Senior Scholars’ Interpretations of the American Experience in Southeast Asia
East Auditorium, George C. Marshall Conference Center
September 29, 2010
- Chair: Thomas Schwartz, Vanderbilt University
- David Elliott, Pomona College
- George Herring, University of Kentucky, Emeritus
- John Prados, National Security Archive
DR. CARLAND: Okay, we are about to start once again. When I was growing up I was taught that to make it in life you had to have at least two things, you had to have focus and you had to have situational awareness. Earlier, when I was given that very nice gift for the Historian’s Office, I showed – I thought great focus, but I had lost my situational awareness and someone had to bump me so I would come up and accept it. So remember two things: Focus and situational awareness. It will take you a long way.
We’re about to have our senior scholars program. We’ve got a distinguished group for you. I’m going to introduce the chair and give it over to him. The chair is Thomas Schwartz. Tom Schwartz is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University and he is the author of, among other things, Lyndon Johnson in Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam. He has received fellowships from a variety of distinguished institutions, among them the German Historical Institute, the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the Social Science Research Center.
We also should point out his service on the Historical Advisory Committee at the Department of State. Certainly, in my years here, Tom was one of the most distinguished and most helpful, and we are grateful for that. He’s also a former president of the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations. Currently, he’s working on a biography of one our morning presenters, Henry Kissinger, called Henry Kissinger and the Dilemmas of American Power.
Tom, we’ll let you talk about power again here.
PROF. SCHWARTZ: Thank you. Just on a personal level, I am absolutely delighted to be back here at the Department of State. I have served a two-year exile and feel very, very strongly that one of the things that I enjoyed about my service on the Historical Advisory Committee was the extraordinary dedication efforts and work of the Office of the Historian and the young historians I met who were trying to make a record of American foreign policy available to citizens around the world. And that was something I absolutely delighted in and was sorry that I lost the chance to be around for a while.
The end of 2008, I would tell my Vanderbilt students there had been three things in my lifetime that I hadn’t expected ever to see. One was an economic crisis like 1929; the second was an African American-elected President of the United States; and the third was Vanderbilt winning a football bowl game. (Laughter.) All three of them, of course, happened at the end of 2008. But there’s a fourth thing now and that was Henry Kissinger sitting in front of a flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the United States. (Laughter.) I didn’t expect that either and all that. So, anyway, things do change.
We have a great panel here. I’ve asked the speakers to try to limit their remarks to 15 minutes. All of them have an awful lot to say and they really are among the top Vietnam scholars. They’re also – I know a number of very distinguished scholars of Vietnam out in the audience, too, so I really do hope that we’ll have time for a good deal of discussion and questions. There’s a lot to react to, and I hope that the speakers will do so.
So I’m going to introduce them – I’ll introduce one by one, though, I think to give a break, in a sense. The first speaker will be David Elliott, who is the H. Russell Smith Professor of International Relations and the Professor of Politics at Pomona College in California. He has a B.A. from Yale University, a PhD from Cornell University. Those of us who teach the Vietnam War know him, though, as the author of the Vietnam War Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta, a book that we usually can’t fully assign to our students unless we want them to hate us, since it does run into the thousands of pages, but which we do use, as I do, in selected segments, but I’ve also read myself and found absolutely fascinating. David is one of the, I think, premier scholars in studying the Vietnam War, and he will present to us today.
PROF. ELLIOTT: Thank you, Tom. And thanks to John Carland for organizing this quite remarkable occasion. I’m sure that all of us who have followed, and certainly those of us who have lived out of Vietnam, found this an extraordinary event.
I’d like to talk very briefly about lessons of Vietnam, the inevitable question here. We are supposedly senior scholars on this subject, and I assume that John Carland, in designating senior scholars, wanted us to kind of distill a lifetime of experience or encounter with Vietnam in 10 minutes in the form of some kind of recapitulation of what it all adds up to.
I want to talk a little bit about lessons about lessons. One of my former students, Yuen Foong Khong, went on to a remarkable academic career at Harvard and Oxford and wrote a book called Analogies at War, which many of you are probably familiar with, talking about how and why it’s inevitable that foreign policymakers rely on analogies and historical lessons in decision making. It reduces complexity to understandable or, at least, manageable, proportions and it provides a kind of analytic tool to sort your way through new and unfamiliar territory. But there are perils in selecting analogies, there are perils of misapplication, of selective application, of not understanding correctly the context.
But one of the major points that I’d like to make is that I’ve seen a variant of applying the lessons of history that is not something that is learning from history in the sense that Yuen Foong Khong and others have referred to it and learning from the French experience in Indochina and learning from the Vietnam experience in Indochina. But I would call it rather the Grab Bag School of learning from history, and we see it in Afghanistan now. And there I’ve breeched a line here in moving from Vietnam into contemporary events.
But in particular, when discussing counterinsurgency strategy, we now see discussions about counterinsurgency strategy, which borrow from a mélange of historical experiences going back to French colonial occupation of Algeria, moving up through the Vietnam War and other experiences, totally decontextualizing the larger framework within which – from which these particular lessons are drawn – lessons about winning hearts and minds. We range now from a discussion of oil spots – this may be familiar to you – to winning hearts and minds, a little from the Algerian War, a little from the Indochina War, a little from the Vietnam War. And one of the things that I think we have learned from Vietnam is that the larger context does matter, that you can’t treat historical lessons as something that can be disassembled and applied in part to meet the needs of the particular moment. The experience has to be understood in its totality.
Why has it been so difficult to understand the lessons of Vietnam? Well, of course, the obvious point is there are many lessons of Vietnam, most of them mutually incompatible. But I think Craig Whitney of The New York Times said it best back in 2004 when analogies were flying to explain what the United States should do in Iraq and how it should proceed in counterinsurgency.
As Craig Whitney said at the time that the problem of learning lessons from Vietnam’s fall, it’s clear that the communists won the war in Vietnam. The battle at home has never been concluded. And we heard a little bit of that this morning, a quite different take on Vietnam from Ambassador Holbrooke than that of Secretary Kissinger.
There are some specific lessons which we should learn, and that is don’t fabricate history. Starting in the late 1990s, a new school of revisionists appeared who claimed that the United States had, in effect, won the Vietnam War. Maybe we have. We heard that the Vietnam we now face is the Vietnam we always wanted. So in that sense, I guess we have. But many people felt that too late in the game a proper strategy was found: Clear and hold; the proper general to implement this strategy, General Abrams, came on the scene. And it was only a kind of accident of history that he came along when the American public got tired of the affair and pulled the plug, as Henry Kissinger emphasizes, that really we had the war won if only.
My specific take – I want to get down to some nitty-gritty about – that comes out of the 1,500 pages of my book on the Vietnam War and the Mekong Delta, is that by 1971 many people had concluded that the war was over. The Mekong Delta was totally pacified and it was just a matter of time before the United States could get out and turn over our responsibility to the South Vietnamese Government and exit having achieved the gains that Secretary Kissinger pointed out.
Those of you who are brave enough to read even the concise version of my book, which is a third as long, will note that I argue there that pacification was not a success. It was a – it had a temporary impact that was certainly quite remarkable. I remember coming back in 1971 to Vietnam, having been away for a couple of years, and being able to drive almost any place I wanted to go in the Mekong Delta, which was inconceivable when I left in 1968. But it was a pacification based on depopulation of the countryside, and I won’t go into any details. And that was the essence of what is now billed as a winning strategy, or what was in Iraq billed as a winning strategy of clear, hold, and build, based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the actual historical truth of Vietnam.
Why is it so difficult for counterinsurgency to work anywhere, regardless of whether it’s the United States or some other power trying to impose its will? Well, one of the lessons of all insurgencies is that the counterinsurgent doesn’t live there. And to me this is a simple, but absolutely fundamental fact. The asymmetry of commitment and local knowledge in the end is decisive.
I was very interested to hear Secretary Kissinger this morning saying that stalemate is not a strategy. But as Ambassador Holbrooke pointed out, stalemate is the best the United States could have aspired to under the conditions of Vietnam. And it would have required maintaining a substantial number of American troops for an infinite duration, something which is politically and economically infeasible. And indeed it was Secretary Kissinger who in his famous Foreign Affairs article of ’68 says the guerilla wins if he doesn’t lose.
I guess the final point is that it’s difficult, as Richard Cohen of The Washington Post said at the time of the discussions about Iraq some years ago, it’s difficult to recover from the time the first fundamental mistake is made. This is another key fact that we should have learned from Vietnam. And I refer to a comment, which may have passed some of you by, of Colonel Nguyen Manh Ha, who said that the United States intervened in Vietnam in a position of strategic passivity. This means that no strategy that the United States could devise had a chance of success. This is essentially what Secretary Kissinger admitted finally this morning, and Ambassador Holbrooke even more forcefully pointed this out. And if that’s the case, what are the implications for Afghanistan or even Iraq? Is it possible, indeed having made a strategic blunder in the initial intervention, to recover? I think the lessons of Vietnam on this score are not reassuring.
The final point I want to make is to bring to your attention, those of you who may have forgotten and those of you may have never known it, the only law of social science that I have ever found to be unchallengeable, and that’s the Ellsberg Law – the very same Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers. He, unlike Secretary Kissinger and Ambassador Holbrooke, who emphasize that the United States kind of unwittingly got sucked into a quagmire, said that the historical record – and I think the first volumes really, really prove this – that every president from Kennedy through Nixon knew that the actions that they were taking in Vietnam wouldn’t work in the long run – and this is particularly true of Kennedy and Johnson – knew that they might even make the situation worse or even irretrievable in the long run, but still did it.
Think of Bob Woodward’s book , just emerged, which I’ve only read The Washington Post summaries of it, but explaining why a beleaguered President Obama has been sort of pushed into a corner in making decisions about Afghanistan which he clearly doesn’t believe in, and implementing a strategy which he doesn’t, obviously, believe is going to work.
Well, the Ellsberg law has an answer for this. Why would presidents behave in such an apparently irrational manner? And the answer, to be brief, is the presidential electoral cycle. First-term presidents, said Ellsberg, do the minimum necessary to forestall disaster until reelected for a second term. And if that means throwing in more chips in a losing venture just to keep the pot simmering and not boiling over, so be it.
So a few lessons from history and also an invitation for you to go back to the wonderful State Department historical record of the Vietnam War for some illustrations and examples. (Applause.)
PROF. SCHWARTZ: Actually, David, though I was thinking – just refused to think about the presidential cycle doesn’t work sometimes. Maybe it doesn’t work with Republicans, but George Bush upped the ante in Iraq after that. Yeah, so it doesn’t always happen that way.
But anyway, our next speaker will be George Herring. Anyone who’s ever talked, of course, on the Vietnam War knows George’s work, America’s Longest War. It’s a phenomenal book. My students have always loved it. It captures the war. It is so well written, presented. And George, of course, now is professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky, served as chair of the department, was a Fulbright scholar, all sorts of honors, and recently finished a book, From Colony to Superpower: American Foreign Relations Since 1776, showing a range of his own knowledge of this period. But certainly for many of us, George has always been the dean of American historians of Vietnam. And we look forward to his presentation.
PROF. HERRING: Thanks, Tom, for that very nice introduction. And thanks to the historical office and John for putting this conference together.
I, too, was a member of the panel, Historical Advisory Committee, in the ’90s. It was a great pleasure to meet the people working on the Foreign Relations volumes, which I’ve relied on since the day I started serious research in the field, a date I will not mention. (Laughter.)
In listening to David talk, I was reminded of Jim Thompson’s hyperbolic statement about lessons. I think he made it in 1968, if I’m right, before the war was even over, but by which time lessons were already being talked about. Never again take on the job of trying to defeat a nationalist anti-colonialist movement under indigenous communist control in former French Indochina – (laughter) – a lesson, he added, of less than universal relevance. Now that’s much too exclusionary, I think, but it’s something I frequently use.
I’m delighted to be a member of this panel, even though it’s called a Senior Scholars’ Panel, which bears the dubious, but in my case well-earned distinction, of senior scholar. In setting up the panel, John instructed us to talk about what we think about what we know about the Vietnam War. In point of fact, I’ve been away from research on the war for the last 10 years and I think in my case I might better talk about what I know that I don’t know about the war. More on that later.
I didn’t serve in Vietnam. I was one of that lucky generation that was too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam. I got out of the Navy in 1960. My early education on the war took place in college campuses. I began teaching – the date is significant – August, 1965, shortly after Johnson’s summer-fall escalation. I had been trained in what we then called, without apology, American diplomatic history – the field has broadened since then – with a sub-field in South Asia, several courses in Chinese history, but I can only be honest in saying that when I started teaching, I knew absolutely nothing about the war going on in Vietnam.
But because that war was so central to everything that happened on university campuses for the next 10 years, I tried to educate myself. Some of my education came at the hands of students and papers they did, for which I’ve always been very grateful. Once I learned something about the war, how it had begun, its history, I could never quite look at it the same way I had before. In time, although I was bothered somewhat – more than somewhat, I guess – by the rhetoric of the antiwar movement, I became what I myself called a flaming centrist, and after 1968 at the University of Kentucky did take part in protest.
I also became, and I may have gotten more of a feel for the war this way than any other way, a sort of unofficial counselor, or maybe better put listener, to veterans back from the war who sensed that I was sympathetic and interested, and talked, and talked quite candidly, always behind closed doors.
In 1975, partly to satisfy a curiosity that became keener with everything I read and learned, I wrote a little pamphlet on the Vietnam War. I think it may still be in print; I hope not. I shudder to think what I might have said at that tender age in that tender point. But it convinced me to write a book, and that’s what I did between 1975 and 1979. In those years, even, I was very excited to find a great deal of material unearthing itself in U.S. archives. It enabled me to dispel a myth here and there and to write a history that was reasonably well-rounded in original sources.
When I look back on it, I feel fortunate to have done the book when I did. I can’t imagine trying to do it now, as John Prados just recently did, with the huge amount of material available, all those Foreign Relations volumes. I bet if you stacked them end on end, they’d be taller than I am. That staggers the imagination. The point is, I guess, that I have been involved with the Vietnam War in one way or the other for almost 50 years now. Looking back, several things stand out. The first, David has already alluded to and talked about.
Something I did not expect when I published America’s Longest War in 1979 was the way the Vietnam experience has continued to influence policy debates and decisions, foreign policy decisions. Little need to elaborate here. We referred to it this morning. David talked about it already this afternoon. We remember, many of us remember, the centrality of Vietnam to the debates on possible intervention in Central America in the’80s, the Balkans in the’90s. The first President Bush claimed in March 1991 to have buried the so-called “Vietnam syndrome” in the sands of the Arabian Desert. In fact, we later learned one of the reasons – maybe not the main one, but one of the reasons they didn’t go on to Baghdad for total victory or a larger victory in the war was the fear that they might get bogged down in a Vietnam-like quagmire in Iraq.
It has been speculated that one of the reasons that we went to war – that the second President Bush went to war in Iraq in 2003 was to eliminate once and for all, again, those negative memories of Vietnam that allegedly act as a constraint against military intervention abroad. And of course, once the insurgency began in the summer of 2003, I can remember the afternoon when reporters started asking McNamara about the possible quagmire in Iraq – quagmire, of course, being a very clear, scarcely disguised codeword for Vietnam.
We’ve talked today already, and we’ll undoubtedly talk more, about the – how the analogy has carried over to Afghanistan. David mentioned the way that the counterinsurgency people in the Army and elsewhere have looked back to General Abrams to find a model for success that indicates that we can fight that kind of war, and even some ideas about how to fight it.
Last year about this time, the pages of newspapers were full of op-ed pieces proclaiming various and usually conflicting lessons from Vietnam. And it was said that President Obama had a copy of the aforementioned Gordon Goldstein’s book, Lessons in Disaster, on his nightstand and it was being looked at by everybody involved in the debate on his decisions. Some may recall that in his West Point speech, December of last year, he made a special point of saying that Vietnam and Afghanistan were different, as a way of saying, “Look, folks, it’s not going to come out the same way it did before.”
The second thing that impresses me, looking back on the last 50 years, and excites me, is the veritable flowering of Vietnam War scholarship in the past 10 years. Some of you may remember Bob McMahon’s 1994 essay, historiographical essay, one of the main points of which was that the writing, the war to that time had been American-centered. Americans usually large – using largely American documents, writing about American issues from an American perspective. I suspect that we Americans still dominate in the writing of the war, but the sources and perspectives have broadened considerably. Those who write about the American side now, as I’ve already suggested, have a vast array of documents that were not available when I wrote in the ’70s or even when I did my fourth edition of American’s Longest War in 2001. Especially true for the Nixon years, where the White House materials alone, not to mention other materials, are simply overwhelming in their magnitude.
Even more important and enlightening, I think, is the broader perspective that is being provided. We have excellent works based on archival evidence documenting the Soviet and Chinese role in the war. The Cold War International History Project has made available literally archives all across the world, documents that shed a great deal of new light on the war. But I think the most exciting thing that’s beginning to happen now is we’re beginning to get excellent coverage of the war from the Vietnamese perspective. Rather important, I think, since after all, it was their war that we chose to inject ourselves into.
Americans with Vietnamese language skill are doing exciting work on U.S. interaction with South Vietnam and South Vietnamese in the ’50s and ’60s. Some of this is revisionist in a lot of ways, and it kind of jars the sensibilities of we old-timers who are stuck back in the ’60s and ’70s. We can also hope that this sort of analysis will expand to cover these later years.
We’re also beginning to get excellent studies of the enemy. Mark Bradley’s splendid survey of the Vietnamese at war, David’s [Elliott’s] magisterial study of the war in the Delta, my colleague Hang Nguyen’s, path-breaking work on North Vietnamese decision making, reflecting changes – broad changes – in the historical profession, I think. We’re also beginning to branch out into areas we didn’t do before, from pop culture in the United States to village political culture in Vietnam. Given this explosion of recent scholarship should I seek to do a fifth edition, I would have, I think, almost as big a challenge as I did in 1976.
A final and, to me, kind of perplexing and interesting point or question: As far as I can tell, the two histories that I have mentioned here, the memory sort of a metaphorical history and the scholarly history rarely, if ever, intersect. Public officials use history in their own way for their own purposes. They remain, for the most part, grandly oblivious to the scholarship being produced in the academy and how it’s reshaping the history of the war, answering with some authority a lot of questions that for years were debatable.
Government agencies have a historical office. I know the one here at State the best. The Foreign Relations series is magnificently done, an indispensible source. But it’s my impression that in-house historians are not consulted when there’s a big decision underway and historical references are being used, nor are they likely to be in a position to challenge officials who make such statements. Those who are promoting counterinsurgency with such passion and enthusiasm put forth Vietnam as a successful case study, rely, it seems to me, on a history that seems to be quite superficially sourced, and ignore scholarly work such as David has done, detailing what’s actually happening in the countryside in South Vietnam.
Not surprising, I suppose. Policymakers use history intuitively, select references that reinforce their predispositions or suit their purposes du jour. They might not even want to be bothered by history that emphasizes the nuances, the complexity, the ambiguity, the singularity of historical lessons, the perils of using such lessons in the first place.
I was thinking last night while having dinner over at the hotel (inaudible), a few final questions that I throw out. Is the gap between academic history and the history resorted to by policymakers bridgeable, or even should it – we make an effort to bridge it? Should we try to make our history more accessible to and usable by policymakers? Are there ways to get them to take our history more seriously? I have no answers to these questions, but it seems entirely appropriate to raise them in this conference room named for that great statesman George C. Marshall, who, as Ernest May observed years ago, read almost no history but had a marvelous sense of the ebb and flow of history and the limits it imposed and that sort of thing. Thank you. (Applause.)
PROF. SCHWARTZ: A quick question. George, when you mentioned in summer of 2003 in the quagmire and the questions and you said to McNamara, I was wondering if you were referring to Rumsfeld.
PROF. HERRING: Did I say Mac --
PROF. SCHWARTZ: You said McNamara, which I thought was a wonderful moment.
PROF. HERRING: I don’t even remember saying McNamara, so --
PROF. SCHWARTZ: That’s all right. Now, though, I thought – McNamara was still around and he was commenting, but indeed when, in 2003, Rumsfeld was asked – I mean, this was – the quagmire already was coming to play and all that.
PROF. HERRING: It was a Freudian slip, so --
PROF. SCHWARTZ: It was a good slip, though. Our final senior historian, probably who might reject the idea of being senior – I’m not sure about that, John – but John Prados, who directs the National Security Archives, Iraq documentation project as well as its Vietnam project, the senior research fellow at the National Security Archive. And any of you who are familiar – I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Lord’s work that the National Security Archive does, basically, for us as diplomatic historians, especially with the difficulty of getting materials out. The National Security Archive is an absolutely wonderful organization that has worked diligently to open up archives. And John has been a major part of that.
John holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Columbia University. He is an absolutely prolific author and I could spend a little bit of time just running down all these titles, but let me just say the book that – of course, out of which or from which many of us are familiar with him now on Vietnam is his book, Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War. And I think John has been itching since this morning’s talks to have a chance to speak.
DR. PRADOS: Thank you very much, Tom, and thank you to the Historian’s Office for hosting this and to the State Department for having such a wonderful thing as the Foreign Relations in the United States series. And of course, Tom is right; I am itching to talk, but before I go there, I want to talk a bit about actually the Foreign Relations series.
And let me go there this way: Thirty-eight years ago today in a room not far from where we’re sitting here, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Alexander Haig were sitting down discussing what Mr. – what General Haig would say when he arrived in Saigon for a trip he was about to take out to the Far East to consult with the South Vietnamese Government on the next steps in the drive to secure a ceasefire agreement that would lead to the Paris Accord of January 1973.
Now, this was also the process that led to the Christmas bombing of December 1972. And for – from a historian’s perspective, the problem of explaining that sequence of events, this search for the agreement, this sudden eruption of violence, this to-ing and fro-ing of negotiations is an important one, and historians – we rely on evidence, all right? It just so happens that the plan for bombing of Hanoi and the Red River Delta by B-52 bombers was assembled by the chairman of the joint staff – or I should say the chief of the joint staff – the joint chiefs of staff on September the 27 th , 1972, two days before this talk at the White House.
And that day or the next day, Haig’s military assistant, Jonathan Howe, wrote a memorandum of analysis about the implications of this bombing plan. And at this meeting on September 29 th , the president and his cohorts discuss where they’re going to go with the negotiation plan and they hint at, but do not directly talk about, the details of this other idea. The plan, however, went to Saigon with Haig in his briefcase and he took it with him to meet with the American Air Force commander there and they discussed whatever they discussed.
Fast forward three weeks, late October of 1972, the Vietnamese and – or the North Vietnamese and Mr. Kissinger, in another series of meetings in Paris, had put the finishing touches on what they thought was going to be a ceasefire agreement and a peace. Kissinger was en route to making the “Peace is at Hand” press conference. But the question was would Saigon go along. And Saigon, in fact, rejected any idea of going along with this peace agreement.
The upshot of it was that on the 22 nd of October of 1972, Kissinger sent a cable back to Haig in Washington, saying that there was a moral problem in bombing North Vietnam, which is what he had a plan to do, on the basis of South Vietnam not accepting the peace agreement, okay? It’s kind of a reversal of the situation, but it’s a definite problem of historical interpretation.
Now, the Foreign Relations series is a wonderful, wonderful resource for research, all right? And the Foreign Relations series contains the record of the talk that the senior people were having today on the 29 th of September. But it doesn’t have either the joint staff plan or the NSC staff evaluation of the plan or the Kissinger cable from Paris that contains this line about the morality of bombing North Vietnam.
So a history that’s based on the very real, very accurate documents that are in the Foreign Relations series would not have access to that very important material. In other words, it would be an incomplete version or vision of the world. Now, this is a problem in every kind of compilation like this, of which I and some of our other people from the archive who are here are familiar with, and we deal with it all the time, because there’s a question of selection of material.
In the Foreign Relations series – and I’m probably one of the few people who has read every Foreign Relations of the United States volume on Vietnam from 1940 to 1972 – in the Foreign Relations series, there is a huge array of material, and it’s an incredible resource for historians. But it’s also limited both by what it encompassed at any given moment in time, and also what materials were being produced. As new technology has come in and we’ve produced a wider array of materials, there’s even more of a question of what to be included in the series. And this is a complexity for those who assemble these series and it’s a word of warning for us consumers of these materials, all right?
And I just want to say that in the new set of Foreign Relations series, which sort of completes the set on Vietnam, for the first time, transcripts are included of tape recordings of conversations, both over the telephone and in person, and that’s a great advance. And there’s a wide array of material from every agency of the government. In 1940, 1945, the Foreign Relations volumes on Vietnam contained solely diplomatic cables. Now, you can open up a FRUS volume and read what the NSC was saying to DOD and back again – a major, major advance.
All right. However – so with that major advance, we get new insights. For example, in the volume that’s just released, the covers .the Laotian invasion – for the first time, we begin to get a glimpse of the role of some of the other characters in this story. I wanted to just mention Admiral Thomas Moorer, because Moorer was almost never considered in these accounts of the Nixon years. But in fact, in the days going up to the Laotian invasion, Moorer not only assured the president of the United States that Laos was an easy target. He told him that the weather would be good, that there would be little danger to United States helicopters flying missions on this invasion, that the North Vietnamese would have difficulty reacting to the operation, and that – oh, of course, it was our last opportunity to carry out an operation of this type because the withdrawals of American forces under Vietnamization would take away the capacity to engage in that kind of air support. So Moorer had an agenda in mind, and records that you can now see for the first time in the Foreign Relations series will show you, will illustrate in much greater detail the roles of some of these subordinate characters.
All right. Let me move on to some of the things that we heard this morning. And probably the most serious one is the question of – that America wanted compromise, but Hanoi insisted on victory. This was – I think he made that remark in a different context at least twice, Dr. Kissinger did, in his accounting of how he proceeded on negotiations. And what he was talking about was the objectives of the two sides. Always, North Vietnam was considered to have an objective that sought a victory; the United States didn’t have an objective, in Kissinger’s view, or else its objective was a compromise end to the war.
I want to just quote to you from the Foreign Relations series a few things that were said in that White House office across the street over there. All right. Kissinger – I’m sorry – Mr. Nixon tells Admiral Moorer to tell Kissinger on December the 9 th , 1970, quote, “He wants you to know he has no intention of losing.”
Nixon, with Admiral Moorer and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird on December 23 rd , 1970: Our plans should have – quote, “Our plans should have as their objective an enduring Vietnam.” Now, we can argue about the details of U.S. military programs, but the goal of having an enduring Vietnam certainly required a military victory over the other side in the Vietnam War. Okay?
In January, 1971, when Laird returns from a trip to Southeast Asia and presents his trip report and there’s conversation about the Nixon Doctrine, you may or may not recall that the Nixon Doctrine was a sort of way of retrenching U.S. foreign policy on a global scale, not just in Vietnam but one in which we were going to emphasize regional powers to take the frontline for us in various specific situations. Nixon says to there that – he included South Vietnam among the list of countries in which the United States should stay, under his Nixon Doctrine, which again presupposes a situation where the United States would go for broke in Vietnam.
To Kissinger on April the 23 rd , 1971: “Despite all the way we put the cosmetics on, Henry, they know goddamn well what our policy is, is to win the war.” Unquote.
On May the 22 nd , 1972, in the middle of the Easter offensive, Al Haig tells the Washington Special Action Group in Mr. Nixon’s name, quote, “The President’s strategy is to win.”
It’s simply not accurate that the United States simply only sought a compromise in the Vietnam conflict. Now, I’d be more comfortable about Kissinger’s ruminations about his past if they weren’t, in fact, problematic on a very damaging kind of a historical level, you know. Not just that they’re presenting his history in the best light but that he is directing us to conclusions and observations that are very different from the way things really played. He said to us at least four different ways this morning that – how was it that he put this – oh, “The real problem is whether we can have a serious debate about policy or whether these debates on policy were going to turn into civil war.” In other words, that the antiwar movement in the United States assumed a moral position, assumed it had a moral superiority over the president and his decision makers, and that that was the basis of the problems in American policymaking during the Nixon Administration.
On April 23 rd , 1971, Henry Kissinger advised Richard Nixon to go ahead and pump up government action against Americans who dissented from Vietnam policy in the United States. The position that this is a neutral debate about policy in a conflict, in an American conflict, steps completely outside of the extent to which the United States Government during the period of the Vietnam War adopted actual direct tactics of suppression and subversion against American people. And that is a disingenuous element in Kissinger’s entire account of this period, one which I submit as historians we should not accept.
All right? I know I’m running close. (Laughter.) Okay. And let me leave you with this one. Oh, no, actually, I can’t leave [Operation] Duck Hook out of here. All right, let me take “decent interval” really quickly. He said that if you looked at the commentaries about the force and escalation options in 1969, you would find that the record was entirely composed of statements that the United States made to the other side in the context of trying to get the North Vietnamese to move forward on a negotiation. But in fact, the phrase itself and the whole idea of the decent interval originated in an article that Henry Kissinger wrote in Foreign Affairs. Just the idea that we should accept this construction of the situation is mind-boggling to me.
And it goes on to the whole Duck Hook situation and the question of whether there was a specific plan to attack North Vietnam, which Henry says – I’m sorry; Dr. Kissinger – that he wrote these memos which he stuck in small print in the back of his memoir just for the purpose of being comprehensive, but that he never followed the memoranda into the Oval Office, nor in fact did he advocate the policies that were in those memoranda. That is a completely misleading construction of the history. In fact, from the first day of the Nixon Administration, the White House and the NSC staff were pressing for more forceful options from the U.S. military commands and from the diplomats as well. And within the week of taking office, Kissinger had Moorer and Secretary Laird in his office, shaking them down for more aggressive options. And the secret bombing of Cambodia simply diverted some of this escalatory initiative away from the idea of striking directly at North Vietnam.
But the intention to move against North Vietnam remained and it was embodied in several projects through the spring, summer, and fall of 1969 until you got to the point of President Nixon’s November 3 rd speech. And the real question of whether there was a project to attack North Vietnam, to escalate the war, has to be defined in terms of how you approach that speech of November 3 rd , 1969, Mr. Nixon’s so-called Silent Majority Speech. We will find someday the true story of the Duck Hook thing in the maneuvering around the beginnings of Vietnamization, the beginnings of negotiation, and the November 3 rd speech.
Here is a case where, unfortunately, Foreign Relations of the United States doesn’t go far enough in terms of laying out the documentary framework that we need. And it’s also one where, as we saw this morning, some of the principals in these activities have a major incentive to present a certain construction of the history. Beware of constructions of history. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
PROF. SCHWARTZ: John never disappoints. He’s laid out an extraordinary record. I confess that he reminded me, as he was going through the lists of things in which Dr. Kissinger may not have been forthright about, he reminded me of a line that one of Kissinger’s associates, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, once said, that Henry doesn’t lie because it’s in his interest; he lies because it’s in his nature. (Laughter.) Which is – it does come from a friend, as I said. But that is probably overly harsh.
I have a – I’m going to take the chair’s prerogative to make two points and then turn it over to questions. One thing that’s gone through my mind as we’ve talked about Vietnam is how little we ever talk about the other Asian war America fought in, Korea. And the divided Korea is still perplexing us. And I guess one of the reasons I bring it up, not because I have any affection for the dear leader, is that Korea actually provides a counterpoint. And Korea was in much in people’s minds as any other analogies at the time. And I think it’s very interesting that it hasn’t come up. And in a way, it also reminds me of one conversation I had with a Vietnamese official about eight years ago. When I posed the question of why North Vietnam was determined to launch offensives when it seemed to me from reading the American documents – and here I may take some disagreement with John – but it seemed to me that America wanted an out and was more than willing to have a decent interval, and simply why not wait? South Vietnam would eventually fall. And he said, “We might have ended up like North Korea. We might have ended up sort of in a permanent state of division, and we would have ended up the isolated, poor communist brother of the more prosperous South.”
And I throw that out there because, in a way, the alternative ending, the ending of a Korean-type ending was, I think, what American leaders sought in their best possible moments. It wasn’t – maybe it wasn’t possible in Vietnam, but it certainly is worth thinking harder about why the situations are so different.
And the second point is something that I felt that Professor Nguyen in her very generous questions to her countrymen’s papers today about whether there are dissent, whether there’s other points of view within the Vietnamese arguments about the war, that – and this is dangerous, I suppose for someone, and a little uncomfortable for an American to present. But it does seem to me that in the situation in which a country goes to war and loses almost three million people, that it is worth asking whether it was worth it on their side as well as on our side, and whether the effort was – especially when the outcome produced a social and economic order that’s not quite what the revolutionaries said they were fighting for. And it’s worth at least raising, I think, that question.
But with those points, let me turn it over to questions. We’re going to do questions a little different, which is I’m much more comfortable with. I’m not going to call on people, but the people with the microphones will do the determining by simply presenting these chosen ones with the microphones. So I’m going to ask Chris and –
DR. PRADOS: Tom, could I just make a point of clarification here?
PROF. SCHWARTZ: Sure.
DR. PRADOS: I don’t mean to say that the United States did by no means seek a compromise ending to the Vietnam War. What I would argue, however, is that the Nixon Administration interpreted the diplomatic – the structure of the diplomatic situation in such a fashion that, like the Vietnamese themselves, our vision of the Vietnamese wanting to negotiate from a position of strength, we wanted to negotiate from a position of strength. And doing that, negotiating from a position of strength, required a degree of military victory.
PROF. SCHWARTZ: Okay. Do you want to start the –
QUESTION: Thanks to all three of you for sharing your comments on Vietnam. I teach at St. Louis University. I teach a class on the Vietnam War. And I was a medical evacuation helicopter pilot in Vietnam in 1971. Question for John: I understand that you have just relatively recently unearthed some documents that would clear up the confusion that at least I have over the culpability of the Kennedy Administration in the overthrow of the Diem regime. Can you share some comments on that?
DR. PRADOS: Sure. Actually, at the National Security Archive, we did a project putting together the evidence on the Kennedy years. And in the course of that, we filed FOIA requests for a series of tape recordings, some of the early tape recordings and, again, material that was not available actually at the time that the foreign relations series on this period was done.
In any case, after about 10 years, late last year, those tapes were declassified. And they concern a passage about a week in late August of 1963 right after the South Vietnamese generals had first approached our own people about and asked [for] an answer to the question of whether the United States would support a coup in South Vietnam if they launched it. And so the tapes concern the Kennedy higher-ups’ conversations about this exact question. And there are meetings about a potential coup, there are briefings – see there’s at least two CIA briefings about what the arrangement of coup forces was, a whole set of material around this.
Late last year, we published them, posted them as part of an electronic briefing book at the National Security Archive. If you go to our website, you should be able to find it. And we have actually the audio as well as the memcons for those same meetings. And we show you the difference between the memcon as written by one of the State Department people and the memcon as presented by one of the NSC staff people for the same meeting. There’s a lot of meat in there. You’ll just have to see it. But go there and find it.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. My name is (inaudible) from Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia. I don’t know to whom this question should go, but perhaps Professor George Herring, as he talks about a more historiographical part of the discussion today. The American enforcement in Vietnam, did it have any relation to a bigger picture of the United States foreign policy in Southeast Asia? I don’t know whether that’s clear. The American involvement in Vietnam, did it have, did it have any, any bigger picture, any relation to a bigger picture of the United States policy in Southeast Asia?
PROF. HERRING: Of course, I think what you’re referring to, an argument has been made. I heard – I have heard several times Walt Rostow make it with great insistence, that our – the fact that we stayed in Vietnam for as long as we did made it possible for Southeast Asia, the rest of Southeast Asia, to become stabilized as it did. That is certainly an argument that a lot of people believe. But again, we’re looking at the sort of things we can’t really prove. What would have happened if we hadn’t been there? McNamara argued in 1967 – there was a lot of substance here – that Indonesia had already gone the way the United States wanted it to go, and that was a huge step towards stability in Southeast Asia; the best thing would be for us to begin to try to disengage because Southeast Asia was already going in the right direction. So I’m not, I’m not, convinced. I’ve heard the argument a number of times.
QUESTION: Hello. Yes, my question is probably to the whole panel, but I think more specifically to John. Thanks, by the way, for wonderful talks. All three of them were fascinating. I’m afraid is what I’m going to try and prise out of you an answer that deals with Southeast Asia rather than Vietnam, but also draws on Henry Kissinger’s remarks this morning. My research is on the impact of the Cold War on the Thai middle class, by the way.
Kissinger made two points which I thought were very interesting. The first thing is, is, well, not to point – the first thing I noticed is he didn’t mention communism in relating – talking about the North Vietnamese. He talked actually about a regime that was – had been fighting for over 50 years. So in that sense, he’s talking about a nationalist movement.
The second thing he said, which I thought was fascinating, was that – I’m sorry – is he wanted Vietnam to have the chance to develop an independent identity. And I thought that word “develop” was interesting, the suggestion that they hadn’t got one already. (Laughter.)
So my questions, therefore, to – both of them come from those two points. The first one is: When we talk about Southeast Asia, can we really talk about a Cold War? Or are we talking about a fight postwar, in a situation where you had European colonies moving out and various different other powers moving in, and the conflict that that created? Should we find a new term when we refer to the Cold War in Southeast Asia?
The second is – and this is, I mean, regarding South Vietnam, which I would know very little about – what would an independent Vietnamese culture, developed after a victory, have looked like under U.S. hegemony?
DR. PRADOS: Well, I don’t know the answer to that. Let me go about this this way. I actually got into a lot of trouble a few years ago and kicked up a bunch of dust by making an argument, trying to make an argument, that the Vietnam War was not a Cold War engagement, really, but was an artifact of the Vietnamese Revolution, and it would have happened whether or not there had been a United States intervention. Now many, many of my colleagues who heard me retail this line of analysis objected, and I was never able to establish that as an analytical point.
So I think your basic thrust is well taken. I mean, it’s not just about the Cold War. It is, in fact, very much about decolonization and a changing of the age and those kinds of things. And the Cold War is another overlay. And yes, the Cold War certainly contributed to various people’s incentives for doing things that different nations did in this situation. But I agree with you that it wasn’t just about the Cold War.
Now, to go on to your other question, I would say this. I don’t think that they had this idea that there was going to be a new Vietnamese society. I think maybe that was just how Dr. Kissinger expressed himself. But if you look at some of these same kinds of discussion memoranda that I was talking about earlier that are in the foreign relations series, you’ll very much see a sense in there that the idea is that a South Vietnamese regime of some character that’s not communist will succeed or endure after the period of United States involvement. And that’s a goal, that’s a choice, that’s a thing that they are seeking. I don’t think they’re looking at it in terms of a particular society with any particular set of norms or cultural traditions.
PROF. HERRING: Another fascinating “what if” is what would have happened if, in 1954-55 after Geneva, the United States had not intervened. There are people in here who probably are better qualified than I to talk about it, but what kind of – would there have been war? Would there have been a negotiated settlement? How would South and North have come together or not, I think it’s one of the more fascinating questions.
PROF. ELLIOTT: Just a – could I just add a brief point? Actually, South Vietnam, as the fascinating research of Lien-Hang Nguyen and Ed Miller have pointed out, did have a rather distinct society and identity. But please keep in mind that the United States was instrumental in overthrowing this very government, the regime that had been created through nine years of American policy, which left the United – and in my view, this was the point, the real turning point of the Vietnam War. This was the last point at which the United States could have walked away from the Vietnam War. But having invested itself in deep intervention in trying to shape an American-designed future for Vietnam, the United States had only the argument that some future Vietnam might develop an identity because it had destroyed the old one.
PROF. SCHWARTZ: Nevertheless, I’m going to go back to Korea. I mean, there was precedent for a divided state in Asia, and South Vietnam might have developed in – especially given some of the changes that took place in the world economy, South Vietnam, if it had been guaranteed, either with a stable military presence by the United States or in some manner, might have emerged as an economically prosperous – another one of the Asian titans. And North Vietnam might have faced the fate that has now seemed to be developed in North Korea. So I do think that’s a big – and I think the – I’m going to borrow a line from the lunch today, where we said never answer counter-factuals. That’s a counter-factual. I think it is a hard one.
PROF. ELLIOTT: Could I add – just 30 seconds. On the Korean analogy, in the book that I referred to, Yuen Foong Khong’s Analogies at War, he argues that, contrary to the impression of most scholars of an earlier declaration, it wasn’t the Munich analogy, aggression unchecked is aggression unleashed, that drove policymakers, particularly in the Kennedy period but also the Johnson period. It was the Korean analogy, because the Korean analogy suggested that the United States could be successful in maintaining a divided country.
QUESTION: Rufus Phillips. John, I wanted to correct – I have a question, but I wanted to correct you on one thing. You talked about the generals approaching us. It’s true that there were discussions among the generals. But in fact, it was Lodge himself, based on the cable that came out from Washington and his interpretation of it, that ordered us – and I got involved tangentially – in going to the Vietnamese and helping spur the coup. So – and I was there.
DR. PRADOS: Wasn’t that at the later period?
QUESTION: No, that’s in all – that’s just the week after Lodge arrived. I’m talking about when the cable came out from Washington.
DR. PRADOS: The 22nd .
DR. PRADOS: Okay.
QUESTION: Secondly, I was in Vietnam 1954-55, and also I went up to Laos. I think we have to understand, if we look back at the question of the Domino Theory, that the situation in Southeast Asia was much different then than it became later on because Thailand stabilized, Malaya became stabilized, eventually Indonesia stabilized. So there was a vulnerability there, and all the – if you wanted to see where it came from, all you had to do was go up to Laos.
Now I’d like to ask Professor Elliott a question. Since I spent a lot of time down in the delta, and I started the civilian side of what was the counterinsurgency program in ’62 and ’63, is it your contention that the South Vietnamese could never have done anything to overcome the advantages that the Vietcong had? Because if that is your contention, I can give you factual demonstrations of where certain province chiefs and the way they implemented the strategic hamlet program were succeeding. This was during the Diem era. So think that a reading in terms of the cold COIN [counterinsurgency] picture – you may be right about ’71, because I wasn’t there. But I can tell you what it was like in ’63, and it was a mixed bag.
PROF. ELLIOTT: Well, first of all, I want to recommend that everyone here should read your book, because I read it with great interest – not with entire agreement, and not on that point. I arrived in Vietnam first in 1963 but didn’t start to do serious research in the delta until 1965, so my knowledge here is not firsthand, but let me say that I had the privilege of working with a very close adherent of President Diem who had been cashiered. He was the deputy mayor of security for Saigon and was the one who drove Diem out of the presidential palace to his rendezvous with destiny. And he told me – he was a southerner, Catholic, a strong Diem supporter – that he had been assigned by President Diem to travel around the country to observe the actions of Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, who I’m sure you remember very well, because Diem suspected – correctly, as it turns out – that Thao was in fact not playing straight with his assignment, and in fact was urging province chiefs to pursue a reckless strategy of accelerated building of strategic hamlets, precisely in order to sabotage the Diem government. And Colonel Phuoc (ph), who remains a close friend, verified that he, in his travels around the country, knew this.
Secondly, the strategy, the -- counterinsurgency or pacification strategy at this time, as you well remember, was the so-called oil spot strategy, borrowed back from old French pacification doctrine in North Africa. And I have to say I was dispirited to hear or to read in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that this is now one of our strategies in Afghanistan. I won’t go into the details of the oil spot theory. Suffice it to say that it was borrowed from a colonial experience and was applied by an external force to suppress an indigenous force, rarely with lasting success. The French achieved some success over time.
And in fact, even as you probably well remember, after the overthrow of Diem the oil spot theory was tried for a year, 1964, and then thrown out with a new pacification strategy, which stressed more community development, hearts and minds, and so forth. And the United States now is apparently trying to pursue both of these contradictory approaches, oil spot and hearts and minds, simultaneously in Afghanistan.
I guess the final point is that my remarks really on pacification were addressed to the 1971 period, because that’s the period which current historical revisionists have cited as proof that the United States not only could have won, won the war, but actually did win the war. And just to be brief – I won’t go through the 1,500 pages of my book – I don’t agree. (Laughter.)
PROF. HERRING: One other quick comment on ‘54, ‘55, you’re quite right. I mean, Southeast Asia was very venerable, and the administration, the Eisenhower Administration, was very sensitive to that. The other thing, though, that they saw and knew – all the reports’ estimates of success, very, very low. The prospects for success were deemed very, very low. They eventually decided to go ahead, Eisenhower and Dulles, because they considered it sufficiently important. And also I think there’s some indications that the success they had had in Iran and in Guatemala gave them a sense that you could manipulate situations, even though the prospects of success were dim.
PROF. HERRING: Yeah. Exactly.
QUESTION: I’m working on the impact of the Vietnam War on Thai politics, and it strike me very much that the role that Thailand play in the Vietnam War was missing from the academic attention. And I think the period after the Paris Accord up to 1975, Thailand play a very important role in cooperating with the American Government. I just wonder if John has come across any new evidence on that at all.
DR. PRADOS: What you say is absolutely right. There’s a particular sore point in fact as far is Thailand is concerned with United States Government records. For example, for the longest time we could not get declassified anything that had to do with Laos, because at a certain point – and from the beginning there were Thai advisors attached to the CIA secret army in Laos, but at a certain point in the Nixon Administration we made a deal with Thailand and recruited actual Thai combat units. Then it turned out that if we recruited a Thai combat unit we could not legally pay it. So we convinced the Thais to take these combat units and take them out of their army and then they would re-volunteer as part of this CIA secret army, just so we could pay them. All of that was sensitive.
And for years every reference to Thai – well, first of all, no documents were let out at all. Then documents were released but everything that had to with Thailand was excised from them. Then after that documents were let out but the words Thai were taken out of every document. Finally, we went to – there’s an Air Force – history of Air Force support for military operations in northern Laos, and when the Air Force did that again we sued – this is now late in the Clinton Administration – because what is the point of this. And in fact, the judgment went against the U.S. Government. And since then they have lightened up considerably on their treatment of Thailand and declassifying documents, to the extent that this new Foreign Relations set that’s come out actually contains the Washington Special Action Group conversations about whether we can pay these Thai troops or not going to the Laotian War, and a whole series of other things like that.
But much like that problem, I agree with your basic point about largely ignoring the role of Thailand. I mean, in addition to these Thai troops in Laos there’s a Thai regiment then virtually a division in South Vietnam for a considerable period of time. And if you went and looked at records of the Johnson Administration, records of the Nixon Administration, you find hardly any documents at all that pertain to this particular formation, right? And there are Thai medical assistance, and there’s some Thai economic assistance, and there are all those American bases in Thailand, without which our bombing of North Vietnam would have been not possible, strictly not possible.
So you’re quite right, and it’s a definite problem.
QUESTION: I want to raise an issue that’s been kind of implicit rather than explicit, and that’s the issue of how we as scholars apply moral and ethical judgments towards controversial foreign policy issues. John used the word “morality.” When Henry Kissinger used it earlier today, my reading that he was dismissive of the way in which antiwar activists in the United States took a moral stance towards the war.
And yet when we teach this to our students, the overwhelming fact is that somewhere in the order of 3 million Vietnamese were killed during this war, the vast majority were killed as a result of American firepower, and the vast majority of those were not combatants but civilians. And that raises issues, I think, that still play out today in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where civilian causalities are invariably higher than the causalities among combatants.
And it’s a tough issue, I think, for us. We tend to be pretty good as scholars in tracing high-level decision making. But how do we get into complicated issues of morality and ethics in reaching a broader historical understanding about actions of the U.S. government, especially when we’re dealing with conflicts in which the casualty rates are so high among the civilian populace?
DR. PRADOS: You can take that. (Laughter.)
PROF. ELLIOTT: Well, I’ll leave this to the other two panelists, but I – (laughter). I do want to point out that one of the themes in my book about what happened during the – among other things, during the later phases of the Vietnam War and the Mekong Delta was that the pacification did involve massive depopulation of the Vietnamese countryside, not only as a result of bombing and the periodic sweep operations, but also as a result of indiscriminate shelling. So they depopulated vast areas, which suddenly appeared as pacified in the hamlet evaluation survey. By the way, should you want to read a truly comprehensive work on pacification, please, I refer you to Richard Hunt’s definitive work on this subject, pacification in Vietnam.
But I think with respect to that, since the clear, hold, and build, which was – which is the new version of that strategy, is being seriously advocated, was in Iraq and maybe in Afghanistan, that with respect to the moral point the first point is to get it right, that this was a strategy that had huge moral implications, as you’ve just indicated. And are we advocating in – or are we essentially condoning and advocating a strategy called “clear, hold, and build” that maybe based on this Vietnamese experience, a strategy of forced depopulation with massive civilian causalities?
So we need to establish the fact first. What’s the origin of this strategy? What were its moral consequences? And then we can debate the inevitable tradeoffs between strategic imperatives and moral judgments. But I think the first point, the historian’s point, is get it right.
PROF. HERRING: It seems to me that once you – the very fact of intervention in somebody else’s country is inevitably going to create all kinds of moral problems, no matter how you justify it. And the other thing is the American way of war, which causes huge problems, which is firepower intensive and which tries to save American lives by using massive firepower and bombing and these sorts of things. There are some really basic problems involved inherently in intervention.
DR. PRADOS: Well, this is definitely a hard one, Bob. As a professor, you’re dealing with students, and the students have moral values and they make moral choices, and all you can really hope to do is to inculcate some feeling for what the dimensions of the moral problem were or are or can be. In the case of Vietnam, all of us who were of that age went through that, all of us, every single one was compelled to come to some choice, some moral choice about what we were going to do. If you read my book, Vietnam: History of Unavoidable War you’ll see I tell in there – I talk in there about what I did. And I went from some West Point wannabe to a draft counselor as a result of things that were happening in the war.
And those things were moral choices, and they had a lot to do with the kinds of phenomenon you’re talking about, about the violence of the war, and the tactics of the war, and the way that the war was conducted, right? And they had to do with the substance of the war. Three million people died. Twenty thousand Americans died during the time that it took the Nixon Administration to – 20,000 American soldiers; I’m not talking about anybody else – during the time it took the Nixon Administration to actually reach a negotiated a settlement in Paris in January of 1973.
I was a member of the U.S. delegation that went to Hanoi for this missed opportunities conference that was referred to earlier. And one of the things that the North Vietnamese delegation said there, which included Nguyen Co Thach, who was their foreign minister at the time, was that the same terms that we achieved in January of 1973 had been obtainable in January 1969. Ergo, 20,000 American GIs died unnecessarily and untold numbers of Vietnamese people.
Now, there is morality involved in that and embedded in that. And it underlines the importance of choices that people make.
PROF. SCHWARTZ: Okay. I’m – that’s actually more– well, I’m not going to get into it, but let me close with something else actually as a story. I want to thank the panel for a very provocative discussion. One of my first experiences as a grad student I worked on -- a man, John McCloy, who was involved in postwar Germany. And at his memorial service – and he had been a sponsor of German-American reconciliation. At his memorial service, Helmut Schmidt the chancellor – at that time former chancellor – came and spoke. One of the lines he used is he quoted President Lincoln.
And he said one time Lincoln was asked in war – or you have to destroy your enemies. And Lincoln’s response was, “Then I destroy my enemies by making them my friends.” And I do think -- I think one of the astounding things is, of course, the transformation in the American-Vietnamese relationship, which does leave me, I confess, with a sort of strong sense of wonderment, and I guess certainly a more positive sense than maybe some of what we’ve just been saying. But anyway, thank you very much panel. (Applause.)