THE VIET NAM CONFLICTS
From January to September 1966 I was a platoon leader
in the U.S. Army serving in the Republic of Viet Nam.
Ever since, I have had a consuming interest in the history of that
and of the undeclared war that America fought and lost there
against Ho Chi Minh's Communists.
In these pages I hope to discuss a number of topics
that have long fascinated me.
The year that I was in Viet Nam, 1966, was the year of
the massive influx of American military.
And, in my opinion, the month of May in that year marked the last
chance the U.S. had of winning its war.
In May of 1966 our Government,
after over a decade of, ad hoc, making one bad policy decision
chose as its strategy for waging this conflict
a war plan that,
instead of sending good people to fight the Communists,
would send mostly the bad,
and instead of consultng right-thinking tacticians,
would consult mostly the wrong-headed,
and, saddest of all,
instead of supporting the best of the anti-Communist Vietnamese,
would support mostly the worst.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Shown above is a picture that I think is worth a thousand
in explanation as to why the United States lost its war in Viet
It is a snapshot of an American sergeant
merrily sitting, with his rifle, on the former
Imperial Throne in the Kien Trung Palace in Hué.
Many other examples just like this could also be posted here
to show that, despite all sorts of official statements from our
Government to the contrary,
the Americans we sent to Asia in the years 1960-1975
thought and acted as if Vietnam was theirs to run as they
And, all the while, our Viet Nam policy was being
called 'winning the hearts and minds of the people.'
From 1954, when the United States imposed Ngo Dinh Diem
on the people of South Viet Nam,
right up to 1975, when Duong Van Minh, the last of the chiefs of
state we forced onto that unlucky country,
was arrested in the Norodom Palace in Saigon by the victorious North
the one constant in American policy was that the United States would
honest, non-Communist Vietnamese patriots as the governors of their
Instead, the U.S. repeatedly installed in office corrupt and/or
able to meet the one condition we cared most about: always being
willing to do our bidding.
And then, as each of these client leaders inevitably proved to be not
the U.S. would install,
as a replacement
another Vietnamese politician, or general,
ever more corrupt and/or incompetent.
The result, of course, was to create throughout the Vietnamese
not so much support for the Communists
as (admiration for the Hanoi Government's) opposition to America.
In other words, it was American arrogance,
and not any political achievements by the Communists,
that made most South Vietnamese prefer Ho Chi Minh's
to the succession of shameless collaborators we had in Saigon.
But, let's face it, no amount of popular admiration for
Ho Chi Minh's Communists
would have been enough to secure Hanoi's military victory
in that war.
That result had to be our own doing: for, besides its arrogence,
the United States displayed
an equal measure of military ineptitude,
the kind, for example, that lead America into choosing to fight in
of all places,
a defensive war of attrition.
Ho Chi Minh, I contend, won the support of most South Vietnamese
not by extolling communism, but by fanning the resentment
of the people of Vietnam - and of most of the world -
at foreigners once again trying to dominate South Viet Nam.
This poster reads: "Viet Nam shall win! America shall lose!"
(Note that the poster's Vietnamese legend appears in old-fashioned
and not in the Western alphabet that was introduced by a French
missionary over 150 years ago
and that in the 1960s was used almost universally throughout Viet
- a detail to demonstrate that nationalism, not socialism,
was the sentiment motivating the enemy's rank and file.)
In 1963 the Americans and the South Vietnamese Government
devised the so-called "Chieu Hoi" ("Open Arms") program
hoping to convince Viet Cong soldiers to defect to the Saigon
Between 1963 and 1967 about 75,000 of them did.
Shown above is an amnesty leaflet used to attract Viet Cong
You might think that I was, or am, opposed to the war
in Viet Nam.
The kind of war that we waged, I most certainly did, and do,
But I was then, and am now, a firm believer
not only that we should have fought a war to keep South Viet Nam
but that we not just could, but would, have won the war
if only it had been properly
Stay tuned for my reasoning.
the Memory and Honor of
Lawrence B. Ryan, U.S. Army
15 August 1939 - 30 June 1968.
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