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tv   State of the War in 1967  CSPAN  November 12, 2017 8:00am-9:32am EST

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,> professor lien-hang nguyen looking back to 1960 seven, was it still possible at that point for the u.s. to win the war in vietnam? prof. nguyen: no. it was not a war for the united states to win or lose. by 1967, it was not in the cards. mark lawrence, take us to the end of 1967. in 1960l elections eight, what is on the horizon for lyndon johnson? prof lawrence: lbj was in a fair
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amount of political difficulty. in the 19 six progress in elections, the democrats had not , butcontrol over congress lbj had lost 47 seats in the house, this was a significant setback. the war was damaging lbj's political popularity. you can see a decline across 1967. on a more fundamental level, what you see leading into 1968 as the breakup of that coalition int lbj had depended on american presidential history. forward into 68, he could see that was a thing of the past. the coalition he had affectionately coupled together. all weekend long, we
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are focusing on the war in vietnam. we will focus on the state of the war in 1967. that, our guest is professor at columbia university -- author of the book an international history of the war for peace in vietnam. also, professor of history at the university of texas at austin. author of the book, "the vietnam war." for those of you in eastern and time zone, numbers to call -- and if you are a vietnam vet, or a protester from the era, real forward to your calls and comments and experience.
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we welcome your comments on .witter and facebook you were born in vietnam. tell us your experience. >> i was five months old when my family fled. i don't really have direct of the war. philadelphia. what happened in 1975 my family is very common for vietnamese refugees to fleet -- fleet began with and it bing crosby's "white christmas." and we all knew it was a signal
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the americans would leave. claimant that eventuality. with my uncle on top of the roof of the high school where he would try to get access to a helicopter. he was not able to land the helicopter. able to leave in that fashion. the second route was revealed to us -- my uncle had access to a boat and we almost lost a brother on the way. my older brothers and sisters, it was clear chaos. managed to secure on the
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boat. getere able to eventually honestly. many times at a refugee camp in the south political. host: let's go back to the origin of involvement here tell us how you first got involved. >> in the anon, few americans could recognize on a map. specifically to the attention of american politics. the coming of the cold war in asia in the late 1940's really
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causes concern among americans about the potential expansion of communism in vietnam and the loss of vietnam to communist. the chinese come to power -- 1949 is the most important date when the chinese civil war comes to an end, the chinese communists come to power and declare the people's republic of china. from that point forward, americans were extremely anxious that something similar would lay out against southeast asia. these other territories would fall into communist hands. from that point onward, you see americans trying to prevent the absorption of that part of the world into the communist bloc. >> what does president johnson encounter when he comes into office in terms of the vietnam war? what is he facing? prof. nguyen: a proverbial mess? in many ways johnson had inherited a war that had begun by his predecessors.
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he made choices to deepen an american involvement into vietnam after kennedy's assassination, but it was under kennedy that the number of u.s. advisors to vietnam violated the terms of the geneva accord. when kennedy inherited office, there were about 600 advisors. by the time of his death, there was about 23,000. that is what lbj had inherited. >> we look forward to your calls and will get to them shortly. i wanted to play some audio from very early on in the johnson administration in 1964. he is speaking with his national security adviser. we will play that and get your reaction to what is talking about and then hear from some of our viewers.
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>> i stayed awake last night thinking about this thing. the more i think about it i do not know what in the hell -- it looks like we are getting into another korea, it worries the hell out of me. i do not see what we can ever get out of there with. i believe the chinese communists come into it, i do not believe we can fight them 10,000 miles away from home and ever get anywhere. i do not think it is worth fighting for and i do not think we can get out. it is just the biggest damn mess. i look at the sergeant who has six little kids.
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what in the hell am i ordering him out there for? what is laos worth to me? what is it worth to this country? we have a treaty, but, hell, everybody else has a treaty out there. you start running the communists, they may chase you into your own kitchen. >> that is what the rest of the world is going to think if this thing comes apart on us. that is the dilemma. >> that sounds like a very personal phone call talking about a serious international crisis. prof lawrence: it is incredibly striking. there was a time when most historians of the vietnam war, in thinking about lbj, ascribed inevitability to his decisions. the tracks had been laid for american intervention. lbj happened to be the man in the white house when nothing
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short of the introduction of american combat forces would save the day. what a conversation like this shows is lbj was deeply aware of the problems the united states would confront if it went down that path that he paused and thought hard about what the united states was getting into. he made the decision to intervene, but this conversation shows that he knew it would not be easy, it would potentially be a difficult scenario. >> soon events would propel things forward. the gulf of tonkin incident. prof. nguyen: that was may, 1964. the events of early august, you see a very different johnson, especially the second attack that never occurred, he had made a decision to fabricate events so that he could achieve the gulf of tonkin -- >> he needed that to legitimize his action in the war? prof. nguyen: yes. that does not show hesitation. it shows preplanning and manipulation. we see many different sides of
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johnson. what we see in terms of his response to the attack on august 4 is very different. >> we are talking to lien-hang nguyen and mark lawrence, our focus is on 1967 in the vietnam war. we will go to asheville, north carolina. caller: i want to ask, what has our country spent in removing the land mines -- i know we are now involved in trying to get rid of some of the agent orange that is built into the soil. how much has my country spent to
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repair the damage that we did to that country? prof. nguyen: that is a great question. the individual efforts of americans, many of whom served in vietnam and are back in the country working to remove these mines, as well as those that continue to operate in vietnam, with many americans who are involved in the war in trying to clear the mines, address the victims of agent orange. is it enough? i think much more can be done.
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i was just at the national archives and there was a video montage of the amount of bombing that took place over south vietnam, laos, and cambodia. the sheer scale of the bombing -- it blows my mind, it is devastating. it hurts to watch the video.
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to know there are these individual efforts by people who might've been involved in the war effort but are trying to amend -- make amends, it is great. it is disheartening, the lack of movement in many ways to have it be done at the government level. i would say one has to applaud the individual and the nongovernmental organizations. >> these things about the bombing and the agent orange, the land mines, what was the mood of the american public in 1967? how much did we know about the war? prof. lawrence: 1967 is a fascinating year when lots more americans were focusing on the war than had been the case in the earlier days of american escalation.
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the approval of the war, of lbj's performance was dropping quite dramatically across this year as more americans focused on it, as the draft calls increased which had the effect of drawing much more attention to the war that had been the case previously. across 1967, you see the dramatic expansion of the antiwar movement, where the biggest demonstration took place about 50 years ago in washington. that resulted in the famous march on the pentagon. public opinion was paying more attention, it was fracturing like the larger american political scene, and this was not to deny the fact that some people, when they're looking at the war, thought more should be done. we need to look at the hawkish side of the spectrum as well.
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>> let's hear from john in georgetown, pennsylvania. caller: i'm happy to have this chance to be on the air. i was a medic, i served with the first calvary division, alpha company 15th medical battalion. within a month, i was assigned to the dispensary that provided medical services. my question is, did anybody know of these programs we had over there? i was a draftee, i was u.s. all the way, i was glad i had the chance to do something productive to help people in need of medical treatment. to this day, everything is as clear as a bell to me. if you can address that, and one more thing? since you are both historians, i have taken courses on the vietnam war. as a textbook we use "vietnam: an american ordeal." you know
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anything about that text in particular? prof. lawrence: i do know that book. it is not one i've used a great deal, but i have a lot of respect for it and have consulted it. i would hold that out as one of the best textbooks out there. as far as the other question, i think it is fair to say americans were aware of the kind of programs the caller asked about. i think the american view of the war as more americans became fixated on it was difficult for the american public to pick out what was most essential about the war. this was one of the things that was jarring for people living through this experience. you understood there were humanitarian programs, but at the same time, massive uses of firepower, brutality, and american at its best all happening simultaneously. >> let's hear from rocky point, new york.
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caller: thanks for taking my call. my question is -- what would happen if we decided to use nuclear weapons in the war? would it have ended the war or would we have had to use too many of them or would it have started another world war? would other countries protest that and say this is not right and join forces? >> you talked about the exhibit at the archives and the incredible amount of armament that was drawn upon. what was the impact on north vietnam in particular? prof. nguyen: i can tie those two questions together. that last scenario, the people's republic of china and the soviet union would have definitely
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gotten involved directly had nuclear weapons been used. that was ruled out by all of the superpowers, the great powers involved, directly or indirectly involved in the vietnam war. this would not escalate to a nuclear war. in terms of north vietnamese leadership, there are many debates going on in hanoi and they mirror the debates taking place in washington, d.c. in 1967. that was how to deal with the military stalemate that a descendent over south vietnam. this was raging in hanoi, you can compare the months going
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from the spring of 1967, when there were high-level meetings taking place between the military and party leadership about what to do to break the stalemate, all the way through to the end of the year, what would take place. deeply fractured the vietnamese communist party. >> who are the key leaders? we know about ho chi minh, but who were the leaders making the decisions? prof. nguyen: one of the most surprising things about what i discovered through my research was the extent to which ho chi minh and the minister of defense were marginalized during the war, particularly 1967. this is when that happened. it happens on the part of two man who carried out the campaign to marginalize their power in the party. that included the general secretary and his right-hand man, the party organizational chief who would rise to fame as the main negotiator against henry kissinger. >> in the early 1970's. prof. nguyen: yes. >> let's go to calls and hear
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from danbury, connecticut. caller: was the south vietnamese government in 1967 anti-buddhist? and was this a missed opportunity to build broad support among the south vietnamese in the fight against communism? prof. lawrence: many buddhist activists understood the south vietnamese government to be anti-buddhist. in 1966 you have a resurgence of buddhist opposition and demonstrations against the saigon government. there is no doubt a spectrum of opinion when it comes to buddhist organizations, buddhist leaders in south vietnam. the generalization is the south vietnamese government had a persistent problem with that element of the population. it is a striking example of the south vietnamese government's and ability to extend its popularity beyond that part of the south vietnamese population that was most strongly behind it. >> what was the u.s. government's relationship with the leadership? lyndon johnson's national security team's relationship with the south vietnamese
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government? prof. lawrence: it was complicated and a source of frustration alongside some of the other sources of frustration for lbj. johnson recognized there had to be a partnership between the united states and south vietnam in order for the war to succeed. the war at the end of the day was in pursuit of a political objective. the south vietnamese government was a central component of any successful strategy. that relationship had to be cultivated. at the same time, lbj was consistently frustrated with what he saw as the foot dragging, as the inefficiency, as the unwillingness to do the kind of things that in the american view would have established greater political popularity for that government. >> let's hear from robert in orlando, florida. caller: since we have a couple history experts, what do we learn from the vietnam war?
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what has the history showed, and have we learned not to get ourselves into wind in these future conflicts? >> thanks. prof. nguyen: one of the main takeaways from the vietnam war and the american experience with the war is that what was happening in vietnam predated american intervention. this is one of the situations where the united states came into a very complicated civil war that had been brewing for decades, if not centuries. in terms of the infighting between political groups in north and south and central vietnam. the united states did not know the situation. this gets to the previous question about the south vietnamese government, its policy toward the buddhist
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majority. it is a lot more complicated. there were many different -- the buddhist movement was heterogeneous. it was a difficult position for both governments, north and south vietnam during the war, as well as various political actors in both countries. one side -- the democratic republic of vietnam, was able to squash dissent, the south vietnamese government was less capable of doing that. the second question gets to the question about the relationships between saigon and hanoi. what i find striking during the course of my research is you
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find some of the same lines from tiny sources, about how difficult it was for the patrons to deal with their junior clients or allies. it gets to the difficulty of the state of international relations and the cold war and decolonization and these postcolonial conflicts. it sucked in these great powers, and even though they wanted to dictate and direct the course of the war, they were unable to. >> take that question of what
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did we learn from it, and maybe what did we learn -- look back at 1967, what were the decisions lbj could have made then that could have changed the course of u.s. involvement in the war? how could it have turned out differently for the u.s.? prof. lawrence: that is a fascinating question. what were his options? if we put ourselves into lbj's shoes, we can see how difficult it might have been to break out in another direction. nevertheless, there were ideas at that period. sometimes it is assumed there were no ideas reaching lbj's desk, that is not true. robert mcnamara was increasingly souring on the war.
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what he had in mind were steps toward negotiation, the softening of the american negotiating position in a way that would have led to some sort of negotiated settlement short of maximum american objectives. an interesting point on this is that in september of 1967, the cia did a study of this question -- what were the alternatives and what will be the consequences to united states winding down the war. with the catastrophe be what so many assumed it was? would the domino affect play out, what would happen internationally? the cia's conclusion was probably not. southeast asia would probably fall to the communists, but the upshot was that could be managed and american interests elsewhere in the world would survive intact. >> we heard earlier in that phone conversation with lbj and george bundy, you said robert mcnamara, both holdovers from the kennedy administration. tell us about those men. prof. lawrence: these were typical kennedy appointees. brilliant man, accomplished men. george bundy having been dean of
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arts and sciences at harvard university. there were other characters from the kennedy administration that were like that. these biographies are important because they capture the fact that these were can-do men, men who did not back down in the face of a challenge. these were men who had a lot of confidence in their ability to use american power in very precise ways to achieve american objectives. that is important, even going back to the conversation we heard earlier between bundy and lbj. you hear lbj voicing all these concerns, but it seems at the end of the day, lbj believed they could solve the problems. that is the kind of people they were and the kind of experiences that had during the second world war and the cold war down to 1967. prof. nguyen: it would be their hubris. there was no way the united states could lose the war against this third rate, fifth rate, whatever johnson had described vietnam at the time, that this would lead to america's downfall. it was u.s. hubris. >> let's hear from john in florida. go ahead with your comments. caller: thanks for this opportunity. to a degree -- i was drafted in 1967, september, lost a brother there in january of 1969. i did not go, primarily because i got orders in 1968, and he already had orders -- two brothers cannot be in the country at the same time. my question goes to the points you raised, the missed opportunities. why were not the voices of our coalition government listened to, why were not the scholars, the people who knew the mind and the aspirations of the vietnamese, why were they not listen to? i have cried many hot tears over this war. viewing the ken burns episodes, those questions were brought forth and the missed opportunities were shown. you have shown some of them this morning. i wonder if you agree that the world war ii and cold war mentality of our leaders was what drug us down this path? thank you. prof. nguyen: that is a good question and a difficult one. why weren't other roads taken? professor lawrence nailed it. there were other options and they were not taken. they include all of these peace attempts. you had operation marigold, operation pennsylvania. these talks were not leaders in washington wanted to pursue. at the same time what i see from records from the other side, the
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north vietnamese side, they did not want to pursue negotiations in 1967. you had militant leaders wanting to pursue a military solution, first and foremost, before they engaged in any talks. despite influential policymakers, scholars, other voices saying the united states and the dod, belligerents needed to engage in talks. >> may i say one thing but with? -- quickly? if we are looking for roads not taken, opportunities missed, we would do best to go further back in time to the 1950's. maybe the early 1960's. one significant numbers of americans are on the ground and people are dying and politically eisenhower, kennedy, definitely johnson are engaged, it becomes difficult for reasons of politics and prestige and reputation the pullback. it may be there were significant missed opportunities at an earlier point in 1954 or 1956 or various other points in the history of the world. >> we are looking at 1967 all weekend long on american history tv, focusing on the vietnam war. we are joined by mark lawrence
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from university of texas at austin, and leeann nguyen. glad to be joined by you and your phone calls. eastern essential time zones 202-748-8971. for all of our vietnam era vets, 202-748-8902. we will get to some of the twitter comments and others. let's go to new york in here from david. excuse me, -- electra, we lost you. david -- electra in new york city. go ahead. new york city, go ahead. >> hello. this is electra.
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i was an antiwar protester. electra is a pseudonym. my father also was protesting the war separately. i attended the famous pentagon demonstration with my block group in manhattan, new york. we were teargassed as the soldiers came out of the pentagon with bayonet strong. we were peaceful protesters. why do we still celebrate war? when are we ever going to have peace? we honor the veterans he went to fight. what we did was support the protesters, the people who refused to honor the drafts. >> thanks for the call. >> that's a very big question that goes beyond what a historian of the work and
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probably grapple with fairly. i will say this about the history of the vietnam war and the longer flow of american history. it seems to me one of the lessons american society took away from vietnam is a should be able to distinguish between the servicemen and women who were called on to perform a particular function, and the policies and the policymakers who sent them there. and a more recent times our society has learned to celebrate the sacrifice and service of the people without necessarily implicating them in the decisions that sent them to a place like vietnam or iraq or afghanistan or any number of other places. it seems to me that is a healthy
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development. i do understand the spirit of the question. >> as the u.s. ever seen protests, antiwar protests of this science -- size and scale before? world war ii, world war i? >> on this scale, no. but on a large scale -- i don't of the figures of my fingertips but a connection with the first world war in particular it seems to me that there is striking evidence of large-scale dissent in earlier periods that are not normally part of how we think about american military history. i think there is a tendency to think of the anon as exceptional because of the degree and intense the opposition inspired. it may be in the number one position in terms of those kinds of experiences, but if you look at the mexican war were the first world war or the korean
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war you can see striking levels. >> draft riots in the civil war, the spanish american war. the antiwar movement in the united states, the history of it is very interesting. i think in the end the debate about if it mattered or had a natural impact on the policies that were passed made in washington, d.c. depends on the scholar you asked. many who were participating in the antiwar movement would say no, we had no impact. they did not listen to us. on the other they will say the antiwar movement was the reason that the united states eventually did pull out. i would tend to actually agree with the latter. heavily constrained in washington, d.c. and in a good way. the war could've been much more destructive, could have lasted much longer, but thanks to the opposition on the streets, on campuses and in congress, did limit the ability of policymakers in washington lbj
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under and the nixon administration. they pursued the policies they wanted mainly in secret. >> q talk about the political conflict in vietnam in 1967. was there and if it were movement in north vietnam or south vietnam? >> there were antiwar movements and south vietnam for sure. it is not quite accurate to call them antiwar movements in north vietnam. they were different options that some segments of the population in the north, particularly within the party wanted to pursue in terms of reunification. they never wanted to go to war. there was a faction of pro-soviet party officials who wanted to unify the country through political means. they believed waging war and supporting the southern insurgency would be a quagmire that would drain away resources from building the north. they were on the losing side. in 1967, they were arrested in a few waves of arrests that began in july of 1967 always until the tet offensive. it was tied to the strategy behind the offensive. that was one element. another was sidelining ho chi minh. and to quite his dissent. people calling for negotiations to end american intervention by talking directly with washington, d.c., but the leaders in hanoi did not want to pursue that option. >> you are welcome and invited to tweet us. an issue that is still resounding today. this question is about how many people were fathered by g.i.'s
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in vietnam. how are they treated 45 years after the u.s. departure? what do we know of that population in vietnam? >> it is the tragic story. after 1975, the wounds of war did not heal. vietnam went through another war after that to unify vietnam under communist rule, the third indochina war. the children they were reminders of the devastating conflict. they were talking were lower than the soil you walked upon. their plight is very tragic. they were allowed to immigrate over to the united states, but this also caused havoc on the families in vietnam because it was also a chance for some the enemies to try to leave vietnam during the 1980's. you could try to -- those children became valuable.
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if you could link yourself to them, possibly you could come to the united states. it was difficult for those children. >> more of your calls and comments. the anon more, 1967. we want to hear from vietnam veterans and protesters as we heard from that era. we wanted to show you a short portion of the 1967 cbs report on the state of the war. some of the experiences of marines at that time. here is a look. >> got about 25 or 30 incoming heavy artillery rounds. that area seems to be really covered. i will get these people out of
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and it for me when i have done so, over. >> roger. go ahead and fire. make sure your own troops are out of the way. but the tigers do their business. >> it has become a focal point for more than a year of heavy fighting along the dmz. a lightning rod for north vietnamese artillery across the border. and the closest the vietnam war has come to be in conventional. the marines are holding half a dozen outposts and base camps south of the dmz. from caisson near the border to camp carol to the east along route 9, to the south and to the north of leathernecks where. they provide the marines with observation posts overlooking the narrow mountain valleys and "the planes the north vietnamese use to move their troops south.
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they are staging bases for patrols and operations. they are connected by a six mile strip of all those land, cleared to get the marines a better view and intended to become part of a longer, more elaborate barrier from the south china sea 40
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miles to the order. work has stopped on the strip. meditation is going back. -- vegetation is growing back. it does not appear possible to resume the job without many more marines to protect the engineers. above the river, the north vietnamese introduce their heavy artillery the summer. counting -- 152 millimeter shells as often as 1001 day. the marine in september had a 50-50 chance of being hit. there were 600 casualties among the 1200 men who were on it. the marines took a terrible pounding, but they held their ground gallantly. how you feel about this kind of war? >> it is what we are trained
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for. we will prevail. we will win. >> have you ever imagined work is like this war? >> negative. i did not. i thought it was a big joke until i came over here. >> it is serious business? >> real serious. now i realize it was no joke. >> you can't reach the big guns and they keep dropping them and there is nothing you can do. you are just sitting there waiting. you can be lucky, that is it. >> that report from 1967 from a couple of marines on the ground. how did the experience of american troops influence policy? was it beginning to influence policy back home? >> the line that stands out to me more than any other from the report is close to the beginning. the narrator says this is as
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close to conventional fighting as we have seen. this is important with connection to 19 67. the war was starting to take place on a larger scale. some of the conventional wisdom we hold in our heads about vietnam and the war as a guerrilla war, this is starting to change. the war was being conducted on a larger and larger scale. there were simply more americans in the country, between 400000 and 500,000 depending on the month and 1967. you see the operation cedar falls, unprecedentedly large search and destroy mission your site on. -- near saigon. your question about how
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policymakers looking at this from washington, i think they saw more and more resources were being pumped into vietnam. the war was being taken to the enemy and an unprecedented intense way, and yet stalemate was the best that could be achieved. >> the reporter said they were at the dmz. the demilitarized zone in northern south vietnam. tell us about that. >> connected to a professor lawrence was just talking about. these are more conventional battles taking place in 1967. this is part of vietnamese strategy. they were ready to move to big unit battles after having to assume this defensive posture following american military intervention in 1965. this caused so many debates in hanoi because one side, some of the leaders did not want to revert to a defensive posture. in doing so, the morale would be low. they had to wait big unit war because that was the only way to win and maintain strategic initiative. you can see this more in 1967. these were the big battles. but this -- they were hoping u.s. policymakers would look further south and -- to the south into the west. that was caisson.
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they were hoping william westmoreland and lbj would think it would become like the dien bien fu, and they would pool their resources to take it and engage in negotiations that you would have the scenario of what happened during the french indochina war and the fact they circulated what was called the diversion plan. it was a deception plan. it was 694-dg1. it was distributed throughout the south. it was so the americans would find it and it talked about how many resources they were going to put into taking it. it would go through three waves all the way to 1969 and talks would be a rounded so the -- so that when north vietnamese troops would seize it, as what happened in 1954 with the geneva accords. >> the marines are getting hammered by big guns from the north vietnamese army.
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where are the north vietnamese getting those guns? >> this is a very important fight because the rockets could reach this marine military base. >> the chinese or russian rockets? >> yes, soviet rockets. if the north vietnamese could seize this area, they could infiltrate the region. this was very pivotal for the north vietnamese as well. >> let's hear from the and david welcome to american history tv. >> thank you. i want to ask about h.r. mcmaster's national security adviser when he was a major 21 years ago wrote his masters these this in a book called "dereliction of duty" now. a powerful book. when i learned he was going to be in the white house i was impressed. i thought this is a guy who is a serious scholar and will be a stabilizing influence. i was wondering what the historians think about that, and particularly we are looking at a situation in korea that looks like militarily it is spinning
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out of control. and the military folks seem to be in a very similar situation to her the joint chiefs were during the period mcmasters was covering from 1963 to 1967, but they are not being listened to. the white house is controlling the agenda. i would love to hear your guests' thoughts on this. i am in my 70's so i was 20 in 1964 when i am listed. i was four f. i went out to be an anti-communist, antiwar person. i saw the soviet threat and i knew we could not win this war. >> mark lawrence?
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>> i agree h.r. mcmaster's book is a fantastic book, a classic now in the study of the vietnam war. he argues quite persuasively that the joint chiefs of staff are guilty of a dereliction of duty for exaggerating the potential for military solutions to the problem that was much more complicated than they were -- than the intended to suggest. they failed civilian policy makers and bore responsibility for many mistakes ever made. i agree with the sentiment of
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the call that having mcmaster in this position would presumably -- as reassuring to those of us that would like to see some restraint in the present day. whether he is having that affect and to what extent his ideas that may spring from his understanding of the vietnam war affecting foreign policy, i don't think i have a strong opinion about that. i share the hope that is the case. >> you mentioned william
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westmoreland. he was among the lead commanders in vietnam, certainly the public face of the war. tell us about him. >> westmoreland, like many of the senior commanders in vietnam cut their teeth and gained prominence and rank in the second world war and korea. the complaint often botched by scholars against westmoreland and others like him if they thought of you and him too much in terms of their experiences in the second world war and korea. they thought of it too much as a war that would be settled on big unit engagements. the critique that is often made goes one step further. what they missed was the vietnam war in the early stages was a guerrilla conflict. these guys are blinded by their own experiences and not able to see that until late in the war when it was too little too late. i think in recent times the best scholarship on westmoreland,'s
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generalship, has checked away in the caricature and encouraged us to see him and others in the u.s. command and more new wants to ways -- new wants -- nuanced ways. i think there is a lot in that. >> the most prominent of those groups, the viet cong, who were they and how are they different from the north vietnamese army? >> what americans are called the vietcong was a derogatory term given to the south vietnamese communists movements, the people's liberation armed forces or the political front which was a national liberation front. their relationship with parties in north vietnam is a complicated one and we are only
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beginning to understand the decisions. according to my research, what i found was when they decided to go to the war in the south in 1869 -- 1969, we witnessed basically the sidelining of the vietnamese communist -- the southern communist movement in the wrong war effort. by 1967, 1969, especially surrounding the tet offensive, one of the arguments given how it failed and how it would have wiped out 80% of the viet cong infrastructure was that is it something northern leaders and wanting to do -- wanted to do so they would control this war effort. i don't see that. there are a ton of reasons why the tet offensive did not unfold in a way that they planned. the ones who did have to take the brunt was the nls where the viet cong.
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>> cliff in essex, maryland. >> good afternoon, c-span. i am a disabled veteran. some of your historian guests were talking about similarities between other wars. the simulator to me between vietnam where we were fighting, and is him and the war in the middle east where we are fighting terrorism.
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the most striking similarity is that both wars, vietnam and the war in the middle east, were preceded by false flag events. the gulf of tonkin in vietnam and 9/11 in the middle east. thank you. >> thank you, cliff. we talked briefly about the gulf of tonkin. professor lawrence, tell us what that was all about. >> the gulf of tonkin incident is a very complicated set of events that happened in early august of 1964. the episode began with an american destroyer coming under attack. we know it did come under attack by northfield mise troll boats -- north the emmys patrol boats.
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-- vietnamese patrol boats. they were in support of raids against the north vietnamese coast. this was seen as very provocative. where the story gets more complicated is there appeared to be a second attack. we are pretty confident now, certain in fact the attack did not occur. there seems to have been a jumpy sonar operator that thought they were coming under attack. the johnson administration used this as confirmation that the first attack was no accident. there is no one-off event that the americans were coming under attack. this was used as a method for getting approval by congress for a blank check. lbj from that point forward had a legal cover, political cover to do with the wanted in -- >> the caller called a false flag event. has research -- >> it was precisely the case. johnson received word it was sonar. even he said they could be firing at wales for all we know -- whales, for all we know that
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he purposely misconstrued the event. it was just as controversial in hanoi. after it took place there was an investigation headed by ho chi minh about who precisely allowed or give the order to the captain, the man on the spot the fire on the u.s. vessel. even though everyone who was a part of the committee knew the equivalent of william westmoreland, the general was not in hanoi on august 2, 1964. the general secretary gave the order. by ho chi minh brought in the man and said who give you the go-ahead? he just said some very high up in the politburo. he was not at all feeling under attack.
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the reason ho chi minh had once the investigation was the chinese were demanding answers. they also did not think this was a very wise move. at this point the younger general said no matter what we do, the imperials will strike. we must strike first. it was basically reaffirming his boss. >> that was a quick ramp up of u.s. troops after that after the incident? >> not really. this is another way in which this is an interesting episode. this happened in august, 1964 during the presidential campaign. the only reason for lbj's caution, he did not want to stir the vietnam pot during the election campaign. to the extent he wanted to address the anon at all, he wanted to present himself as a moderate and reasonable leader who could be counted on to act in a reasonable way. in contrast to the hockenberry goldwater. -- talk -- the hawk of barry goldwater. then the issue sort of settled back down. vietnam did not document is a political issue throughout the campaign.
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the big decisions to wage war would come after his election. december 1964, january and february of 1965 are the crucial months if you want to focus on the decision that led to the initiation of a sustained bombing campaign against north vietnam and the introduction of american ground troops. >> mark lawrence and that they are joining us. half an hour of your calls and comments looking at 19 six seven and the vietnam war. 202-748-8901 for mountain and pacific. vets and protesters, 202-748-8902. let's go to carry in. -- harry in chesterfield,
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virginia. good morning. >> good morning. as part of the background i , spent 20 years as an infantry officer in the united states army deployed my first tour of , vietnam in november, 50 years ago next week. and i was wondering if your head -- if your guests have any indications -- you know president eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex. is there any evidence where the johnson administration may have been influenced by them? host: harry, before we let you go, you are talking about 50 years ago this week -- next week. >> next week. host: you first went to vietnam. what were your expectations and what did you find when you hit the ground there? how was it different from your expectations? >> the expectations were high from the standpoint of going over to help the south
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vietnamese to help them fight , the communist threat they were facing. that was in a beat into our heads all the time in our training. i trained for two years, from december 1965 until november 1967. two years of training. and it was talked about all the time. and of course it was a part of , the fact that the south vietnamese were under this heavy influence of being controlled by the communist government out of north vietnam. so that is how i felt when i went there. and i was glad to go and help them. but things changed in my second tour things were different. ,second tour was from 1968 to 1969. that is when you began to really
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realize that in order for us to help them, they have got to help themselves more. and there seemed to be problems with that with the south , vietnamese government being totally involved in the effort. so you kind of had this feeling later on that we really -- instead of helping them, we were really being hindered by the political decisions being made both in south vietnam and in , you know, washington d.c. host: what's there for -- a lot of stuff there for our historians to absorb. thank you for sharing your story. remind us of your original question. we want to find out about the eisenhower -- >> the warning about the military-industrial complex. host: thanks her that and thanks for sharing your story. mark lawrence? mark lawrence: fascinating reminiscences. thank you for sharing that. that's a really interesting question about the influence of the military-industrial complex.
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and my answer i think is yes and no. no because it is always difficult to tease out the influence of something like the military-industrial complex. by its nature it is sort of everywhere and nowhere. it is very difficult to find direct causation between the influences of arms manufacturers or this or that branch of the military on big decisions of national security. so in that sense i am cautious about that. and yet it seems to me a no-brainer that because it is everywhere it must have had some impact. here is one point that i would be confident in offering maybe a little bit of specificity to my answer. it seems to me eisenhower and very arguably john f. kennedy were aware of these dangers. within limits and imperfectly
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tried to resist the pressures that they felt might well push american national security in the wrong direction, lead it to make too hawkish, too aggressive decisions nationally. -- internationally. i think one of the important distinctions between maybe eisenhower and kennedy on one did not havelbj that same instinct. he was not as cautious as the other two about pressure coming on him from the military, from hawks in congress. he tended to go along with them, may be in order to serve other political objectives that lay well outside the national security sphere. i think he was less executed and less savvy about that than his predecessors. if i could addn: if you think about the american , military presence in vietnam and what mcnamara was able to set up, logistical, the success of that, it does blow your mind in terms of, you know, there
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were -- this is the first sort of -- this was a war in which you had stadium-sized factories producing bread, fresh bread for american soldiers. that excess was shown to the south vietnamese population, which did not have access to these luxuries and technology, to the american abundance that was brought to match the american abundance that was in country. the soldiers we needed to show, , americans had to see that the boys were being treated well in vietnam. that they could have ice cream in southgree weather vietnam. this also gets to the amazing caller's comments about the sort of the south vietnamese army. one of the understudied aspects of the vietnam war is precisely the republic of vietnam armed forces. and i think, if we get past the political leadership of the military leadership and the factionalism that did divide the
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leaders, and that is really they , lost the war. and it was not the fault of the rank and file, you know, the average urban soldier. many fought. many fought valiantly. their voices are not heard or seen or being written about in the scholarship because they were on the losing side. this was a very, very tough war that had -- before the americans arrived, the vietnamese were at war. host: here is tom in illinois, welcome. >> yes. my name is tom, and i'm calling because my concern is both professors are talking more on a liberal aim. i served from 1962 to 1965. i was a cb out of california. never served in the vietnam. i served in the philippines. i don't hear anything about the foot soldier, the marines, the
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cb's who fought. they were told to go. they were either drafted or in listed like i did. i'm thinking i'm going monday to listen to captain bill albrecht who had three silver stars, and he had the same concern. we have forgotten about the soldiers, and sailors, and the military book. i know you are talking about johnson, eisenhower, kennedy stuff. what about the people who volunteered, who could not come home and were told to take the uniforms off because they could not walk down the street without being spit upon? i was never spit upon, i don't know what would have done it happen to me, but i think they need to talk about the foot soldiers and the people who had to fight. i'm not hearing that. all i am hearing is about this esoteric conversation of two professors. i'm having a hard time listening to this without getting excited. thank you for the opportunity to share my point. host: thanks for your call, tom. the impact of the war on the soldiers coming home. the impact of the perhaps the protests and what that means to the soldiers who were coming home from this war.
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mark lawrence: well i think the , caller raises a very important point. i'm not sure that an interest in high-level policymaking and decision-making on the vietnamese or american side necessarily implies a particular political orientation towards the war. there are conservative and liberal historians across the political spectrum who are interested in those questions, just as there are people across the political spectrum who are interested in the experiences of ordinary people who fought the war. veryhat is clearly a very, important, crucial element of the history of the war without question. i would never want to be caught saying anything other than that. i think that the experiences of ordinary soldiers who fought the war and did so much of the heavy lifting have been and continue to be captured in various projects across the country to
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collect oral histories, to collect testimony, to collect experiences and reminiscences. this program is a small indication of that broad-based effort, and i applaud that kind of thing. hugely. i would add only one thing i mentioned a little bit earlier. i think american society has done a good job and should be commended for its ability since vietnam to separate the politics and the policymaking surrounding the war from the very honorable experiences of so many people who were called on to do their duty and sacrifice on behalf of -- host: how is the war viewed now annan, inn -- in the terms of, -- in vietnam, in terms of of those who fought and it and the victims of it? what is it like an 2017? lien-hang nguyen: it's a very young population. you have more than half born after 1975. one of the things i constantly hear about is that the vietnamese have forgiven the united states and the americans, and that they have moved on from
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the war. i think that to a certain extent is true, especially if you look at the demographics. because more than half were born after 1975. at the same time it has had major repercussions on the rest of the sort of the evolution of the annan after night -- vietnam after 1975 to the present day. that is a lot to ask of any population, to be able to move on from that war. i think vietnam has sort of -- the u.s. government policies, the war effort, and the individual the average americans , who served. one of these really amazing -- it is great to witness when a n american, when a veteran returns to vietnam and visits the sites of battle and how he or she is able to connect with possibly some of their enemies at the time. there is an outpouring of love. so in that way you see this sort of reconciliation and that is amazing.
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but at the same time so much happened to vietnam after 1975. war in ways in that that vietnam was marginalized in the international community and how it entered into a sort of very dark economic time. that, you know it is something , that vietnam still wonders today. how we are moving out of that -- why are we not at this stage that south korea or thailand is? you always hear that phrase, it is because we fought against united states during the war. host: we want to remind our previous call -- this is 48 hours of coverage this weekend on american history tv of the vietnam war. and a lot of that includes the experiences of veterans of that war. and this program itself focusing on particular in 1967. we do want remind you that we have set aside a line for the veterans of vietnam. 202-748-8902. in the remaining time, we will try to get a few more that as
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well -- vets as well. let's hear next from john in tucson. go ahead. >> hello. how are you? host: fine, thanks. >> i enlisted in the army in 1965. thereafter i went to officer candidate school in fort benning, georgia. and subsequently ended up being transferred or assigned to vietnam. when i got to vietnam, i was assigned to the first air cavalry division, one of the finer units. not being prejudiced but i am. i started with 9k, then i was with a group and we got transferred up near the other province and that was their case on. caisson.akes on -- i was there for the tet offensive. i'm calling because i recently watched the ken burns special.
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and i was taken by the good coverage that ken burns special was. in the special there were two events that really caught my attention. one of them was the clip you showed their earlier -- there earlier about lbj in 1964, the recording where he commented he was just bothered by the whole situation, and he was concerned it was going to be another korea. i think to myself if he only had enough you know what, gumption to have stopped the whole thing right there, and he missed it. the other thing in the ken burns special that i was struck by, and i don't think anybody knew or realized during the whole event was the determination of the north vietnamese people and their army.
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if i remember correctly, ken burns suggested as many as 2 million people from north vietnamese were casualties. and they kept coming and coming down the ho chi minh trail, and they were determined. and i don't think if we had realized the level of their determination that we could never win the war. host: thank you, john, for your call and for your service. mark lawrence. mark lawrence: there is a lot in that, in that caller's comments. i will address the point that was made about the conversation between lbj and monday we heard earlier in the comment that if only these opportunities have been seized, only lbj have the -- had had the guts to seize it
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the opportunity that was there. this is a fascinating question. reasonable people can certainly does agree. did lbj have actual alternatives in 1964 and 1965? yes, we can all from the standpoint of 2017 imagine what he should have done. he should have neutralized vietnam, ie come up with some sort of scheme to reach a fig leaf political settlement that would have kept vietnam as a whole out of the communist orbit for some time. it is an idea that many people were advocating in 1964 and 1965. maybe, we now know lbj was exposed to the ideas, he knew where they were coming from, he knew who was in favor of them. but i think in order to put ourselves back in lbj's shoes we , have to recognize the extraordinary weight of the pressures he was under. what was pushing him forward,
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the domino idea the theory of , containment, the political pressures that had operated. all of these were 20 years in the making and all pushed in the same direction towards escalation, towards doing more in vietnam. and the pattern american presidents had followed starting arguably with fdr and truman is do enough to prevent vietnam from falling into the communist camp. lbj happened to be the poor guy who was in the white house when nothing short of the introduction of american combat troops would be necessary to have that effect. but we can see how those pressures and patterns and precedents blinded -- not blinded him, discouraged him from pursuing the options. host: and perhaps some of that is visualized in this next little short piece of video, we will show you a conversation between george bundy and president johnson in 1964. here is lbj at a news conference in 1967 speaking about the war
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with white house reporters. [video clip] president johnson: we have a lot to do yet. a great many mistakes have been made. backtep forward one and two. it is not all perfect by any means. there are many days where we get a c instead of in a plus. minus overall, we're making progress. our allies are pleased with that progress, and every country i know in that area that is familiar with what is happening, thinks it is absolutely essential that uncle sam keep her word and stay there until we can find an honorable peace. if they have any doubts about it, mr. ho chi minh, who reads our papers and who listens to our radio and looks at our television, if he has any doubts i want to disillusion him this morning. because we keep our commitments. our people are going to support
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the men that are there, and the men there are going to bring us an honorable peace. mr. reynolds? >> mr. president, hanoi may be interpreting up with opinion polls to indicate that you will be replaced next year. how should this affect the campaign in this country? president johnson i don't know : how it will affect the campaign. i expect whatever interpretation hanoi might make that leads them to believe that uncle sam, whoever may be president, is going to pull out, and it will be easier for them to make an inside deal with another president, they will make a serious misjudgment. host: president johnson from 1967. lien-hang we are hearing , honorable progress. our previous caller said the north vietnamese had determination. we are not hearing that from president johnson in 1967. lien-hang nguyen: that is -- that is a great clip to show right after the caller's very interesting comments.
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i think lbj, seeing him there in the press conference, visiting the national archives where i saw the visiting vietnam exhibit, i also saw his letters in response to a mother who just lost her son in the spring summer of 1967. , johnson's response to her, which is why the united states has to stay committed in vietnam and that he is sorry for her loss. and he has scribbled all over this letter. he took so much time and effort into crafting this response to this mother. and it is amazing. it is amazing putting that in contrast to the conversation he had with mac bundy in 1964 and the press conference. what that shows is in addition to all of professor lawrence's, we know what he set forth as the principles that guided american foreign-policy makers at this time, credibility was definitely high up there.
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johnson did not want to be the one to lose the war. he did not want to go down in history as losing vietnam the way truman lost china. so this also weighed heavily on johnson's mind at this point. and in terms of, if we look at north vietnam now, another part of what the caller had mentioned, if you look at infiltration routes and numbers in 1967, they are amazing in terms of anywhere around i think 200,000 north vietnamese soldiers infiltrating the south during that year. and so this was a huge push on the part of the hanoi government and party to win the war outright in 1968. and in that way they did not want to give negotiations a chance. they believed they could topple the government in south vietnam so to defeat the saigon army in -- and defeat the saigon government, this would be the
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way to win, and this would be the sort of -- they would not have to engage in talks with americans because they could say we trounced your ally, now leave. and that did not happen in 1968. so you know this is something we , also have to take into account when we think about if the americans -- the only option to them in certain ways was to cut their losses and run. to think they could come to any sort of compromised political settlement with the north vietnamese in 1967, early 1968 was just not in the cards. host: what also did not happen in lbj did not run for 1968, president. how much was the war a part of that decision, mark lawrence? mark lawrence: that is an excellent question. it seems to me the conventional wisdom used to be that it was all about the war. i think we now have a fair amount of evidence that lbj had concerns about his health he shared with close confidants and his family, especially his wife, that he was thinking about not running. for many of the people who knew lbj best, it was about the war
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but it was also about other things. we need to have more complicated view of that decision. that needs to be the case. host: leonid in brooklyn. you are on the air. go ahead. >> thank you. i have two questions. is there anyis, dogfights between the soviet aviators posing as vietnamese and the american aviators? i will tally what. russia last year made an official admission that there were russian aviators, soviet aviators in korea. and they made a documentary about it which i watched. the soviet pilots were interviewed in this documentary. nothing like that was done in contemporary russia regarding vietnam. it is known, you know, that the russian crews managed some
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antiaircraft missiles batteries in vietnam, but nothing is known about the soviet aviators posing as vietnamese. and the second question is are , they aware of any american flyers shot down over vietnam, if they were sent to the soviet union, and if they were what , happened to these individuals? host: thank you. any idea about that? russia's role if any in military conflicts in vietnam? the war in vietnam? mark lawrence: i don't believe that there is hard evidence of soviet involvement as pilots carrying out as the caller says dogfights over north vietnam. i believe it is speculation along those lines. but i'm not aware of any hard evidence on that. what the caller says about the soviet technicians manning for example antiaircraft batteries, that i think is well-established, and speaks to a larger point about the
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important role played by both china and the soviet union in -- by different degrees at different points in supporting north vietnam. we know for example a total of about 300,000 chinese soldiers, including a maximum of about 360,000 at one time, were present. not fighting for doing behind-the-scenes duties that freed up north vietnamese personnel to go off and fight. host: much the role of u.s. trainers in vietnam. lien-hang nguyen: the chinese were combat engineering troops. they were building the bridges once they were bombed, paving roads. there were, you know, the numbers of soviet advisers, much 300,000, 320,000, but still sizable. they were precisely there to help the vietnamese air force. one of the one of the things you , see in the historical records was how much moscow and beijing
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were squabbling and fighting about you know sort of -- the chinese would always say to the north vietnamese do not trust the soviets. do not let these advisers into your country because eventually moscow will betray you like they betrayed us. at the same time the soviets would say to the chinese -- or to the vietnamese as the chinese cultural revolution was raging, look at what china is doing to your war effort. we cannot get aid to you because the chinese are engaging -- they have the cultural revolution going on. they care more about things in china than your war effort. and so both sides basically they , were fighting the vietnam war in order to show that they were the leader of the international proletariat movement, to show that either it was mao's military doctrine would defeat the u.s. or the soviet conventional weaponry. they both had a high stake in the vietnam war. but not about sort of helping
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the vietnamese communist revolution. host: you have a minute left area let's hear from oxnard, california. this is richard. welcome. >> hi, good morning. i found this interesting because this whole area of the city's, -- this whole area these are , areas i served in. i was in vietnam in 1968 to early 1970. one of the quick things that really bothers me, i was in a force recon unit in the marine corps. we did a lot of missions out of contien up in the dmz, in that area. mainly concentrated on routes. we used to put in sensors and things like this so we can track movement. but it seemed like a lot of things we found in these areas, that it the information we got , brought back in our debriefings, they were just
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ignored. also in a bookn my company commander, colonel alex lead, put out. you know i often wondered about , that. why that information was never looked at or considered. host: thanks, richard, for also moving us a bit into 1968. professor nguyeh, you are -- nguyen, you are working on a history of the tet offensive in 1968. tell us of things ramp up in the war in that year. lien-hang nguyen: this ties back to one of the earlier questions about lbj in the video clip we saw what he was doing in november of 1967. he was resolute he wanted the united states to stay and see an andrable and to the via -- to the vietnam war. this squares very much with what he told william westmoreland, to caisson, hold caisson when
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the north vietnamese had fained this would be the strategic battle that would bring them to victory. especially if negotiations would occur and there would be talks. thosehey seized caisson, talks would open, and the north vietnamese would be in a militarily stronger position, to seek their position at whatever wherever the , negotiations were to take place. so he told all of his military commanders, johnson did not lose caisson. even as the tet offensive was unfolding in the cities and towns across south vietnam, that was actually those were the , main targets of what became known as the 1968 tet offensive. and not seizing caisson. host: mark lawrence, bring a stateside, 1968. politically we talked about lbj not running for president. what does it look like as far as how the war is perceived? mark lawrence: sure. actually if you don't mind i might start by answering your question back in 1967 with that clip.
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so in late 1967 the johnson administration very deliberately sets out to change public perceptions of the war. there is a big public relations campaign to reverse some of the declining support, some of the growing criticism of the war. lbj brings general westmoreland back from vietnam. westmoreland makes a series of high-profile speeches. lbj gives a number of public appearances, including that press conference. where they, and they are all on the same page expressing confidence of trying to bolster american dedication to the war. along at the end of january 1968 comes the tet offensive, this massive communist attack focused on the cities of south vietnam. for lots of americans back on the home front, this was a very jarring thing. they had just been told things were going well. that in westmoreland's words, the end is starting to come into view in vietnam. suddenly the communist display this remarkable ability to use force in unprecedented ways all
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over the south. so a lot of americans were asking what is going on? that behind the scenes, lbj and many of his advisers had deep doubts about going on. what was going on. that was not with a were putting up publicly. why did americans' opinions continue to sour so genetically in 1968? some of this has to do with the fight expectation of what should have been happening in 1968. if west moreland and lbj were correct. host: mark lawrence is university professor at austin, ,nd lien-hang when, -- nguyen thank you for being with us today. thank you for being with us on this discussion of the vietnam war in 1967, part of our weekend long look at the vietnam war. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017]
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announcer 1: all weekend, "american history tv" is looking back at the vietnam war. now the ceremony from washington dc. speakers include the designer of the wall maya lin and former defense secretary and vietnam veteran chuck hagel.


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