tv Lectures in History The Vietnam War 1965-75 CSPAN August 23, 2018 9:35am-10:55am EDT
quote, he had no alternative than feeding more and more draftees into the vietnam meat grinder, end quote. that's your final thought to sort of ponder. what's this say about presidential leadership? what does this tell us about the turmoil of america and the role the central role of vietnam. thank you. you have been watching lectures in history, a weekly series on american history tv saturday night at 8:00 and midnight eastern here on c-span 3. you can also find the lectures on c-span.org's video library and they are available as a podcast. lectures in history on the vietnam war will continue in a moment with a course on u.s. policy in vietnam between 1965 and 1975. that's followed by a class on the operation rolling thunder
air campaign in the vietnam war. these are from our lectures innist had ri series normally seen only on the weekends here on c-span 3. we're expanding our coverage this month while the u.s. house is on break. if you miss any of this week's american history tv programs you can find them anytime online in the c-span video library at c-span.org. american history tv weekdays will continue until labor day. on friday the fight for civil rights in the u.s. from the zoot suit riots to the women's movement. we're spending next week on the presidency. monday we take you to visit museums on george washington, harry truman and gerald ford. tuesday a former white house chef and a look at designers and stonemasons who worked on the white house. and then wednesday how presidents have dealt with the media and press coverage. >> saturday at 11:00 a.m. eastern on c-span, live coverage of the democratic national committee's summer meeting in chicago to decide on changes to
the party's presidential nominating process, including the role of super delegates. watch live saturday at 11:00 a.m. eastern on c-span, c-span.org or listen on the free c-span radio app. >> and we have more now from our lectures in history series. san diego state university processor pierre asselin teaches a class on the vietnam war looking at the conflict from u.s. escalation in 1965 to the fall of saigon in 1975. he argues that the united states was in vietnam to prove the viability of capitalism and the american system of government. his class is about an hour 15 minutes. >> so we talked about the kind of -- the lead up to the american intervention in vietnam on tuesday, we're going to look at the war today.
before we kind of jump into the actual war period, any questions concerning the stuff we covered on tuesday? no? everything -- i am that good, aren't i? so i want you guys to pay especially good attention today because as it turns out this is the only thing i'm actually qualified to teach. i didn't know there was a war in korea until i read the textbooks with you guys, but the vietnam war, that's kind of my thing and so i've tried to present relatively kind of concise history of the war and hopefully it makes some sense to you. so on tuesday we're talking about how starting in 1964 as a result of developments in hanoi north vietnam under its new leader starts to escalate the
insurgency in southern vietnam, and it escalates to a point where by late '64 we effectively have a state of war in southern vietnam. we have -- we have big war, as i mentioned, in southern vietnam. and then at that point the position of the americans is what do we do about what's going on? do we just effectively allow the south to fall or do we do more than merely send advisers to preclude a collapse of this pro american anti-communist regime in saigon? and so ultimately in response to the escalation, in response to this existence of a state of war in southern vietnam, lyndon johnson decides to deploy combat troops, it begins with 3,000
marines and it keeps going up from there. he deploys these combat troops to southern vietnam and at the same time he initiates a sustained bombing campaign against the north. the idea being that the north needs to be punished for all the troubles in the south. as far as johnson and his advisers are concerned, whatever difficulties the americans are facing in the south are all the result of this collusion by hanoi, of this involvement by hanoi. as we established on tuesday as it turns out, right, the insurgency in southern vietnam was actually begun by southerners against the wishes of hanoi. so johnson's approach is to fight the insurgence in the south with american military personnel and then to bomb the north for its support of this
state of war in southern vietnam. that's significant because for the people of northern vietnam this is all lost on them. as far as they're concerned the americans are bombing us for no reason that we can understand. that's one of the reasons why the bombing would be counterproductive. if anything it inspires northerners to fight more valiantly once they get deployed to the south. they eventually buy into the whole narrative presented to them to the effect that the american war in vietnam is effectively unprovoked american aggression against our poor innocent people. now, always keep this in mind, right? we talked about this on tuesday. as far as johnson and his team are concerned, it's important to do something about vietnam, at a minimum so as to prove that the u.s. is not a, quote/unquote, paper tiger was mao has been
saying about the u.s., and ultimately to demonstrate american resilience in the cold war. you know, if you don't take anything else from today's lecture at least please remember this, right, the vietnam war was never about vietnam for the united states. it's about the larger cold war. it's about the credibility of the presidency, it's about the credibility of the united states, it's about the credibility of the entire american system. right? so people always kind of try to rationalize how vietnam, which had been to inconsequential before, suddenly becomes so important to the united states, right? so was it resources, was it location? it's really the cold war context that accounts for why vietnam becomes so important. it's also that same cold war context that accounts for why johnson even though he really doesn't want war in vietnam ends
up intervening and he is clages and effectively watching that hanoi does. always keep this in mind, yes, vietnam is small and from the perspective of the big powers it's technically inconsequential, but in the context of the cold war just like these other little places it assumes an importance that's tremendous. we talked about cuba earlier, right, tiny little cuba, the world almost ends because of cuba. that's what the cold war does, right? it gives this importance to places which otherwise would be completely inconsequential. we talked about kennedy in laos earlier. it's in this context we need to see vietnam. this is about much more than vietnam itself. if you fail to recognize that nothing about the vietnam war will make sense to you. all right? so always, always keep this in
mind. so that's johnson's rationale for intervening. and then as far as the conduct of the war itself in vietnam is concerned, that's the purview of an american general by the name of westmoreland. william westmoreland. so he is the one tasked with defeating the insurgents, the communist threat in southern vietnam. his entire approach is predicated on this search and destroy tactic and body counts. so basically what westmoreland seeks to do to achieve victory is kill as many enemy troops, viet cong and north vietnamese as he can. so whenever americans go into combat, once combat is over, they have to count how many
vietnamese bodies are left behind and based on the numbers provided, westmoreland measured how successful the u.s. was in the war. beyond all of that in terms of finding the enemies, right, because the vietnamese recognize early on that they are really no match for american forces. so if anything the viet cong and the north vietnamese troops will try to avoid as much as they can actually engaging americans in combat. they will go after troops of the south vietnamese regime feeling pretty confident about their odds against them, but try to avoid major combat with american troops. so that's why westmoreland develops this whole search and destroy thing. effectively americans will be the ones to have to go out in the middle of nowhere to search for enemy troops. find them and then destroy them.
right? so for your typical american soldier in vietnam, the war is -- it's not easy. essentially you're walking around until you make contact, and contact usually means until somebody starts shooting at you. vietnam is very interesting because of that, something like 90% of the cases it's always the other guy's open and fire first and that's ironically enough how westmoreland wants it. american troops have to go out and effectively draw these guys out, make them initiate contact, at which point american troops can fire back and then call for artillery support and air support and destroy communist units that way, right? enemy units that way. but if you are the american soldiers involved in that enterprise or the marines involved in that enterprise, it's not particularly fun.
you're walking around effectively waiting to get shot at. so the last thing you want to be is the first guy walking through the jungle, right, the so-called point man. those are the guys who inevitably get it. so typically, right, whenever blah toons go out and embark on these search and destroy missions we rotate who is on point because you know if it's always you it's a matter of time before you get shot. so that's why, you know, it's a really, really kind of traumatic experience for people your age, right? the average age of the combat soldier in vietnam is 19 years old. they are kids, right? and then you are in vietnam and this is your job, right, to walk around until somebody shoots at you. i will show you some images in a moment. so this is a situation we have by mid, late 1965.
right? so the hard liner is firmly in charge in hanoi, right? then we have a general running things in saigon, right? his picture is on this slide, his the counterpart in the south. and then as before the war began, the north vietnamese are obtaining significant support from the chinese and the soviets. there's countless other countries that offer material, political, moral support, but ultimately what really allows hanoi to wage that war is the material support they get from the chinese and the soviets. and then in saigon we've got the americans obviously, right, who provide significant military and economic assistance, but then unbeknownst to many people there's also other countries
that actually contribute assistance, including troops, to the anti-communist struggle. some of the flags you see here, which you probably can't recognize, but -- so we've got beyond the u.s., what's the white flag with the little circle? south korea. very good. very good. south korea. the one next to it, what's the one next to it? australia and then the one above it. excellent. very, very good. the thais are one of the rare asian countries with a red, white and blue flag. so there will actually be australian troops in vietnam, there will also be thai troops in vietnam, filipinos will be in vietnam, some new zealanders in vietnam and south koreans also fighting in vietnam. i talked to some veterans from the north vietnamese side and they told me that they were absolutely terrified of the south korean troops. they were really, really scared. the south koreans were really, really ferocious troops and
eventually the communist north creates a special unit to deal with the south koreans because they are thought to be to be so intimidating from the perspective of communist forces. also little known fact, 35,000 35,000 canadians would volunteer to serve in vietnam. so canada itself doesn't fight in vietnam. but 35,000 canadians volunteer because they think that's a good fight. which is probably why we lost the vietnam war. we're great fighters. we're great fighters. so here's a 65, right? so marines, initially 3,000 of them landing in, in, in southern vietnam. they're expecting action and what they get is young vietnamese women with leis. you see that in that upper left-hand corner. and then there's the bombing of the north. so spring of '65 the war
effectively becomes americanized through the deployment of this first contingent of u.s. troops in the form of marines. and the beginning of the sustained bombing runs against northern vietnam. >> i got this from the vietnamese archives. the americans bomb and the north vietnamese population will rally, mobilize to defend the homeland what do you guys notice about the picture? who's featured prominently in this picture? kids. and that's, when you try to understand why they win and the u.s. loses, for the vietnamese, for the north vietnamese is a total war situation, right? so americans vietnam is there only if you have to fight vietnam. pretty much everyone else, it's life as it was before. because of the state of war and
the bombing, every man, woman and child effectively starts contributing to the war effort in one way or another. for the veeietnamese. a lot of guys being drafted and sent south to fight. the women are being employed to fill in bomb craters or else, to go to the south, not to fight but to serve as nurses, as medics and so on and so forth. and then kids end up being co-opted, as part of your school curriculum. you study math, history and all that great stuff in the morning and in the afternoon, you put out fires, that's usually more of an impromptu thing, you fill in bomb craters, you contribute to the rebuilding of bridges and so forth. so everyone in the north is effectively mobilized for the purposes of the war effort. which is really kind of helps the cause of this. i got this from the vietnamese
archives. recognize him? john mccain. john mccain. so the archives in vietnam, they have this photo collection. i'm going through stuff and there's a picture of mccain got shot down in '67. his plane crashed in a lake in hanoi, if you go to hanoi, there's a plaque where mccain was captured. it's a big deal for the vietnamese. we captured john mccain and we tortured him but that's not on the plaque. this is mccain moments after he was shot down. i guess one of the first photos that was taken of mccain. i sent that to his office and i got a response back. said by the way, in case you care, here's the picture of the senator after he was captured. this is what the war was like for american marines and soldiers urks just, you're basically just walking around through jungle, right? it's, it's again vietnamese
communist forces know how vulnerable they can be if they're exposed. so they go in the deepest areas of the country, usually mountainous jungle regions and they wait for the americans to come to them. now, something like three million americans serve in vietnam. you often see these guys, veet nam vet license plates. as it turns out, only 20% of american who is served in vietnam were actually in combat. the overwhelming majority of american who is served in vietnam were not in combat. and of the 20% if combat, 10% only ever actually experienced combat. so only a minority of americans who served in vietnam actually did this stuff that you see in these pictures. and you see in movies. and those are the guys who sometimes suffered various, from various ailments. again because the nature of the war was such that it was really hard for a 19-year-old to cope
with. for a lot of americans, the war was actually the best time of their lives, right? if you were 19 years old, stuck in an air-conditioned office in saigon, things could be pretty darn good. and that was the reality for as it turns out most american who is were in vietnam. people always ask, 600,000 americans in vietnam, how could the u.s. have lost? again most of these guys were effectively support personnel. they're not actually ground forces. they're not soldiers, they're not marines who are out there searching for communist forces. so that partially explains why the outcome was not what american policy makers, intended. i told about the the search-and-destroy tactic developed by westmoreland. people start thinking of search and destroy as what?
you search people's homes, and then -- you destroy the homes. exactly. so you know, among the things that end up playing against the american effort, and that account for under the circumstances inpopularity is ironically enough, the very name of the tactic that west moreland used. for many americans search and destroy came to mean american troops going into vietnamese people's homes, searching those homes and then setting them on fire. of course that kind of explains why very quickly, many people turned against the war, right? we don't want our country to be involved in searching people's homes and then just destroying them. as it turns out, search and destroy meant searching for the enemy in the jungle and then destroying the enemy. not going after innocent people's homes. it this is a really interesting
character. some people consider him a hero who given the chance could have won the vietnam war. some people think it was the way civilian policy makers ran the whole thing that accounted for the tragic outcome. others will tell you that the u.s. effectively lost the vietnam war, because of westmoreland. because of the way he chose to deal with the communist presence in southern vietnam. so he's a great guy to some, he's reviled by others. like so many on or abouts when it comes to vietnam, there's no consensus on westmoreland. he was either great or really bad. people are never objective when it comes to vietnam. it's either all good or all bad. when it comes to policies, to policy-makers, or in this particular case.
to the american commander responsible for military affairs. the cover of "life" magazine. so again, i was the war will be extensively covered. by the world media, including the american media and so the war effectively in escapable if you're an american citizen. if it's not on the magazines you're reading, it's on the tv news you're watching. or the radio programs that you're listening to. people still listen to the radio during that, that period. and initially it's fine. it's like okay, these are brave americans and of course they're going to suffer cass ulgts. but as casualties mount and as these images start coming into people's living rooms, night after night, month after month, year after year, people become disillusioned.
relatively speaking, american casualties in vietnam were low, at least if you compare to the casualties suffered by their enemies. but for americans to see american kids, dead, american kids wounded really had an impact. so the american people generally will kind of accept the cost of the war through '65, '66, '67. starting in '68 we start witting a much more vocal movement opposing, opposing the war in vietnam. which were relatively well received initially, which in time start affecting the american position vis-a-vis the war in vietnam. these are kind of the big three on the american side right. you recognize johnson in the middle. flanked on his left by mcnamara, as secretary of defense.
and on his right, dean rusk is secretary of state, right? so those are kind of the architects of the war in vietnam. those are the individuals who will effectively be blamed we should say for, for, for getting the u.s. involved in the vietnam war. as we talked about on tuesday,is unfair to pin all of this on johnson. his predecessors, kennedy, eisenhower, before, before him, really made consequential decisions which i would argue made it almost impossible for johnson to just avoid an increased american commitment in vietnam. so technically american combat troops enter vietnam under johnson's watch. but in a way that's the logical culmination to a process set in motion in started in '48, '69,
'50, when the u.s. starts helping the french fighting their he own war against ho chi minh and his armies during the so-called first indochina war. and speaking of the motivations, right? this whole domino theory. this whole issue of credibility. the whole idea that if we don't hold the fort in vietnam, then laos will fall, cambodia will fall and we'll have this kind of domino effect. there's all of these great quotes about what would happen if we didn't do anything about vietnam. my favorite, having lived in hawaii for a long time was that johnson at one point saying if we don't stop them in vietnam, we'll be fighting them on the beaches of waikiki. right right? that's what the thinking was. from the evidence, it really seems to be legitimate. they truly genuinely believe that at least for a period.
that unless they acted in vietnam, unless they did something about vietnam, long-term, the u.s. would face a much bigger threat by, from the communist bloc. so again, right, it's not vietnam itself informing american decision-making. it's a whole cold war context. this is an interesting chart. so u.s. troop strength in vietnam. you see under johnson, it's a gradual process of escalation. so it peaks in '68, we have close to 600,000 soldiers and marines in vietnam. and then nixon becomes president, promises peace with honor and then the number starts to decline. it's a gradual econgratulation, whi -- escalation. some people have used to explain why the u.s. lost.
by being so gradual, johnson effectively gave the other chance, the other side a chance to adapt. right? the idea being if johnson had gone all out from the beginning, the u.s. could have won. but by effecting a gradual escalation, johnson basically allowed his enemies to adjust to circumstances, and eventually to prevail. sv gets blamed for the outcome in vietnam and as i've argued no one really looks at what the other side did right. which is really unfortunate. and to me is how you can understand the outcome of the vietnam war. we'll touch upon that a bit next, actually. any questions at this point? cole? >> so in '65, they're already
enacting this seek-and-destroy strategy to try to win the war. but no war that springs to my mind had been fought this way. there were no objectives, there were no changing of lines between the americans and the enemy. what did they picture as victory? how was that going to end, with this is the strategy? >> so the idea was that you would get to a point where you would be killing so many enemy troops, that they wouldn't have enough new people to fill the ranks of these depleted unions. you would reach this like the threshold of pain or something like that, right? where so if i killed two people, they would just bring in two more. but if i kill ten, they'll only be able to bring eight mother and then after a while they'll have to surrender. that's the rationale. that's the approach. we called this kind of a war of attrition. westmoreland and other people around them thought that was a
sensible strategy. as it turned out, hanoi and the vietcong managed to constantly bring more than enough people to fill the ranks of depleted units. if in some instances the units were hurting, they just changed the way they would deal with the american presence in vietnam. they might fight less and do more diplomatically on the international level. >> the connection between westmoreland's affinity for the kill counts and robert mcnamara, he's always obsessed with numbers. is there a big connection with that? >> yeah, that's one of the ways, that's one of the reasons that westmoreland gets the job, right? he's a numbers guy, mcnamara is a numbers guy. the whole body count then -- we feed the body count and mcnamara in d.c. can look at all of this and look at the numbers from that side and that side and then the american numbers and then he
can reach like a magic formula, at one point where you'll be able to declare, victory. and that's also by the way the problem with body counts. if you're an american combat unit, you get steak one night, if you have a good body count. right? so maybe you'll be tempted to inflate the body count. or else, if you happen to have killed accidentally someone who was a civilian, to avoid the repercussions, you might say well that was actually an enemy combatant. that's the problem with all of this right? when you rely on numbers, they can be easily manipulated for whatever reasons and give you a completely distorted picture of what's actually going on. jake? the world war i's war of attrition, then? >> as cole was mentioning, there's no front, there's no,
you just kill. and then you kill, it's not about territory, you just kill people and you go wherever you stand to kill more people, right? so that's basically. yes, it's a war of attrition and the way that you're, you just look at numbers, right? which is, there is that parallel to world war i. now let's look at what hanoi is doing, right? effectively the war in southern vietnam becomes at least partially americanized. starting in, in 165. and upon seeing this, leis one decides to respond in kind. as the americans bring in more troops and more supplies, into, into the south, leis one will increase the number of people from the north being deployed to fight in, in the south.
so it's this response in kind. it's a matching of resources. both human and material. the north vietnamese strategy -- u.s. diplomatic history. but it's important to understand, what the other guys were thinking to make sense of the outcome. that leis one thinking is clever under the circumstances, these guys are very much aware of their own limitations. they're very much aware about powerful the u.s. and its allies are. their whole strategy is with respect to the u.s., isolate the united states. militarily in the south, try to draw them in the most remote areas, try to isolate their units. try to minimize their ability, reduce their ability to bring the full bear of the american military might to bear on
communist forces, right? you kind of isolate american forces that way. and diplomatically, internationally same thing. try to make the americans look like criminals in vietnam. try to get the world to turn on the u.s., so the u.s. ends up with no friends, in the world. no one willing to support its military enterprise in vietnam. so with respect to the u.s., it's all about isolating the americans, militarily and diplomatically. with respect to the regime in saigon and its armed forces, the strategy is to crush the army. that's the army that communist forces really want to defeat. they know they're no match at the americans. they do stand a chance against the army of the rival regime, in
saigon. that's their main target. the bulk of their military operations, will be directed at other vietnamese units fighting for the regime in saigon. so as they try to crush those units, they similarly internationally diplomatically do what they can to discredit the regime in saigon. keep calling it the puppet of the americanings, a lackey of the americans with no legitimacy whatsoever. and it partially works. and then this is key to everything. they do their best to take advantage of the sino-soviet dispute if you want to make sense of the cold war, if you want to make sense of your own lives also, i would argue, understand the sino-soviet dispute. it's so darn important.
and what hanoi decides to do, is basically play the chinese against the soviets, right? so hanoi kind of puts itself in the middle of this metaphorical love triangle, right? and plays games with both and will go to the chinese and ask for this much in terms of military equipment and get it and go to the soviets, and tell the soviets, the chinese gave us this much. you should be matching or surpassing and back and forth. and sure enough through this manipulation of the dispute between beijing and moscow hanoi gets maximal support from its allies. that support is invaluable to allow hanoi to stay in the fight and ultimately to prevail. there's no question that the vietnamese who fought the americans and their allies were very courageous people. but none of the victories, they
secure, would have been possible without the guns, the hardware provided by the soviet union and china. that's key to all this. lezuan knows this. he's constantly engaging the soviets and the chinese to get assistance from them. >> here's an image of north vietnamese forces in combat. a lot of the vietcong soldiers were peasants with guns. as far as the north vietnamese soldiers were concerned, those guys were as well equipped, as disciplined, as professional as any other soldiers in any or regular army, including the u.s. armed forces. i would argue that you get to a point where north vietnamese troops are more disciplined than
american troops. americans have always had been good at maintaining discipline within their armed forces. we're talking about a north vietnamese army that's as professional as any in the world. they were peasants who fought the u.s. and technically a lot of the north vietnamese soldiers were from peasant families. by the time those guys entered the south they had been really well trained, given good guns and they knew what they were doing as much as the americans themselves. knew what they were doing. you might have heard of the ho chi minh trail, right? this is a network of roads running through neighboring laos and cambodia that was used by north vietnam to bring troops and supplies into the south. and talk about duplicity, right? le zuan and hanoi are using laos
and cambodia. because technically those are neutral states and the u.s. is not supposed to be doing anything in those countries. so the u.s. would eventually start bombing the ho chi minh trail. but be condemned to violate the sovereignty of neutral states. both cambodia and laos allow north vietnam to use their territory for the sake of infiltrating troops and supplies into the south. so you've got images, like trucks, carrying supplies. and then troops slow by walking down the ho chi minh trail. typically it takes two months to go from the north to the south. depending on how intense the u.s. bombing is, it could take longer. the guys here last semester, one of the individuals had traveled down the ho chi minh trail at a very, very high point in the war, it took him six months to
go from the north to the south. six months. because the bombing was so intense they had to zig-zag their way through laos and cambodia. and even at times go into vietnam. it was safer in vietnam than it was in "neutral" cambodia. when you fight the americans, and their allies you have to be resourceful and sure enough, america's enemies proved incredibly resourceful. another reason why they prevailed in the end. they start digging tunnels, these really complex tunnel systems, sometimes right under american and allied bases. if you ever go to vietnam, one of the more popular tourist attractions outside saigon is called ko chi. the photo, the color photo, the bottom right is from koo chi. it's a guy popping out of a hole in the ground. build these really narrow
tunnels. to kind of pop up whenever they needed to shoot and then hide whenever the americans would start shooting back. so that's one of the reasons why the war was so frost rating for american troops. you would get shot at and when it's time to shoot back, there's nothing or no one to shoot at. they're veritable underground cities. so you got places to eat, places to sleep. places to -- do whatever human beings do on a regular basis. places where you can look after the wounded. where you can look after the store of the dead. eventually americans realize we have to do something about this and they develop special units and individuals, to go into those tunnels, they call them tunnel rats. if you were short, that quite possibly would become your
assignment. a lot of shorter guys tried as much as they could to avoid serving in the army or the marines, because well, you're short, you're perfect for that job. as you can imagine it's an absolutely terrifying thing to go into those tunnels. and the way they were built was just so that the vietnamese person would go through, but a lot of people couldn't. the average vietnamese is relatively small compared to americans so navigating from these tunnels, if you go to coo chi, you can experience it's big enough that i could go in and i'm fine. you can try the real thing which i got stuck, and then i freaked out. you can, you can actually try. it's, it's if you're claust r
rohphobic, you'll die before you get to the other end. claustrophobic. that was the highlight mif trip. that was fun. there's the guy, there's le zuan. it's always ho chi minh this, ho chi minh that. as i explained to you on tuesday, after '64, after '63, le zuan was in charge. hee he is with the troops. he's not as charismatic as ho chi minh. he keeps ho chi minh around, because he's like the kind face of the communist effort. but he does get out there once in a while. there's le zuan toasting with mao. and there's le zuan with mao and other high-ranking people from china. the chinese would again provide
the bulk of the small arms used by communist forces to go after american troops in southern vietnam. the bottom two photos i got from the american archives. the rectangular one with all the guys, le zuan and mao are holding hands. it's -- hey, it's happened like whenever people get friendly in parts of asia, it's never a boy holding hands with girls, unless you're -- but guy-guy if you're good friends, you hold hands. that's the whole idea is to show the solidarity between the vietnamese and the chinese. they were as close as lips to teeth, that's the big thing they would always say, as lips to teeth. by mote accounts and i kind of agree, the turning point of the vietnam war is the 1968 tet
offensive. for reasons we touched upon earlier, hanoi matching the americans, man for man and gun for gun, by late '67, early '68, the war is basically at an impasse. there's no progress. no one can claim that they're close to victory. and le zuan is not the most patient guy and he is losing patience. so to break the stalemate, he decides to order this huge coordinated offensive against of all places, towns and cities across south vietnam. right? up to this point communist forces, have operated primarily primarily in remote jungle rural areas. cities have been spared the
horrors of war. le zuan figures that by now the americans probably don't expect attacks on cities, so he orders an attack on pretty much every major town and city in southern vietnam. is he decides to enhance the element of surprise, he decides to order the launching of the attack for tet, which is the lunar, the coming of the lunar new year for the vietnamese or the chinese, for east asians. traditionally at that time in vietnam there had been no fighting and it wasn't, it wasn't official, but it was informally a truce observed. there was no fighting around tet. and tet is basically, it's christmas, new year, easter, take all the american holidays together. is that doesn't come close to what tet represents to the vietnamese. people take off for weeks and they go to, visit families, it's
huge. and so le zuan figures that the americans will never expect it. the south vietnamese rivals will never expect it and when we strike, south vietnamese army units will be completely depleted. because at tet people go back to their relatives in the countryside. and the calculation was reasonable. le zuan thinks that once the attack is launched and with the inevitable success that communist forces will enjoy, people will recognize that the americans will be defeated. saigon will collapse and they will rise, there will be this massive upheaval in the south that would eventually convince the americans that there's no point staying here, because nobody wants us in vietnam. and all of these counts le zuan miscalculated. there was no mass upheaval and despite some very quick and initial successes, eventually the americans and the south
vietnamese counterattack and the whole campaign ends up a disaster. militarily, the tet offensive is an abject disaster for le zuan. something like 40,000 troops, north vietnamese and vietcong are killed. the whole war, the u.s. loses 15,000 soldiers and marines in one campaign. hanoi loses 40,000 north vietnamese and vietcong soldiers that's killed. tens of thousands more are wounded. so total military disaster. by then, to le zuan's great surprise, psychologically, it's a huge victory over the united states. because the way the american people will respond to the tet offensive, this dramatic military defeat becomes a critical victory for hanoi.
what's interesting is that le zuan never thought that would happen. it simply an accident that americans responded the way they did. and they responded the way they did mostly because of certain images i'll share with you in a moment. so america gets hit really hard psychologically. that's not lost on johnson. within a few weeks after the tet offensive, johnson goes on tv and tells the american people that from now on the u.s. will commit itself to resolving the war diplomatically and also johnson announces that he won't be running for a second term as president. that rarely if ever happens. so, so -- from what we understand now, johnson wasn't going to run anyway. even before tet had made up his mind. whatever the reality is, for most americans johnson's decision to not run for a second term was interpreted as an
admission of defeat in vietnam. and that kind of amplifies the effects of the tet offensive. this idea that the president has been defeated by tet, which can only mean that the country will be defeated by tet. and by the vietnamese communist opposition. sure enough, because of tet and its different ramifications, the anti-war movement in the u.s. and internationally is dramatically energized. dramatically emboldened. just as le zuan wanted, the united states government finds itself increasingly isolated. isolated not just from the international community, but even from its own people. more and more americans will turn against the war. in the aftermath of tet. it's not a majority of americans, but it's still a number, significant enough to create major headaches for the
policy-making elite in washington. within a year or so after tet, major revelation of a massacre conducted by american troops against vietnamese civilians, which kind of further undercuts the american position in vietnam and internationally. i'll show you pictures in a moment. but there was this an american unit massacred a bunch of innocent civilians in '68. in '69 photos are released that the news of the massacre, gets publicized and that, that just -- contributes to growing the anti-war movement. and turning more people against the war. essentially things going g from bad to worse. for the americans, for american
policy makers in the '68-'69 period. here's a map showing some of the cities that were hit in what that communist offensive. so pretty much ever major town in the city in the south, here's a photo of vietcong. remember the flag, right? the veet come troops going into action in tet. what do you guys notice about the person holding the rpg? it's a wok, it's a wok. americans always think that all of these women were fighting for the vietcong. that's staged. women rarely if ever actually fought in the war. they served and some of them were soldiers, some of them were snipers and some of them did die in combat. but it was rare for women to be involved in, in regular combat activities.
usually when women are involved it's as nurses, as medics, as intelligence personnel. but hanoi always tried to put women in its photos because it looked good. beyond that, it's reflected innocence, right? women invariably are innocent. it added to the nobility of what the vietnamese were trying to do. we're just trying to lib ing ti ourselves, our women just want froed om but these bad, evil americans are precluding all of this. you always see females in these images. when americans get shot down over north vietnam. it's always somehow a female that captures them. it is all staged photos. it makes you look favorably upon the vietnamese. it's always young females and it's all calculated, part of this effort to enhance, improve the image of their effort.
while at the same time discrediting the americans and bringing about their isolation. these are some of the more iconic images of the tet offensive. the american embassy in the righthand corner. the vietnamese try to get through the embassy. the idea that the embassy was attacked, what's an embassy? it's sovereign territory. and embassy is sovereign territory and it comes under attack during the tet offensive. so 1 vietcong go in. they get killed very quickly. but and this is really -- symbolic of the whole thing. so technically they make it to the embassy, but then they all die. that's how the whole tet offensive played out. psychologically, we've been in vietnam for three years, even our embassy isn't safe. how can we even hope to pacify the rest of the country when we can't even our embassy, which is
sovereign american territory, safe. that's one of the elements that really kind of young mines american morale. and then the house-to-house fighting, street fighting, bodies of civilians, drenched in blood and this very, very famous photo of marines coming back from action in northern and south vietnam. you've seen this, right? this happened in the context of the tet offensive this is one of the most iconic images of the war. right? so guy looks like a civilian. hands tied behind his back, executed by it turns out the saigon chief of police. so americans are looking at this, like what kind of allies are we working with? what kind of monster are these guys, right? the guy, sure he looks like a civilian who is shot point-blank in the head. so there's a whole story, so the guy was actually vietcong and had done some really bad things and it was kind of a
spur-of-the-moment thing and it's a very chaotic time. so the chief of police just shoots the guy. but it's interpreted in the united states as -- as, as well, our own allies are cold-blooded murderers, right? as it turns out the photographer who took the picture would write to the chief of police and apologize for taking that picture. which was, from the photographer's own perspective, eventually taken out of context by many americans. not to excuse again the kind of random use of violence. but the image really went along with helping the communist cause in vietnam. in the country. you know johnson, right, presumably so i think it was his son-in-law, was, was in vietnam during the tet offensive and apparently he's listening to a recording of his son-in-law and
he broke down when the picture was taken. and of course started circulating. and it doesn't look good, right? it's like a president that's been kind of broken by vietnam. johnson never wanted vietnam. johnson wanted the great society he was going to be a domestic savior. and instead he had to deal with that bitch of the war. this great lady, the great society, changing america. but he had to give it all up for what he called that bitch of a war. that dejected johnson who just decided to call the whole thing quits in march of '68. that's my lai, the mas kerr. massacre. there's an army photographer there and he's got two cameras on him. a u.s. military-issued camera and he's got his own camera. the u.s. military-issued, he took a bunch of pictures with it. that went to the military after
which tried to bury the whole thing. he had his own camera with him and then he took that home and did a slide show for his friends. and he goes, this is the stuff i saw in vietnam and his friends freaked out when they saw this and it eventually was reported. that's the newspaper that's first broke the story in november '69. it kind of validated the worst assumptions of what americans were doing in vietnam. most american soldiers in the region in vietnam behaved well. but my lai will suggest to every soldier. every marine is a baby killer. and it it really, really hurts the american cause in vietnam. any questions to this point? when you see how the u.s. and the south vietnamese were psychologically affected. how were the north vietnamese
affected because of the tet offensive, were they in shock or more supportive of it? >> that's a great question, carlos. the north is a communist dictatorship. how do they treat information? secret? they control everything. they control everything. so as far as the people in the north are concerned, when they read newspapers, we just scored a huge victory. we lost three soldiers. we killed 40,000 americans. they're always inflating the numbers. they're never reporting their own casualties. whenever they report somebody died, it's usually to say well, he died killing 20 americans, and protecting with his body 50 of his comrades. people in the north because all the information is controlled by hanoi, never get a clear sense of exactly what's happening in the south. it's only when the war is over, that the government will notify
people, oh, by the way your son died in vietnam four years ago. this is, get this, right? so you know, if your son gets drafted, gets sent to vietnam, you know in north vietnam, if your son gets drafted, he gets trained. if he goes to the south, he can't tell you he's going to the south. sons could only tell their parents they're going on a special mission. somewhere and the idea is to make your parents think you're going overseas this way they don't worry about you. if they know you're going down south, chances are you're not coming back. which most people didn't. you weren't even allowed to say if you're a northern soldier, you couldn't tell your family, you were going to fight in the south. so americans, what do they do in their spare time? they write letters home, right? no mail system. you're not allowed to report on what's happening. it might go against what the propaganda is spewing, right?
so as far as le zuan in hanoi is concerned, this is a disaster is on him. because he controls the newspapers, the radio, all people here is that there were lots of explosions in the south and we're doing awesome, we kill all these americans, we kill all of these puppet troops and we've only lost a handful of individuals. that's one of the reasons why they always stay in the fight. these guys that, that the northerners specifically never give up. they think as long as the war is, they're not losing that many people. only when it's all over in '75 do families get notified. by the way, your father died seven years ago. your son died three years ago. that's ohm when people get to appreciate the real cost of the war. that's another reason why i would argue, le zuan wins in the end. this manipulation of information, which americans couldn't do, right? you got reporters all over the place, every time somebody gets
hurt, that gets reported. in this particular case, nothing ever gets reported. and what people read in the newspapers and hear on the radio, it's all good news, the war is going awesome. even though it's not. does that make sense? '68 november, nixon elected president, takes over in '6 and nixon's whole thing -- peace with honor, right? nixon becomes president on this platform of peace with honor. and whatever his flaws, nixon proved a good match tore le zuan. nixon did have a plan, did have a strategy and it bore fruit. so among the things he does, number one, nixon decides to vietnamize the war. meaning what? exactly. so -- reduce the number of
american troops. and place more of the burden of fighting on the south vietnamese themselves. so essentially under nixon american troops gradually withdraw from vietnam and at the same time, the size of the south vietnamese army is expanded. vietnamization. from '65, the war is americanized, starting in '69, it's deamericanized, and increasingly vietnamized. as this goes on, nixon enters into secret talks with his enemies in hanoi. they are secret talks new york city one is aware of their existence. only nixon is national security adviser henry kissinger and kissinger's most trusted advisers. get this, nixon's own secretary of state and his secretary of defense don't know about these secret talks. imagine that -- the secretary of state, the guy in charge of diplomacy, your own president doesn't tell you we are actually
talking to the north vietnamese. really, really interesting stuff. jesse? >> the reason why he didn't tell the secretary of state, especially him? >> nixon doesn't trust anyone. and he feels that, that this is too sensitive an issue so that only the people he trusts most will be apprised of what's going on. nixon secrecy was the key to reresolving all of this if we're going to solve it diplomatically, as he's undertaking the secret diplomacynd vietnamization, nixon also very boldly decides to go after communist sanctuaries and supply lines in laos and cambodia.
1970, the u.s. and the south vietnamese army invade cambodia. a year later the south vietnamese army with american air support invades laos. for nixon it makes sense, i'm going to go after the supply lines that feed the communist war effort in the south. the thing is, nixon is supposed to be deescalating the war and now he's invading two other countries. that didn't sit well with a number of people in the u.s. nixon decides to engage aggressively moscow and beijing. nixon recognizes that they're giving hanoi the guns, allowing it to wage the war. as he's going after the supply lines, nixon also goes to the soviets, to the chinese asking for their help and ending the war. and it will bear some dividends. and as he's doing all of this,
he bombs on a scale that johnson never did. and when johnson announced that he wasn't going to run for a second term, he also curtailed the bombing of north vietnam. and in '68 just before the election, he suspended all bombing of north vietnam. life in northern vietnam goes back to normal. '69, '70, '71 people are happy. '72 nixen needs to end the war, he's talking to the chinese, he's talking the soviets and he starts bmo bombing the heck out of north vietnam. so diplomatic pressure, political pressure, military pressure. many of these initiatives are very unpopular, they're extremely unpopular. but, i would argue they worked. in 1973, nixon will get a peace deal from the north vietnamese,
something le zuan had never wanted to give the americans. le zuan never wanted any negotiated deal with the americans. he wanted to beat the americans militarily. but because of the pressure, put upon him, his regime and the whole communist war effort generally by nixon, he has to concede and give nixen this paris agreement of early '73 providing for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of all u.s. forces, and the return of all p.o.w.s, including john mccain. jeremy? >> what kind of pressure was being put on le zuan? because in north vietnam they were controlling all the information so they weren't
having all the, the press that was, the president was getting in the united states so what kind of opposition was he running into? >> almost none. and whoever opposes the war, there's a secret police going around in north vietnam throwing people in jail and intimidating people. as far as the chinese and the soviets? nixon wants them to tell le zuan to ease off. but again, because of the sino-soviet split, moscow feels if i put too much pressure on le zuan, they'll just turn to the chinese and vice-versa. so nothing much comes out of it except psychologically. when the north vietnamese see nixon being invited to china, being invited to moscow, they get nervous. they start thinking what if moscow or beijing decide to cut off assistance? so psychologically, it has a big
impact. it has a really big impact, on how le zuan and the whole leadership will look. it's like the sign, this agreement. they start questioning the the integrity of their own allies. basically. nixon plants that doubt in their minds. they never actually curtail their aid. they increase it when nixon visiting their country. they give north vietnam more aid. but that still makes le zuan and the hanoi leaders very nervous. so here's a chart. u.s. troop strength in vietnam under nixon gradual decline. nixon wants peace with honor, he doesn't want to just leave. he knows for credibility reasons nixon knows he's not going to win the war. but he has to do something so that it doesn't look like the americans surrendered. he knows he's going to lose vietnam, he can live with that. what he cannot afford to lose is the cold war.
the u.s. is together vietnam in a dignified manner. and that's why it takes four years. nixon's strategy with respect to getting out of vietnam is the same one that charles de gaulle used to get out of algeria. nixon basically copies de galle. who took four years to get france out of algeria. these are the secret talks. so this is, that upper left-hand corner picture, kissinger and his counterpart. le duc tho, this is le zuan's number one guy. the only one that le zuan trusts, just like kissinger is the only one nixon trusts, they're the ones talking secretly. so there's three pictures of them. and then there's a picture of me when i had promise and a life full of hope and dreams that -- i've been getting crushed. with this old guy. and yeah, any idea who the old
guy is? he's the little guy with the glasses in all these pictures. you see that picture? the little guy with the glasses between kissinger and le d le duc tho? that guy was the translator. he was the interpreter. so in the secret talks, each le duc tho had their interpreter. at one point kissinger took a liking to the north vietnamese interpreter and he said i trust you enough. we only need you. so whenever le duc tho and kissinger would talk just the two of them. it would be only one interpreter. this guy. i tracked him down in hanoi, we became really good friends and shared all of these really interesting stories about the peace talks. whenever you talk about the talks, all he would say is so difficult. so difficult. very difficult. very difficult. and he talked about the one time that le duc tho got really angry. the americans started bombing
and le duc tho is yelling at kissinger. and kissinger said, are you done? let's try to end this war. very interesting, despite all the americans had done, he really respected kissinger. a really interesting character. nixon, so as part of the strategy, we're going to engage the soviets, we're going to engage the chinese, nixon actually goes to china in february 1972 and he goes to moscow in may of 1972. even though he's trying to get the soviets to help, there's not much he can do, but it still freaks out le zuan and the rest of the leadership in hanoi. it freaks them out enough that eventually they decide to kind of cut the war short and give nixon the agreement he so desperately wanted. so these are b-52s, they can
carry up to 500, i think 100, 500-pound bombs. they carry a lot of bombs. and so typically they were used only in the south. and under nixon they start flying more regularly against the north. b-52, they call it carpet bombing. everything gets destroyed in a two-mile-long by half a-mile-wide box. and even if you're hiding underground, it's such that psychologically, it really screws with your mind. it's also a psychological tool. and the rest of north vietnam in 1972. and sure enough, right. eventually a cease-fire allowing the u.s. to get out. the war will continue in vietnam. but the u.s. will manage to extricate its forces.
for nixon, that was good enough. let the vietnamese figure it out themselves, right? so all of this was well and good. as i mentioned earlier. sox these policies are very, very unpopular. so in 1970. american troops move into cambodia. and that, that, that sparks massive, massive protests across the u.s. including on university campuses. university students at the time kind of led the movement against, against the war, right? various organizations were established to oppose the war. the most prominent of which was the students for a democratic society, right? sds. so there's students, a big student protest at kent state university in ohio. and the national guard is brought in and national guard
just like in any outfit with guns, you got people who are seasoned, people who are not so seasoned and national guardsman open fire and at the end of the whole thing, four students are again, to give you an idea of how polarizing it is, four bums killed at kent state. so for many, including nixon, the people who protested the war were hippies, they were bums, they were -- and they almost deserved what happened to them. as it turns out, one of the kids who got shot was rotc at kent state. very pro-war, but would be condemned as an anti-war activist and this family would be threatened by right-wingers because he was seen as a protester. he was standing nearby and a bullet hit him, i think in the
head. what's interesting is just a few days later, i think it was two or three more students got killed at jackson state college, but that didn't get any press because it was a black college, right? white kids die, huge deal. black kids die, eh. same circumstances, same circumstances. iconic images. i'm sure you've seen this picture. little girl, she basically had clothes but her village was bombed by napalm. she's running, the clothes have burned off her back and for many americans this epitomizes the american savagery of the war in vietnam. as it turns out, we now know the plane that dropped the napolm on the victimage was dropped by accident not by americans but the south vietnamese but the
whole thing is the united states. that's her today, that's her bottom right hand corner. shuld survive her wounds and dedicate herself to helping other victims of the vietnam war. i got this in hanoi. you deploy these planes. it's -- you know, you do have an impact but planes get shot down. when planes got shot down, that produces more prisoners of war, which hanoi uses as a bargaining chip. this is the wing of a b-52 aircraft that got shot down over hanoi and these guys just farming, despite the presence of this massive wing. so, yeah, it's -- the north adjusted, this new normalcy was developed. people -- it's surprising how resilient human beings are and what normal can come to represent to individuals. and there's an american being taken captive, once again, by a female. that photo was staged.
the one with the guys with the water buffalo, i don't see any reason for staging it, so that -- that was -- so, nixon's policies are, again, i would argue effective overall but they come at a very, very significant cost. you get to a point where basically in '73 the u.s. needs the war to stop as much as hanoi needs that war to stop. and so the american phase of the vietnam war ends in '73, but the vietnam war itself will eventually resume without the americans, lasts for about two years. you have two years of civil war from '73 to '75 and culminates with the fall of saigon. the victory of communist army and the u.s. which will embolden the communist camp and leftist revolutionaries worldwide. all right. so, we'll stop here. we'll resume after spring break. unfortunately, we have spring break next week. we won't see each other. i'm heartbroken as much as you
are. but we'll finish all that stuff and deal with other aspects of the cold war after spring break. so, have a really great spring break, guys. enjoy yourselves. relax. and i'll see you refreshed and ready to talk about more conflict and violence and death and destruction after spring break. all right, guys. take care. >> you've been watching lectures in history, a weekly series on american history tv saturday night at 8:00 and midnight eastern here on c-span3. you can also find the lectures on c-span.org's video library and they're available as a podcast. if you miss any of this week's american history tv programs, you can find them any time online in the c-span video library at c-span.org. american history tv weekdays will continue until labor day. on friday the fight for civil rights in the u.s. from the riots to the women's movement. we're spending next week on the presidency. monday we take you to visit