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The Lessons of Vietnam

The lessons learned by the US military from the Vietnam war and their relationship to the true casualty figures in Iraq.
Considering the rapid acceleration of American casualties in Iraq, isn't it interesting that the US corporate media seem mainly concerned with a war that happened more than thirty years ago and in debating which man, John Kerry or George W. Bush, served more honorably during the Vietnam war? John Kerry admitted in testimony before a Congressional committee in 1971 that he and other soldiers committed war crimes in Vietnam, and George W. Bush was using his daddy's influence to avoid risking his life in that war. There is no honor anywhere in this sordid history. We now have the sad spectacle in American politics of an election between two war criminals. Forget Iraq, Afghanistan, the elusive or dead Osama bin Laden, depleted uranium poisoning, health care, unemployment, poverty and global warming and its relationship with the powerful, violent, destructive, hurricanes. The US corporate media would rather divert our attention to the Vietnam war, scandals, celebrity trials, and various trivialities and frivolities.

However, lessons were learned by the ruling class and military of the United States in the Vietnam war, which are now being applied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The factors which turned the American people against the Vietnam war were the high US casualties and the television news reports showing the actual carnage in Vietnam. For example, there were the pictures of the little Vietnamese girl running with napalm burning her naked body, American soldiers using cigarette lighters to burn villagers' huts, the My Lai massacre and many other atrocities. One could also see the body bags containing deceased American soldiers and the numerous flag draped coffins returning home.

The Pentagon, with the servile cooperation of the US corporate media, decided that in future wars a considerable change was necessary in the depiction of the war, the management of the war and in news reports of US casualties. First, they decided to predominately or exclusively use US air power to achieve objectives, if possible. Obviously, this limits US casualties because ground troops are not being used and technology has progressed to such an extent that it is extremely difficult to shoot down American aircraft. The United States achieved its objectives in Yugoslavia when Serbia capitulated to the unrelenting three month bombardment of their country from the air using depleted uranium weapons. Also, pilots from high altitude do not see the carnage on the ground, and if no reporters are present, it can be claimed to be a precision air strike on some official demon like Al-Zarqawi or Osama bin Laden. Any civilian casualties can then be denied or excused as "collateral damage." Actually, civilian casualties are the main objective because it is necessary to spread terror and intimidate the civilian population who are supporting the resistance fighters. That is why numerous cluster bombs are utilized, as well as radioactive depleted uranium. It is unimportant if children pick up the unexploded cluster bombs and are blown to bits or if they suffer cancers and birth defects from radioactive uranium. In Iraq the civilian population is superfluous and dispensable. It is the oil underneath the ground which is of maximum importance to American capitalists.

Besides relying on air power to a great extent, the Pentagon also decided not to allow American reporters to roam free and report on what they observe, as they did in Vietnam. Now, they are so-called embedded reporters who give the official version of events as desired by the US military. Independent reporters like those of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are intimidated and in certain instances shot at and killed or injured by US forces. Offices of news agencies which might give an alternative perspective of the war are closed down by force. Despite US assertions that the deaths of Al-Jazeera reporters are all accidents, these "accidents" happen with such frequency that one has to be very gullible to believe such nonsense.

US casualty reports are very slow in coming, particularly now with George W. Bush seeking reelection, or perhaps I should say reappointment, as President. It is often days or even weeks before the Defense Department releases the names of deceased soldiers. There are news reports of fierce clashes between resistance fighters and US troops, and then, US military spokespeople claim that there were no US soldiers killed or wounded. Are we dealing with immortal US soldiers here or what? When Iraqi resistance fighters attack from ambush with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, it is only logical there are going to be some US casualties. I realize that vests worn by US soldiers protect to some extent, but their arms, legs and faces are still exposed and vests are not adequate protection from exploding shrapnel. The Iraqi resistance gives their own reports of US casualties on the web site  http://www.iraqwar.mirror-world/ru and needless to say, their account of the war and that of the US military conflict dramatically.

It is interesting that one US military spokesman claimed it was not US policy to comment on casualties as it might give encouragement to the enemy or indicate how effective enemy operations had been. In other words, casualty reports are part of psychological warfare, just like many other events of this war in Iraq such as the admitted US staging of the toppling of Saddam's statue and the faked Jessica Lynch rescue, which occurred when Iraqi forces had already pulled out of Nasiriya and Iraqi doctors who cared for Jessica were desperately trying to return her to American forces.

If the US government is willing to lie about weapons of mass destruction, uranium from Niger, and a series of faked incidents in Iraq, why wouldn't they also lie about US casualties? What are the true casualty figures? Is it just slightly more than one thousand dead American soldiers, as reported, or is it two thousand, five thousand or even ten thousand? People argue that such casualties could not possibly be hidden. Why not? No one can see anymore the number of coffins coming home, as they have prohibited the media from covering it, saying that it is too distressing to military families. The United States is a large country with a widely scattered population. Unless all military families got together and compared their experiences, no one could check on true casualty figures. They have effectively hidden from military families the hazardous effects and even the use of radioactive uranium. They have concealed the fact that five hundred thousand veterans of the wars in Iraq are now receiving disability payments from the government. What mother or father would want their son to go to Iraq if they knew that even if he survived the war, he would very likely come home disabled from depleted uranium or some other hazard? With the cooperation of the corporate media, I believe they could cover up the actual casualty figures as well.

It is obvious that the billionaires who control most of the wealth in the United States and increasingly the world and their servants in the military have learned valuable lessons from the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, the majority of American citizens have not learned that much in the same time period, or we would not be mired in the present predicament. The lesson which should have been learned by the American people is that war is a racket. Major General Smedley Butler, who fought in many US wars of aggression, described it as such. Wars are fought for the enrichment of corporations. The British used war to enhance the profits of the East India Company and the US uses war to enhance the profits of Halliburton, Bechtel, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrup-Grumman and General Electric to name just a few. US wars have absolutely nothing to do with spreading democracy and freedom across the world, but are instead an enlargement of a US empire and a continuation of over 500 years of the exploitation of the land, labor and natural resources of the Third World. What Columbus and the early Portuguese explorers started continues to this very day. That is the true lesson which Americans should have learned from the great tragedy of the Vietnam war, but obviously didn't.

homepage: homepage: http://www.theblackflag.org/iconoclast

Nope 19.Sep.2004 22:38


The US was not defeated in Vietnam by the press.
Nor was it defeated by fragging officers.

Charlie kicked their asses.

Only after it became obvious that the war was lost
did the press turn against the government.

Only after it became obvious that they were dying for no purpose
did the troops begin refusing.

The US was not cheated.
The US was defeated.

Reply to Dorothy 21.Sep.2004 06:44

Gary Sudborough IconoclastGS@aol.com

You misunderstood the article. Nowhere do I say that the press was responsible for the US defeat in Vietnam. Of course, it was mainly due to the Vietnamese resistance fighters and the high American casualties they caused. I simply maintain that the US military learned lessons from Vietnam about keeping the actual carnage of the war and the casualties out of public consciousness. Incidentally, Noam Chomsky maintains that Vietnam was actually a victory for the US because the land was so completely destroyed by heavy bombing and the use of Agent Orange that it could not possibly serve as a successful example of socialist development to any other country in the region.

I mostly agree, Dorothy 21.Sep.2004 12:51


You are rightthat Charlie killed so many GIs. Without the soldiers revolt the slaughter of Vietnamese would have continued. GIs fragging officers paralysed the US Army. The US Army slaughtered 3.5 million Vietnamese civilians, but couldn't be budged after awhile because of the soldier's revolt. And it took 30 years for the US to want to again deploy ground troops for any lengthy period of time. The US will re-learn its mistake soon.

Just Expendable Cogs in the War Machine 21.Sep.2004 19:50

Cheney Watch

The dead and injured in this invasion (not a war) are the sad, dirty secrets of this administration. And you are right; they will do anything to keep the images of the dead, dying, and maimed from the American public.

With Bush, it's "Hello muddah" (be patriotic and vote for me); "Hello fodder" (sign up again or you'll be hunted down and sent to Iraq anyway).

I dunno, Gary 21.Sep.2004 21:15


Your text is all about keeping the realities of the war out of the press. Certainly, you do not say it was the only reason for US defeat, "The factors which turned the American people against the Vietnam war were the high US casualties and the television news reports showing the actual carnage in Vietnam." Then, except for your last paragraph, you rightly talk about keeping the war out of the press, lying to keep it out of the press, and so forth. If you were talking about other factors, you should have typed them in, so we could know.

By the points which you chose to make, you imply the primacy of the press (reporting truth) in the US defeat -- and you imply the press will defeat US in Iraq.

Such a view is doubtless comforting to those who need to believe the home-team invincible.

Sure, Chomsky might have had a point, if the Vietnamese had been trying to establish a workers' paradise.

However, Ho seems to have been well aware that he was leading a nation of peasants rather than wage-slaves. Certainly, the peasants themselves spoke first of driving out the foreign devils, and rarely if ever about nice bourgeois factory jobs.

Chomsky must have been playing a joke on whoever it was to whom he said that.

I'm sure Chomsky knew that the US had no interest in socialists, except as boogyman : the US wanted to wrest control of the opium trade from the French. In that sense, I suppose, US won.

So did the Vietnamese. To them, the opium trade was imposed by France and US. They wished to be free of it along with its foreign sponsors. (Please note I wrote "Vietnamese". I am well aware that the government became involved in Laos and Cambodia.)

In another sense, Chomsky was totally wrong. The precipitous flight of US forces was, and remains to this day, an inspiration for freedom-fighters everywhere, for example, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

And, yes, Vietnam was ravaged by chemical and other out-lawed weapons. If Vietnam lives at all, it will be a shining example of the spirit of a nation, never to be rivalled by a mere socialist state.

Silly Gringo 21.Sep.2004 21:20


Silly Gringo

You don't agree with anything I said. You don't care about Vietnamese civilians. You want people to think the good old American working-class heroes rose up in self-righteous anger against their bourgeois bosses. Utter nonsense.

A few ne'er-do-wells, too chickenshit to say "no" out-loud, stumble far enough up from their drugged stupors, with their giggling buddies pushing and shoving from behind, to slip grenades under a few tents and to run like schoolboys from a prank. That is not a glorious uprising of the oppressed masses. It is cowardly stupidity.

What's the point of reading those stupid propaganda sites? There is plenty of material which is not deliberately biased. There are plenty of people who try to tell the truth about what happened, instead of the fantasies which their programmed platforms wish had happened.

Grow up, Gringo. Stop obeying -- and imitating -- those priests whom you fear so much. Learn to think for yourself.

GI Joe didn't frag his officers because they were kicking Charlie's butt. He started fragging because he couldn't show his round eyes outside heavily fortified camps without Charlie kicking _his_ butt.

Got so bad that even the whores and pushers were kicking his butt whenever he let down his guard. They knew Charlie had him in a garrote, and it would be only a short time before GI Joe and his black birds fled in panic. With or without his master's permission.

Grow up, Dorothy 21.Sep.2004 23:34


So cute of you. Cute as a button that you believe that there is ANY source for information which is not biased. Which priest did you get YOUR information from, genius? What superhuman source do you believe? All news is from humans. All news, all articles, are biased. Grow up, indeed. You fell for the corporate myth of an "objective" journalism, impossible with humans. Robots don't write the news. People with opinions write news. They include some things, don't include others, order it in certain leading ways, present some information as facts, choose what to attribute and what to take as given. So-called "objective" journalism is an invention of a desperate 19th century news media with a huge and well-deserved credibility crisis.

This site you're on is propaganda. What is your specific problem with propaganda, exactly?

And I still agree with you, Dorothy.... 21.Sep.2004 23:42


...about why GI Joe started fragging his officers. Tens of thousands of dead GIs was definitely enough for a GI to reconsider who the real enemy was. The soldier revolt owed its existence to Charlie killing so many Gis, without a doubt. But despite Charlie kicking the GIs ass, the US brass had every intention of continuing the genocide against Vietnam. (What makes you think I don't care about 3.5 million Vietnamese getting killed, btw?) The US soldiers revolt stopped that from happening.

I also agree that the press in the US and popular US opinion played practically no role in ending the Vietnam War.

A little honesty would help, Gringo 22.Sep.2004 00:16


People notice.

Do try to reply to what people said, not to what you wish they had said.

Yes, people DO notice 22.Sep.2004 16:19


You called  http://www.isreview.org/ a "stupid propaganda site" and implied it was a bad source because it is "deliberately biased." Deliberately biased sources are more intellectually honest than the (supposedly) undeliberately biased sources. You implied (incorrectly) that journalism that strives to be "unbiased" is somehow more accurate. You also claim I don't care about the Vietnamese. You have proven yourself to be a profoundly dishonest person on that point alone. How are you so sure your colorful description of fraggings are accurate? Do tell.

It's a pity 22.Sep.2004 20:48


There is no honesty, intellectual or otherwise, in lying.

And "lying" is what you mean when you say "bias". And that is what you do, Gringo. When people point to your false "facts"; when people point to your misrepresentions; when people point to the inconvenient facts which you omit; when people conclude you could only have done it deliberately; you say, simply, everybody is biased.

CatWoman is biased. However, she is not dishonest. She reports what she sees. She reports what she hears. She reports what she thinks about it. Her biases, her omissions, her misunderstandings, her honesty are plainly visible for all to see. She does not impute dishonesty in others to excuse her own. People trust CatWoman.

You have pointed out NO lies 23.Sep.2004 12:29


What lies? You have pointed out none of them. And when I refer to bias, I really mean bias, not lies. If the article I linked to does not agree with you, check ITS sources, which are footnoted at great length, by eye-witnesses. Check the facts yourself.


All these sources are lies too?...

Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., "The Collapse of the Armed Forces," Armed Forces Journal, June 7, 1971

Marvin Gettleman, et al., Vietnam and America: A Documented History (New York: Grove Press, 1995)

William G. Effros, Quotations: Vietnam, 1945-70 )New York: Random House, 1970)

Christian G. Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993)

James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)

James Fallows, "What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?" Vietnam: Anthology and Guide to a Television History, Steven Cohen, ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983)

Larry G. Waterhouse and Mariann G. Wizard, Turning the Guns Around: Notes on the GI Movement (New York: Praeger, 1971)

Camp News, January 15, 1971, and March 15, 1971.

Vietnam GI, May 1970. Of the hundreds of underground GI newspapers, only a handful appeared regularly over time and had readership beyond a particular base or army division. Of these, the most important were Camp News, The Bond and Vietnam GI. Vietnam GI had the largest following in Vietnam due to its ability to put a clear, radical political analysis in language that connected with the experiences of the grunts.

Cincinnatus, Self-Destruction, The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army During the Vietnam Era, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1981)

Seymour M. Hersh, "What Happened at My Lai?" in Gettleman

Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978)

Robert Musil, "The Truth About Deserters," The Nation, April 16, 1973

Steve Rees, "A Questioning Spirit: GIs Against the War" in Dick Custer, ed., They Should Have Served that Cup of Coffee (Boston: South End Press, 1979)

Richard Moser, The New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era (Perspectives in the Sixties) (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1996)

Matthew Rinaldi, "The Olive-Drab Rebels: Military Organizing during the Vietnam Era," Radical America, Vol.8 No. 3, May-June 1974

The Bond, September 22, 1969

Tom Wells, The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam (New York: Henry Holt, 1994)

Eugene Linden, "Fragging and Other Withdrawal Symptoms," Saturday Review, January 8, 1972

Terry Anderson, "The GI Movement and the Response from the Brass," in Melvin Small and William Hoover, eds., Give Peace A Chance (Syracuse: Syracuse University, 1992)

Andy Stapp, Up Against The Brass (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970)

Richard Boyle, GI Revolts: The Breakdown of the U.S. Army in Vietnam (San Francisco: United Front Press, 1972)

Shrug 23.Sep.2004 22:56


I did not say they all lie (although some do). I said _you_ lie with carefully selected scriptural quotations, whose dubious quality you admit and sometimes appear to take pride in.

Since you list some references, I shall comment. I have read a bunch of those. People should read some; although your selection presents a severely blindered perspective. Most report events and rumours, with no pretense at analysis, and often deeply ignorant of context. Two, Heindl and Gabriel & Savage, so adroitly avoid the notion that a bunch of peasants defeated the most heavily armed techno-warriors on the planet, one must wonder if the works were paid propaganda. People can make up their own minds about the relevance of the rest. People can also poke around the public and university libraries, for context.

You have included nothing about Vietnam. You have included nothing about, or by, Vietnamese people. Even a simple (truthful) biography of Ho would clear up many typical misconceptions. You have included nothing by French reporters, who were very interested and very informed spectateurs. You haven't even included any American reportage of the war in general. Isolated events without context are meaningless.

You aptly illustrate why US generals and presidents, and troops on the ground, were so bewildered : carefully selected quotations, out of context, indeed, directly contradicted by any reasonable context.

Eisenhower wondered, in 1961, why "the morale of the communist [sic] forces was better than that of the democratic [sic] forces". General Taylor wondered, in 1964, why the 'Vietcong' "have an amazing ability to maintain morale". Westmoreland knew the only hope for "victory" was genocide.

The State Department was already writing memoes in the early 1950's noting that the French had insufficient "native" support. Douglas Pike was able to _publish_, in 1966, "What struck me most forcefully about the NLF was its totality as a social revolution first and as a war second... restructure the social order of the village and train the villages to control themselves... organization in depth of the rural population through the instrument of self-control."

Lots of Americans were talking the good talk about "Hearts and Minds". Unfortunately, they appear not to have talked to the Vietnamese, nor to those Americans torturing and killing the Vietnamese.

One wonders how they overlooked the clear message of Dien Bien Phu, in 1954. In any case, the Algerian revolutionary, Ferhat Abbas, left them with no excuse, in 1962, « Dien Bien Phu ne fut pas seulement une victoire militaire. Cette bataille reste un symbole. Elle est le Valmy des peuples colonisés. C'est l'affirmation de l'homme asiatique et africain face à l'homme de l'Europe. C'est la confirmation des droits de l'homme à l'échelle universelle. A Dien Bien Phu, la France a perdu la seule légitimation de sa présence, c'est-à-dire le droit du plus fort. »

The US was defeated before it entered in the mid-fifties. The US was militarily defeated before the mid-sixties. (Read the "Pentagon Papers".) Johnson and his Pentagon advisors admitted as much, in 1968, by refusing Westmoreland another 200,000 troops. There remained only the need to drive the US military-industrial complex from the feeding trough. And, more important, to consolidate the shiny new US opium trade.

Your thesis lacks the single most important element required for credibility : time sequence. Mutiny did not cause the US defeat. US defeat caused the mutiny.

You have still pointed out no lies whatsoever, even those of context 24.Sep.2004 20:40


I have never knowingly lied online. And if I DID make a mistake, I honestly apologized. You are speaking out of ignorance, concerning myself. The sources I list are specifically concerning the US soldiers revolt. ANY collection of sources will be considered "blindered" since it would be finite. It could have used more context, as in Vietnamese sources, but it is an already lenghty piece that deals exclusively with the revolt amongst US forces. Call it "scriptural quoting" if you want, but eye-witness accounts and primary documents are simply the best way to get to the root of the matter, the reality of what really went on.

You have no argument from me concerning the US's inability to see why they should get out of Vietnam. Hearts and minds, indeed.

What eye-witness/first-person accounts, or primary documents, from the Vietnamese perspective would you recommend?

Bye 25.Sep.2004 01:56


My friends and I have been talking about you. Looking over a bunch of your postings.

"I have never knowingly lied online."

It is possible that you actually believe this.

And that is more scary than your being a paid agent. For the most part, it doesn't matter which. In either case, you would hurt people and drive them away. Naive people might believe nonsense you write, and either retreat in shame when their obvious errors are revealed, or stumble blindly into trouble beyond anyone's ability to help. Class enemies will point at you and tar all of us with the same brush. To that extent, betrayal by intent is no different from betrayal by blunder.

However, there is a limit to the damage which a paid agent can do. You, on the other hand, if you honestly think you are a real activist, will eventually grow bitter from rejection. You will seek revenge.

Bill says that until the movement, each and every person, rejects people like you swiftly and effectively, whether you be agent or fool, there is no point in arguing.

I confess, my eyes were a bit starry with the hope that I might succeed where he failed. But more than that, I wanted to believe that argument can overcome all falsehood. I wanted to believe that it was only ignorance which dressed fascism in the guise of democracy or socialism, even anarchy. I wanted to believe that the light of truth need only be uncovered to cause all the amateur Stalins and Pol Pots to see how little different they are from the Rumsfelds and Cheneys. I guess not.

Here it is Gringo : whether you lie in the name of God, in the name of ITT, or in the name of Marx and Mao; whether deliberately or compulsively; you are the enemy of the people.

"And if I DID make a mistake, I honestly apologized."

When people point to your false "facts"; when people point to your misrepresentions; when people point to the inconvenient facts which you omit; when people conclude you could only have done it deliberately; you say, simply, everybody is biased.

Listen to the latina who tried to tell you, you are neither a woman nor coloured. You are neither a socialist nor anarchist. You are a priest.

I like the "you will seek revenge part" best 26.Sep.2004 16:11


Keep talking all you want about me. Not a lot for you to do apparently. Maybe you should get offline and get some fresh air. I would LOVE to be paid to do this, but alas, I cannot. I am well aware that I am neither female nor a person of color (but thanks). I had no idea that I am a priest and an "enemy of th epeople" - wow! You sound positively fascist (and thanks again). You have provided no reason, yet again, for your nonsense/attack. Yet again you refuse to illuminate any "misrepresentations" or "lies" I supposedly make. I bet you think I twirl my moustache and rub my hands together conspiratorially. Your elementary New Left grasp of socialism apparently can't distinguish between a Stalinist and a Trotskyite. That's your issue to grapple with, so I'll let you do that. Bill certainly has issues with me as well, poor guy. To each their own and let them have it, I say. So do your thing, genius. And remember: send all enemies of the people STRAIGHT to the guillotine, OK?