoples and the City from bloodshed! Remember there was a truce for Tet agreed by both sides that communists took advantage to attack over 43 cities of South Vietnam, included Hue, Saigon…

    • July 4, 2017 at 20:53

      There would have been no Vietnam War if the USA allowed the UN mandated elections. Do you prefer being a colony rather than independent? Remember the USA paid France to keep fighting their lost cause in Vietnam.

    • July 4, 2017 at 23:09

      The Mau Than Offensive was planned over a year before January 1968. And there are other instances in Vietnamese history where the Viet people attacked during traditional peace periods, among others the Mongols, the Chinese and the Cham. I was in Viet Nam in 1968 as a contractor and in Sai Gon at the time of the battle for Hue; Vietnamese friends reported to me and my wife that some of their relatives in Hue were executed by the Communists – but a few days later told us they were mistaken: their relatives had died as a result of US bombardment. Gareth Porter in one of his early assignments wrote about the so-called Hue Massacre which has never been fully documented by impartial investigation as far as I am aware.

    • mike k
      July 5, 2017 at 06:37

      You still love your American “liberators” after all these years. Amazing.

      • mike k
        July 5, 2017 at 06:42

        The above comment was meant as a reply to Ben Nguyen.

  10. AppealtoReason
    July 4, 2017 at 19:06

    Ah yes, The American War as the Vietnamese call it. Having visited Ho Chi Minh City last year and visiting the War Remnant Museum you will be amazed at what American soldiers did in our name for “freedom.” I had read about the war and studied many battles and viewed the one sided American documentaries, but to see the torture, the brutality, done to the Vietnamese people was real sad. I recall being near a Russian tour group as they were being escorted by their Russian tour guide viewing the exhibits. I would hear the word “Americonski” very often and then the tour group members would look over at me after viewing some gruesome exhibit. This went on for an hour and I could see disgust on their faces. The good thing about Vietnam today is that the Vietnamese people were warm and hospitable to me, especially the young people (I am in my early 50’s but look younger so I am told). They are some of the hardest working people I have ever come across and they only want is best for their families.

    We killed Three Million People!!! We lose 58,000 and cry as if it meant something. Sad. I hope to return again this year to stay longer than the week I was there. So much to see and once you visit the Chu Chi Tunnel, you know that the American war effort was doomed to failure…like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, need I say more. I have the book and look forward to reading it with great interest.

  11. bob
    July 4, 2017 at 18:51

    usa is a stupid state. their leadership is incompetent. let me explain. what was the purpose of the vietnam “war”? to support puppet govts in saigon that were corrupt. how come mr macnamara (DOD) did not know vietnam and china hate each other? they fought many times though the centuries. what a stupid ass! the chinese were racists to the vietnamese when they ruled them. the war ended when russia provided hand held surface to air missles to the NVA(north vietnamese army) depriving usa of helecopter support therefore its knife against knife. and the us could not win without close air support .i was there. young brave and an army of one. i.e. me. the chinese are the new super power. get out of the way please.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 4, 2017 at 19:01

      What you said bob is undeniably true, but Vietnam will always be one of the those high points for the MIC to celebrate over. Every time I see a Life Flight Bell Ranger helicopter I think of the Vietnam war, and think why could we have not developed that damn flying machine in peacetime? I think when I see manufacturer origin tags in department stores that say ‘Made in Vietnam’ fine, but why could we have not purchased these garments without the destruction we brought down onto Vietnam, and it’s people? The answer to my queries is found on the financial page under the names of the corporations who are part of the Miltary Industrial Complex….there’s where the success to these awful wars will be found, and no where else.

    • July 4, 2017 at 20:50

      And China and Vietnam fought very soon after the USA withdrew.

      • July 4, 2017 at 23:40

        China attacked Viet Nam when Viet Nam said “enough1” to Pol Pot’s murderous regime (which had been attacking villages inside Viet Nam for months) and invaded Pol Pot’s Cambodia (China’s ally); the Chinese invasion at the time was characterized by Deng Xiao Ping as ‘punishing Viet Nam’ for their retaliation against Pol Pot’s provocative attacks on Vietnamese soil. The Chinese learned a lesson when they invaded the north of Viet Nam – their army was not very well trained or equipped, and the provincial / regional Vietnamese forces (not the mainline force) stopped the Chinese in their tracks. After their unsuccessful ‘punishment’ of Viet Nam, the Chinese began re-training and re-equipping the Chinese forces. Of course, the US government denigrated the Vietnamese and became temporary allies of the Chinese, and Pol Pot forces who had murdered or starved millions of their own people. The Vietnamese should have been given medals for removing from power one of the most murderous regimes in history.

        • July 5, 2017 at 09:36


        • Joe Tedesky
          July 5, 2017 at 10:00

          Thanks for sharing Gregory, you have taught me something new today….Joe

    • July 4, 2017 at 22:53

      I was there too. My wife is Vietnamese, US policy since the end of WW II has one major objective: to assure that foreign governments acknowledge the US as the hegemon. If they don’t, they are undermined by a variety of means, one of which has become more preeminent than before, namely, total physical destruction, as in Libya.

      • Joe Tedesky
        July 5, 2017 at 10:05

        Gregory your comment just made me stop and realize, how heavy a burden it must be to be a nation living under the thumb of U.S. Imperialism. We should all take a moment, and try and contemplate what that must be like. Then ask ourselves, why?

      • Daniel
        July 5, 2017 at 20:54

        Agreed. I also tend to think that U.S. wars in the post-WWII era were designed to forcibly relocate millions of third-world citizens into cities, where the only available work is in sweatshops owned by multinational corporations. Vietnam was a perfect example, with the U.S. literally making the countryside uninhabitable.

      • Cal
        July 5, 2017 at 23:57

        We should ask what happened to Libya’s gold reserves.

    • bob
      July 5, 2017 at 06:47

      so now what? go to the new vietnam ie syria. go to you tube putin said “if hillary wins its WW3” oct16. notice when he says it. he is angry and twiching because he knows he must attack first if hillary wins and maybe his children will die. now notice his body language one month later nov16. he was calm and careful. why? because i think his defense minister told him ‘we can defeat them in a first strike’.also about that time he pulled most russian employees home.(thank god he has not of yet pulled his diplomats home because that means war.) so if hillary won i would be glowing in the dark! ie dead. now we have a new maniac in charge and a chance to survive. ps i voted for MD stein.

  12. Joe Tedesky
    July 4, 2017 at 18:51

    When will we Americans learn you can’t win up against the indigenous people. Yes, you could set yourself down and declare victory, but guess what the native people are still there. Ask yourself, what you would do if your homeland were invaded. It’s simple math, but we Americans fail to understand the calculus of it all.

    Here is a great website VVAW and the opening page of this link is one of the best brief history’s I have ever read regarding Vietnam.

    • Cal
      July 5, 2017 at 23:54

      The indigenous people were also killing each other. The Viet Cong killed plenty of their fellow South Vietnamese.

      Vietnam and the reasons for war have complicated histories.
      There were two Vietnam states –North Vietnam and South Vietnam –both were recognized internationally as different states. North Vietnam , the communist state wanted to ‘retake or ‘unify ,as they termed it, South Vietnam, which because of past French colonization leaned toward the west.

      The North Vietnamese army was supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies . The South Vietnamese army was supported by the United States, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and a few others.

      The first outbreak, actual start of the war began in ‘ 59 with an uprising by organized pro communist in South Vietnam, the ‘Viet Cong, ‘

      And mushroomed from there.

      • Joe Tedesky
        July 6, 2017 at 00:48

        I get that, but how does any of that effect Kansas? I’m not being smart, and I realize the complex order of it all, but when it comes to where U.S. involvement must lend, or end, it’s difficult to support such colonialists yearnings. In fact America has it’s own internal rivalries too deal with, so why butt into other nations problems….kind of a George Washington point of view, so to speak.

        Thanks for adding to my comment Cal Joe

        • Kiza
          July 6, 2017 at 19:40

          Where do US citizens get this idea that they could do right in any situation? Who gives the US citizens the right to decide what is right and what is wrong, when it used to be said that even God cannot often tell them apart? Or is it in the nature of the humans who have not experienced violence onto themselves but just dish out violence onto others to interpret their own interests as God’s own will?

          The saddest is that US have learned nothing, abolutely NOTHING!!!!! Things have only gone worse since the US aggression on Vietnam.

  13. ranney
    July 4, 2017 at 17:21

    As the owner of a large independent bookstore it has been my honor and privilege to get to know a number of Viet Nam Vets – oddly most of them are marines and they are from all ranks, from grunt to Major. All of my friends returned from Nam with no permanent physical disabilities, BUT there isn’t one of them who is not psychologically traumatised by what they were forced to do and what they witnessed. Most of my friends are coping with that in various ways, but the pain lingers. They have jobs and wives, some are homeless, others are alcoholics and the list goes on.

    I repeat, I do not know even ONE veteran who served in Nam who’s life was not unalterably damaged in some way by that experience. Now we are doing it again in Afghanistan and Iraq – another whole generation of young men and now women who come back, if not physically wounded then emotionally wounded. I already know several. Why are we doing this to our children? When will we stop the insanity?

    • Chucky LeRoi
      July 5, 2017 at 05:18

      I am of the age where my friends older brothers were coming back from the early days of this war, every one of them a mess, as you say. This is one of the many factors that caused me to register for the draft six months late and use other techniques to avoid becoming one of them. I met many people doing this kind of thing, but the sad part is that most of the successful efforts at “administrative” avoidance were by educated white guys. I met a man who spent his entire two years in the Army applying to training schools. He could type. It seems you could not be shipped out while the application was being processed. Two years of paper work got him an honorable discharge.

      The under-educated (mostly, not exclusively, black and brown) became the cannon fodder not because they were more “patriotic” but because they needed the job more or could not figure out the ways to play the systems. The class divide was painfully obvious, especially to those who wound up in combat units. Even today, it is often pointed out that very few of our Congressmen have children serving in the wars they commit to. Maybe a true Universal Draft or mandatory service would slow things down if the ruling class had actual “skin in the game”.

      I am in no way advocating to keep playing the game. It is beyond stupid, easily seen to be more about profit than defense. But maybe there would be more resistance to the madness if those advocating for it were to incur some personal losses. But the powerful have always used that power to insulate themselves, and as that power is becoming more consolidated, I have no great hope.

    • Cal
      July 5, 2017 at 16:49

      ” I repeat, I do not know even ONE veteran who served in Nam who’s life was not unalterably damaged in some way by that experience.”

      I don’t think anyone in a year of or years long combat gets out unchanged. My brother was a Marine Lt. in Vietnam in 68-69, 3 Purple Hearts ,2 Bronze Stars and one Silver Star. What it changed for him was any faith in US Government and belief that any war is necessary. What it came down to in Vietnam was just staying alive and keeping your men alive….period, ask any vet. Fortunately except for complications from a stab wound to a kidney he was able to get on with a normal life, married his childhood sweet heart and had 2 sons who he instructed to never pick up a gun except in defense of ‘US soil.’

  14. backwardsevolution
    July 4, 2017 at 16:38

    I was on holiday, taking in the sites, and as the Vietnam Memorial Wall was just there, I figured I’d walk over and see it. I will never forget that day – ever!!! To see the families tracing out their loved one’s names, running their fingers over the names, the tears, the flowers, the remembering. OMG, I’ve got tears in my eyes right now just typing this. It really was one of the most moving experiences of my whole life. The seemingly endless list of the young who would never grow old.

    What a complete waste!

    I made up my mind then and there that if I ever had children, they were never ever going to fight in a useless war.

    • July 4, 2017 at 22:48

      You should go and see the cemeteries in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia where some 3 million combatants and civilians died at the hands, and bullets, bombs, toxic substances and artillery shells of the people from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. In all three nations, they’re still suffering the effects of Agent Orange and uncovered unexploded ordnance. I’ve been to a few graveyards in Viet Nam; my wife is Vietnamese and we have family there. But most Vietnamese are not bitter, just wary…

      • backwardsevolution
        July 5, 2017 at 00:06

        Gregory – I don’t think I could take it. A complete tragedy.

  15. Sam F
    July 4, 2017 at 16:16

    This is the day when every citizen should examine the reasons that the US has murdered over six million innocents since WWII with no benefit to anyone, nor any reason to believe that there could have been a benefit, nor any history of any effort to achieve any significant benefit for anyone since WWII, nor any consideration whatsoever beyond self-aggrandizement and profit. What heroes we must be to have killed so many innocents!

    The first nation to rebel against colonialism here became the last to defend colonialism in Asia, without any reconsideration of the reasons for the first or the second. What heroes. Oh what they have saved us from. How we depend upon such defense. The one nation with three thousand miles of ocean between it and any of those alleged threats on the other side of the planet.

    • July 4, 2017 at 20:48

      Vietnam states 6-10 million died in IndoChina alone. Plus all the millions dead in Latin America, Middle East, Africa , South Pacific etc.. Besides the military deaths there are the economic deaths when the USA undermines agriculture or commerce.

  16. Sam F
    July 4, 2017 at 15:53

    The war technology lessons of Hue are least relevant.
    What is most relevant in the Vietnam experience is that:
    1. The right wing mass media and political parties betrayed the people and the soldiers by
    a. pretending to serve a national defense necessity, when they knew that there was no evidence of communist revolutions without a cause, but only the gradual spread of that method of dumping colonial regimes and oligarchies;
    b. pretending that the problems of SE Asia were military rather than the poverty, ignorance, malnutrition and disease that they had been told were the problems by the leaders there;
    2. The leaders betrayed the high command and the soldiers by
    a. posing with the flag as fake protectors, accusing their moral superiors of disloyalty,
    b. fighting a war that made no sense: suppressing anti-colonial rebellions in the name of “democracy promotion” without a thought or a concern between them on the necessity or long term feasibility,
    c. assassinating Diem et al and dumping those like SecDef McNamara who advocated negotiation;
    d. interfering with Johnson’s negotiations with NV to prevent his re-election.
    3. The high command betrayed the soldiers in sending them off to a war that they knew was unwinnable;

    • July 4, 2017 at 20:44

      There would have been no war if the USA had not prevented the UN mandated election that Ho Chi Mihn was sure to win. A common maneuver of the USA.

      • Sam F
        July 4, 2017 at 21:53

        Yes, there were many opportunities. Truman also could have prevented war by working with Ho Chi Minh, who in about 1947 asked for US support to renounce colonial domination. Truman did not even answer apparently.

      • July 4, 2017 at 22:27

        The UN did not mandate any election; the election proviso was part of the Geneva Accords that ended the war between France and the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam in 1954. The U. S., Russia and China were parties to the agreement as was the Ban Dai (South Vietnam government – a tool of the French, then of the Americans under Ngo Dinh Diem); the U.S. government promised not to do anything to obstruct implementation of the agreement, but lied. As usual with the US government, there were no consequences to having violated its word.

        • July 5, 2017 at 09:34

          Accurate correction, thank you.

  17. mike k
    July 4, 2017 at 15:38

    Because soldiers are trained to do the darkest of evil deeds, the propaganda has to be spun to make out they are heroes, brave, fighting for Mom, apple pie and the American Way, etc. That is all bullshit. These are trained indoctrinated killers, plain and simple. And any person is free to refuse to do these things, so they are responsible for choosing to take part in these abominations. What the existentialists meant by mauvais foi (bad faith) was the attempt of people to avoid responsibility for their choices.

    • Cal
      July 5, 2017 at 16:27

      I dont agree. I dont know how old you are, whether you were old enough to be drafted during Vietnam or not. But the 60’s were very different from today. Back then you had 2 choices if drafted—accept it or run to Canada/ or go to jail. And society was more naïve about their government then. Honor and duty were still popular values in most parts of the country—not as much of the me, as in todays society. The country as a whole was misled and the young were easily misled–along with having the only 2 choices I mentioned.

      So I do think you are way out of line calling them all trained indoctrinated killers. Particularly in light of your admitted past drug addiction, that weakness was a ‘choice’ you made with no gun held to your head —-the men in Vietnam had guns to their heads every day they were there.

      Show some respect.

      • July 5, 2017 at 20:25

        Respect people as human beings but reject the imperial stormtrooper role. Another choice Conscientious Objector. One may make the same excuses today. The fact is ignorance of the law is no defense.

        • Dube
          July 5, 2017 at 21:40

          A fine example of intelligence and morality you are, BB. Why aren’t all our 18-year-olds like you?

        • Cal
          July 5, 2017 at 22:58

          Conscientious Objectors served in noncombat roles during Vietnam….particularly as medics and other roles that did not require them to carry arms. My former doctor, now retired, was a conscientious objector and a medic.

      • July 7, 2017 at 01:48

        Seems like we’re talking about learning as a way out of deceptive mass propaganda. I know it was to get free of it and overcome the fear-based retaliation that I got when I shared my truth. Hey, I was used to it, I, numb to the pain, forgot that the truth still sometimes hurts. Some people wanted to definitely harm me too. . . . God forbid that anyone should suffer unnecessarily.

  18. mike k
    July 4, 2017 at 15:29

    War stories. There is nothing honorable, glorious, or heroic about war. The real heroes are those who refused to take part in it. Is it heroic to stupidly stick your hand in a fire? We had no business being in Vietnam, and everyone associated in any way with that evil action bears responsibility for it’s tragic results. On the other hand, those who stood up for the truth and refused to fight were vilified by the propaganda of the war machine every way they could think of. “My country right or wrong” is a moral cop-out that is totally invalid.

    • Broompilot
      July 4, 2017 at 17:46

      This is way too harsh Mike. Every soldier has earned the right to be proud of his service in any country and for nearly any cause. They are young, inexperienced, and rely on their leaders for direction. The blame for these actions rest entirely on leaders and politicians that get us into these messes, the real reasons for which, as often as not nefarious, we don’t find out about for decades afterwards. Even in the absence of external missadventures, armed forces still are required for defense. Otherwise I share your sentiments and the gist of this article. And even more harsh, is the creeping thought, in light of our actions the last 60 years, that we may be the Evil Empire.

      • July 4, 2017 at 18:44

        Carry a rifle onto another nation’s patch of earth, with the understanding that their patriots have the Right to turn you into fertilizer, with impunity.

      • July 4, 2017 at 20:37

        Individuals are accountable for their actions, no excuses. Every war is the result of failure. Only ignorant people fight in wars. The brave are those who defy the government and escape or suffer the consequences of the war culture.

        • Broompilot
          July 5, 2017 at 00:33

          There are those that risk themslves and their future in armed service to their country, and those that risk themselves and their future opposing war in some form or another. Both are risky, and both are needed. And both may regret their choices later. Not all are cut out to be warriors. Not all are cut out to be protesters. Most are just trying to get by day to day.

          • July 5, 2017 at 09:33

            All wars are Banker’s wars. And war is never needed, it is a failure of intelligence.

      • Anon
        July 6, 2017 at 09:12

        But this is based on false assumptions: “Every soldier has earned the right to be proud of his service in any country and for nearly any cause. They are young, inexperienced, and rely on their leaders for direction.”

        Why be proud that one was duped into killing for a bad cause? That is an excuse, and whether it results in good or bad, cannot be grounds for pride. Why would “armed service to their country” be good when the country is doing something bad?

        A specialized military career might be purely defensive, but a career in potentially offensive forces will do good when the policy is good, and bad when it is bad. In the late 70s I felt that with the Vietnam experience behind us, we would learn a more constructive foreign policy, and did contracts for the US military, defensive weapons only. When I gradually learned during the 80s that the US had merely shifted to secret wars against socialism disguised as “democracy promotion” I stopped helping militarism.

        Those who were duped into serving a bad cause need to be forgiven, and credited only in their good intentions if any, but not honored. It is not honorable to kill or to fail to examine whether one is doing good or bad.

    • July 4, 2017 at 22:19

      As G. K. Chesterton said, “My country right or wrong is like saying My mother, drunk or sober.

      • Sam F
        July 5, 2017 at 18:51

        Good one, Gregory

    • Skip Scott
      July 5, 2017 at 08:35


      While I agree that we all need to take personal responsibility for our actions, and that murder is not made acceptable by donning a uniform, I think we need to realize that people all learn as they go through life, and learning forgiveness for ourselves and others is part of that. I had a friend that went to Canada to avoid the draft, and one time at a party I thanked him for his service to peace. He chuckled, but he got my point. It has become all the rage to thank soldiers for their service, when really we should hope that they have realized that they made a mistake and learned from it, and will seek to atone for their sins by working for peace. The only way to make our country “right” is to take personal responsibility for our actions and refuse to do “wrong”.

      • backwardsevolution
        July 5, 2017 at 13:46

        Skip Scott – yes, at any given moment we are all just trying to do what’s right. I look back on my own life and just go, “What an idiot! How could I have been so stupid?” Reflecting and questioning your life is the key and realizing it’s never enough just to do what everybody else is doing.

    • historicus
      July 5, 2017 at 21:02

      “Recht Oder Unrecht Mein Vaterland (the German translation of ‘my country right or wrong’)” so pleased the National Socialists that they placed it over the entrance gate to the concentration camp at Buchenwald.

      Going to war gives young members of an aggressive primate species the opportunity to act out the violent behaviors ordinarly reserved to high status alpha males. It is a quirk of our evolutionary heritage that here will never be a shortage of young men more than willing to kill and risk death for this privilege. Regardless of the ideas and ideals that exist only in their imaginations, they are in reality the weapons without which their leaders would be harmless, powerless to act out their dominance games in which “right ir wrong” do not factor.

      • Nancy
        July 6, 2017 at 11:59

        Sad but true. All it would take to stop these travesties would be the refusal to “serve.”
        But there seems to always be a supply of those who are young and dumb and full of come, as my husband describes them.
        Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be soldiers!

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