Copyright © 1972 by Noam Chomsky
*This is part of a much longer study of the Pentagon Papers that will appear elsewhere.
The Pentagon Papers as Propaganda and as History* by Noam Chomsky
Though in no sense a history of American involvement in Indochina, the Pentagon study adds many important details to the historical record. As a general assessment, it seems to me fair to say that it corroborates, with direct documentation, reasonable inferences that have been drawn in the most critical literature on the war. (1) The Pentagon historians do, at times, try to distinguish the evidence that they present from the conclusions in the critical literature, but unsuccessfully. As an example, consider the crucial question of the origins of the insurgency in South Vietnam (1954-1960). The director of the study, Leslie Gelb, has a long analytic summary in which he takes some pains to demonstrate that critics of the war have been in error in crucial respects, adding that “few Administration critics have had access to the classified information upon which [these] judgments are based” (Gravel edition, I:260). (2) Gelb claims to provide a substantial correction in his discussion of the May 1959 meeting of the Central Committee of the DRV Lao Dong Party (Fifteenth Plenum), which he regards (citing Communist sources) as “the point of departure for DRV intervention,” when a decision was taken “actively to seek the overthrow of Diem” (Gravel ed., I:264, 260).
Turning to the critics, Gelb asserts that “Most attacks on U.S. policy have been based on the proposition that the DRV move on the South came with manifest reluctance, and after massive U.S. intervention in 1961.” As his sole example to support this assertion, he cites the following passages from Kahin and Lewis:
Contrary to U.S. policy assumptions, all available evidence shows that the revival of the civil war in the South in 1958 was undertaken by Southerners at their own—not Hanoi’s—initiative.... Insurrectionary activity against the Saigon government began in the South under Southern leadership not as a consequence of any dictate from Hanoi, but contrary to Hanoi’s injunctions. (3)
Evidently, the quoted remarks are entirely irrelevant to the conclusion they are adduced to support. Neither in these remarks nor elsewhere do Kahin and Lewis state or imply that “the DRV move on the South came ... after massive U.S. intervention in 1961.” In fact, they cite a DRV statement of September 1960 as the first official “encouragement of militant tactics by the Southerners.” In this public statement, according to Kahin and Lewis, the “Northern leadership [made] it clear that it sanctioned formation of a United Front and approved a program for the violent overthrow of the Diem government” (p. 115). As to the remarks Gelb quotes, he himself claims only that “Hanoi moved thereafter [i.e., after 1958] to capture the revolution” (Gravel ed., I:265). He gives no evidence to refute the contention that insurrectionary activity against the Saigon regime through 1958 was independent of Hanoi. The evidence presented in the Pentagon Papers in no way contradicts the passages he quotes, irrelevantly, from Kahin and Lewis.
A few pages earlier, Gelb attributes to “Critics of U.S. policy in Vietnam” the view that the DRV was “impelled to unleash the South Vietnamese” regroupees “only after it became clear, in late 1960 [sic], that the U.S. would commit massive resources to succor Diem in his internal war” (Gravel ed., I:251). French analysts, Gelb claims, “have long been advancing such interpretations,” and he cites specifically Philippe Devillers, giving several long quotations from an article that appeared in 1962. (4) Apart from the fact that the U.S. commitment did not [ become clear in late 1960, Devillers says nothing of the sort, and the quotes Gelb cites are as irrelevant to the claim he is attempting to establish as those from Kahin and Lewis. Neither Devillers nor Kahin and Lewis put forth the view that 1! Gelb is trying to refute, namely, that DRV moves to “capture the revolution” ii were a response to “massive U.S. intervention in 1961.” They argue, rather, that “the insurrection is Southern rooted; it arose at Southern initiative in response to Southern demands,” led initially by “Southern Vietminh veterans who felt betrayed by the Geneva Conference and abandoned by Hanoi,” which, initially reluctant, “was then obliged to sanction the Southerners’ actions or risk forfeiting all chance of influence over the course of events in South Vietnam” (Kahin and Lewis, p. 119). Their position can no doubt be challenged, and perhaps modified, on the basis of evidence that has since come to light, but the crucial point, in the present connection, is that they never so much as hint at the position that Gelb attempts to refute in his effort to distinguish the conclusions of the critical literature from the material unearthed by the Pentagon historians.
Gelb further notes that Diem was “entirely correct when he stated that his was a nation at war in early 1959” (Gravel ed., I:265). Pursuing the matter further, we discover that “early 1959” happens to be March 1959, (5) that is, two months prior to the meeting which Gelb takes to be “the point of departure for DRV intervention,” when a decision was taken “actively to seek the overthrow of Diem” (Gravel ed., I:264, 260). Thus Gelb’s account not only does not contradict the quoted passages from Kahin and Lewis, but actually supports them, when relevant details are made explicit.
There remains the interesting question whether Hanoi did “capture the revolution” after 1958, as Gelb evidently believes. The conclusion is not implausible on the basis of the little that is known, but the arguments that Gelb presents are hardly compelling, nor do they make the best case. Thus he argues that the rapid growth of the NLF “is a further indication that the Hanoi-directed communist (party apparatus had been engaged to the fullest in the initial organization and subsequent development of the NLF” (Gravel ed., I:265). This is on a par with Douglas Pike’s proof that the “master planner” of the NLF must have been Ho Chi Minh from the beginning, when it “sprang full-blown into existence and then was fleshed out” exploiting “grievances ... developed or manufactured almost as a necessary afterthought.” The proof is that the NLF “projected a social construction program of such scope and ambition that of necessity it must have been created in Hanoi and imported.” (6) In the face of such powerful argumentation, one can only lapse into silence.
Notice further that Devillers, in the article cited, in fact refers to the May 1959 meeting—though Gelb does not mention this—stating that there was a debate over the issue of “effective support for Southern comrades,” and that the tendency in favor of such support “had made itself felt in the field in the shape of the aid given at the beginning of 1960 to the maquis....” Thus we see, still more clearly, that in this instance the Pentagon Papers add little of substance to the earlier conclusions of the critical literature, which Gelb misrepresents. Furthermore, access to classified information was not needed to determine the basic facts. Rather, as has generally been the case, inattention to the public record has obscured the facts. Gelb’s speculations (they are no more than this) as to the initial DRV intervention do, as is noted, contradict the conclusion of P. J. Honey that Hanoi was committed to the Moscow line of peaceful coexistence until late 1960 (Gravel ed., I:261), but Honey, who is described as “a British expert” or “the British authority on North Vietnam,” (7) is hardly one of those who direct “attacks on U.S. policy” in the sense Gelb intends.
Though Gelb fails entirely to engage the critical literature, nevertheless the issue that he raises is of interest in itself. His interpretation of the Fifteenth Plenum of May 1959 is somewhat different from Devillers’, and though there is little relevant evidence in the Pentagon Papers, it is possible to pursue the issue using other sources. Gelb concludes that not later than spring 1959—i.e., at the Fifteenth Plenum—the DRV leaders made a clear decision “actively to seek the overthrow of Diem. Thereafter, the DRV pressed toward that goal by military force and by subversive aggression, both in Laos and in South Vietnam.” The “principal strategic debate over this issue,” he maintains, “took place between 1956 and 1958.” He concedes that during this period “some DRV leaders” perhaps “did attempt to hold back southern rebels on the grounds that ‘conditions’ were not ripe for an uprising” (Gravel ed., I:260). In contrast, Devillers (in an article dated November 1961) held that the debate concerned possible “international complications likely to hinder the diplomacy of the Socialist camp,” though some “activist” elements succeeded, in the May 1959 meeting, in setting in motion a program of aid for the Southern resistance. As to the hypothesis that the fighting in South Vietnam is directed from Hanoi, Devillers asserts that it “is certainly a plausible one,” and he cites an article in the Nhan Dan of Hanoi as one of several that “make it seem very likely,” but he remains cautious, noting, in particular, that “to formulate [the hypothesis of DRV control] serves the purposes of Communist propaganda.” His point is that both the United States and the Vietnamese Communists have a stake (for different reasons) in establishing that the NLF is under the control of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Therefore, evidence on this matter from these sources must be treated critically.
We return to Gelb’s discussion of alleged DRV resort to military force and subversive aggression, consequent to the May 1959 meeting. Let us consider first the other matter at issue, namely, the content and significance of the meeting. Available evidence is conflicting. Allan Goodman reports that “Vietcong who defected in 1961-1962, in part, gave as their reason for changing sides the reluctance of Hanoi to authorize anything beyond political action among the population.” (8) In fact, surveys of Vietcong prisoners and defectors just prior to the American escalation of early 1965 found “most native South Vietnamese guerrillas unaware of any North Vietnamese role in the war, except as a valued ally” 1 (and revealed, as well, that few considered themselves to be Communists, and that “persuasion and indoctrination” appeared to be the major devices used by the Vietcong, rather than “the authoritarianism of traditional armies,” (9) confirming the general conclusion of even such a hostile observer as Douglas Pike—see also below, pp. 186, 187f.).
Jeffrey Race’s very valuable study (see my note 6), on the other hand, supports Gelb’s interpretation of the decision of the Fifteenth Plenum, while at the same time adding considerable depth of evidence to the (uncontested) view that the insurrection was well underway at that time and confirming the general interpretation of the origins of the insurgency given by Devillers and Kahin-Lewis. Race includes that “sometime around the middle of 1956 the Party made the decision to rebuild its apparatus in the South” (Race, p. 39). According to the highest ranking Party cadre Race was able to locate (captured in 1962), this was “a very dark period,” given the realization that the Geneva Accords would not be implemented and that the Diem government, which had already severely damaged the underground apparatus (with ample use of terror) and was now turning to the countryside, might well consolidate its position. From 1956, the Party’s political activity was carried out under the cover of the “Vietnamese People’s Liberation Movement.” Its programs appealed primarily, and with much success, to the demands for social justice that had been aroused by the Vietminh resistance, which (in Long An at least) had demonstrated to the peasantry that it was possible to overthrow the power of the local elite. This, Race argues, was the primary significance of the resistance (Race, p. 40). In the late 1950s, “the revolutionary organization [was] being ground down while the revolutionary potential was increasing,” the reason for this “anomaly” being “the Central Committee’s decision that, except in limited circumstances, violence would not be used, even in selfdefense, against the increasing repressiveness of the government” (Race, p. 104).
This is the background of the May 1959 meeting in Hanoi. Though no record is available of its decisions, Race concludes from interviews and subsequent instructions that it “set forth a new line for the revolution in the South,” with the “political struggle line” replaced by a decision to combine political and armed struggle, taken after a “sharp conflict within the Central Committee” (Race, p. 105). Although “the grievances on which the campaign was founded lay in the South, nevertheless the major strategic decisions were made by the Central Committee in Hanoi.” He reports that the few high-level cadres in government hands are insistent on this point, and concludes that although Kahin and Lewis and Devillers were correct in emphasizing “the effect of the increasing repressiveness of the Diem regime in generating pressure for armed action in the South,” evidence that has come to light since they wrote indicates that they tended to exaggerate the independence of the southern movement (Race, pp. 107-108; recall, however, Devillers’ qualified statements).
The high-ranking captive mentioned earlier refers to the anger of southern Party members toward the Central Committee and their demand for armed action to preserve their existence in the face of the Diem repression of the former Vietminh (in explicit violation of the Geneva Agreements, it might be noted). The Fifteenth Plenum, he reports, decided to permit “the southern organization ... to develop armed forces with the mission of supporting the political struggle line” (Race, pp. 110-1 11). Race believes that the reluctance of the Central Committee to authorize even armed self-defense during these years derived from the concern for internal problems in the North, Soviet pressure, and “a natural conflict between those making sacrifices at the front and those making policy decisions in the rear,” who regarded the situation as not yet “ripe” (Race, p. 111). The southerners hesitated to undertake armed struggle for fear of violating the Party line, but after the May 1959 meeting they were no longer so constrained (Race, p. 113). From this point on, the threat of terror was “equalized,” and violence was no longer a government monopoly. The Party quickly became the ruler in considerable areas of the province; by 1960, government forces in Long An province were collapsing without a shot being fired, undermined from within by Party propaganda, and the government apparatus quickly disappeared from the scene (Race, pp. 94-95, 116, 184ff.). The revolutionary potential had become reality.
Race describes the measures approved at the May 1959 meeting as “stopgap moves intended to catch up with events which had in fact overtaken the Party in the South.” The September Party Congress cited by Kahin and Lewis (see above, p. 179) “definitively approved the new direction of Party poUcy in the South ...” (Race, pp. 120-121). In late 1964 the situation had so deteriorated that a free strike zone was established in the northwestern part of the province and ten to fifteen thousand residents were moved by government decree (Race, pp. 135, 168). “By early 1965 revolutionary forces had gained victory in virtually all the rural areas of Long An” (Race, p. 140).
The analysts in the Pentagon study generally exhibit a commitment to the ideological underpinnings of U.S. policy and its specific aims. One refers to Marx, Mao and “French revolutionary romanticism” as “the most virulent, and vicious social theories of the era” (Gravel ed., I:333). The reader may rest assured that none of the analysts would be so irresponsible and emotional as to use such terms as “virulent” or “vicious” in discussing, say, American military tactics in South Vietnam, or the general policies and assumptions that brought them into “operational reality.” For the most part, the bias of the analysts is not concealed— a virtue, not a defect, of the presentation.
In case after case, the analysts reiterate U.S. government claims as if they are established fact. Consider again Gelb’s assertion that after the May 1959 meeting, with its decision “actively to seek the overthrow of Diem,” “the DRV pressed toward that goal by military force and by subversive aggression, both in Laos and in South Vietnam” (Gravel ed., I:260). Expanding on this claim, he states (Gravel ed., I:264) that “Within a month of the Fifteenth Plenum, the DRV began to commit its armed forces in Laos....” No evidence is presented in the summary or elsewhere to demonstrate that the DRV sent its armed forces into ;Laos in June 1959, let alone that this was an outcome of the May meeting in Hanoi. The earliest claim that Viet Minh forces were involved in the fighting in Laos was a Royal Lao Government [RLG] report of July 29. No one, to my knowledge, holds that the Pathet Lao offensive of the summer of 1959 was a consequence of the meeting of May 1959 in Hanoi. As to the intervention of DRV armed forces, careful studies disagree, the general attitude being one of considerable skepticism. Hugh Toye concludes that the allegations were false. (10) Langer and Zasloff maintain that Laotian intelligence has evidence of North Vietnamese participation in the summer offensive. (11) They also note, as Gelb does not, that this offensive followed the American-backed civil-military takeover in Vienitiane, the attempt to disarm Pathet Lao battalions in May 1959, and the arrest of sixteen leaders of the political arm of the Pathet Lao (among them, the delegates who had just been elected to the National Assembly in a left-wing victory that set off the U.S. effort at large-scale subversion in Laos). (12) In the most recent study to appear, Charles Stevenson takes the claim of North Vietnamese intervention to be unbsubstantiated, citing also Bernard Fall’s skepticism. He concludes further that, contrary to U.S. government claims, “The initiation of the hostilities should be attributed to the [U.S.-backed Phoui Sananikone government, as it was in a Rand corporation study a year later,” not to the Pathet Lao, let alone the DRV. (13) If there was North Vietnamese involvement in the summer offensive, I was more likely a response to the events of May and the direct U.S. intervention (14) than a consequence of a Lao Dong Party decision to take over South Vietnam, as Gelb implies.
Gelb’s comments on this matter are particularly surprising in the light of the documentation available to him. A SNIE of September 18, 1959 (DOD, book 10, 1244 ff.), concludes that “the initiation of Communist guerrilla warfare in Laos in mid-July was primarily a reaction to a series of actions by the Royal Lao Government which threatened drastically to weaken the Communist position in Laos,” in particular, a reaction to the success of the new Laotian government, with increased U.S. backing, in blocking Communist efforts “to move by legal political competition toward its objective of gaining control of Laos.” Intelligence estimated that the total number of guerrillas involved was about 1,500 to 2,000 at most. It believed “it is almost certain some [North Vietnamese] are involved in the guerrilla activity, particularly in coordination, communication, and advisory roles,” though “we have no conclusive evidence.” Even this assessment must be taken with a grain of skepticism at least, given the long-standing prejudice in the “intelligence community” with regard to “international communism” and its alleged responsibility for local initiatives everywhere in Indochina.
In short, it will hardly do to describe the situation in Laos in the summer of 1959 by stating, with not a word of additional background: “Within a month of the Fifteenth Plenum, the DRV began to commit its armed forces in Laos, and steadily escalated its aid to the Pathet Lao,” pressing toward the goal of overthrowing Diem, established at the Fifteenth Plenum, by military force and subversive aggression.
Continuing with his discussion of consequences of the May 1959 meeting in Hanoi, Gelb states: “moreover, by that time [December 1960], the Soviet Union had entered the fray, and was participating in airlift operations from North Vietnam direct to Pathet Lao-NVA units in Laos.” The remark does not quite do justice to the actual situation. The Soviet airlift, which began in December 1960, was in support of the pro-Western Souvanna Phouma and the neutralist Kong Le, whose government was under attack by right-wing troops backed by the CIA and U.S. military after a long period of well-documented American subversion. There is not a hint of this in Gelb’s account, which conveys the impression of a Communist initiative to subvert Laotian independence, set in motion by the May 1959 meeting of the Lao Dong Party Central Committee in Hanoi, and by the end of 1960 involving also the Soviet Union. Gelb claims that “Both Soviet and Chinese policy seems to have bent to [Hanoi’s] ends,” namely, reunification and “Vietnamese hegemony in Southeast Asia” (Gravel ed., I:265). This is an amazing construction to found on the flimsy evidence that he presents, and when the factual gaps are filled, as in the cases just noted, his proposal seems little more than a flight of fancy. In any event, his references to Laos are hardly more than a repetition of U.S. government propaganda that is generally discounted even by highly sympathetic historians.
One further example, from a different part of the study, may suffice to illustrate the tendency to accept U.S. government claims uncritically unless they are conclusively refuted by the evidence at hand, often with neglect of evidence that is not in serious dispute. Consider the explanation of why the Wilson-Kosygin peace initiative failed during the Tet truce of February 1967. The reason, according to the analyst, is that “the enormous DRV resupply effort force[d] the President to resume the bombing ...” (Gravel ed., IV: 9, 139, 143). The careful reader will note that these alleged violations of the truce consisted only of “the massive North Vietnamese effort to move supplies into its southern panhandle” (Gravel ed., IV: 143), that is, movement of supplies within North Vietnam. The U.S. Command issued no reports of traffic moving south of Dong Hoi, about forty miles north of the 17th parallel, and had no way of knowing whether the sighted convoys were supplying the millions of people in the southern panhandle who had been living under merciless bombardment.
Meanwhile, unremarked by the analyst, the United States was not only moving supplies westward toward California and across the Pacific, but was setting a one-day record on the first day of the truce for air-delivered cargo to units in the field. U.S. planes alone carried more than 7,000 tons of supplies and 17,000 men during the first three days of the cease-fire—within South Vietnam. Reporters described long files of trucks protected by tanks and helicopters hauling munitions to the outskirts of VC-controlled Zone C, though U.S. sources in Vietnam tried to conceal this fact in misleading dispatches. Immediately after the truce, Operation Junction City was launched against Zone C. According to AFP in Le Monde, the offensive had been prepared during the Tet truce. The U.S. press mentioned neither this matter, nor a Parliamentary debate in London inspired by the facts brought together by I. F. Stone. (15) The Pentagon conceded Stone’s charges, with this amazing comment: ‘The point that Mr. Stone is missing is that we have air and naval supremacy and have no need of a truce of any kind to move supplies.” Therefore, the onus falls entirely on North Vietnam for violating the truce by the unconscionable act of moving supplies within its own territory, thus forcing the President to resume bombing and dashing hopes for a negotiated settlement. Stone describes the whole incident as the government’s most “successful Operation Brain Wash.” No brains were washed more successfully than those of the Pentagon historian, who continued blithely to repeat government propaganda, oblivious to uncontested facts. (16)
However, though the analyst misrepresents the facts, he probably does accurately depict the perception of the facts in Washington. Chester Cooper, who was involved in the London negotiations at the time, reports that the President decided to renew the bombing despite the ongoing Wilson-Kosygin efforts: “The North Vietnamese troop movements over the past several days had apparently thrown Washington into panic.” (17)
The incident is interesting not only as an illustration of the pro-government bias of the analyst, but also, once again, as an indication of the power of government propaganda to overwhelm the facts, given the general submissiveness of the mass media. It is easy to comprehend why statist ideologues complain so bitterly when the press begins to show some signs of intellectual independence.
A more subtle, and rather pervasive bias is well illustrated by other comments of Gelb’s in the analytic summary cited above. He notes that “no direct links have been established between Hanoi and perpetrators of rural violence” in the 1956-1959 period (Gravel ed., I:243). By the phrase “perpetrators of rural violence,” he does not refer to President Diem and his associates, who organized massive expeditions in 1956 to peaceful Communist-controlled regions killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of peasants and destroying whole villages by artillery bombardment, (18) nor to the “vengeful acts” of the South Vietnamese army in areas where the Vietminh had withdrawn after Geneva, “arbitrarily arresting, harassing, and torturing the population and even shooting the villagers.” (19) In this regard, Gelb merely states that: “At least through 1957, Diem and his government enjoyed marked success with fairly sophisticated pacification programs in the countryside” (Gravel ed., I:254), though he concedes that Diem instituted “oppressive measures” such as the so-called “political reeducation centers” which “were in fact litde more than concentration camps for the potential foes of the government” and a “Communist Denunciation Campaign” which “thoroughly terrified the Vietnamese peasants” (Gravel ed., I:253, 255). But he concludes that the Diem regime “compared favorably with other Asian govern ments of the same period in its respect for the person and property of citizens” (Gravel ed., I:253; in particular, for the property of the 2 percent of landowners who owned 45 percent of the land by 1960; Gravel ed., I:254). And phrases such as “perpetrators of rural violence” are, typically, restricted to the resistance in South Vietnam.
We learn a little more about Diem’s sophisticated pacification programs in the countryside from the accompanying historical analysis. “In early 1955, ARVN units were sent to establish the GVN in the Camau Peninsula.... Poorly led, ill-trained, and heavy-handed, the troops behaved towards the people very much as the Viet Minh had led the farmers to expect” (Gravel ed., I:306; the Camau experience, the analyst adds, was “more typical of the ARVN than the Binh Dinh affair,” which “went off more smoothly” and, he claims, revealed popular hostility to the Vietminh). In interrogations of prisoners and defectors, the analyst reports, most “spoke of terror, brutality and torture by GVN rural ofj ficials in carrying out the Communist Denunciation campaigns, and of the arrest and slaying of thousands of old comrades from the ‘resistance’ “ (Gravel ed., I:329). They also “spoke of making person-to-person persuasion to bring in new members for the movement, relying mainly on two appeals: nationalism and social justice.” The analyst concludes that many were not “dedicated communists in the doctrinaire sense,” that “the Viet Minh were widely admired throughout the South as national heroes,” and that “the GVN created by its li rural policy a climate of moral indignation which energized the peasants politically, turned them against the government, sustained the Viet Cong, and permitted ‘communists’ to outlast severe GVN repressions and even to recruit during it” (Gravel ed., I:329-330). Thus the unqualified anti-Vietminh campaign of the GVN was “a tactical error of the first magnitude.”
Race reaches some rather similar conclusions in his far more detailed study. Until 1959, the government had a near monopoly on violence and by employing it, succeeded in demonstrating to the population that there was no alternative to violence. The Party maintained an official policy of nonviolence, with the excep tion of the “extermination of traitors” policy undertaken in response to government terror in order to protect the existence of the Party. Although abstention from violence in the face of mounting government terror cost the Party dearly, the policy helped create the “revolutionary potential” that quickly turned the tide when the Central Committee rescinded its prohibition against armed struggle, and “the threat was equalized for both sides” (Race, pp. 184, 82-84, 113 ff.). Much the same was true in subsequent years: “... the government terrorized far more than did the revolutionary movement—for example, by liquidations of former Vietminh by artillery and ground attacks on ‘communist villages,’ and by roundups of ‘communist sympathizers.’ Yet it was just these tactics that led to the constantly increasing strength of the revolutionary movement in Long An from 1960 to 1965” (Race, p. 197).
The fundamental source of strength for the revolutionary movement was the appeal of its constructive programs, for example, the land program, which “achieved a far broader distribution of land than did the government program, and without the killing and terror which is associated in the minds of Western readers with communist practices in land reform” (Race, p. 166; in this case too, “the principal violence was brought about not by the Party but by the government, in its attempts to reinstall the landlords”). The lowest economic strata benefited the most from the redistributive policies of the Party. Authority was decentralized and placed in the hands of local people, in contrast to the rule of the GVN, perceived (accurately) as “outside forces” by major segments of the local population (Race, p. 169 ff.); “what attracted people to the revolutionary movement was that it represented a new society in which there would be an individual redistribution of values, including power and status as well as material possessions” (Race, p. 176). “The Party leadership ... structured its forces so that they were inextricably bound into the social fabric of rural communities by ties of family, friendship, and common interest” (Race, p. 177). Thus forces were of local origin, locally supplied, and oriented toward local interests.
Returning to Gelb’s quite typical form of expression, something is surely overlooked when the local cadres are portrayed simply as “perpetrators of rural violence.”
The same summary and analysis (Gravel ed., I:242-269) gives a remarkable interpretation of the post-Geneva period. In Gelb’s view, the United States and the GVN, though not “fully cooperative,” nevertheless “considered themselves constrained by the Accords” and did not “deliberately ... breach the peace.” (20) “In contrast, the DRV proceeded to mobilize its total societal resources scarcely without pause from the day the peace was signed, as though to substantiate the declaration” of Pham Van Dong that “We shall achieve unity” (Gravel ed., I:250). Thus by mobilizing its total societal resources for social and economic reconstruction, the DRV clearly demonstrated its intent to upset the Accords, “in contrast” to the peace-loving GVN and United States, who were merely maintaining the status quo as established at Geneva. The DRV could have demonstrated its sincerity only by succumbing to the famine that appeared imminent in 1954, refraining from programs of economic development, and permitting the United States to succeed in its efforts to undermine it. (21)
Gelb believes that “it is possible ... to accept the view that through 1958 the DRV still accorded priority to butter over guns, as part of its base development strategy,” namely, the strategy of making the North “a large rear echelon of our army,” “the revolutionary base for the whole country,” in General Giap’s words of January 1960 (Gravel ed., I:263-264). But these priorities changed, Gelb believes, at the May 1959 meeting. Comparing Gelb’s remarks with the facts that he cites, we might say, with somewhat greater precision, that the facts permit no interpretation other than the view he finds it possible to accept, namely, that the DRV through 1958 accorded priority to butter over guns (and, as he notes. Honey, as well as others, believe this to be the case through 1960). The claim that this concern for internal development through 1958 was nothing other than a part of the “base development strategy” is supported by no particle of evidence. It is, presumably, a logical possibility at least that the North Vietnamese leadership was interested in economic development for reasons other than “as part of its base development strategy,” just as it is possible to imagine that the mobilization of “total societal resources” for internal development might have some explanation other than the intention to disrupt the Geneva agreements. But these alternative possibilities arise only on the assumption that the Vietminh leadership had some concern for the welfare of the Vietnamese people, and it would appear that this hypothesis is excluded by the canons of neutral scholarship.
In fact, Gelb’s logic is rather like that of Dean Acheson when he declared in 1950 that recognition of Ho Chi Minh by China and the USSR “should remove any illusion as to the nationalist character of Ho Chi Minh’s aims and reveals Ho in his true colors as the mortal enemy of native independence in Vietnam” (Gravel ed., I:51). To Acheson, apparently. Ho could prove his na tionalist credentials only by capitulating to the French, who were defending liberty and national independence in Vietnam against the assault of the Vietminh.
There is hardly a page of this summary and analysis section that is not misleading or inaccurate in some respect. To cite one final example, consider Gelb’s remark that the refugees from the North after the Geneva settlement “provided the world the earliest convincing evidence of the undemocratic and oppressive nature of North Vietnam’s regime ... the refugees were the most convincing support for Diem’s argument that free elections were impossible in the DRV” (Gravel ed., I:248). One may argue that the DRV regime was undemocratic and oppressive and that elections conducted there would not be free, but it is patently absurd to point to the flight of the refugees as “convincing evidence” for these judgments. It would be rational to argue that the flight of the refugees indicated a fear that the regime would be undemocratic and oppressive— to argue, in the analyst’s phrase, that “The flight from North Vietnam reflected apprehension over the coming to power of the Viet Minh” (Gravel ed., I:291). Even this statement is misleading unless it is also noted that many of the predominantly Catholic refugees had been French collaborators and had even been mobilized in “an autonomous Vietnamese militia against the Vietminh.” (22) Would Gelb argue that the flight of Loyalists to Canada provided the world with the earliest convincing evidence of the undemocratic and oppressive nature of George Washington’s regime, and showed that free elections were impossible in the United States? (23)
The analytic summary of the post-Geneva period is unusual in the degree of misrepresentation, and contrasts unfavorably with other summaries, some of which are quite perceptive. As to the reasons for this, one can only speculate. The summary seeks to establish that the United States and GVN accepted the Geneva settlement more or less in good faith, and that blame for disrupting the peaceful status quo in Laos and South Vietnam lies primarily with the DRV (and its Russian ally, drawn in by Hanoi). From it, a reader who knows nothing of events in Indochina or of the critical literature (and who does not note the disparity between what is alleged to be true of the critical literature and what is actually quoted) might draw the conclusion that critics of the war are misguided in their “attacks on U.S. policy.” Rather, they should be directing attacks on the DRV and its allies and should support the U.S. “reaction” to the aggression from the North. The U.S. government White Papers of 1961 and 1965 quite explicitly attempted to demonstrate just this.
Gelb’s misrepresentation of the views of critics of the war also serves the ends of government propaganda in a slightly more subtle way. In the view of the critics, DRV intervention was a response to a situation that developed in the South. In Gelb’s revision of their views, the contention is that the DRV intervention was a response to U.S. intervention. The critics focused attention on internal Vietnamese affairs. Gelb reformulates their argument, shifting the focus to an interaction between the United States and the DRV. Whatever may have been on his mind, the fact is that this move is typical of U.S. government propaganda, which seeks to show that the people of the South are victims of aggression from the North, with the United States coming to their defense. In this framework, the interaction between the United States and North Vietnam is the central element in the conflict, not the internal situation in South Vietnam. Within this framework, it is natural that the Pentagon Papers should contain a detailed study of the bombing of the North, while scarcely mentioning the far heavier and more destructive bombardment of South Vietnam which was initiated on a regular basis at about the same time. The government has half won the argument if critics accept its framework and then debate the timing of the U.S.-DRV interaction, neglecting the Southern insurgency. (24) It is interesting, therefore, that Gelb recasts the argument of the critics within the framework of government propaganda, ehminating the central concern with the Southern insurgency (though the reader can detect it from the quotes he cites) and placing U.S.-DRV interaction in the foreground. Had the critics formulated their position in his terms, they would have tacitly conceded a significant part of the government’s case.
In this connection, four points might be mentioned. In the first place, as has already been shown, Gelb’s account is shot through with misrepresentation. Secondly, it is striking that these distortions are so excessive in a discussion of the “origins of the insurgency in South Vietnam” (the chapter title), a question that might be regarded as crucial for determining one’s attitude toward “massive U.S. intervention in 1961.” Thirdly, Gelb claims only that information that appeared long after the events supports the interpretation he proposes. A rational person will evaluate an action in the light of evidence available to those who carried it out. A murderer is no less guilty if later evidence reveals that without his knowledge his victim was just about to commit some horrible crime. Finally, a critic of the American intervention who bases his criticism on the principle that the United States has no unique right to engage in forceful intervention in the internal affairs of others, or who simply believes that the U.S. executive should be bound by established law, would in no way be swayed from his condemnation of the U.S. intervention of 1961 even if it had been shown that the facts were as Gelb presents them, and were known to the U.S. executive at the time. Since this is clear from the critical literature that Gelb misrepresents, and from earlier discussion here, will pursue this matter no further at this point.
When the Pentagon study appeared there was loud protest that it was biased, misleading, a chorus of doves, etc. In a sense, this is correct. The analysts do in general seem to believe that the U.S. involvement in Vietnam may well have been a costly error. At the same time, they tend to accept uncritically the framework of official ideology, and rarely question government assertions. As the term has been used in American political discourse, they are doves, by and large.
The work of the analysts must be understood as a distillation of the documentary record that they were studying—they claim little more than this—and it is not therefore surprising that the implicit assumptions in this record are generally carried over into their work. With this limitation, the analyses are often excellent, intelligent, and highly illuminating. There is also some variety in the character of the analyses, difficult to discuss in view of the way the work was done and the anonymity of the presentation—one cannot know, for example, to what extent a particular section was the work of a single author. See Leslie Gelb’s introductory “Letter of transmittal” for such information as there is. Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that this material was not prepared for publication. Undoubtedly it would have been revised and corrected, had it been intended for publication. Finally, footnotes are missing, and it is therefore impossible to know what qualifications and further comments they might contain. The general bias of the analysts must, however, be appreciated by anyone who hopes to make serious use of this material. Disinterested scholarship on contemporary affairs is something of an illusion, though it is not unusual for a commitment to the dominant ideology to be mistaken for “neutrality.” Such naivete is apparent, not infrequently, in these analyses, though no more so than in most professional work. (25) Nevertheless, no reader will fail to learn a good deal about the U.S. involvement, and the attitudes and goals that underlie it, from a careful reading of the analyses and the documentation on which they are based.
To cite a small example, it was not generally known that North Vietnamese villages were apparently bombed and strafed by T-28s on the eve of the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964, or that Thai pilots under direct U.S. command were shot down over the DRV two weeks later, though the Pathet Lao had provided evidence, generally disregarded in the West, that Thai pilots were taking part in the bombing of Laos (26) Given the timing, the facts are of some interest.
Consider a more important example: the escalation of the war in Laos in 1964. (27) It is claimed by U.S. officials that the American involvement in an expanding war in Laos in 1964 was in response to North Vietnamese aggression. Evidence to support this interpretation of events is slim, (28) but it is a fact that North Vietnamese soldiers entered Laos in February 1964. A report of the ICC “notes with interest” that the complaint of October 1964 from the Royal Lao Government is the first since the reconvening of the Commission in 1961 reporting the capture of prisoners “alleged to have been North Vietnamese.” A few days prior to the RLG complaint of October, the Pathet Lao had notified the ICC that U.S. aircraft had attacked Laotian territory and parachuted South Vietnamese soldiers into Laos. Apart from the fact that three soldiers were reported captured (two identified by name), the Pathet Lao charge is plausible, given that three years earlier (October 1961) President Kennedy had directed that the United States “initiate guerrilla ground action, including the use of U.S. advisers if necessary,” in Southern Laos, seven months after he had instructed that “we make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in Viet-Minh territory at the earliest possible time” (Gravel ed., III:140). In May 1961, an interdepartmental task force proposed extensive covert operations in Southern Laos, approved by the President (Gravel ed., II:641-642; III:140; see also my note 33). These operations were perhaps called off after the Geneva agreements of 1962, though the United States continued to supply guerrillas operating behind Pathet Lao lines and by mid- 1963 had reportedly begun to reintroduce CIA military advisers. (29) In mid-November 1963 the CIA reported “first results just coming in” from a new series of cross-border operations into Laos (Gravel ed., III:141).
The ICC investigation confirmed the charge concerning the North Vietnamese soldiers, who entered Laos in February. The most convincing evidence of direct North Vietnamese involvement presented by Langer and ZaslofT is the testimony of a North Vietnamese defector, who had been a Pathet Lao battalion adviser. (30) He was given a month’s leave in late January 1964 before undertaking a new (unspecified) assignment, but was suddenly notified on February 5 to report to Headquarters to accept an assignment, as he then learned, as a military adviser to the 408th Pathet Lao Battalion, which operated along the borders of China. He entered Laos sometime after February 18, from China. He reports having met an NVA battalion in North Vietnam near the Chinese border on February 12, also headed for Laos.
Why should the DRV have infiltrated advisers (and possibly troops) into Northern Laos in February 1964? The Pentagon Papers suggest a possible answer. In late 1963 plans were laid for a significant escalation of the war, and on February 1, the covert operations of the U.S.-GVN in Laos and North Vietnam were stepped up considerably and placed under direct American command in Saigon. It is not unlikely that the plans were known to the North Vietnamese even before, given the generally porous character of the Saigon Administration and military. The purpose of this much expanded program of sabotage, kidnapping, commando raids and psychological warfare was to indicate to the DRV the depth of American commitment to the achievement of its war aims, specifically, surrender of the Pathet Lao and the NLF and the establishment of non-Communist governments in Laos and South Vietnam. Basing himself on material obtained prior to the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Anthony Austin states correctly that February 1, 1964, must “go down as one of the key dates of the American involvement.” These covert operations, involving Vietnamese and foreign mercenaries (Chinese nationalists, European adventurers, and possibly some Thais), (31) had “the primary motive ... to convey a message to Hanoi: ‘We are changing the rules. You no longer have a sanctuary. The war is entering a new phase.’” (32) The official purpose of these and related operations was to “warn and harass North Vietnam and to reduce enemy capabilities to utilize the Lao Panhandle for reinforcing the Viet Cong in South Vietnam and to cope with PL/VM pressures in Laos” (Gravel ed., III:606).
The covert program initiated on February 1 was “spawned” in May of 1963, (33) approved by the Joint Chiefs on September 9, and finally approved by the President on January 16. This “elaborate program of covert military operations against the state of North Vietnam” (Gravel ed., IK: 149) was a significant expansion of CIA efforts from 1961 to organize resistance and sabotage in North Vietnam. It was very different in scale and concept from earlier programs. “A firebreak had been crossed” (Gravel ed., III:106). Quite possibly, the DRV received the “signal” that was so deliberately sent, and appreciated that “by early February 1964, the United States had committed itself to a policy of attempting to improve the situations in South Vietnam and Laos by subjecting North Vietnam to increasing levels of direct pressure” (Gravel ed., III:152). The DRV perhaps concluded, reasonably enough, that Laos might be used as a base for an attack on North Vietnam—as indeed proved to be the case, shortly after, with the establishment of radar posts to guide American bombers near the Laos-DRV border. (34) North Vietnamese spokesmen have stated exactly this; for an example, see At War with Asia, p. 233, presented there without comment, though would now be inclined to say that the remark is quite credible. They may then have decided to respond to the threat by protecting their Western borders. (35)
All of this is interesting. The U.S. Executive has justified its clandestine operations in Laos on grounds of alleged North Vietnamese aggression. The case has never been strong. The information released in the Pentagon study weakens it still further.
It was immediately obvious that the Pentagon Papers presented decisive evidence of U.S.-initiated escalation in late 1963 and early 1964, leading directly to the expanded war in later years. Immediately upon the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. Mission in Vietnam released the text of a “captured North Vietnamese political directive” of December 1963 which, the Mission claims, “was the formal authorization for increasing North Viet-Nam’s military presence in the South in 1964 and the years which followed.” (36) According to the Mission, the period after Diem’s fall “seemed to Hanoi an opportune time to attempt the military conquest of the South,” and this Resolution of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party, December 1963, presents “the decision which raised the civil war in South Viet-Nam, where both government and insurgents had been receiving external assistance, to the level of an international conflict” —a decision “made in Hanoi in December, 1963.” The timing suggests that the release of the document was an effort to counter the evidence presented in the Pentagon Papers that the decision to escalate was made in Washington, but the 1 document is (assuming its authenticity) no less interesting for that reason. (37)
According to a report by Arthur Dommen, this document discloses that “The Hanoi government had decided upon escalation of the war in South Vietnam more than a year before the Johnson Administration committed combat troops to the conflict.” (38) The document reveals, he claims, that shortly after Diem’s overthrow Hanoi “decided ... on a step-up of the fighting in South Vietnam, using their own army if necessary.” This “appears to constitute the most auj thoritative proof from the hand of Hanoi’s leaders themselves that they were planning a big war in South Vietnam long before American forces began to take an active part in the conflict,” and had it been known to U.S. intelligence, it could have been used by the Administration in 1964 to explain U.S. involvement i! as a response to North Vietnamese aggression. Dommen gives a few quotations from the document, which, however, do not substantiate his assertions.
The document itself says nothing about a decision to use North Vietnamese troops in the South or even about covert North Vietnamese operations in the South (analogous, say, to those that the CIA had been conducting for many years in the North and that were sharply escalated on February 1, 1964). It speaks of the “struggle of the South Vietnamese people against the United States for national independence,” which is at the same time a class struggle waged by SVN workers and peasants against “feudalist landowners” and “pro-U.S. bourgeois compradors.” The document discusses the “successes of our Southern comj patriots” and the “achievements of the South Vietnamese people” who now “show themselves capable of beating the enemy in any situation.” “The South Vietnamese people is one half of the heroic people” of Vietnam; they wage a revolutionary war, exploiting their political and moral strength to combat the material and military superiority of the enemy. “The war waged by the people in South VN is a protracted one because we are a small people having to fight an imperialist ringleader which is the U.S.A.” “The general guideline for our people’s revolutionary war in SVN is to conduct a protracted war, relying mainly on our own forces ...”; “... the revolutionary people in SVN must promote a spirit of self-reliance.” With a proper “emphasis on self-reliance and coordination between political struggle and armed struggle ... the SVN people ... . have achieved many great victories.” But “the people in the South must not only have a big and strong political force but a big and strong military force as well.” Therefore, concerted political and military efforts must be made in the ii mountainous, rural, and urban areas, “to motivate the people and ethnic-minority groups ... to participate in our political struggle,” to wage protracted war, to prepare for a General Uprising. “The South Vietnamese people’s war” will suceed, and the Party “will lead the South Vietnamese Revolution to final victory.”
There is further discussion of the military and political tactics that “the South Vietnamese people must adopt”: annihilation tactics, helping the people, inj creasing production, mobilizing military forces, protecting the material and cultural life of the people, heightening the sense of self-reliance, developing democ- racy and trusting the masses. “Revolution is a creative achievement of the masses”; “To win or to lose the war depends on many factors, but the basic one is man.” “We must develop democracy to promote the subjective activism” of the people. “We should bring democracy into full play in political and armed struggles,” and learn from the experiences of the people, eliminating “commandism,” “detachment from the masses,” etc.
The “SVN Revolutionary Armed Forces” must be constructed in accordance with the same “fundamental principles ... applied for the building up the Vietnamese People’s Army,” with main force, local force, and militia guerrilla force “under the absolute leadership of the Party.” “This army is not only a combat army, but also an action and production army,” as is necessary in a struggle in which the political and social component is central. The “all-people, all-sided war” must be expanded “Even if the U.S. imperialists bring fifty to a hundred thousand additional troops to SVN.”
After thirty-nine pages in this vein, there is a two-page statement of “The Mission of North Vietnam.” It begins as follows:
To fulfill the above-mentioned mission, not only the Party and people in the South must make outstanding efforts but the Party and people in the North must make outstanding efforts as well. The role of the two “mien” [parts: North and South Vietnam] in the revolutionary undertaking of the country, as defined by the Party’s third National Congress [September 1960], is unchanged, however it is time for the North to increase aid to the South, the North must bring into fuller play its role as the revolutionary base for the whole nation.
“We should plan to aid the South to meet the requirements of the Revolution,” to encourage our people in the North to work harder to “increase our economic and defensive strength in North Viet-Nam” and “to be ready to fulfill their obligation toward the southern Revolution under any form and in any circumstance” (for example, say, if the outright U.S. invasion with 50 to 100,000 troops takes place). The Party must “direct the revolution in the South”; “we must coordinate with concerned branches of service in the North in order to better serve the revolution in the South.” Following the anti-French war, “the revolutionary struggle of our Southern compatriots has been going on for almost the last ten years ... the entire Party, the entire people from North to South must have full determination and make outstanding efforts to bring success to the revolution of our Southern compatriots and achieve peace and unification of the country, to win total victory, to build a peaceful, unified, independent, democratic, prosperous and strong Viet-Nam.”
In short, the document states that the people of North Vietnam must be prepared to aid the popular revolutionary struggle being conducted, in a spirit of self-reliance, by their Southern compatriots, the other half of the Vietnamese people. One need not turn to captured documents to read such exhortations. English-language publications from Hanoi commonly refer to “the great support of the Northern people for the struggle against U.S. aggression of the Southern kith and kin.” The English text of the Third Congress (1960) Resolution published in Hanoi speaks of the two tasks of the Vietnamese Revolution: “to carry out the socialist revolution in the North” and “to liberate the South from the rule of the American imperialists and their henchmen, achieve national reunification and complete independence and freedom throughout the country.” See also the public statement of General Giap in January 1960 cited above (p. 187). The U.S. government White Paper of 1965 cites many other public statements of the same sort in its rather pathetic effort to demonstrate North Vietnamese aggression. In later years, there is frequent reference to the 1967 statement of Ho Chi Minh that “Viet Nam is one, the Vietnamese people are one, and no one can encroach upon this sacred right of our people ... [to] ... independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Viet Nam.” (39) The captured document released by the U.S. mission is also typical in its reference to the struggle conducted by the South Vietnamese people in a spirit of self-reliance, with aid ] from the North, and with the goal of eventual reunification (cf. the Constitution of the GVN) and in its emphasis on the central importance of the political and social struggle, which of course can only be conducted by indigenous forces, in the face of the military superiority of the United States and the Vietnamese armed forces it has established. It might be noted that the GVN constitution contains one non-amendable Article, namely Article 1, which states that “Vietnam is an independent, unified and territorially indivisible Republic,” thus extending from China to the Camau Peninsula.
One must assume that the U.S. mission has done its best to support the conj elusion it announced in the introduction to this document, a conclusion duly repeated by a sympathetic reporter, but not founded on the actual text. If so, the case that the United States is unilaterally responsible for escalation of the war in 1964 seems to be demonstrated beyond serious question. Incidentally, if the war in the South was a “civil war” prior to this point, as the U.S. Mission states, then the direct engagement of U.S. military forces in combat from 1961, and the CIA-Special Forces covert operations throughout Indochina, were surely in violation of the UN Charter, which grants an outside power no right to engage in combat in a civil war.
It has repeatedly been argued that the interpretation of the Indochina war is biased against the United States because we have no access to internal DRV documents. The statement is at best misleading. In fact, the U.S. government has been selectively releasing “captured documents” (40) for years on a significant scale in an effort to buttress its case, whereas internal U.S. documents, prior to the publication of the Pentagon study, have been available only when leaked by the U.S. Executive or in memoirs of its former members. The DRV and the NLF, of course, do not capture and selectively release U.S. government documents, Therefore it would be more accurate to state that in the past, internal documents have, for the most part, been selected by the U.S. Executive for public release, for its own purposes, from both U.S. and Vietnamese sources. Nevertheless, the record both prior to and with the publication of the Pentagon study would seem to leave little doubt as to who is responsible for the successive stages of escalaj tion, quite apart from the respective rights of the U.S. government and contending Vietnamese to carry out military and political actions in Vietnam.
In the same connection, the Pentagon Papers add valuable documentation with regard to the commitment of North Vietnamese troops to South Vietnam. Over the past few years there has been a running debate about this matter. The documentary record previously available had indicated that regular North Vietnamese units were first identified in April 1965, (41) However, some pro-government spokes- : men have repeatedly claimed in public discussion that the U.S. government knew that regular units of the North Vietnamese army (NVA, PAVN) were operating in the South even before the November election of 1964, but chose not to reveal this fact for domestic political reasons. (Why the Pentagon should have main- tained this deception through 1965 and 1966 remains a mystery, under this theory.) Joseph Alsop asserts (with no cited evidence) that “In 1965, when President Johnson intervened on the ground, Hanoi had two North Vietnamese divisions ‘in country’ “—that is, “on the order of 28,000 of Hanoi’s troops.” (42) The date of U.S. ground intervention would be sometime between February 26, when the deployment of combat marines was approved (March 8 “was the first time that U.S. ground combat units had been committed to action”), and June 27, when U.S. forces took part in their first search-and-destroy operation into Viet Cong base areas (Gravel ed., III:390, 417, 461).
The published documents reveal exactly what Washington believed to be the case duing this period. The first reference to regular North Vietnamese units is in a CIA-DIA memorandum of April 21, 1965, which “reflected the acceptance into the enemy order of battle of one regiment of the 325th PAVN Division said to be located in [Northwestern] Kontum province.” (43) Of the various signs of deterioration noted, this was the “most ominous,” “a sobering harbinger of things to come.” Westmoreland, on June 7, informed CINCPAC that “Sorhe PAVN forces have entered SVN” (Gravel ed., III:438), and on June 13, reported that the PAVN 325th Division “may be deployed in Kontum, Pleiku and Phu Bon” (Gravel ed., IV: 607). An NVA regiment “reportedly” overran a district headquarters in Kontum Province on June 25 (Gravel ed., II:473; the earliest such report in this particular record).
Apparently, these reports were not too persuasive. On July 2, 1965, a memorandum from McNaughton to General Goodpaster reports: “I am quite concerned about the increasing probability that there are regular PAVN forces either in the II Corps area [the area of the previous reports] or in Laos directly across the border from II Corps” (Gravel ed., IV:291, 277).
On July 14, the Joint Chiefs included one regiment of the 325th PAVN Division in their estimate of 48,500 “Viet Cong organized combat units” (Gravel ed., IV: 295). An intelligence estimate (SNIE) of July 23 predicted that if the United States increased its strength in SVN to 175,000 by November 1, then in order to offset this increase, the Communists would probably introduce a PAVN force totaling 20,000 to 30,000 by the end of 1965 (Gravel ed., III:484-485; this, the analyst adds, “they were already in the process of doing”). The absence of any considerable number of PAVN troops was reflected in the “Concept for Vietnam” presented on August 27, which specified as the major military tasks: “To cause the DRV to cease its direction and support of the Viet Cong insurgency,” while defeating the Viet Cong and deterring Communist China (Gravel ed., IV:300).
For comparison, note that on April 21, 1965, McNamara reported that 33,500 U.S. troops were already in-country, in addition to 2,000 Koreans who had been dispatched on January 8, 1965 (Gravel ed., III:706, 139). He reported the unanimous recommendation of the Honolulu meeting of April 20 that U.S. forces be raised to 82,000, supplemented with 7,250 Korean and Australian : troops. The analyst concludes that by the time of the Honolulu meeting, “we were inexorably committed to a military resolution of the insurgency” since “The problem seemed no longer soluble by any other means” (Gravel ed., 111:105)—the day before the “ominous” CIA-DIA report. By June, the United States decided “to pour U.S. troops into the country as fast as they could be deployed” (Gravel ed., II:362). On July 1, the day before McNaughton ex- pressed his concern over the possibility that PAVN forces might intervene, planned U.S. deployments were 85,000 troops (Gravel ed., III:473). In mid-July, when the JCS were estimating one PAVN regiment in South Vietnam, the President approved the request that the U.S. troop level be raised to 175,000 in 1965, with estimated U.S. killed-in-action of 500 per month, and another 100,000 recommended for 1966 (Gravel ed., III:396, 416; IV:297, 299). Recafl that h April 1965 was two months after the initiation of regular and intensive bombing of North and South Vietnam, eight months after the bombing of strategic targets in North Vietnam in “retaliation” for the Tonkin incident, and fourteen months after the escalation of military pressure against the North on February 1, 1964. (44) Recall also that the U.S. troop level reached 23,000 by the end of 1964 (Gravel ed., II:160), and that the U.S. military had been directly engaged in combat operations for three years, at that point.
The record is clear, then, that when the United States undertook the February escalation, it knew of no regular North Vietnamese units in South Vietnam, and that five months later, while implementing the plan to deploy 85,000 troops, (45) the Pentagon was still speculating about the possibility that there might be PAVN forces in or near South Vietnam. In the light of these facts, the discussion of whether the U.S. was defending South Vietnam from an “armed attack” from the North—the official U.S. government position—is ludicrous.
The most striking feature of the historical record, as presented in the Pentagon study, is its remarkable continuity. have noted several examples already, but perhaps the most significant has to do with the political premises of the four Administrations covered in the record. Never was there the slightest deviation from the principle that a non-Communist regime must be imposed, regardless of popular sentiment. True, the scope of the principle was narrowed when it was finally conceded, by about 1960, that North Vietnam was “lost.” Apart from that, the principle was maintained without equivocation. Given this principle, the strength of the Vietnamese resistance, the military power available to the United States, and the lack of effective constraints, one can deduce, with almost mathematical precision, the strategy of annihilation that was gradually undertaken.
In May 1949, Acheson informed U.S. officials in Saigon and Paris that “no effort should be spared” to assure the success of the Bao Dai government (which, he added, would be recognized by the United States when circumstances permit), since there appeared to be “no other alternative to estab[lishment] Commie pattern Vietnam.” He further urged that the Bao Dai government should be “truly representative even to extent including outstanding non-Commie leaders now supporting Ho.” (46) Of course Acheson was aware that Ho Chi Minh had “captured control of the nationalist movement,” that he was “the strongest and perhaps the ablest figure in Indochina and that any suggested solution which excludes him is an expedient of uncertain outcome.” (47) But to Acheson, Ho’s popularity was of no greater moment than his nationalist credentials. (48)
In May 1967, McNaughton and A4cNamara presented a memorandum that the analyst takes to imply a significant reorientation of policy, away from the early emphasis on military victory and toward a more limited and conciliatory posture. McNaughton suggested that the United States emphasize “that the sole U.S. objective in Vietnam has been and is to permit the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future.” Accordingly, the Saigon government should be encouraged “to reach an accommodation with the non-Communist South Vietnamese who are under the VC banner; to accept them as members of an opposition political party, and, if necessary, to accept their individual participation in the national government.” (49) This is precisely Acheson’s proposal of eighteen years earlier (restricted, now, to South Vietnam).
The final words of the Pentagon Papers analysis describe a new policy, undertaken after the Tet offensive of 1968 had shattered the old: “American forces would remain in South Vietnam to prevent defeat of the Government by Communist forces and to provide a shield behind which that Government could rally, become effective, and win the support of its people” (Gravel, ed., IV:604). Again, the same assumption: the United States must provide the military force to enable a non-Communist regime, despite its political weakness, corruption and injustice, somehow to manage to stabilize itself. Nowhere is there the slightest deviation from this fundamental commitment. (50) The same policy remains in force today, despite tactical modifications. (51)
Small wonder, then, that many Vietnamese saw the United States as the inheritors of French colonialism. The analyst cites studies of peasant attitudes demonstrating “that for many, the struggle which began in 1945 against colonialism continued uninterrupted throughout Diem’s regime: in 1954, the foes of nationalists were transformed from France and Bao Dai, to Diem and the U.S.... but the issues at stake never changed” (Gravel ed., I:295; see also 1:252). Correspondingly, the Pentagon considered its problem to be to “deter the Viet Cong (formerly called Viet Minh)” (May 1959; DOD, book 10, 11860; also Gravel ed., II:409). Diem himself, on occasion, seems to have taken a rather similar position. Speaking to the departing French troops on April 28, 1956, he pledged that “your forces, who have fought to defend honor and freedom, will find in us worthy successors.” (52) General Minh in January 1964 warned of the “colonial flavor to the whole pacification effort.” The French, in their “worst and clumsiest days,” never went into villages or districts as the Americans were about to do. Note the date. In response to Lodge’s argument that most of the teams were Vietnamese, General Minh pointed out that “they are considered the same as Vietnamese who worked for the Japanese.” The U.S. reaction was to reject Minh’s proposals as “an unacceptable rearward step” and to extend the adviser system even below “sector and battalion level” (Gravel ed., II:307-308). A year and a half later, it was quite appropriate for William Bundy to wonder whether people in the countryside, who already may be tempted to regard the Americans as the successors to the French, might not “flock to the VC banner” after the full- scale U.S. invasion then being planned (Gravel ed., IV:611).
The Thieu regime today has a power base remarkably like Diem’s, perhaps even narrower (53) By now, substantial segments of the urban intelligentsia—”the ij people who count,” as Lodge put it (Gravel ed., n:738)—regard U.S. interven- tion as blatant imperialism. Of course, one may argue that the popular mood counts for less than in former years, now that the United States has succeeded, partially at least, in “grinding the enemy down by sheer weight and mass” (Robert Komer in Graveled., IV: 420).
1. Cf. F. Schurmann, P. D. Scott and R. Zelnick, T/ze Politics of Escalation in Vietnam, Fawcett, 1966; E. S. Herman and R. B. Du BofF, America’s Vietnam Policy, Public Affairs Press, 1966; and many later works.
2. The “Letter of Transmittal” identifies Gelb as the author of the summary and analysis sections (Gravel ed., I:xvi). References, unless otherwise indicated, are to the Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers, Beacon, 1971. References to the Government offset edition of the Pentagon Papers (United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Government Printing Office, 1 97 1) are identified as DOD.
3. George McT. Kahin and John Lewis, The United States in Vietnam, Dial, 1967, pp. 119-120. give here the original, which is slightly different, but in no material way, from the quotation as Gelb cites it.
4. Philippe Devillers, “The struggle for unification of Vietnam,” The China Quarterly, January-March 1962, reprinted in M. E. Gettleman, ed., Vietnam: History, Documents, and Opinions, Fawcett, 1965.
5. Devillers, op. cit., citing an interview with Diem in Figaro. The analyst later cites an article by George Carver of the CIA who states that “By the end of 1958 the participants in this incipient insurgency ... constituted a serious threat to South Viet Nam’s political stability” (Gravel ed., I:335; emphasis his).
6. Cited by the analyst. Gravel ed., I:345-346. The quotations are from Pike’s Viet Cong, MIT, 1966, p. 76, and give a fair indication of the general level of his analysis, though the book is useful for the documentation it contains. For a serious discussion of the origins of the NLF see Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An, Univ. of California, 1972.
7. Honey is an extreme anti-Communist whose fanaticism on the subject leads him to outlandish statements. See my American Power and the New Mandarins, Pantheon, 1969, p. 290, for examples. While Honey is described merely as an authority or an expert, Burchett is identified as “the Communist journalist Wilfred Burchette” (sic; Gravel ed., IV: 207, 151).
8. “Diplomatic and strategic outcomes of the conflict,” in Walter Isard, ed., Vietnam: Issues and Alternatives, Schenkman Publishing Company, Cambridge, 1969.
9. New York Times, June 7, 1965; cited in American Power and the New Mandarins, chapter 3, note 49.
10. Laos: Buffer State or Battleground, Oxford, 1968, pp. 127 IT., 139, 149. A UN Commission was unable to substantiate charges by the Lao government that there was a North Vietnamese invasion. Arthur Dommen maintains that “the fact that the subcommittee did not report that there were no North Vietnamese troops in Laos is significant” (Conflict in Laos, revised edition, Praeger, 1971, p. 124), but is unwilling to go beyond that.
11. North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao, Harvard, 1970, pp. 68-69. This book is an attempt to make the case for North Vietnamese control of the Pathet Lao. have discussed it, in its earlier incarnation as a RAND report, in my At War with Asia, Pantheon, 1970, chapter 4, along with other RAND reports by these authors.
12. For background, in addition to the references cited earlier, see J. Mirsky and S. E. Stonefield, “The United States in Laos, 1945-1962,” in E. Friedman and M. Selden, eds., America’s Asia, Pantheon, 1970.
13. Charles A. Stevenson, The End of Nowhere: American Policy Toward Laos since 1954, Beacon, 1972, p. 73.
14. Barely noted in the Pentagon Papers. DOD book 10 contains some relevant documents. For example, an intelligence analysis of December 1958 indicates that the NLHS (the political arm of the Pathet Lao) “appears to be making strong gains in almost every sector of Laotian society” after the electoral victory (DOD 1172), and an NSC report a few weeks later mentions the introduction of U.S. military officers “in civilian clothing” (DOD 1165; January 1959; both facts commonly noted elsewhere). In an appendix, Stevenson reviews the Pentagon Papers documentation with reference to Laos. See also Jonathan Mirsky, “High Drama in Foggy Bottom,” Saturday Review, January 1, 1972, for comment on this matter.
15. I. F. Stone’s Weekly, February 27 and March 6, 1967, from which the information given here is taken. Much of his evidence derives from reporting by Raymond Coffey, one of the small group of U.S. correspondents who, over the years, refused to be fooled.
16. The New York Times edition of the Pentagon Papers (Bantam, 1971, p. 525) repeats President Johnson’s claim that the renewed bombing was a response to the “unparalleled magnitude of the North Vietnamese supply effort,” mentioning none of the facts just cited, though the Times had carried some of this information. See “Vietnam Cease-Fire Ends without Sign of Extension,” Special to the New York Times, datelined Saigon, February 12, which cites reports from correspondents in the provinces north and northwest of Saigon that “the highways were much more crowded than usual with United States convoys,” and also notes that U.S. military officers confirmed “that they were moving extraordinary amounts of food, fuel and ammunition to forward positions.”
17. The Lost Crusade, Dodd, Mead, 1970, p. 362.
18. Joseph Buttinger, Neues Forum, Vienna, 1966, cited by E. Herman, Atrocities in Vietnam, Pilgrim Press, 1970, p. 22.
19. M. Maneli, The War of the Vanquished, Harper, 1971, p. 32, referring to the findings of the ICC. Maneli was the legal and political adviser to the Polish delegation of the ICC at the time, and is strongly anti-Communist.
20. The actual U.S.-GVN altitude toward the Geneva settlement is revealed not only by the rejection of the central elections provision—contrary to Gelb, the most severe violation of the status quo established at Geneva—but also by the violent repression of the Vietminh. Article 14c of the Accords protects individuals and organizations from reprisal or discrimination on account of their activities during the hostilities. The repression of the anti-French resistance not only reveals the U.S.-GVN attitude toward the Geneva Accords, but also exhibits quite clearly the character of the new regime.
21. See Gravel ed., I:573 ff. NSC 5429/2, August 20, 1954, immediately after Geneva, urged “covert operations on a large and effective scale” in support of such policies as “mak[ing] more difficult the control by the Viet Minh of North Vietnam” (DOD, book 10, p. 737). The behavior of France after Geneva was, incidentally, almost as deplorable as that of the DRV: “French insistence on strict legal interpretation of the Geneva Accords was one example of accommodation thinking” (Gravel ed., I:221; analyst). There were others, hardly less insidious.
22. Kahin and Lewis, op. cit., p. 74, referring to the bishoprics of Phat Diem and Bui Chu, which, according to Bernard Fall, “packed up lock, stock, and barrel, from the bishops to almost the last village priest and faithful” (The Two Viet-Nams, revised edition, Praeger, 1964, p. 154). For accuracy one should also add Fall’s observation that an extremely intensive and well-conducted American psychological warfare operation was a major factor in the mass flight.
23. What is at issue is the logic of Gelb’s argument and the significance of the facts he omits, not an impossible comparison of historically very different revolutions.
24. Critics of the war sometimes fall into this trap. For an example, see my discussion of Telford Taylor’s important book Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, Quadrangle Books, 1970, in “The rule of force in international affairs,” Yale Law Journal, June 1971.
25. To cite an example, selected virtually at random, consider this remark by a reviewer in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January 1972, p. 244: “Since De Caux is an unreconstructed radical, he makes no pretense of objectivity.” How often does one come across the statement: “Since X is an unreconstructed liberal (or conservative, or adherent of capitalist democracy), he makes no pretense of objectivity”?
26. One was captured on August 18, the same day that Hanoi claimed to have shot down a Thai pilot over DRV territory according to the document confirming the DRV reports (Gravel ed., III:609). See Gareth Porter, “After Geneva: Subverting Laotian Neutrality,” in N. S. Adams and A. W. McCoy, Laos: War and. Revolution, Harper, 1970, p. 201.
27. These remarks are expanded from my article on the Pentagon Papers in American Report, July 2, 1971. Similar points are discussed by T. D. Allman, Far Eastern Economic Review, July 3, 1971.
28. What is available is reviewed in At War with Asia, chapter 4.
29. See Porter, op. cit. Arthur Dommen suggests that the Meo guerrillas, “sitting astride the natural communication route between Vientiane and the NLHS base area in Sam Neua,” may have hampered communication sufficiently to have caused deterioration of the well-developed NLHS infrastructure in Vientiane Province (op. cit., p. 308). ‘He does not go on to point out, as Porter does, that U.S. support for the guerrillas constituted a very serious violation of the Geneva Agreements, from the outset, and a major factor in the renewal of conflict.
30. Paul F. Langer and Joseph J. Zasloff, The North Vietnamese Military Adviser Laos, RM-5688, RAND Corporation, July 1968. Cf. At War with Asia, pp. 230 ff., for summary and discussion. The ICC report noted above states that the earlier Pathet Lao complaint is discussed “in a separate message.” The British government has so far released only the report investigating the RLG complaint. Perhaps this is another example of the “continuing support for your policy over Vietnam” voiced by Prime Minister Wilson when informed about the impending attack on North Vietnamese petroleum facilities (despite his “reservations about this operation” [Gravel ed., IV: 102]).
31. Fred Branfman estimates that by 1970 the U.S. had brought at least 10,000 Asians into Laos as mercenaries, in comparison with the perhaps 5,000 North Vietnamese engaged in combat (“Presidential War in Laos, 1964-1970,” in Adams and McCoy, op. cit., 266, 278 ff., where the basis for the latter figure is discussed); Lansdale’s report of July 1961 (Gravel ed., II:643 ff.) describes some of the early stages of these operations. The White Star Mobile Training Teams, consisting of U.S. Special Forces personnel, which were introduced into Laos covertly in the last few weeks of the Eisenhower Administration (Stevenson, op. cit., p. 185), or perhaps in 1! 1959 (Porter, op. cit., p. 183) “had the purpose and effect of establishing U.S. control over foreign forces” (Gravel ed., II:464). Laos was serving as a model for Vietnam, in this and other instances.
32. Austin, The President’s War, 1971, pp. 229-230.
33. Gravel ed., III: 150. The chronology on p. 117 states that on May 11, 1963, CIA-sponsored covert operations against NVN were “authorized,” but this appears to be an error, apparently referring to NSAM 52 of 11 May 1961.
34. According to official testimony in the Symington Subcommittee Hearings on Laos, the radar installation at Phou Pha Thi, near the DRV border, was constructed in 1966. T. D. Allman cites “reliable American sources” who give the date as late 1964. Cf. Stevenson, op. cit., p. 310.
35. Admiral Felt (CINCPAC) had warned of just this possibility more than two years before (Gravel ed., II:83).
36. Introduction to Document No. 96, “The Viet-Nam Worker’s Party’s 1963 Decision to Escalate the War in the South,” American Embassy, Saigon, July 1971. am indebted to Arthur Dommen for providing me with a copy. The title, of course, is given by the U.S. Mission.
37. The timing of the “discovery” of captured documents has, more than once, been slightly suspicious. For example, shortly after the exposure of the My Lai massacre document was “discovered” that had been mysteriously mislaid for a year and a half “purporting to boast that at least 2,748 persons were ‘eliminated’ “ in Hue during the Tet offensive (Fred Emery, London Times, November 27, 1969; the document was reportedly found in April 1968 but had been “overlooked”).
38. Boston Globe-L.A. Times, June 30, 1971.
39. Cf. An Outline History of the Vietnam Worker’s Party, Hanoi, 1970, pp. 123, 181-182, 136; and elsewhere, repeatedly.
40. Obviously, a question arises as to the authenticity of the documents. We know that U.S. intelligence has been planting forged Vietnamese documents since 1954 (Gravel ed., : 579). See my note 37.
41. The first careful study of this matter is T. Draper’s Abuse of Power, which is also useful for its revealing analysis of the internal contradictions in the U.S. government accounts, in particular, the remarkable statements of Dean Rusk.
42. Boston Globe, October 19, 1971.
43. Gravel ed., III:438. This reference is said to have confirmed a report of February 1965. In the appended chronology, the analyst states that “As of late 1964 the supply of repatriated southerners infiltrated back from NVN had dried up and NVN volunteers were coming down the trail” (Gravel ed., III:410). There is no inconsistency. The distinction is between individual soldiers coming down the trail and regular units in military operations. Public Pentagon reports, Chester Cooper’s report (op. cit.), and Senator Mansfield, refer to one battalion, rather than one regiment, in April-May. The analyst refers to the “confirmed presence” in the South of at least one battalion” in April 1965 (Gravel ed., III:392).
44. Roger Hilsman claims that in summer 1965 it was learned that at least one battalion of North Vietnamese regulars had entered the South by February 1965. There is no record of this in the Pentagon Papers. “Two American Counterstrategies to Guerrilla Warfare,” in Tang Tsou, ed., China in Crisis, vol. 2, Chicago, 1968, note 9, p. 294-295. On p. 293 he states inconsistently that fear of bombing “had deterred Hanoi from infiltrating any of their 250,000 regular North Vietnamese troops into South Vietnam.” He also states that there were fewer infiltrators in 1964 than in 1962. This is interesting. The analyst remarks that the judgments of “rise and change in the nature of infiltration” in August 1964 may have been influenced by the fact that they were expected, in reaction to the “Tonkin reprisals,” and that evidence of greatly increased infiltration from the North was an explicit condition for “systematic military action against DRV,” which leading officials were beginning to regard as “inevitable” (Gravel ed., III:192).
45. The French, following a more classical imperial pattern, relied primarily on mercenaries rather than French nationals, and never sent conscripts to Vietnam. There were about 20,000 French nationals fighting in all Indochina in February 1949, about 51,000 (plus 6,000 advisers) in all Indochina as of April 1953 (DOD, book 8, p. 179; Gravel ed., I:400). Of course, French firepower was a tiny fraction of that available to U.S. forces.
46. DOD, book 8, 190-191. Characteristically, he added that this appeared to be the only way to safeguard Vietnam from “aggressive designs Commie Chi[na].”
47. Ibid., 145, 148, State Dept. Policy Statement of September 1948.
48. Ibid., 196, May 1949: “Question whether Ho as much nationalist as Commie is irrelevant.” He is an “outright Commie,” and that is all that matters.
49. Gravel ed., IV:488-489. He also points out once again (487) that in the Delta, with 40 percent of the population, the VC effort is primarily indigenous and the North Vietnamese main force units play almost no role (though U.S. combat forces were operating). Still, he is able to say that our objective is to permit the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future. On reports of NVA forces in the Delta, see At War with Asia, pp. 99-100.
50. It might be added that the policy later called “Vietnamization” was recommended in mid-1967 by systems analysis; Gravel ed., IV:459, 467; cf. also 558, option (4); 564.
51. My reasons for believing this are presented in articles in Ramparts, April, May, 1972. See also Gabriel Kolko, “The Nixon Administration’s strategy in Indochina—1972,” Paris World Assembly, February 1972.
52. Cited from AFP, in South Vietnam: Realities and Prospects, Vietnamese Studies, no. 18/19, Hanoi, 1968, p. 27.
53. See Peter King, “The Political Balance in Saigon,” Pacific Affairs, fall 1971, for a detailed analysis. Also Gareth Porter, “The Diemist restoration,” Commonweal, July 11, 1969.