Copyright © 1972 by Wilfred Burchett.
The Receiving End (1) by Wilfred Burchett
“It is repugnant for honest people to think that the government of a country with the standing of the United States had, for many years, premeditated, prepared, and planned, down to the most minute details, systematic aggression; a criminal war of genocide and biocide against a small people, a small country situated 10,000 kilometers and more from America’s frontiers; to think that this government for many years on end has deliberately and knowingly lied to cover up the crime, to hide its plans and deceive American public opinion, the American Congress, and America’s allies as well as its friends and supporters throughout the world.
“When American presidents declare that all they want is peace; that they will never commit aggression; that they will never resort to force; that all they want is to defend democracy and freedom in Vietnam; any amount of people throughout the world had difficulty in believing that this was nothing but sheer lies and, even worse, cynical cover-ups for the most detailed preparations and plans for war. Decent people thought there must be at least a modicum of truth and sincerity in the word of leaders of one of the most important governments in the world. They thought there must be much propaganda in the accusations of the ‘other side’ against the White House and the Pentagon.
“Today, it is high time to inspect the evidence. The truth has been flushed out into broad daylight. The official documents, notes, minutes of working sessions, directives, circulars—in all 7,000 pages, 2,500,000 words, reveal in black and white the extent of the plot and the lies.... (2)
“For over 20 years, Yankee imperialism fixed its prey, spread its nets, set its traps, orchestrated its propaganda, launched the necessary provocations to end up by hurling over 11 million tons of bombs at Vietnam and casting $200 billion into the Indochina abyss.... Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, finally Nixon—Democrats and Republicans, one can hardly imagine more dissimilar personalities—have succeeded each other, but Washington’s Vietnam and Indochina policy has not deviated an iota.
“Events have unfolded as in a scenario prepared by a one-track-mind producer. The most murderous weapons have been tried out; the most barbarous forms of warfare employed; the most bloodthirsty minions utilized and, when necessary, physically liquidated when they outlived their usefulness.
“For the Vietnamese people who saw the first US warships arrive in Saigon waters in March 1950 and from then on saw US military missions at work, followed by swarms of Yankee ‘advisers’ of all types, followed in turn by hordes of GIs, the Pentagon Papers merely confirm the opinion about Yankee imperialism that they have consistently held for 20-odd years. For the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian peoples, as for all those who have had to face up to Yankee imperialism in recent years, these documents hardly constitute real secrets. For we have had to judge the men in Washington by their deeds, not by their speeches; and the sequence and logic of these acts amply proved the true nature of Yankee imperialism.
“When dealing with matters such as the death of Diem, the refusal to hold the 1956 elections, the ‘Tonkin Gulf incident,’ or the eventual use of nuclear weapons, these documents certainly do not reveal everything. There is still plenty to be said! But the essential is there. The policy of intervention, the aggression waged by Washington with great obduracy and duplicity against Vietnam and the peoples of Indochina...”
This must be taken only as a preliminary reaction from Hanoi—in late September 1971—based on what the North Vietnamese had seen and heard of the Pentagon Papers till that date. It was before the Senator Gravel edition or the Government edition had been published and doubtless much more will be heard from Hanoi when those much more complete texts have been studied.
It is quite true that there is still “plenty to be said”; many things have been omitted which provide vital clues to understanding the real import of the Papers. The documents “hardly constitute real secrets” for those of us present at the receiving end of these policies and who have dug hard for confirmatory data from the initiating end. McNamara’s researchers seem to have missed quite a lot of confirmatory data available even in the memoirs of qualified Establishment higherups. For instance, although the Papers deal in detail with contingency plans for joint or unilateral U.S. military intervention from the period of the Dien Bien Phu battle right up to the 11th hour of the 1954 Geneva Cease-fire Agreements, they do not deal with very firm plans, drawn up immediately after Geneva for a unilateral United States invasion of North Vietnam and the occupation of the Red River Delta up to, and including Hanoi, for a start. As a “declaration of intention” and an explanation of what followed, this is crucial. A major participant in this planning. Brigadier General James M. Gavin, in a book that attracted comparatively little attention, reveals the whole plot. Gavin, at the time of which he writes, was Deputy in Charge of Plans to General Matthew B. Ridgway, Army Chief of Staff. (3)
After the French “unwisely folded” by signing the 1954 Geneva Agreements, Gavin reveals, the Pentagon view, supported by John Foster Dulles and the CIA, was that “it was obviously up to us to assume the full burden of combat against Communism in that area....” It was in this spirit, he continues, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff “began with the highest priority to study a proposal to send combat troops into the Red River delta of North Vietnam....”
It is later made quite clear that this planning started immediately after the Geneva Agreements, which in the Pentagon view, represented an unpleasant interruption in the business of “stopping Communism” for which the United States had been footing the bills till then but would now have to take over the actual fighting.
“As Chief of Plans of the Army Staff,” continues Gavin, “I was responsible for recommending what attitude the Army should take towards this proposal to put American ground troops into North Vietnam....” In his consultations, Gavin and his colleagues, including “the best Asian experts,” concluded that in invading North Vietnam they would also be taking on China. The Navy made this quite clear by pointing out that they could not guarantee safety for the invasion force unless they first occupied the Chinese island of Hainan. After a visit to the area. Gavin came to the conclusion that the invasion would require “eight combat divisions supported by 35 engineering battalions and all the artillery and logistics support such mammoth undertakings require...
The fact that the United States had pledged not to use force or “threat of force” to upset the Geneva Agreements seems not to have entered into the considerations of the planners. As for the danger of war with China:
Admiral Radford [then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, W.B.] was emphatically in favor of landing a force in the Haiphong-Hanoi area, even if it meant risking war with Red China. In this he was fully supported by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Naval Operations [continued Gavin]. In my opinion such an operation meant a great risk of war.... The Navy was unwilling to risk their ships in the Haiphong area without first invading and capturing the island. Admiral Radford and the Chiefs of the Navy and Air Force felt that, faced with overwhelming power, the Red Chinese would not react to this violation of their sovereignty. General Ridgway and I had grave doubts about the validity of this reasoning....”
Ridgway, with his Korean experience (a) in getting involved with Chinese troops in a ground war and (b) the ineffectiveness of air power in such wars, was against the plan. He went over the head of Radford directly to President Eisenhower and as a result the proposal was killed. By everything that Gavin writes, this was not just a bit of “contingency planning” but a real plan of war which had “highest priority” and could not have been initiated without Eisenhower’s support. Gavin makes it clear that he and Ridgway had the greatest difficulty in getting the plan canceled. He refers to “weeks and months” during which “we were to argue forcefully and frequently against such a war....”
How such a war would have been justified, Gavin does not reveal. But the later fakery with the “Tonkin Gulf” incident proved that pretexts are no problem once the decision has been made! The war, for the moment, was called off. But Gavin points out there was a “compromise.” There would be a “Vietnamization” of the plans. “We would not attack North Vietnam,” Gavin continues, “but we would support a South Vietnamese government that we hoped would provide a stable, independent government that was representative of the people....” Here Gavin was writing with his tongue in his cheek. The “compromise” as he knew full well was that the United States would place a military machine in the hands of Ngo Dinh Diem that would do what Eisenhower had thwarted Dulles, the CIA, and Pentagon from doing in 1954. Why this vital link in the chain of intentions is omitted from the Pentagon Papers, when there is so much frankness on other matters, is difficult to understand. It makes so many other things comprehensible. What followed in the South was preparation for the “March to the North.” The United States took over the training and build-up of Diem’s forces; graduates at the training schools pledged to “march to the North” and were issued shoulder flashes bearing this motto. Gavin reveals that following the abandonment of the earlier war plan he was sent to Saigon “early in 1955... to discuss political and economic plans plus military aid and assistance....”
As far as I know—and I was in the North from October 1954 until May 1957 —Ho Chi Minh was not aware of the Dulles-Radford plan, but he was aware of secret aggression against the North, immediately after the Geneva Accords went into effect. The North Vietnamese were aware of the American hand behind false rumors—such as those, spread by a Lansdale team, of Chinese troops raping North Vietnamese girls—and the propaganda campaign to scare Catholics into fleeing to the South to escape the A-bombs which would be used against the “pagans” who remained in the North. Many of Lansdale’s agents deserted—as he admits—the moment they set foot in the North, so the Vietnamese were well aware of his activities—if not of his personality, and those of his psywar, espionage, and sabotage teams as detailed in Document 95 [Gravel edition, 1:573- 583].
By accident I personally stumbled on evidence of their activities at the Hongay- Campha coal-mining area. It was toward the end of the 300-day period during which the French were allowed to retain an enclave around Haiphong port through which their forces were gradually to be evacuated to the South. (Three hundred days from the signing of the Geneva Agreements was the period provided for completing the regrouping of both sides’ armed forces north and south of the 17th parallel respectively, and also for civilians who wished to change their place of residence.) At the coal mines, I was told of a strange incident just before the French pulled out to Haiphong, in which a sharp-eyed youngster had noticed a mysterious visitor who fumbled around the stacks of coal briquettes at the Campha storing area. At first he thought it was just someone helping himself to fuel. Then he noticed that the visitor—who always turned up in the evenings—was putting briquettes into the stacks. When an advanced guard of Vietminh troops arrived he reported this. A watch was kept and the visitor grabbed. His “briquettes” were the same size and shape but less shiny than the others. They were found to be made of powerful explosives. Fed into locomotive engines or powerhouse and factory furnaces, they would have caused tremendous damage with no way of tracing the source.
The Campha culprit admitted that he was one of a number of French undercover agents in the North who had been recruited by the CIA immediately after the Geneva Agreements, whisked off to a U.S. base on a Pacific island for a crash-course in espionage-sabotage techniques and infiltrated back into the North through the Haiphong enclave. While I was at Campha, teams were still patiently combing through the mountains of briquettes to collect the explosive dummies. My Vietnamese friends asked me not to write about it at the time because they did not want Lansdale to know how much they already knew of his activities.
In his report, Lansdale recounts with some pride how one of his teams “had spent the last days of Hanoi in contaminating the oil supply of the bus company for a gradual wreckage of engines in the buses, in taking the first actions of a delayed sabotage of the railroad (which required teamwork with a CIA special technical team in Japan who performed their part brilliantly) and in writing detailed notes of potential targets for future paramilitary operations....” Lansdale complains that U.S. adherence to the Geneva Agreements prevented his teams “from carrying out the active sabotage it desired to do against the power plant, water facilities, harbor and bridge....” (Those jobs were done later by the U.S. Air Force!!!) It is worth noting that the sabotage of the bus company was specifically aimed at the French concept of economic coexistence with the DRV, the bus company being owned and staffed by French personnel. The “first actions” for delayed sabotage of the railroad were undoubtedly the planting of the explosive “briquettes”!
“By 31 January ” reported Lansdale, all operational equipment of the Binh paramilitary group had been trans-shipped to Haiphong from Saigon.... We had smuggled into Vietnam about eight and a half tons of supplies for the paramilitary group. They included fourteen agent radios, 300 carbines, 90,000 rounds of carbine ammunition, 50 pistols, 10,000 rounds of pistol ammunition and 300 pounds of explosives. Two and a half tons were delivered to the Hao^ agents in Tonkin, while the remainder was cached along the Red River by SMM (Saigon Military Mission which Lansdale headed. W.B.) with the help of the Navy....”
A reason repeatedly given years later by Washington for not engaging in negotiations to end America’s war in Vietnam was that they could not place any reliance in “agreements reached with Communists.” Walter Bedell-Smith at the closing session of the 1954 Geneva Conference solemnly stated that: “The Government of the United States of America declares that with regard to the aforesaid Agreements and paragraphs that: 1 ) it will refrain from the threat or the use of force to disturb them, in accordance with Article 2 (Section 4) of the Charter of the United Nations.... 2) It would view any renewal of the aggression in violation of the aforesaid Agreements with grave concern and as seriously threatening international peace and security.”
“Haiphong was taken over by the Vietminh on 16 May,” continues the Lansdale report. “Our Binh and northern Hao teams were in place, completely equipped. It had taken a tremendous amount of hard work to beat the Geneva deadline, to locate, exfiltrate, train, infiltrate, equip the men of these two teams and have them in place ready for actions required against the enemy....” In other words in place ready for “the use of force to disturb” the Geneva Agreements.
For a comparison of attitudes, one only has to study Ho Chi Minh’s “Appeal to the Vietnamese People” on June 22, 1954, the day after the Geneva Cease-fire Accords were signed. It can be imagined that fulfilling that part of the agreement calling for the evacuation of old Vietminh resistance bases in the South—some of which the French had never been able to penetrate from the start of the resistance struggle—called for a special effort of discipline and self-sacrifice which only the authority of Ho Chi Minh could make acceptable. Families would be separated for the two years until reunification; the local people would lose the protection the Vietminh had for so long provided. After explaining that the Geneva Agreements represented a “brilliant victory” for the resistance struggle, Ho Chi Minh set the new task as: “to struggle to consolidate peace; to realize national unity, independence and democracy. To restore peace, the two parties must first of all observe the cease-fire. For that, it is important that the armed forces of both parties regroup in two different regions, which means that the limits of both regrouping zones must be well marked. Such delimitation is a temporary measure, a transition indispensable to the good implementation of the military agreement and to the restoration of peace with a view to the nationwide elections for the reunification of the country....” He explained that some areas occupied till then by the French would now be in the liberated zone north of the 17th parallel and some areas liberated in the South would fall under temporary French occupation.
“I am asking all our compatriots, combatants and cadres, to strictly adhere to the political line drawn up by the Party and Government and to correctly apply the measures taken in our struggle to consolidate peace, realize unity, independence and democracy.
“All of you, truthful patriots, no matter to what social class you belong, no matter what God you believe in, no matter what side you were with, I invite you all to cooperate frankly in the struggle for the sake of the people and of the Nation, for peace, for the unity, independence and democracy of our beloved Vietnam....”
These were sacred instructions for every Vietminh cadre. Some 140,000 of them—military and civilian—were then withdrawn to the North, in accordance with the regrouping procedures agreed to at Geneva to separate the combatant forces.
Whereas Ho Chi Minh accepted the Geneva Agreement as a solemn international treaty to be respected no matter what the sacrifices involved, Eisenhower treated it as a hindrance, to be circumvented by any means whatsoever, to American global plans to “stop communism.” Thus the North Vietnamese are right in seeing one single scenario from March 16, 1950—when the U.S. aircraft-carrier Boxer and the destroyers Sticknel and Anderson, under 7th Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Arleigh Burke, anchored in Saigon Harbor in support of the French, through the Lansdale “cloak and dagger” operations—right up to the 1 1 million tons of bombs on Vietnam and U.S. aggression extended to Laos and Cambodia. Developing variations of a single theme of U.S. neo-colonialist aggression!
Another curious omission in the Pentagon Papers is the extent of Pentagon responsibility, at the start at least, of the ill-fated action at Dien Bien Phu. Some space is given to various plans like “Operation Vulture,” aimed at saving the French from final defeat, but nothing is said of the initial US encouragement to the French to jump headlong into the trap. For the Vietnamese people, however, Dien Bien Phu was almost as much an American as a French defeat. It was the wrecks of American planes, American tanks, American artillery pieces that later littered the battlefield. The “Navarre Plan,” of which Dien Bien Phu was a key element, had been approved in Washington and extra funds earmarked accordingly. On November 23, 1953, General Thomas Trapnell, chief of the US Military Aid and Advisory Group (MAAG) set up in Saigon as far back as October 1950, inspected the Dien Bien Phu positions together with Generals Henri Navarre, C-in-C of the French Expeditionary Corps, and Rene Cogny, commanding French troops in the Tonkin area, where Dien Bien Phu was situated. Trapnell made two more inspection trips (on December 19, 1953, with a group of US miliary officers, and on January 14, 1954) to check up on the disposition of some $10 million worth of US equipment. On February 2, General “Iron Mike” O’Daniel, C-in-C of US forces in the Pacific, paid a visit and decided to appoint three American officers to remain on the spot and help with the final preparations for the battle. (Dien Bien Phu was intended to be the vital warwinning operation by which the elite troops of the Expeditionary Corps, having been parachuted into Dien Bien Phu valley, deep inside Vietminh-controUed territory, were to outflank and overrun the main Vietminh base area in northern Tonkin.) Had Dien Bien Phu succeeded, much would no doubt have been heard of the key role of the United States in the victory. As it was, it was written off as a French military blunder!
A week before the Geneva Conference—by which time it was clear that Dien Bien Phu was doomed, as Ho Chi Minh at his jungle headquarters assured me it was right at the start of the battle—the Pentagon Papers report the National Security Council as urging President Eisenhower to warn the French that “US aid to France would automatically cease upon Paris’ conclusion of an unsatisfactory settlement” and that the United States should approach the puppet governments of the three states of Indochina “with a view to continuing the anti-Vietminh struggle in some other form, including unilateral American involvement ‘if necessary.’ The NSC clearly viewed the Indochina situation with extreme anxiety, and its action program amounted to unprecedented proposals to threaten France with the serious repercussions of a sell-out in Southeast Asia...” (Gravel edition, 1:117).
This was the spirit in which the USA approached the Geneva Conference and the implementation of the Cease-fire Agreements. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden is quoted as reveaHng that at one point, Walter Bedell Smith, who headed the US delegation, showed him a “telegram from President Eisenhower advising him to do everything in his power to bring the conference to an end as rapidly as possible, on the grounds that the Communists were only spinning things out to suit their own military purposes” (Gravel ed., I:138).
Much of the 58 pages of the chapter on the Geneva Conference deals with the efforts of Dulles to wreck it; to avoid a cease-fire at all costs in favor of international military intervention on the Korean model. With the equivalent of the entire yearly output of officers from the St. Cyr Academy—France’s West Point—being lost each year in Indochina, the French began to wonder whether it was worth it. From the government down to the troops dying in ricefield mud, it gradually began to dawn that France itself was fighting and dying for the United States. The United States by the time of Geneva was footing 80 percent of the bill but also, as former premier Paul Reynaud cried out in the French National Assembly: “You Americans draw from Indochina 89 percent of the natural rubber and 52 percent of the tin you need for your consumption. Therefore on the material side of things it is for your interests rather than ours that we are fighting for Indochina.”
Even Henri Navarre, the last would-be “war-winner” general, wrote later that “the Americans helped us materially but on the other hand they fought us morally. While they made use of the French ‘fist’—essential to their anti-Communist game —they worked to undermine and even destroy our interests.” (5) Navarre was lucky that the war ended before he suffered the final humiliation of having the “Frenchification” label stuck to his war efforts. But that he had virtually become an American mercenary, he had started to realize. Despite the efforts of Dulles, agreement was reached at Geneva. While most of the world heaved a great sigh of relief that one more shooting war had been stopped, Lansdale went full steam ahead with his secret war against the North; Dulles, the CIA and the Pentagon planned the full-scale invasion, and while the US propaganda services shouted at “Communist bad faith,” Dulles went ahead to set up the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) to offset the Geneva Agreements and violate them by placing South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia under SEATO “protection.”
Meanwhile the United States started to take over from the French in South Vietnam. A serious omission in the chapter on the “Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam” is the failure to mention the US police role and responsibility in putting the finger on those who had been active in the anti-French resistance struggle. This was done within the framework of a “Denounce Communists” campaign almost immediately after the cease-fire, with police teams from Michigan State University helping behind the scenes, with everything from up-to-date fingerprinting and electronic filing methods to torture gadgets used in interrogation. Ngo Dinh Diem, set up in Saigon as premier at US insistence just before the Cease-fire Agreements were concluded, took the view that the resistance struggle had been “illegal”; thus all who helped were “criminals by association.” Paragraph 14c of the Geneva Agreements, banning any form of reprisals against those who had helped one side or the other during the war, was ignored in the South from the start.
Although these operations were not directly under the Pentagon, reactions to them certainly contributed to the “origins of the insurgency.” A booklet issued by the Information Department of the DRV Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1962 described the situation as early as 1955 as follows: “USOM [US Operations Mission] spread its network of ‘advisers’ to all branches of economy and finance. ‘Advisers’ were to be found in the ministries of Economy, Finance, Agriculture, etc. They were also to be found in many central offices. They participated in the elaboration of general programs and plans to implement them. They controlled the carrying-out of those plans and, in particular the use of the aid funds and the allotment of foreign currency. Through USOM, the United States controlled all economic activities of the Ngo Dinh Diem administration.
“Other branches of Diem’s administrative machinery fell under the control of the Mission of the ‘Michigan State University’ (MSU), a body which reminds one of the US espionage organization labeled ‘Free Europe’s University.’ The MSU Mission had its ‘advisers’ in the branches of Education, Labor, etc., but its main activities consisted in organizing the security and police services, and training their personnel. General Lansdale, famous for his implication in many coups d’etat and cases of espionage, was for a long time an ‘adviser’ to this mission, in charge of security and police....” By the end of 1954 the police were busy arresting and physically liquidating anyone in the South named as having taken part in the resistance struggle.
One of the first cases of mass reprisals brought to the notice of the International Control Commission (India as Chairman, Poland and Canada) was at Binh Thanh village on the Mekong River. The ICC had been informed that, early in December 1954, 74 villagers had been arrested on the pretext that they had supported the resistance. Of these 24 were said to have been executed, after which their bodies had been burned and the ashes thrown into the Mekong. The ICC team arrived at Binh Thanh on December 8, and were lodged in a motorboat anchored in the river. The village was occupied by Diemist troops with machinegun posts at every crossroads. Contact with the population was difficult but by the end of the day, seven witnesses had come forward confirming there had been mass arrests and executions and threats of death against any who testified before the ICC. Next morning the bodies of two of the seven were found, including an old woman who had been beheaded and disemboweled. The other five were under arrest. While the team members were discussing their next move, three sampans appeared out of the mists, the occupants asking if security could be guaranteed for themselves and others who wanted to testify. A French liaison officer gave the necessary assurances. An hour later a flotilla of 95 sampans appeared with almost 500 persons aboard. They had been in hiding since the massacre, which they confirmed (9) with minute details as to the story of the arrests, massacre and disposal of bodies. This was one of scores of such cases of mass reprisals confirmed by the ICC.
I reported at the time (6) that “Up to the end of July 1955... according to incomplete figures forwarded by General Nguyen Vo Giap to the International Control Commission, there had been over 3,000 cases of reprisals against former resistance supporters in South Vietnam, resulting in over 6,000 killed, wounded and missing and more than 25,000 arrested....” Added to these figures were an estimated 7,000 killed and twice as many wounded when Diem’s troops attacked the pro-French armed sects, the Binh Xuyen in Saigon and its outskirts and the Hoa Hao in the Mekong delta to the west.
On June 6, 1955, the government of the DRV had declared its readiness “to open the Consultative Conference with the competent representative authorities of the South, from July 20, 1955, onward, to discuss the preparation of free general elections to be held over the entire territory of Vietnam during the month of July 1956....” (As provided for in the Geneva Agreements.)
The Pentagon Papers report that: “By the time the deadlines for election con sultations fell due in July 1955, South Vietnam was sovereign de facto as well as de jure, waxing strong with US aid, and France was no longer in a position to exert strong influence on Diem’s political actions. As early as January 1955, President Diem was stating publicly that he was unlikely to proceed with the Geneva elections...” (Gravel ed., I:245).
As the French were more and more openly abdicating their responsibilities and had not reacted to the June 6 Declaration, Hanoi addressed a further note to the “Ngo Dinh Diem Administration” on July 19—a very mild note pointing out that as both sides’ armed forces had completed regroupment this had created “the necessary basis for the achievement in the near future of a political settlement....” Until this time it should be noted—something ignored by the Pentagon Papers—that the United States, the French and Diem had enjoyed only advantages from the Geneva Agreements. Namely, the French had been able to withdraw their forces intact from untenable positions—after the Dien Bien Phu debacle—north of the 17th parallel; in return the Vietminh forces had abandoned key base areas in the South; some 800,000 Catholics had been moved from the North to the South to bolster Diem’s fanatically pro-Catholic regime. Now was to come the “pro” part of the quid pro quo for the Vietminh—elections to unify the country. “The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,” continued the July 19 note, “suggests that you nominate your representatives to hold, together with its own representatives, the Consultative Conference as from July 20, 1955, onwards, as provided for in the Geneva Agreements, at a place agreeable to both sides on Vietnamese territory, in order to discuss the problem of national reunification through free nationwide elections.”
The reply came next morning when military trucks laden with uniformed youths arrived opposite the Majestic and Gallieni hotels, the residential headquarters of the International Control Commission. Armed with axes, pick-handles and machetes, they sacked the offices and private rooms of ICC members as part of the celebration of Diem’s officially designated “day of shame” (the first anniversary of the Geneva Agreements).
Dulles is quoted in the Pentagon Papers as having commented on Diem’s rejection of the Consultations: “Neither the United States Government nor the Government of Viet-Nam is, of course, a party to the Geneva armistice agreements. We did not sign them, and the Government of Viet-Nam did not sign them and, indeed, protested against them...” (Gravel ed., I:245). To which the comment of the editors of the Papers is: “Thus, backed by the US, Diem obdurately refused to open talks with the Hanoi government. He continued to maintain that the Government of South Vietnam had not signed the Geneva Agreements and thus was not bound by them.” In this way the Vietminh were cheated of the full fruits of victory in their infinitely difficult and heroic struggle for independence and the foundation was laid for the terrible war that followed. Diem, put into power by the United States and objectively speaking only there because the Vietminh had beaten the French, stepped up his attempts to exterminate the former resistance activists and their supporters: The ferocity of the repression was in direct proportion to the military strength the United States put at his disposal.
Ho Chi Minh had appealed for political struggle to demand the 1956 elections, so the political repression was also directed against any who agitated for the elections or anything else connected with implementation of the Geneva Agreements. To support the latter became a “crime.” Committees set up in defense of peace and the Geneva Agreements were dissolved, leading members—including the head of the Saigon-Cholon committee, the lawyer Nguyen Huu Tho—were arrested. (Nguyen Huu Tho was later rescued from prison by NFL guerrillas and became President of the National Liberation Front.) Those who took advantage of the sections of the Geneva Agreements guaranteeing full political freedoms and who tried to use these freedoms in defense of the Agreements were marked down, if not for immediate arrest, for arrest and extermination later.
“The DRV repeatedly tried to engage the Geneva machinery, forwarding messages to the Government of South Vietnam in July 1955, May and June 1956, March 1958, July 1959 and July 1960, proposing consultations to negotiate ‘free general elections by secret ballot,’ and to liberalize North-South relations in general,” comments the Pentagon Papers on this aspect of US-Saigon policy. “Each time the GVN replied with disdain, or with silence. The 17th parallel, with its demilitarized zone on either side, became de facto an international boundary, and—since Ngo Dinh Diem’s rigid refusal to traffic with the North excluded all economic exchanges and even an interstate postal agreement—one of the most restricted boundaries in the world. The DRV appealed to the UK and the USSR as co-chairmen of the Geneva Conference to no avail. In January 1956, on DRV urging. Communist China requested another Geneva Conference to deal with the situation. But the Geneva Co-Chairmen, the USSR and the UK, responded only by extending the functions of the International Control Commission beyond its 1956 expiration date.... If the political mechanism for reunifying Vietnam in 1956 proved impractical, the blame lies at least in part with the Geneva conferees themselves, who postulated an ideal political settlement incompatible with the physical and psychological dismemberment of Vietnam they themselves undertook in July 1954” (Gravel ed., I:247). This comment is typical of many such fatuous conclusions by the compilers. They might at least have added: “The major part of the blame however lies with the United States which set out to wreck the Geneva Agreements from the start, especially any provisions which would have extended ‘communist control’ south of the demarcation line.” Diem was a US creation, fed, financed and armed by the United States, with Americans controlling every key aspect of policymaking and implementation.
Repression and massacre became the order of the day. Overcrowded jails could not house the victims. Presidential Order No. 6, of January 11, 1956, provided in Article 1 that “Awaiting the restoration of peace and order, individuals considered dangerous to national defense and common security may, on executive order taken by the President of the Republic as proposed by the Minister of the Interior, be confined to a concentration camp, or forced to reside, or deported far from their dwelling place or far from fixed locations, or subjected to administrative control...” (7) with appropriate penalties stipulated for those who evaded the concentration camps and controls.
Conditions in the jails were later described by deputy Tran Ngoc Ban to the South Vietnamese National Assembly on January 3, 1958, as follows:
Let us take one cell among so many others at the Gia Dinh prison. Forty-five feet long by a little less than eleven feet wide. In this area are generally packed 150 detainees. Simple arithmetic shows us that there is room for three persons per square meter. It is in this place that detainees sleep, eat, wash themselves and ease their bowels. A bucket with a lid is put in a corner of the room for that purpose. It suffices that each of the prisoners uses it once a day for five minutes and the bucket would remain open for twelve hours....
As for possibilities of sitting or lying down... squatting they have just enough room; sitting cross-legged they are very cramped. At night they can just sleep lying with their knees under their chin. So a quarter of the detainees have to stand up to allow the others to stretch out for a moment. It is a fraternal gesture but also a necessity. Because of the sweltering heat... many detainees are unable to bear wearing a garment and remain half-naked. They must live day and night in this room and only go out into the courtyard once a day for a meal, which is taken outside even in rainy weather. Medicines hardly exist... (8)
For having the courage to reveal this, Tran Ngoc Ban, M.P., was arrested and sent to join the inmates whose fate he had described. He was talking of those fortunate enough to have escaped the extermination squads that were hard at work physically liquidating what were in fact political opponents of the Diem regime.
During the first year of its activities, the International Control Commission investigated 40 violations of Article 14C in the South, some of them involving the massacre of hundreds of people. The balance of that first year of “peace” in the South was 16 violations confirmed, 13 investigations completed but findings not published, 8 cases under investigation and 3 cases in which evidence was insufficient to prove violations. There were no violations of 14C in the North. Not included in the list was a case on July 7, 1955, in which a battalion of Diem’s security forces surrounded the tiny hamlets of Tan Lap and Tan Hiep in Quang Ngai province—a guerrilla area in the resistance struggle. Every man, woman and child at Tan Lap was killed and all the males at Tan Hiep on the evening of July 7. Five days later the security troops returned to Tan Hiep, arrested 15 women, raped them, then took them to a neighboring hamlet of An Che and killed them. The following day they killed the remaining three adults and 15 children at Tan Hiep. Not a living soul was left in these two hamlets — 30 men, 30 women and 32 children had been massacred. Detailed reports were made to the ICC, but investigation of the case was blocked by the Diemist authorities.
By early 1956, Diem had almost completely paralyzed the work of the ICC, as the following report shows: “Mobile Team 117 conducted an investigation asked for by the People’s Army of Vietnam, Note No. 141-CT/I/B, dated March 2, 1956, on the massacre by the South Vietnamese authorities of 21 persons buried alive at the marketplace at Cho Duoc and reprisals against 14 other persons of the villages of An Tra and Tan Luu (Quang Nam province) but the interested party refused to allow the Commission to have a mobile Team investigate this case.” (9)
“Security was the focus of US aid,” reports the Pentagon Papers dealing with this early period. “More than 75 percent of the economic aid the US provided in the same period went into the GVN military budget; thus at least $8 out of every $10 of aid provided Vietnam went directly toward security. In addition, other amounts of nominally economic aid (e.g., that for public administration) went toward security forces, and aid for agriculture and transportation principally funded projects with strategic purposes and with an explicit military rationale. For example, a 20-mile stretch of highway from Saigon to Bien Hoa, built at Gen. Williams’ instance for specifically military purposes, received more US economic aid than all funds provided for labor, community development, social welfare, health, and education in the years 1954-1961” (Gravel ed., I:268). Would US taxpayers be proud of this use of their taxes?
If one compares the reality of the unilateral war against the people of South Vietnam waged against an unarmed population for its political opposition to a fascist regime with the description given by that semiotficial apologist for US Vietnam policies, Douglas Pike, then one has some measure of the deceit of public opinion. Pike is trying to make the point that the NLF was entirely a creation of Hanoi. “Of necessity it must have been created in Hanoi and imported,” the Pentagon Papers credit Pike with writing. “A revolutionary organization must build; it begins with persons suffering genuine grievances, who are slowly organized and whose militancy gradually increases until a critical mass is reached and the revolution explodes. Exactly the reverse was the case with the NLF. It sprang full-blown into existence and then was fleshed out. The grievances were developed or manufactured almost as a necessary afterthought” (Gravel ed., I:346).
Reality was that from 1959 onwards, especially after the passing of Law 10/59, providing for death or life imprisonment for a wide range of offenses against the government, there were spontaneous, sporadic and unorganized acts of resistance by those who “preferred to die on our feet rather than on our knees” as one of them expressed it to me. Later these acts became more generalized and to coordinate and give correct leadership the NLF was formed in December 1960. By the time the NLF’s first congress was held (February 16 to March 3, 1962), and according to incomplete figures compiled by NLF committees at provincial and district levels: 105,000 former resistance supporters had been killed, 350,000 at that moment were being held in 874 prisons and concentration camps, including over 6,000 children, many of them born in prison. These are what Pike describes as “grievances manufactured as an afterthought.”
If I have dealt at length and in detail with some aspects of the early years after the Geneva Agreements, this is because there are vast gaps in the Pentagon Papers’ account of the period which have to be sketched in to understand the monstrous injustice done the Vietnamese people, even before the US invasion with combat troops in 1965 and the start of the bombings of the North. They were cheated of the fruits of their struggle against the French, essentially because of US intervention. It is against this background and the merciless, barbarous years “of the long knives,” that the people of the South took to arms to defend man’s most ancient rights to defend his life and home. Some knowledge of what went on in this period is helpful, incidentally, in understanding why the DRV-PRG negotiators in Paris are tough, and determined that this time they really get what they fought for—total independence on terms which can never again be violated.
The North Vietnamese date the next phase of US intervention—preparing for and waging “special war”—from the arrival of the Staley Mission in mid-June 1961. President of the Stanford Research Institute, economist by profession, Eugene Staley was soon dabbling in affairs which had little to do with his academic qualifications. His approach may be judged from the following passage quoted in the Pentagon Papers: “Vietnam is today under attack in a bitter, total struggle which involves its survival as a free nation. Its enemy, the Viet Cong, is ruthless, resourceful and elusive. This enemy is supplied, reinforced, and centrally directed by the international communist apparatus operating through Hanoi. To defeat it requires the mobiHzation of the entire economic, military, psychological, and social resources of the country and vigorous support from the United States...” (Gravel ed., II:63). (It is worth noting that four months later the NIE—National Intelligence Estimate—gave the total number of guerrillas as 17,000, of whom “80-90 percent had been locally recruited and... little evidence that the VC relied on external supplies....” The Diem army at the time was 170,000 with another 80,000 paramilitary units. For the military muscle of the “international communist apparatus” 17,000 guerrillas, many of them armed only with clubs, hoes and bicycle chains, etc., at the time, seems modest to say the least. John Kenneth Galbraith, visiting the South a month after the NIE report, believed the number of guerrillas was closer to 10,000.) Staley recommended building the regular Diem army up to 200,000, to be increased later to 270,000. The Pentagon Papers dismiss the Staley report as “not much more than a piece of paper” and say the President agreed with its three basic tenets: (a) Security requirements must, for the present, be given first priority; (b) military operations will not achieve lasting results unless economic and social programs are continued and accelerated; (c) it is our joint interest to accelerate measures to achieve a self-sustaining economy and a free and peaceful society in Viet-Nam.”
Hanoi’s information about the Staley Mission was much more complete and reflects another of those important omissions of the Pentagon Papers. On February 28, 1962, the Foreign Ministry of the DRV published the following details:
Three phases are contemplated in the Staley Plan:
First Phase: “Pacification” of South Vietnam within 18 months and “establishment of bases” in North Vietnam.
Second Phase: Economic rehabilitation and reinforcement of the South Vietnam economy, increase of sabotage in North Vietnam.
Third Phase: Development of the South Vietnam economy, and offensive against North Vietnam.
For the first phase, considered an extremely important one, Staley has laid down a series of measures, including:
Increase of the strength of the South Vietnam regular army from 150,000 to 170,000 men by the end of 1961.
Increase of the strength of the civil guard from 68,000 to 100,000 men and turning it into regular forces.
Increase of the strength of the police from 45,000 to 90,000 men.
Reinforcing the “self-defense” corps in the villages to the extent required.
Regroupment of villages and concentration of the people into “prosperity zones” and “strategic hamlets” which are actually camouflaged concentration camps; establishment of a no-man’s land starting from the provisional military demarcation line and running along the frontier between South Vietnam on the one hand, and Laos and Cambodia on the other, setting up of 100 new “prosperity zones” in the delta of the Mekong, which are to be imbricated with a network of “strategic hamlets” fenced in by bamboo hedges, barbed wire and control posts, for the purpose of concentrating nearly 1,000,000 peasants.
Increase of the aid to the Ngo Dinh Diem Administration to carry out the above-mentioned plan. (10)
Far from being “not much more than a piece of paper” this was the blueprint for a vast military campaign, very soon to be run by the United States itself, to try and herd the whole of South Vietnam’s peasantry into 16,000 concentration camps disguised as “strategic hamlets.” I published details of the Staley Plan — and the stepped-up dollar allocations to finance it—at the time in newspaper articles, also in a book, with the comment that “no peasants in the world had so many dollars per capita lavished on their extermination.” Also that “General Maxwell Taylor was sent from October 10 to 25 (1961) to work out supplementary details of the Staley Plan in view of a decision taken a few days earlier by the National Security Council on direct US intervention....” (11) Staley’s monstrous “strategic hamlet” program which brought the whole of the peasantry out in armed revolt, is dismissed as “economic and social programs” in the Pentagon Papers and the consequences as “grievances... manufactured almost as a necessary afterthought” by Pike.
One of Maxwell Taylor’s contributions which, if Hanoi knew about at the time, did not reveal, was to start direct US military intervention camouflaged as a “humanitarian” Task Force of 6,000 to 8,000 men for “flood relief.” In an “eyes only for the President” cable from the Philippines (presumably on October 25) Taylor reports that “the interim Communist goal—en route to total takeover— appears to be a neutral Southeast Asia, detached from US protection. This strategy is well on the way to success in Vietnam....” To counter this “dangerous and immoral” possibility (to quote from John Foster Dulles’ characterization of neutrality), Taylor recommended as his first point that “upon request from the Government of Vietnam to come to its aid in resisting the increasing aggressions of the Viet-Cong and in repairing the ravages of the Delta flood which, in combination, threaten the lives of its citizens and the security of the country, the US Government offer to join the GV in a massive joint effort as part of a total mobilization of GVN resources to cope with both the Viet- Cong (VC) and the ravages of the flood.... In support of the foregoing broad commitment... the US Government will engage in a joint survey of the conditions in the provinces to assess the social, political, intelligence and military factors bearing on the prosecution of the counterinsurgency...” etc., etc. Taylor outlines a most comprehensive plan for stepped-up intelligence and actual military operations over the whole of South Vietnam, always under the guise of “flood relief.” In a second “eyes only for the President” cable apparently sent the same day, Taylor emphasizes the necessity for speed—otherwise “the possibility of emphasizing the humanitarian mission will wane....” With the Taylor mission was William Jorden of the State Department, (12) who summed up his impression of the underlying reasons for the situation: “Intrigue, nepotism and even corruption might be accepted, for a time, if combined with efficiency and visible progress. When they accompany administrative paralysis and steady deterioration, they become intolerable....” (Gravel ed., II:95.)
President Kennedy did not accept the “Flood Task Force” idea but did opt to send in US military personnel by the end of 1961. Decisive probably in the decision, if not the manner of intervention, was a memo by Defense Secretary McNamara of November 8, supporting Taylor’s recommendations. There is a fascinating estimation of McNamara’s that “Hanoi and Peiping may intervene openly...” but even so “the maximum US forces required on the ground in Southeast Asia will not exceed six divisions or about 205,000 men...” (Gravel ed., II:108). (In his jungle headquarters some years later, discussing the possibility of the commitment of US ground forces, the NLF president Nguyen Huu Tho told me that he estimated that if the United States decided to intervene, they would probably put in around 500,000 troops. This was at the Lunar New Year 1964, but the NLF president did not have the benefit of McNamara’s computers!) However it proves that the Pentagon and White House were well aware in early November 1961 that they had embarked on the step-by-step course of full-scale warfare in South Vietnam.
In order to justify the despatch of the first troops, Jorden was given the task of rushing out a “white paper” to prove that the whole problem in the South was “aggression and subversion” from the North. There is a Rusk-McNamara recommendation to the President, dated November 11, point five of which proposes that as the US military personnel to be sent would be a violation of the Geneva Agreements, the government “publish the ‘Jorden report’ as a US ‘white paper,’ transmitting it as simultaneously as possible to the governments of all countries with which we have diplomatic relations, including the Communist states...” (Gravel ed., II:115). This was done. When it came out—as a “Blue Book”—Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General, is reported to have called Jorden in and said, “Bill—there is not a single fact in that report that would stand up in a court of law.”
Confirmation that Hanoi’s information on the Staley Plan was correct was soon to come in operational terms and as regards the Third Phase of an offensive against the North, there is a passage in Maxwell Taylor’s full report of November 3, in which—waxing more and more enthusiastic as he moves from “flood control” to broader prospects—he writes: “It is clear to me that the time may come in our relations to Southeast Asia when we must declare our intention to attack the source of guerrilla aggression in North Vietnam and impose on the Hanoi Government a price for participating in the current war which is commensurate with the damage being inflicted on its neighbors to the South...” (Gravel ed., II:98).
It is generally considered that US intervention started on December 11, 1961, when two helicopter companies of 36 Shawnee helicopters and 370 officers and men of the US army together with 7 T-28 trainer-combat planes were landed in Saigon. But Hanoi reported that a squadron of “B-26” bombers “and several hundred US officers, NCOs and troops arrived at the Bien Hoa air base on November 10, 1961.
While the State Department was trying to peddle the myth of North Vietnam’s “aggression and subversion” against the South to cover up the start of its own war of aggression against the whole Vietnamese people, there was very real “aggression and subversion” being carried out by CIA-directed operations against the North. “On July 24, 1961, General Arthur D. Trudeau, Chief of Research and Development of the US armed forces, a specialist in ‘activities of subversion and sabotage’ in the socialist countries, author of a plan for sabotage and subversion in Eastern Europe and North Vietnam,’ came in person to South Vietnam,” (13) reports a document published by the Press and Information Department of the DRV’s foreign ministry, in 1964. “Since then,” continues this document, “under the guidance of the CIA, the armed forces of the United States and its agents, starting from South Vietnam and sometimes from US bases in the Pacific, have made frequent intrusions into the air space and territorial waters of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. (14) Spy commandos, direcdy organized, trained and equipped by US specialists, have been repeatedly smuggled in groups into North Vietnam by land, by sea and by air for the purposes of espionage, provocation and sabotage.
“They are usually South Vietnam Army non-commissioned officers and men born in North Vietnam, or youths who had been forcibly evacuated from North to South Vietnam by the French Union Forces. They are well acquainted with various regions in North Vietnam, where some of them also have relatives. They had been enlisted by the US intelligence agencies and their men into ‘Special Force’ units under Colonel Lam Son, who had replaced Colonel Le Quang Tung. (15) They underwent training in the centers of Nha Trang, Tourane (Da nang) or Saigon, and in some cases in Taiwan, Guam or Okinawa. They were initiated into the secret of the job by US mihtary and inteUigence experts.
“They were subsequently sent to North Vietnam with instructions to engage, depending on the cases, in various activities: collection of intelligence data — military, political, economic and otherwise, psychological warfare: distribution of leaflets, dissemination of false and tendentious news, kidnapping or assassination of officials, army men and civilians with a view to extorting intelligence data or creating an atmosphere of insecurity, sabotage of defense installations, warehouses, factories and workshops, mines, bridges, roads, railways and setting up of local spy-rings or hotbeds of armed activities particularly in remote hilly areas, with the specific aim of eventually starting ‘guerrilla’ operations in North Vietnam. ‘To achieve the above objectives, the United States and the South Vietnam Administration have undertaken large-scale smuggling of spy-commandos into North Vietnam, heedless of their agents’ fate, the successful outcome of only one operation out of a hundred being already, in their eyes, a success.
“But, in the face of the vigilance and the patriotism being displayed by the people of North Vietnam, they will reap only bitter setbacks. The US news agency UPI itself was compelled to admit openly on February 22, 1964, that ‘about 85 to 90 percent (of course these figures are below the actual ones—Ed.) of the South Vietnamese guerrilla specialists airdropped or otherwise smuggled into North Vietnam were either killed or captured.’... (16)
“In spite of many serious defeats in South Vietnam and the shameful failure of their provocation and sabotage vis-a-vis the DRV, the United States and the South Vietnam administration are still contemplating ‘major sabotage raids which would have a quick and serious effect’...”
The booklet then lists 62 cases of air violations, usually associated with the dropping of commandos or attempts to establish air-ground liaison with those already dropped and 22 naval operations for the same purpose.
Such groups were almost always rounded up within hours of being dropped or landed. The Foreign Ministry documents cite many specific cases. For example:
At about 1 A.M. on April 13, 1963, an aircraft coming from South Vietnam intruded into the airspace of North Vietnam and dropped a group of spy-commandos on a hilly area northwest of Kien Thanh commune at the limits of Ha Bac and Lang Son provinces. Immediately after the landing and before they had time to come into contact with one another and to hide their equipment underground, the spy-commandos were rounded up by the local security forces, militia and people. In their stampede, they left behind three cases of weapons, signal equipment, instruments for sabotage, food rations and medicines, six spare parachutes, six plastic hats and parachutists’ cotton-padded attire. Continuing their pursuit, the local people and armed forces successively arrested five spy-commandos and shot dead a sixth one who had tried to oppose resistance, and who... was subsequently identified as Luong Van Pho, sabotage agent...
They have been sent to North Vietnam with the following task:
—to sabotage defense installations, economic establishments, warehouses, bridges and means of transport and communication;
—to collect intelligence information;
—to kidnap and assassinate officials, armymen and simple civilians;
—to establish spy-rings, to corrupt and sow dissension among the various nationalities in the area.
The ringleader was sentenced to death in a public trial on July 10, 1963, in Lang Son, the others to from 10 years to life imprisonment. Typical of the statements was that of Than Van Kinh, head of the group and sentenced to life imprisonment. Apart from the technical details of the mission, he testified that he and the others “had been trained by US advisers in intelligence work, the use of mines and explosives for sabotage purposes, parachute-jumping, the kidnapping of officials, etc. Before leaving for North Vietnam, we were briefed by two US advisers and Captain Anh, who assigned to us the following task: to sabotage the railways and National Road No. 1, railway stations, bridges and sluices, water tanks and locomotives, etc....”
Four months before the Taylor mission and Jorden’s fable, an American plane had dropped a group of spy commandos in Quang Binh province—just north of the 17th parallel—and a month later—just after midnight on July 2, 1961, a C47 was shot down in Kim Son district, Ninh Binh province and all members of a group of 10 commandos were captured. (One had bailed out and landed on the roof of the home of the secretary of the local branch of the Communist [Lao Dong] party!)
These activities are not revealed in the Pentagon Papers, although they constitute “acts of war” under internationally accepted definitions of the term.
In a chronology of events (Gravel ed., III:117), there is reference to a NSAM 52 (National Security Action Memorandum) of May 11, 1963, authorizing “CIA-sponsored covert operations against NVN,” and to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on September 3, 1963, having “approved this program for non-attributable ‘hit-and-run’ operations against NVN, supported by US military advisory material and training assistance.” Again on November 23 of the same year there is a NSAM 273, authorizing “planning for specific covert operations, graduated in intensity, against the DRV.”
There is also a rather wistful admission of failure, in a conversation between Secretary McNamara, Maxwell Taylor and General Nguyen Khanh, then in power in Saigon, in May 1964. Khanh was pushing for “attacks on the North.” Taylor “asked how best to attack the North. It had been noted that small-scale operations had had no success...” (Gravel ed., III:72).
I find no reference in the Pentagon Papers to anyone posing the question as to why it was the ill-armed “Vietcong” guerrillas were able to flourish in the South, protected by the local population, while the life or liberty of superbly equipped agents dropped into the North could usually be counted in hours!
Finally the Pentagon Papers version of the Tonkin Gulf “incident” (which provided President Johnson with his blank check to bomb the North and invade the South) has to be compared with the North Vietnamese version. In the section “Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965” (Gravel ed., III: 106-109) there is reference to “pressure planning” and to plans for mounting “overt coercive pressures against the North.” US ambassador in Saigon, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Johnson’s national security adviser Walt Rostow are quoted as urging “increased military measures” and it is revealed that “during the third quarter of 1964, a consensus developed within the Johnson Administration that some form of continual overt pressures mounting in severity against North Vietnam would soon be required....
“Although it did not take the form of decision, it was agreed that the US should at an unspecified date in the future begin an incremental series of gradually mounting strikes against North Vietnam. The only real questions were precisely what actions should be taken and when?...
“The key events in this period were the Tonkin Gulf incidents of August 2nd and 4th and the US reprisal on North Vietnam PT boats and bases on August 5th. The explanation for the DRV attack on US ships remains puzzling.... The US reprisal represented the carrying out of recommendations made to the President by his principal advisers earlier that summer and subsequently placed on the shelf....” The report then goes on to describe how President Johnson used the incidents to have his blank-check resolution passed almost unanimously on August 7, 1964.
Although this report is rather coy as to the actual background to the Tonkin Bay “incident,” it is less so as to the Pentagon frame of mind afterwards. It would have been more realistic had McNamara’s researchers related this frame of mind to the “incident” itself. The “limited and fitting response” to use President Johnson’s description of the bombing of North Vietnam’s northern coastal areas on August 5, 1964, brought the “pressures-against-the-North thinking to a head in the strategy meetings of the principals on September 7th,” according to the Pentagon Papers’ version. “One program proposal came from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was a repeat of the 94-target list program which the JCS had recommended on August 26th. The JCS called for deliberate attempts to provoke the DRV into taking acts which could then be answered by a systematic US air campaign (My italics. W.B.). The JCS argued that such actions were now ‘essential to preventing complete collapse of the US position in the RVN and SEA,’ because ‘continuation of present or foreseeable programs limited to the RVN will not produce the desired result.’ The Chiefs were supported by ISA (17) in their provocation approach” (Gravel ed., III:110).
The DRV version of the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” makes it quite clear that the “provocation approach” was the cause and not a result, of the incident.
A rough timetable of the background to the “Tonkin Gulf incident” is as follows:
2 Mar 1964 The Joint Chiefs of Staff outline their proposal for punitive action to halt Northern support for the VC insurgency. Bombing is specifically called for. [It is worth noting that the proposal to bomb the North was linked to the failure of the Saigon regime to implement US policies in the South and the resistance of the peasants to the “Strategic Hamlet” program. It had the logic of the sort of blind reprisals against hostages that the Nazis used in occupied Europe every time one of their gauleiters or lesser stars was assassinated. There was a parallel in late December 1971, when President Nixon ordered a series of massive air attacks against the DRV because of successes of the resistance forces in Laos and Cambodia!]
14 Mar 1964 The JCS... reiterate their views of 2 March that a program of actions against the North is required to effectively strike at the sources of the insurgency.
17 Mar The JCS are authorized to begin planning studies for striking at the sources of insurgency in the DRV.
4 Apr In a letter to [Ambassador] Lodge, Bundy (18) asks him to comment on a scenario for mobilizing domestic US political support for action against the DRV.
17-20 Apr Secretary of State Rusk and party visit Saigon.... At the April 19 meeting with the Country Team, much of the discussion is devoted to the problem of pressures against the North. (19)
15 Jun W. P. Bundy memo to SecState and SecDef.... One of the important themes is that an act of irreversible US commitment might provide the necessary psychological support to get real reform and effectiveness from the GVN. (Again the theme that the North is considered hostage for reprisals in order to get a more stable government in the South. W.B.)
19 Jul In a public speech, Khanh [General Nguyen Khanh, the US “strong man” at the top in Saigon at that time. W.B.] refers to the “March to the North.” In a separate statement to the press, General [Nguyen Cao] Ky also refers to the “march North” [In more detailed references to these and subsequent such statements it transpires that the “March to the North” means US “reprisal bombings.” W.B.].
2 Aug The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked in the Tonkin Gulf by DRV patrol craft while on a DE SOTO patrol off the DRV coast. Several patrol boats sunk. (20)
4 Aug In a repetition of the 2 August incident, the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy are attacked. After strenuous efforts to confirm the attacks, the President authorizes reprisal air strikes against the North.
5 Aug US aircraft attack several DRV patrol boat bases, destroying ships and facilities.
7 Aug At the time of the attacks, the President briefed leaders of Congress and had a resolution of support for US policy introduced. It is passed with near-unanimity by both Houses.
11 Aug The President signs the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and pledges full support for the GVN.
18 Sep The first resumed DE SOTO patrol comes under apparent attack. To avoid future incidents, the President suspends the patrols. [With the blank check already in his pocket, Johnson no longer needed the provocations of the DE SOTO patrols. W.B.]
The DRV claims that a series of provocations started on July 30 at 11:40 p.m. when US and South Vietnamese warships shelled the North Vietnamese islands of Hon Ngu and Hon Me, four and twelve kilometers respectively off the coast of Thanh Hoa province. From July 31 to August 2, the destroyer Maddox “operated very near the Vietnamese coast in Quang Binh, Ha Tinh, Nghe An and Thanh Hoa provinces.” (21)
“On August 1, at 11:45 a.m., four T-28s coming from the direction of Laos bombed and strafed the Nam Can frontier post—7 kilometers from the Vietnam- Laos border—which was visibly flying the flag of the DRV and also Noong De village, about 20 kms from the same border. Both places are situated far inside Vietnamese territory and belong to Ky Son district, Nghe An province....” The raid against Nam Can was repeated the following day with 7 T-28s and AD-6s, also coming from the direction of Laos, according to the foreign ministry report, which continues:
“On August 2, at 3 p.m. [local time], while in Vietnamese waters between Hon Me and Lach Truong [Thanh Hoa] the Maddox, encountering patrol boats of the DRV, opened fire at them. Confronted with such brazen provocation, the Vietnamese boats had to take defensive action to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial waters, protect the fishermen, and finally drove the intruder out of Vietnamese waters.
“On August 3, at 11 p.m. [local time], under the cover of the Ticonderoga task group stationed in the offing, four warships—two small and two big—intruded into Vietnamese waters, and opened fire with 40 mm guns and 12.7 mm machine guns at Ron and Deo Ngang areas [Quang Binh province on the North Vietnamese mainland. W.B.].
“On August 5, 1964, from 12:30 to 5 p.m. (local time), Skyhawk, Crusader and Phantom jets and Skyraider aircraft taking off from the carriers Constellation and Ticonderoga anchored in the Gulf of Bac Bo (Tonkin Gulf) came in many waves to bomb and rocket a number of places along the North Vietnamese coast, the vicinity of Hong Gai town, Lach Truong, the vicinity of Ben Thuy — Vinh, the mouth of the Gianh River....” The events between July 30 and August 2 were also described in a statement issued by a spokesman for the High Command of the Vietnam People’s Army, on August 4.
The DRV Memorandum denied as a “farce” the charge that it attacked US destroyers on the night of August 4, describing the charge as “an out-and-out fabrication,” and makes the following points:
President Johnson said that following the August 2, 1964, “attack” in the Gulf of Bac Bo, he ordered the destroyer Turner Joy—then in the Philippines— to join the Maddox. In fact at 7:30 p.m. on August 2, the Turner Joy was already in the Gulf of Bac Bo, east of Deo Ngang. In other words, it must have received the relevant instructions prior to “the first attack” on the Maddox.
President Johnson also said that following the “second attack,” in the night of August 4, 1964, he ordered the aircraft carrier Constellation to sail to the Gulf of Bac Bo as reinforcement to the US Navy there. Actually the Constellation left Hong Kong in the morning of August 4, 1964. This was confirmed by its commander, Captain Frederic A. Bardshar, at his August 10, 1964 press conference. (22) in the evening of August 4, 1964, i.e., prior to the “second attack,” the carrier was already in the Gulf of Bac Bo.
Judging by President Johnson’s assertions, it would appear that the destroyer Maddox was the only US warship in the Gulf of Bac Bo in the evening of August 2, As a matter of fact, four destroyers were operating at that time along the North Vietnamese coast, namely the Maddox, the Turner Joy, the Samuel Moore and the Berkeley.
In the evening of August 4 and prior to the “second attack,” 11 US warships belonging to the 7th Fleet were already on the spot. Ticonderoga task group with the aircraft-carrier Ticonderoga, destroyers Samuel Moore, Edison, Harry Hubbard and Berkeley, Constellation task group with the aircraft-carrier Constellation, destroyers Preston and Fechteler, and the USS Gridley; and finally the two destroyers Maddox and Turner Joy.
According to President Johnson’s August 4, 1964, statement, the air strike against North Vietnam was decided following the “second attack” on US warships in the Gulf of Bac Bo.
“But, according to the Reuter correspondent who attended the August 10, 1964, press conference aboard a ship of the 7th Fleet, the pilot of an A-4 jet based on the carrier Constellation—whose name was not given—said that the pilots were informed of the attack against North Vietnam back in the morning of August 4, that is in the evening of August 3 (Washington time)....
The August 5, 1964, air raid was not an isolated action: on the contrary, it came in the wake of a series of other US war acts against the DRV....”
The Memorandum then quotes a DRV government declaration of August 6, 1964, that: “The air strafing and bombing of August 5, 1964, are obviously a premeditated act of war within the US Government’s plan for intensified provocation and sabotage against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam... an extremely serious act of war... which constitutes a blatant violation of international law and the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Indo-China, and adds to the danger of extended war in Indo-China and South-East Asia.”
All that has happened since, including the revelations of the Pentagon Papers —inadequate as they are in many instances—confirm how completely accurate was this immediate evaluation of the “Tonkin incident” by the government of the DRV.
From the August 5 air attacks to operations “Flaming Dart”—a so-called “reprisal raid” on Febuary 8, 1965, for a guerrilla attack on a US helicopter base as Pleiku, and “Rolling Thunder”—the code name for the systematic bombing of North Vietnam, starting March 2, 1965, was but a short step once Congress had given Johnson power to do what he liked in Southeast Asia. That by this time he was looking for pretexts to put into effect decisions taken months earlier, is documented in a Chronology (Gravel ed., III:275ff.) which reveals that it was decided on January 28, to resume the provocative DE SOTO patrols “on or about 3 February” and that on January 29, the “Joint Chiefs of Staff urged again that a strong reprisal action be taken immediately after the next DRV/VC provocation. In particular, they propose targets and readiness to strike should the forthcoming resumption of the DE SOTO patrols be challenged.”
The DE SOTO patrols were, in fact, called off temporarily because Soviet premier Kosygin was due to arrive within a few days in Hanoi. A routine guerrilla attack on a US base, however, was used as the pretext to set “Flaming Dart” into operation, and five days later Johnson approved “Rolling Thunder.” Within six days of the start of “Rolling Thunder” the first marines started disembarking at Danang and the United States was fully committed to a war of destruction against the DRV and a war of aggression against the Vietnamese people as a whole.
1. Although my task was to compare certain elements of the Pentagon Papers with Vietnamese “communist historical sources dealing with the same period,” I have drawn on my own on-the-spot experiences for certain aspects which were not covered at the time, for reasons of security, by North Vietnamese official documents. This applies especially for such matters as the Lansdale sabotage efforts in the period immediately after the Geneva Agreements. W.B.
2. The above and following passages represent the first reaction from Hanoi to the publication of the Pentagon Papers. They are from the Introduction to “Les Vrais et les Faux Secrets du Pentagone” (True and False Pentagon Secrets) published in booklet form by Le Court ier d Vietnam, Hanoi, 1971.
3. Crisis Now by James M. Gavin, in collaboration with Arthur T. Hadley Vintage Books, May 1968, pp. 46-49.
4. “Binh” and “Hao” are the code names given by Lansdale in his report for the espionage-sabotage groups sent into the North.
5. L’Agonie de I’Indochine by General Henri Navarre, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1956.
6. “North of the 17th Parallel,” Hanoi, Septtmber 1955.
7. “Official Gazette” of the Republic of Vietnam, No. 5, January 28, 1956.
8. Quoted by the author in This Furtive War, p. 48. International Publishers, New York, 1963.
9. ICC Note No. IC/FB/3/2/18, Jan. 7, 1958.
10. Memorandum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, February 1962.
11. The Furtive War, p. 67, International Publishers, New York, 1963.
12. William Jorden, formerly of AP and the New York Times, turned up as Harriman’s spokesman at the Paris Peace talks in May, 1968.
13. The Wall Street Journal, on May 24, 1961, reported that General Trudeau had worked out a plan for “sabotage and subversion of Eastern Europe and North Vietnam,” which is the source quoted by the DRV document.
14. A list of such incidents during 1961-1962, was published by the DRV in July 1963, but is not in the hands of the author at the time of writing.
15. Former head of South Vietnam’s “Special Forces.” He was executed at the time of the coup against Diem.
16. Quoted from the same UPI despatch of Febmary 22, 1964.
17. ISA: Office of International Security Affairs, Defense Department.
18. William P. Bundy, then Under Secretary of State for Asian Affairs.
19. The timetable references are taken verbatim from Gravel ed., III:8-13. The “Country Team” is apparently the top US military, diplomatic, CIA, etc., personnel in Saigon.
20. DE SOTO was a code name for destroyer patrols off the coast of North Vietnam, which usually took place within the latter’s territorial waters, claimed as 12 nautical miles.
21. This and other quotes are from a “Memorandum regarding the US war acts against the DRV in the first days of August 1964,” published by the DRV’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 1964.
22. The Memorandum cites Renter for this information.