Wednesday, March 24, 2010

America's war in Vietnam -- or "Uncle Ho's" 15 million killed and wounded (going by WWII casualty ratios) out of 35 million Vietnamese.

America's war in Vietnam -- or "Uncle Ho's" 15 million killed and wounded (going by WWII casualty ratios) out of 35 million Vietnamese.
In 1965 -- the decision year -- the free world was still shaking over two little countries almost taking over the world for ironically because they lacked natural resources. Now the two biggest countries in the world were coming after us with leaders only slightly more sensible then "Uncle Ho" and with bombs that could leave a half mile deep crater where Hiroshima used to be.

In 1965, Russia was graduating twice as many scientists and engineers as us and its economy was growing 7% a year to our 3%. Communism was at high tide and its leaders were upfront about "burying" us.

The big lesson of WWII was supposed to be Munich: if the democracies had not allowed Hitler to take Chezoslovakia unopposed there supposedly would have been no WWII. This was so deeply ingrained at the time I only recently realized that if Hitler was willing to invade Russia he was going to war period. (If Hitler had given back France and apologized saying he really did not want any more territory in Europe -- beyond a portion of Poland -- the democracies might have ended up sending him tanks to defeat Godless Russia.)

Have your read Bernard B. Fall's "The Two Vietnams"? Ho executed 50,000 peasants and sent 100,000 more to concentration camps for being capitalist exploiters -- even though 98% of the peasants in the north owned the land they tilled. But Communists must have their land reform. In the year of the Hungarian revolution Ho's home province revolted and an army division was sent to quell it killing 6,000 farmers (and wounding 24,000 more?).

This is why the south actually put up a fight -- for all the corruption and inefficiency. Had Ho been allowed to win in 1966-67 he would have undoubtedly wheeled right and gone on taking whatever was in his hyper, hyper path building strength along the way -- possibly (and this was the biggest worry) followed by every less fanatic Communist beginning to (by invasion or revolution or both) in whatever direction they thought the democracies might not put up a fight.

In the end Ho's carnage may have been mostly for nothing in his terms: the south was probably too war weary to try imposing collective farming. For our part, by 1975 we had won globally so we (not South Vietnam) could afford to lose locally.

Oh; and in the end we withdrew our financial and air support just as the south took over all the bloody ground fighting -- just when there was no longer any fundamental pressure on us to do so -- talk about all for nothing. 

 I date Vietnam War years as After Westmoreland: A,W.  (numbers are approximate)

After Westmoreland the US gave up on his truly murderous strategy for our young men as well as being certainly unwinnable: attrition, against a Ho Chi Minh who would have been willing to see everybody in Vietnam croak as long as the last breath was taken by a communist (not much of an exaggeration).  We had stretches of bringing home 3,000 body bags a month -- the goal being, in Westmoreland's own words, to reach the "cross-over" point at which the North could not replace soldiers faster than we could kill them (his own words!).

3 A.W.  The US ambassador to Vietnam could now drive anywhere in the countryside without a military escort.  The Viet Cong guerrilla army having been reduced to totally non-Southerners, consequently leaving NVA main force units (those guys you see in We Were Soldier Once and Young) eating grass and without ammunition.

It was easily practicable to "win the hearts and minds of the people" simply because the Viet Cong were so hated.  The movie Full Metal Jacket portrays the Viet Cong during the battle of Hue calling in police and teachers and government office workers, etc., for "re-education" and shooting them in mass graves (depicted under white powder).  The movie says the body count was twenty,  Wikipedia call the civilian and POW count possibly as high as 6800!

Starting from his struggle to take over the North (more below) Ho and friends only approach to recruitment was to kill and kill and kill anybody who didn't see things their way.

NVA main force units -- hiding most of the time as guerrillas -- needed to have supplies of food and ammunition hidden in place before the troops would arrive to attack.  Once the countryside was wrested from VC control it was no longer practicable to cache supplies or maintain cave systems. 

A.W. 4 1/2  The North tried an out and out Korea style conventional invasion -- beaten off with 50% casualties.

A.W. 5  The US Congress cuts off the money and supplies the South needed to continue the war along with US air support -- all reduced to a trickle.  The South begins rationing bullets and artillery rounds.

A.W. 7 1/2  The North -- having harvested a few more crops of eighteen years olds -- finally sent them to overrun the US Congress-disarmed South in six weeks.
 * * * * * * * * * 
In the 1950s, Ho Chi Minh's life long approach to winning supporters began typically by sending terror squads into villages, lining up some boys who joined a government program (e.g., education) and shooting them.  When that village was rendered sufficiently docile a maintenance team would come in and the terror squad would move on the next village (ink blot style).

(N.B.  Vietnam was no longer a colony in 1949.)

After Ho won the election in the North -- population 13 million; 98% of the peasants owned the land they tilled (70% in the South) -- Ho shot 50,000 peasants as capitalist exploiters and sent 100,000 to re-education camps.  Had some formula according to how many pigs farmers owned, etc.  (Communists have to have their land reform -- even they admitted they may have gone too far.)  A year after Ho took over his own home province rebelled -- the army crushed this, killing 6,000 peasants.  For the early Ho, see: The Two Vietnams by Bernard Fall -- a French political scientist who was allowed free rein to move about the North while the fighting was still going on there.  Killed when his jeep hit a mine in 1967.  I found his book too dry and scholarly to read when I was in my 20s.

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