Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I do not accuse Arnaud de Borchgrave and all those who talk of the Tet Syndrome of lying, or even making assertions which have no evidence to support them. I accuse them of talking about any claim that supports their purposes as a proven fact if their are any experts who believe it, and ignoring all other evidence and informed opinion. I accuse them of accepting all positive media coverage as their natural right, and attributing all negative media coverage to bias without investigating the possibility that the media is discussing real problems - or that war proponents played a role in unreasonable media expectations.

I call this Tonkin Syndrome. There were reasons to believe American ships had been attack by North Vietnam - but also reasons to believe otherwise. There were steps that could have been taken to ascertain the truth before acting. There were those who already believed miltary action was appropriate, and perhaps even that a war started under a misapprehension would be no bad thing. Nobody noticed how easily the press had accepted their claims - and nobody would remember later why the press did not always trust the government.

When he writes that a reminder about what led to the U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia is timely, Borchgrove gives no hint that he is reminding us of a controversial theory which is rejected even by many people who supported the Vietnam war while it was happening but reexamined it later. He portrays the Tet Offensive as a brilliant victory for the South Vietnamese government and the United States war effort which would have lead to victory if not for the efforts of the liberal media, especially Walter Cronkite. The only thing that kept us from victory is collapse on the home front.

Even most of those who believe we could have won the Vietnam war don't believe that - although they usually consider it a factor. Here is a sample that is more typical:

But if it means very little to say that the war was unwinnable, what does it mean to say that it was winnable? It means that had the U.S. military and its civilian masters better understood the nature of the Vietnam War, they could have devised tactics to deal with it. There is nothing inevitable about stupidity among people in uniform, nor about feckless secretaries of state or presidents passively accepting bad advice. The tactics pursued by the U.S. military between 1965 and 1968 were downright counterproductive. But even in 1968 it would have been possible to correct those errors— at a price. (Certainly, too, since the war at its end resembled not so much a “people’s war” as an old-fashioned conventional war complete with tanks and artillery, the U.S. Army— had it still been around for the fight— surely could have stopped the North Vietnamese army.)

When one speaks of costs, however, one must never leave out the matter of politics. Because the Vietnam War did not involve survival interests for the United States, it was always necessary to consider the price of gaining a strategically important, but not critical, goal. U.S. leaders, as politicians are wont to do, chalked up “costs” not only in terms of casualties and money, but also their own political fortunes.

In sum, had it not been for a concatenation of bad military tactics, civilian overseers who failed in their duty to drag decent advice out of the uniformed military, the wavering of Lyndon Johnson’s Wise Men, Richard Nixon’s desire to shape a quick “opening” to China, and then his self-inflicted problems over Watergate, the Vietnam War actually could have been “won” at least to the degree that the Korean War was not lost.

A complete survey of the scholarly literature on Vietnam is beyond me, but I'd like to talk briefly about an article by former Vietanm hawk Guenter Lewy, published in that pinko rag Parameters, the Journal of the US Army War College. Some of what he has to say may seem harsh, but that should not surprise us. Historically, armies which honestly examined their defeats have often gone on to victory, while those who have found others to blame tend not to.

Professor Lewy talks about American equipment the South Vietnamese could not use and maintain properly, and lack of training and morale in the lower ranking troops. He also talks about corruption and the percerption of corruption by the Vietnamese people in the upper ranking officers and the South Vietnamese government, especially President Thieu and certain generals. He talks about various claims that the military could not win the war because they were not allowed to - and the real reasons we did what we did. The reason we did our bombing the way we did was not because of anti-war liberals, it was because of a real fear that the war might widen to include China. Right or wrong, the restrictions had nothing to do with opposition to the Vietnam war. I'm not going to try to summarize the whole article here, but unlike Borchgrave he examines opposing claims.

It is easy to forget that when LBJ said "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America", and "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the war" it was because he had considered Walter Cronkite an ally up until then. If the initial invasion had not been based on the Tonkin resolution, if he had told the American people to expect the casualties of a Tet offensive, would they have accepted the war? If so, then the Tet offensive would not have turned Cronkite and America. If not, many lives would have been saved.

Borchgraves essay has been blogged about a number of times - all in basic agreement. When googling Tet Syndrome I found not one word of caution. Only when I googled Vietnam revisionism did I find critical discussions of the sort of claims Borchgrave makes. This post in Useful Fools swallows Borchgraves uncritically - and provides a list of symptoms for Tet syndrome which pretty much excludes the possibility to a Democratic society deciding a war was a mistake without his diagnosing Tet syndrome. He links to similar ideas (assuming the idea of the Tet syndrome without a direct link to Borchgrave) by Bill Quick. Anti-Anti-Flag links to the list of symptoms found in Useful Fools, which is even more sweeping than what Borchgraves claims. PunditReview blames it all on Ted Kennedy. Cold fury paraphrases:These people snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; they refused to learn the lessons of history, both military and political.

Oddly enough, you will find more if you google. I have seen amazing discoveries in the blogosphere - and severe groupthink. I think we can do better.

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