Thursday, June 19, 2014
"The War in Vietnam" on CNN's "The Sixties": I lived through it, on the sidelines but in uniform
CNN continued its series “The Sixties” tonight with the one hour (link) “The War in Vietnam”.
The basic take is that the US put in a puppet in South Vietnam in 1963, shortly before Kennedy was assassinated, after rebellionsby Buddhists (and against them) predicated on Kennedy’s Catholicism. In August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred, and President Johnson was not meticulous enough for journalistic fact-checking before going in.
McNamara was worried, of course, but he talked his way out of trouble. He was a salesman, even a huckster. By early 1965, the war was rapidly escalating. LBJ is presented as simply sliding down a slippery slope, never getting to decompress.
Westmoreland joined in the hawkishness, and by mid 1965 (while I worked by first summer job at David Taylor Model Basin in Carderock, MD) Johnson increased the troop commitments on the ground. He also, saying this was his sad duty as president, announced an increase of the draft call from 17000 a month to 35000. It would be 45000 by the end of 1965. The film points out that there were “escape hatches” – student deferments – and that working class people (and blacks) were more likely to become cannon fodder. But the film doesn’t linger on the moral dilemma. It also mentions the draft card burnings, as well evasions at the physicals, including false statements of homosexuality (actually, the draft physical stopped "asking" in 1966.) The draft, after all, had been left over from World War II and Korea. Kennedy had wanted to exempt married men and then new fathers from the draft, but eventually only students in the sciences got privileged with deferments. 18 year-old's didn't get the right to vote (to save their own lives from the draft) until 1971 (link).
Once built up in Vietnam, US forces used brutal tactics, destroying whole villages and killing civilian women and children to flush out suspected Viet Cong “terrorists”. US forces found that conventional ground war tactics did not work against a guerilla enemy that could hide in the jungle.
I recall that some employees at David Taylor actually objected to the War. I wrote a letter to my own church from graduate school in Kansas and got back a response, that we had to trust our leadership. In February 1968, after finishing my MA in Mathematics, I would enter the Army as a “draftee” myself, leading to episodes told in detail in my books and blogs.