It seems that is confirmed, by George Will and other sources, that Nixon committed an act of Treason concerning the Vietnam War. During his first election he contacted the leaders of South Vietnam, when he was still a private citizen, and sabotaged peace talks to make his election chances more favorable. That is the simple version. Maybe this was really big news and I missed it somehow, as Will’s article came out last year. But if not, why wasn’t this much bigger news? We spend weeks on crashed planes, but not weeks on elected Presidents who have committed treason? I realize Nixon has been dead awhile, but this seems the kind of thing that society could learn a lot from.
Today I finished L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. There are some of you that will read the title of this book and discount it entirely. However, I think Prouty has something to offer, if not on the JFK assassination itself, then about what went so horribly wrong in Vietnam.
I picked up the book months ago as Oliver Stone recommended it. Prouty was the basis for the Mr. X character in the film JFK played by Donal Sutherland. Prouty was a controversial character in real life as he not only believed JFK assassination was a coup d’etat, but made other controversial claims as well. However, with his military experience and his close connections with high ranking military officials, you can’t discount everything that he says either.
I think it is important when reading any book that deals in some way with history to read with a grain of salt. A book like Prouty’s one has to read with even more of a critical eye than usual. Surprisingly, the actual assassination of JFK only takes up maybe the last 15% of the book. Most of the book is telling the history of the Vietnam War, what went wrong there, what our involvement really was there, and why there was a hostile climate surrounding Kennedy due to the decisions he was making about that war prior to his death.
I have seen some of the claims Prouty makes about Vietnam made in other places. We entered the war with a Cold War mentality, we didn’t understand the local culture, we made many mistakes that turned the local population against us, etc.
The book also goes into such details as how much money there was to be made in the military industrial complex due to things like helicopters. Not only did the war create a giant market for helicopters and other weapons, but the helicopters themselves were a very inefficient way of fighting the war because of the amount of support staff that was needed and the fact that they weren’t very dependable given the kind of terrain and conflict that took place in that war.
Up until JFK’s death we only spent between 2 and 3 billion dollars in Vietnam. Afterwards we spent around 220 billion dollars.
The book also goes into detail about the culture of Vietnam and how we either didn’t understand it or were at times willfully ignorant. Much of the conflict was the result of things that we and the Diem government did that uprooted the traditional life of the Vietnamese peasants who had been living like they did before the war for hundreds of years. We tended to view everything through the communist/capitalist lens of the Cold War while many of the enemy combatants didn’t fall neatly into that prism. We did a lot to create our own enemies.
The sections dealing with the Vietnam War are very thought provoking and well detailed. It is in his claims about the assassination where I feel that Prouty overreaches and makes bold claims without a lot of detail to back it up. However, he does provide a pretty convincing thesis on at least why JFK was despised by many members of the US power structure.
This was a fascinating read. Even if you don’t buy into Prouty’s theory of the assassination, or even skip that part of the book entirely, I think the rest of the book justifies itself. It is especially thought provoking when it takes an inside look at the mindset of those carrying out the Cold War.
The following is a passage from L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy. The jury is still out on if Prouty is a reliable source on many things. However, I think he has great insight into why the Vietnam War was such a disaster. I’ve seen enough things confirmed in other books. The following is pretty long, but it is worth reading. I do want to add that Prouty, in his book, admits that this story is an amalgamation of different things that he saw while in Vietnam.
In an effort to try to cut this down a little bit I just want to add that the Rhade are a tribal group in Vietnam. I also want to add that before this passage starts Prouty talks about how when Diem banished the French and the Chinese he also destroyed the local economy without instating something viable to take its place. This story is another example of us invading a country without understanding the local culture. Anyway, on with the show:
The padre, the young American, and the Vietnamese official returned many times. After a while, the American was welcomed without the priest and often stayed for weeks. He was interested in animal husbandry and agriculture. He brought with him some poultry and a new breed of hog that he taught them to raise. He carried with him new seeds and tried over and over to encourage the Rhade to plant them as he directed. On countless occasions he would persuade the villagers to dig holes in the fields and to plant the seeds as he had learned to do at the university in Ames, Iowa.
He never did understand the Rhade farmers and their primitive “slash and burn” farming. And they never could explain to this young expert that the seeds could not grow in that heavy grassland of the open fields. In any event, the American became a familiar figure, and his hard work and gifts of chickens, pigs, candy, and cigarettes were always welcome. Then one day he came with the Magic Box.
The padre, the American, and the Houng-ca sat in earnest discussion all that day. The Magic Box rested on the hood of the jeep while several young men dug a hole in front of the patriarch’s hut. They were unaccustomed to the American’s shovel, and work progressed slowly. Meanwhile, the American felled a tree and cut out a section to be used on a post. This post was put into the hole and the dirt replaced.
Now a tall, sturdy, upright pedestal stood in the front of the chieftain’s hut. To this, the American affixed a tin roof as shelter. Then he removed the shiny jet-black Magic Box from the jeep and nailed it firmly to the post, about four feet above the ground, just the right height for the Houng-ca and above the prying hands of children.
After the box was secured, the padre told the villagers all about the Magic Box and how it would work, about the wonders it would produce to save them from communism. He told them that this box was a most miraculous radio and that it would speak to their brothers in Saigon. It was, in their language, powerful medicine.
At the same time, he warned that only the village patriarch could touch the box. If anyone else did, the kindly government in Saigon would be most angry, and the village would be punished. The padre told the villagers that whenever they were attacked, the patriarch should push the big red button on the box, and that was all.
At this point in their Village Defense Orientation Program, the Viet soldier and the American interrupted the padre and ordered him to repeat that if the village was attacked by the Communist Vietcong from the forest – emphasizing the “Communist Vietcong” – the patriarch was to push the button. To the Viet soldier and the American, the men in the forest were not starving and frightened refugees; they were the enemy.
Because the elderly padre knew that these native people had never heard of the Vietcong, he explained that his friends called all bandits from the refugee camps in the forest “Vietcong” and that the Vietcong were to be greatly feared because they were the puppets of the National Liberation Front, who were the puppets of Hanoi, who were the puppets of the Chinese, who were the puppets of the Soviets, ad-infinitum.
The padre explained that when the patriarch pushed that shiny red button on the Magic Box, the powerful gods of Saigon would unleash vengeful armies through the air, and the dreaded Vietcong would be blasted by bombs from airplanes and napalmed from helicopters. And the village would be liberated and pacified. He also told them that every village that had been selected by the Father of His Country in Saigon to receive the Magic Box would forever thereafter be furnished food, medicine, and special care.
The Rhade would receive these “benefits” whether they wanted them or not. For they knew only too well that the villages that had plenty of food and medicine and that were the special elect of Saigon were always the first targets for the starving bandits. They knew enough to know that they would live in fear of the Magic Box and its munificence.
Ever since the day when the padre had returned with the American, the village had received special medicine and food relief. The “Extended Arms for Brotherhood” program of the new president in Saigon was the caring for these tribesmen. Shortly after the first time this extra food had been delivered, the village had been visited by some young men from the camps in the woods. They sat with the patriarch all day and quietly but firmly explained that they came from a refugee camp that was hidden in the hills and that was caring for thousands of homeless natives from the south who had been driven from their homes by the Diem backed police and hordes of northern invaders.
These people had fled from their wasted homes. They had been the enemies in every new region they came to, and now, terrorized and starving, sick and dying, they had had to turn to that last resort of mankind, banditry and pillage. These countless refugees, in their own homeland, had fled the careless deprivations and brutal massacres of the benevolent forces of Saigon. They wished to be peaceful, but they desperately needed food and medicine. They demanded that the village share some of its plentiful goods with them. This arrangement, although unappealing to the village, was accepted, and for a while it kept a fragile peace between the two worlds. However, the refugee numbers swelled, and their demands became greater and greater. It wasn’t long before the Saigon political observer and the padre reported to the American that they suspected that the patriarch was collaborating with the “enemy.” This sharing of their meager goods with the refugees was called “the payment of tribute” by the Vietnamese. The refugees had become the “enemy,” and the American’s word for “enemy” was Vietcong. The political leader explained to the patriarch that collaboration with the Vietcong meant death for him and removal of the village people to the Citizens’ Retraining Camp or a “Strategic Hamlet,” as the Americans liked to call it. No matter what their benefactors chose to call these displacement centers, they were prisons to the natives.
The more or less peaceful demands of the refugees became adamant orders as their needs increased. What had begun as a reluctant sharing of food became submission to force and banditry. The ranks of the refugees swelled as the exodus from such areas as the no-man’s land of the once-prosperous and fertile Mekong Delta area of the Camau Peninsula turned into a vast and relentless human wave.
A situation not unlike that of the Native American migrations westward took place. Each tribe, displaced from its ancestral homeland by the white man, became marauders and attackers in the territory of the next Indian nation. Thus it was tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of once-peaceful, docile, and reasonably well-to-do rice farmers became feared, terrorized bandits called the Vietcong.
I have read quite a lot of history, but I somehow wasn’t aware that we actually supplied Ho Chi Minh with weapons to fight the Japanese during World War II. It seems like we constantly have a problem with supplying weapons to people that eventually become our enemy. One only as to look at recent examples like Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Ho Chi Minh really represents the double whammy because not only did we initially supply him with weapons, but in fighting him we also did something else which is quite common in our history: Trying to overthrow a popular national leader for reasons that were bogus. We claimed at the time that Ho Chi Minh was a puppet of the Soviet Union, but this was not the case. The more I read about our history the more I realize that we not only have created many of our enemies, but as was the case in Iran in the 50’s, we also have often been on the wrong side of history. We should probably stay out of other countries unless we really are clear eyed about what is going on. If not, it always seems to come back and haunts. I am worried that our current drone policy will create another in a long line of self created problems for this country.
Right now one of the several books that I am reading is L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy. Prouty was the basis for Mr. X, played by Donald Sutherland, in the Oliver Stone film JFK. Prouty is a controversial figure, as one can imagine, given the fact that he believed in a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, amongst other things. If you look him up on the internet you will see him praised as a hero and called a sham. I think there are very interesting ideas in this book that are very credible, especially regarding our reasons for getting involved in Vietnam. I also feel there are times he makes bold claims which he does not back up. He often talks about a High Cabal of money men that are making decisions for the country, but he never backs up this claim in any substantive way. I haven’t even gotten to the JFK stuff yet.
The reason that I bring up this book is that I believe that when we are reading, that we always read with a hyper critical eye. I think reading in general is positive. I think you should purposely read things from a wide variety of perspectives. I think Ayn Rand is batshit crazy, but I still read The Fountainhead. Even in a book so full of asinine theories, there were small moments of truth. All humans, no matter how flawed, are still possible of revelations. Also, even the best writers have biases and blind spots. Even if you are reading for escapism, you should occasionally reflect about what the author’s aims are and if they hold water or not.
However, life is short, and you do not want to spend too much time out in la la land. You cannot possibly read every book. You need to pick and choose your battles. Occasionally though, you should venture out into strange territory and try out some new ideas to make sure that life is never too safe. Just make sure you are thinking when you do so.
The only exception is when you are reading this blog. I have clearly descended from some all-knowing space god. My aim is true.
Sometimes I view war as science fiction. That does not mean that one part of my brain does not feel empathy for the suffering and horror that goes on. In fact I think war should always be a last resort.
However, if you view it in a certain way a great deal of absurdity arises. Certain wars, when they are fought between civilizations at different levels of development are again almost like science fiction. When we fight people in the hills of Afghanistan it is almost like people from two different time periods fighting. Some strange portal opened up and people with space aged weaponry are fighting a bunch of ancient tribes over a barely inhabital landscape.
I was reading about the Vietnam War in the van today. I was reading about the folly of our use of helicopters in that war, something that has been confirmed to me by several vets. I want to return to that theme when I get home as it is really interesting. Anyway, I read something I hadn’t heard before. Apparently the Vietminh would hide in tall grass with large bows and arrows in large numbers. They would lie down, put their feet on the bow, and pull the chord back with their hands. They would fire arrows with heavy tops that had things like rope and twine attached as low flying US helicopters would pass. These objects would get caught in rotors and bring the helicopters down. Sometimes as many as fifteen at a time. This was during the early part of the war.
Now imagine the billions we poured into state of the art helicopters during that war. Then imagine them being brought down by primitive weapons in the hands of peasants. I can only think maybe the Greeks got the gods right. Maybe a group of supernatural beings were up on high finding themselves highly amused at such a situation. Watching the hubris of the strongest most technically advanced nation brought low by a bunch of peasants using the same weapons that Robin Hood used. We should have never gone into that country. Either the gods were having a laugh or our leaders were really stupid and corrupt. Maybe both?
I am going to try to explain a very complex subject in a very short amount of space. While I was out this weekend I was reading about the Vietnam War. I believe what I’m about to say has currency now with our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Really though it has to do with a lot of the wars we have been involved in, especially going back to the Indian Wars of the 1800’s. We basically don’t take the time to understand a culture, we project our own politics onto it often based on what is in the best interest of big money, and then we make a mess out of shit.
A great deal of daily life in leading up to the Vietnam War was based on village culture. People lived on their ancestral homeland in small villages and lived off the land. What goods they couldn’t produce they would trade for rice and other goods that they got farming. The people that they traded with were largely Chinese merchants. Because of the Communist ties of the Chinese, the Diem government, which we backed, kicked the Chinese out of Vietnam. Suddenly peaceful villagers’ rice was left to rot as they had no one to trade it with. Many of the Vietnamese traded for water, as the brackish water that they used for farming was undrinkable. They did collect water from rain, but this was not a solution to everyday needs. After awhile these villagers, many of which were in South Vietnam and had no relation to the North Vietnamese, again this was a village society where politics and justice was local, resorted to banditry to get what they needed.
On top of this you had the French leaving after they were defeated and a large part of the law and order of the country left with it. This didn’t matter so much in and of itself it had not been combined with the expulsion of the Chinese merchants.
To make it all more complicated Diem was a Catholic. Millions of Catholics from the North were coerced into coming down into the South of Vietnam, some would say through government propaganda and fear tactics that we supported. Some estimate that 1,500,000 refugees came to South Vietnam during this time. Many of these people were also from a village society and had never lived anywhere other than their ancestral land. Many of these people had nowhere to go to earn a living. Some were put in power by the Diem government because they were Catholics, and were now in positions of power over those that were non-Catholic.
So basically lawlessness erupted that had nothing to do with communism. It had to do with economic reasons, a breakdown in law and order, and a mixing of different cultures. That’s not to say that there weren’t problems derived form the communist North. However, because we didn’t understand the culture and we viewed everything through a communist vs. capitalist lens at the time, this led to the early escalation of the war. Often we ended up killing or supporting people that killed peasants that only wanted to live in peace and have some kind of economic stability. One of the biggest problems of Vietnam was trying to figure out who the enemy was. Even calling Vietnam a civil war is a bit simplistic. There were all kinds of different factions fighting for different reasons, especially in the beginning.
You can see in more recent times that we didn’t fully understand the Sunni Shiite dynamic or the tribal culture of Afghanistan. We also didn’t realize, at least I hope we didn’t, that we were empowering our future enemy when we helped the Mujaheddin, aka the Taliban, fight against the Soviets.
During the Indian Wars we couldn’t separate the peaceful Indians from the ones that waged war, so we often just killed everyone. Even when we did try to make treaties, even on the small occasion that we were acting in good faith, we often didn’t have interpreters that were good to deal with the Indians. Often our government agents would walk away from a treaty with a very different interpretation from what the Indians had signed off on.
I guess if you are going to go to war you should at least try to understand the dynamics of the country you are invading. Otherwise you end up in a war without end, fighting people that are no threat to you or your country. Shame on our leaders and pity on those poor bastards sent to fight.
Where does big money come into all of this? Everyone with half a brain knows that our country has plenty of companies that benefit economically from warfare. They were once called war profiteers and looked on poorly, now they are called job creators. One can read a lot of right wing literature and know that people wanted to go into Iraq long before 911. 911 was just an excuse to go in and do what some members of our society always wanted to do. Often we killed Indians just because they lived over gold. When you combine ignorance of culture with economic interests to go to war, there is a good chance that there is a giant shit storm brewing up ahead, just around that next bend in the road.