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Session 11

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03:07 AM ET (US)
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  Messages 15-14 deleted by author between 07-23-2006 02:06 AM and 07-22-2006 02:05 AM
12:12 PM ET (US)
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12:11 PM ET (US)
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03:13 AM ET (US)
Fascinating interchange between Messrs. Turner and Hart. Thank gentlemen for being forthright in expressing your thoughts. Might as well muddy the water even more, so here goes. First, this can't be a comprehensive response to viewpoints expounded upon, and I hope you'll accept random comments on some issues.
   First, I went to VN in 1971 believing much of what most people believed here in US: war was hopeless, ARVN was useless, VC/NVA were honorable patriots, US forces were all deranged barbarians. Within two weeks the process of being disabused of this nonsense had begun, and it should be noted that I took personal offense at not only the rabid "anti-war" types but also the US goverment which failed to explain matters to the American people, bluntly and honestly. In good part I think this is because the American government was too ignorant; it certainly was clumsy and unimaginative. Within two months I went from being a "closet dove" to a "badger" or "mongoose." Leave me alone and people I believe in and we'll be fine. Kill them and I'll do what I can to kill you until you stop. Sounds cruel and barbaric, but then again what Hanoi's ideology was doing in Laos, Cambodia and South Viet Nam was cruel and barbaric. Don't rely on my word, simply ask the gaggle of former Hanoi communists who have defected or are under quasi-house arrrest-today-in Viet Nam. In any event, after my first tour I went back, voluntarily, with the Defense Attache Office, from 1973-1975. My job took me to about 18 of the former RVN's 44 provinces. I spoke VN and tried to learn all I could from anyone I could, about VN, the war, etc. My opinions were formed by discussions with former VC, a former NVA, and common people in VN, be they in the ARVN 7th Division, soup vendors in Can Tho, or ARVN 9th Div. HQ. Because of what I learned from these people, I supported the effort to stop Hanoi's war, and subsequent research produces the conclusion that it could have been done and should have been done. A corollary conclusion is that the primary reason this did not come about is because of the utter vacuity in Washington D.C., along with a-from my point of view-fairly obscene disregard for SE Asian people blended with a crypto-managerial cavalier attitude regarding US personnel placed in harm's way. That's another story. Back to the discussion at hand.
   Myth, to me, is defined as perceptions that are simply not backed up by facts, and an abundance of them. What frustrates and angers me is hearing sheer idiocy passed off as "VN commentary" that "everyone" knows is true. Did all RVN people support the VC? No, and if they had I'd have been dead 15 times over. Were all RVNAF(Republic of Viet Nam Armed Forces)-as distinct from ARVN (Army only) pathetic losers? Not in the least. It wasn't simply the "elite" Airborne, Marine and Rangers who were good; in the latter years, and I'm quite sure is was very, very different early on, RF and PF, the usually maligned "Ruff-Pupps"-acquited themselves extremely well. Mr. Turner is correct in stating the indigenous VC were no longer a strategic force, and the vestigal VC presence that did survive was kept from decimation only by NVA regulars, armed to the gills with modern Soviet and Commnist bloc weapons which were in many respects superior to what RVNAF had.
   Mr. Hart's initial pair of questions is very important. These pertained to conflicting views of returning VN vet as hero-or traitor-for taking "anti-war" posture, and the "stick it out until victory" or "hopeless by 1968, cut loses and get out" arguments. Resolution of these questions demands much more serious discussion than has characterized public debate until now, and a much greater assemblage of factual content upon which to base conclusions. THIS is what has not been done, and THIS is what allows unfounded myths to persist. Mr. Turner agreed that honorable people can reach opposing positions, yet I've never seen any indication that the American public has any depth of informed knowledge about VN, Laos, Cambodia, what took place there, how, why, to what end, etc. This is pathetic. The "anti-war" people never told me about utterly ruthless VC/NVA behavior; the "pro-war" people painted an unrealistic panorama of unalloyed optimism.
   Whether Kerry did or did not do whatever he is accused of, or admired for, is to a large degree totally irrelevant. Wars are neither won or lost because one person is or is not a reprehensible bastard, or has or has not killed someone in cold blood. At the risk of appearing pedantic we'll quote the late Admiral Hyman Rickover: "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." Please...no suggestion is made that either of the disputants have "small minds" and the content and depth of commentary proves this is not the case, yet the fact remains that VN's hard, documented history remains unknown. Today's high school and college textbooks contain the entirely specious argument that arrival of US ground forces created such havoc...and throw in agent orange...that VN's rice production dropped and the country was forced to import rice to fend off famine. Sounds logical but is not. Rice importing began a year before American infantry combat units arrived in country, and all because of VC depredations in the countryside. This is typical of the completely unfounded myths that have gained currency.
   At this juncture it is necessary to point out that I do believe idiotic American policies and moronic pseudo-strategy produced more societal disruption, death and destruction that would otherwise have been necessary. You'll find no blanket approval of US policies here, and another seminar should be held by the Southeast Asians exploring how and why American was such an awkward doofus ally. This being no reflection on those individuals who did their jobs to the best of their ability; it is only regretable there was no vehicle by which to channel their positive attributes in the most efficacious manner.
   Mr. Hart stated the word "won"(as in "won the war") has no meaning for him. Let's define "won" as having stopped Hanoi's war and allowing Laos, Cambodia and South Viet Nam to go their own ways, free from the de facto fascism of Hanoi's pathetic ideologues. This is not an abstract matter as many PEOPLE would be alive today, people who died violent deaths after 1975. Too many of them were friends of mine. They were fine people who despised Hanoi's idiocy while at the same time holding their own corrrupt government in contempt. Still, there were only two choices, and the Hanoi option was terminal madness unacceptable to them. They, like their US counterparts, were denied capable national leadership though it must be clearly stated that the GVN was not as bad as is always made out. It was not a "corrupt government" as it was a viable and slowly improving government plagued by corruption. A very fine distinction perhaps, but a valid one nonetheless. Mr. Hart's views are clear to me, as is his logic, but I do believe that if he experienced what I did he would see that my outlook is not simply a "contrived" view useful to me because I cannot "adjust emotionally to happy ending." Given what took place in Indochina, I do not want to be the type of person who could "adjust emotionally" to the carnage, just as I cannot and will not "adjust emotionally" to the assassination of Medgar Evers. Perhaps I'm not jaded to the extent that I'm simply innured to injustice, and fact is I do not care. The key point is here, and one hopes will be addressed at the conference, is that all participants should accept ALL elements of the truth on the table, unpleasant or not, and go from there. This has NEVER been done in the national debate and discussion on Viet Nam, which remains locked in a nearly medieval state of crypto-sorcery and philosophical alchemy.
   On Kissinger as depicted in Larry Berman's book: I do not have either Nixon's or Kissinger's picture on my wall. They were as human as the rest of us, with the standard allotment of virtues and vices, and perhaps even more of the latter. Still, they were greatly constrained by the country's mood at the time, and were faced with ever-narrowing options, the toxic by-product, payment deferred, for credibility squandered by Johnson and McNamara and their pathetic excuse for strategy. It was a sell-out yet it is all too easy to forget how poltical forces boxed both of them in, leaving few other options. It's been awhile since I read Berman's book, and I do not recall his assertion that the bombing was only to bring Thieu back on board. More recent research, and I've discussed this briefly with Mr. Berman, shows that Hanoi did give in on points they'd never conceded before. They finally agreed to a much larger ICCS contingent, accepted Thieu as president rather than calling for his removal, and retracted the last-minute changes they came up with AFTER Thieu threw his understandable tantrum. Excuse my feeble memory but a more recent book by someone named Asselin, very well researched, says the bombing DID bring Hanoi back to the table, and DID force them to make concessions they'd never agreed to before. Still, the fact that the Kissinger-negotiated deal was flimsy is quite correct, though we are compelled to acknowledge the volatile American public opinion of the time, the looming democratic congress threat to cut off all funds to RVN, and the extremely limited room for maneuvre.
   Finally, the one "great myth" of American superiority is lost on me. I've met anyone who does not acknowledge that SE Asian soldiers, due in good part to the factors Mr. Hart cites, and throw in incessant Hanoi indoctrination, were anything but capable and sometimes insanely courageous adversaries. This is not to say SOME American units were not incredibly good at what they did, or that the VC/NVA were bumbled like the rest of we humans, but I've fortunately been spared hearing allegations of American warrior superiority. They were tough guys, many of them motivated by, as they saw them, very positive reasons. Then again, the same can be said for the Hitler Jugend. Another aspect of VN's multi-faceted tragedy is that so many idealistic young NVN youth were squandered for a lie.
   I'd like to be present at a continuation of this discussion, and trust all will abide by rules of civility, with mutual agreement that all, ALL, pertinent material be on the table, a condition far too often absent in the great national VN debate.
Wilson Hart
09:14 PM ET (US)
Permit me, if you will, to give you a suggestion. Get "No Peace, No Honor" by Larry Berman. Read it with the broad open mind of a scholar seeking truth; not with the narrow focused mind of an advocate pleading a case.

If you do that you will discover two "myths of Vietnam" which far transcend in importance any of those which you have on your current list:

     Myth No. 1: That Henry Kissinger was a brilliant diplomat. In negotiating the Paris Accords of 1973 Kissinger betrayed everyone who came within his orbit, conspicuously including Nixon and Thieu. The results were disastrous for all concerned, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee notwithstanding.

    Myth No. 2: That the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972 was necessary in order to force the North Vietnamese (GNVN) to accede to the treaty terms that the US was demanding of them. Kissinger had already surrendered to the GNVN on the only real sticking point (whether the US and the GNVN would both leave South Vietnam simultaneously or whether the forces of the GNVN would "stay in place" where they were in SVN at the time the cease-fire began) in order to get the GVN to agree to a peace treaty before the 1972 elections. On October 26, 1972, Kissinger proclaimed to the world, “Peace is at hand.” He called it a "peace with honor". But President Thieu upset the apple cart. He was passionately outraged at Kissinger's flagrant and perfidious double-cross of the South Vietnamese. He refused to sign the treaty and threatened to torpedo the whole deal, as he had done to a similar treaty negotiation in 1968. The only reason for the Christmas bombing was to get Thieu to accept the unacceptable concessions which Kissinger had made to the GNVN in October without telling Thieu what he was doing. John Negroponte said, "We had to bomb them (the GNVN) to get them to accept our concessions".

Finally, Bob, you and Steve will not be completely successful in Boston unless you give due consideration to the Mother of All Vietnam Myths: the myth that Americans are superior to Asians in all aspects of modern warfare. In one crucial area Asians have a clear advantage over us: they are much more willing to die for lost causes than we are. That is not because they are braver than we are; nor because they are dumber than we are. It is because they are locked by their history and their culture into autocratic societies which require them to march into the valley of death whenever and for as long as their leaders tell them they must do so.

We, on the other hand, have several ways of getting rid of leaders who mislead us into wars that are unnecessary and, ipso facto, immoral. In the ‘60s and 70s the American people let Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon send nearly 60,000 of their kids to their deaths in Indo-China before they reined in their government. Today they are losing patience with Bush even though only 1,000 have died in his war. When Larry King recently asked John McCain whether Bush could win the election this year, McCain’s answer was, “It depends on how many Americans die in Iraq between now and November.”

Is it any wonder that people in the administration are reported to be looking for a way to cancel the elections “for the duration” of the war?
Robert Turner
09:12 PM ET (US)
We may be having a semantical misunderstanding.

What I am saying is that -- as someone who followed the details of the war very closely for the previous 8 years and had traveled extensively around the country -- by the end of 1972 it was clear that the Viet Cong had been so badly decimated that it was no longer a "player" in the war. Hanoi had tried and failed to conquer the country in a major Easter Offensive, and when Nixon finally removed many of the constraints on bombing Hanoi's will was broken and its two essential supply sources had been co-opted by Kissinger's brilliant diplomacy. Major fighting had ended, casualties on all sides were low, and Hanoi knew that if it breached the (soon to be signed) Paris Accord we could (and would) hit them very hard. My perception was widely shared by others who had even more experience than I did in Vietnam, including Bill Colby, Douglas Pike, Don Rochlen, and many others.

But then Congress made a decision to make it unlawful for U.S. forces to remain in the game. (I watched parts of this up close, as I was hired to advise a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that year.) And then Moscow and Bejing stepped up and aid Hanoi conquered its neighbors.

In general, some of the more recent histories seem to recognize both that the war was necessary and that it was (as the Village Voice said a few years ago) to my shock, "a good war."

I don't pretend to know what historians in future generations will write, if they mention Vietnam at all. If they say U.S. military forces were defeated on the battlefields of Vietnam, that will be false. We did not lose a single major battle, and North Vietnamese officers have conceded that. Their strategy (which I wrote about more than 30 years ago) was never to defeat us on the battlefield, but rather to tie us down and rely on the "progressive forces" of the world to pressure Congress into cutting off funds. In my 1975 book Vietnamese Communism I document how they used a similar strategy to defeat the French in 1954 and told their troops that victory would likely come via the political struggle rather than the armed struggle.

I don't deny that like a lot of veterans I have strong emotions about aspects of the war. And when I hear people who honestly believe that most of us were "war criminals" and drug abusers it offends me, because that was not what I observed. Sure, there were real war crimes -- we punished several. My Lai was worse than most Americans were ever told. But they were not official policy or a common practice.

What Kerry did or did not do in Vietnam is not very important (to me). The charge that he shot an unarmed wounded man in the back was not mine, but that of his M-60 gunner (who wounded the VC). The charge that he lied about a "fire fight" to get a Purple Heart was not mine, but his commanding officer's and the doctor's who treated him. Given the facts as we know them (based in part upon the Brinkley autobiography), I find the allegations very credible in the Purple Heart case and somewhat credible in the Silver Star case. But I don't believe that my presentation(s) in Boston will address each issue, as that is not my assignment and I would assume that in other settings the officers who served with him will address those issues. (The Boston program is not a "let's get Kerry" program, and in his most recent e-mail Mr. Sherman (who I have never met) said he did not expect to hear Kerry's name mentioned often. We have been asked to talk about "myths" of the war, and having written a series of articles with that general title in the mid-1960s I know something about that issue. I suspect that my formal remarks will focus on things like alleged U.S. support for French colonialism, alleged violations of the Geneva Accords, the 1956 elections issue, the myth that Ho was a potential "Tito," the origins of the NLF and the war in South Vietnam, human rights behavior in both countries, alleged "political prisoners" and "tiger cages," and the like.

I have not been asked to say anything about Kerry, but were I asked I would focus instead upon the efforts of the VVAW, the lies told in the Detroit "Winter Soldiers Investigation," and Kerry's Senate testimony.

I am trying to finish a book this week and won't start planning for Boston until I suspect Saturday. I think Sherman wants me to talk about what might have happened had we simply walked away from Vietnam in 1964 or '65. In that talk I would talk about Lin Biao, Ché Guavara, Ho, Vo Nguyen Giap, Le Duan, and possibly Sun Tzu -- but I doubt seriously John Kerry would figure in.

I've tried to explain why I have doubts about some of Kerry's medals and whether he deserves the label "war hero" or not. It is okay that you disagree. I've also tried to be very candid that I do not have full information and am trying to piece together what we do think we know based upon what he has said and what others have been reported to have said in reputable newspapers (e.g., the Boston Globe) and books (primarily Tour of Duty). But, again, his behavior in Vietnam is in my view largely irrelevant to my opposition to him as a presidential candidate.

He came home, associated himself with a bunch of Communists, Black Panthers, wanna-bes and misfits, and helped spread falsehoods about the war and about the men who had and were fighting there. Many of those lies were embraced by legislators, who in my view betrayed the promise that President Kennedy had made to people seeking freedom around the world.

Had John Kerry been in charge of U.S. foreign policy during that critical period of our history, I think we might well have lost the Cold War.

But it's okay that you disagree. Thanks in no small part to soldiers who have gone off to war over the years, our system is premised upon the right of citizens to disagree, to enter their ideas into the intellectual marketplace, and to vote for the president of their choice (at least among the candidates who qualify for the ballot). As Churchill said, it's the worst of all possible system except for all of the others.
Stephen Sherman
09:09 PM ET (US)
With permission of the two correspondents, I have posted this correspondence on this bulletin board with their permission. Unfortunately I have made a mistake in the following message which should be attributed to Wilson Hart. I will fix this as soon as I learn how to edit it. Sorry 'bout that.
Robert Turner
09:03 PM ET (US)
It is an eternal truism that the authentic, authoritative history of any given era is always written long after the last person who was alive during that era has died. Gibbon's "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" was first published in 1776. When the ultimate history of the Vietnam War is written several centuries from now, the events of April, 1975, will loom large in the telling, because then and only then was the ultimate outcome of that war determined. The author will make no mention of any prior dates as being significant because in that year one side or the other "essentially won". That term will have no meaning to the author or his readers. I must confess to you, it has no meaning to me either. I can, however, understand how such a contrived term can by useful to persons who cannot adjust emotionally to the fact that that war did not have a happy ending. If they can pass their remaining years in peace and tranquility by rejoicing in the victories that they "essentially won", I say, "God bless them". But I'm not willing to let them write the history books for our posterity.
One last point. Once again, in this message you recycle the story about Kerry killing the Vietnamese child deliberately and in cold blood purely for the advancement of his own selfish interests. Then you tell me that the whole wild, lurid tale is "just a guess". I am not your Father Confessor, Bob; I have no wish to pass moral judgment upon you. If you use that story in Boston, and tell it with an artful flourish, I am sure you will get wild applause. I am also sure that if you don't tell it someone else will, and then he will get the applause that you could have had.There are many people with an insatiable hunger for that kind of red meat. I ask you only to grant me one dispensation: don't expect me to join in the applause.
Robert Turner
09:02 PM ET (US)
I'm glad you took the time to write back. I understand your concerns and will try to at least clarify some of the points:

1. I am one of MANY people who believe the war was essentially won by the end of '72. Before they died, I discussed this at length with both former DCI Bill Colby (who knew the conflict as well as any American, in my view, having first become involved in the 1950s as CIA station chief in Saigon), and my good friend Douglas Pike (who was America's top authority on the other side.) But they are but two of the dozens of experts and experienced observers who have expressed this view to me over the decades.. I've written so many e-mails in recent months I'm not sure what I mentioned to you, but other than in Quang Tri province the "enemy" did not control a single population center. Every major city and town was in government hands, and the enemy was confined to hiding out in delta swamps or mountain jungles.

2. Even Hanoi now admits that the "VC" was effectively destroyed by the Tet Offensive of Feb. 1968.

3. Hanoi's major Easter Offensive was stopped by ARVN with U.S. air power.

4. For the first time in the war, we began serious attacks on important targets in North Vietnam that the JCS and CIA had been urging us to hit in '72. By late December, most of the key targets had been destroyed, Moscow and Bejing had cut their aid and urged Hanoi to "cool it" for a few more years, and Hanoi had exhausted its supply of SAM missiles -- which made them totally vulernable to U.S. air power.

NOW, having said that, your observation that the war ended in 1975 and that our side lost is exactly right. I know that well, because I was there for most of April 1975 and I came out with the final evacuation. (Oh, I also discussed the situation at length with Ambassador Graham Martin and the DCM, and both agreed we had essentially won the war by the end of '72).

What happened? The bombing forced Hanoi back to Paris to sign the 27 Jan. '73 Peace Accord. That could have been enforced by the use (or even the threat to use) our B-52s on Guam. But in May '73, Congress entered the picture and passed a statute prohibiting the expenditure of Treasury funds for "combat operations" anywhere in Indochina. That made it unlawful for us to continue helping South Vietnam, and that in turn led Moscow and Bejing to greatly step up their aid so Hanoi could conquer its neighbors by conventional warfare. (Mao, Giap, ChŽ, and other communist theorists all agreed that the final stage of guerrilla warfare had to be conventional war.)

Now to Senator Kerry. I don't know what happened during his very brief visit to South Vietnam. I do know that his CO and the doctor who treated his first "wound" said that others (both used the plural) who were on that mission told them there was no enemy contact and that Kerry had essentially injured himself while screwing around with an M-79. (My words, not theirs.) I am told that Kerry will not allow release of his medical records, which in my view does not strengthen his case.

Nor do I know what happened in the Silver Star incident. Brinkley writes that Zumwalt said he made the award as an "impact" award to improve moral. Kerry's M-60 gunner is reported by Brinkley and others to have once remarked that Kerry got his Silver Star by shooting an unarmed, wounded man in the back." Minus the "spin," that story strikes me as being consistent with the facts Kerry acknowledges. (Kerry claimed that the kid had reloaded his B-40 and asserts that, rather than trying to flee, he was merely trying to increase his distance to the boat so he could take another shot.) Everyone seems to agree that the VC had been shot by the M-60 and that Kerry ran after him with an M-16 and then killed him. I think it highly unlikely that we will ever be able to prove the intent in the heads of either Kerry or the VC.

I have not seen an account of this incident that suggests the VC was not alone at that location. (There are reports of fire coming earlier from a different spot on the bank of the river and perhaps the other side of the river as well.) But at the same time, I don't have any reason to believe that Kerry KNEW with any certainty that he was not running into a VC ambush. So I give him SOME points for his action, on balance. (I don't think the B-40 constituted a serious threat at the ranges involved as compared to Kerry's M-16, even if the kid had been better trained. I assume he was not very well trained by the fact that he fired the rocket from too close a range for it to arm, which a more experienced or better trained guerrilla would perhaps know.)

Now, is wanting to become President an evil dream? NO. Not at all. But motives are in my view often important, especially when evaluating claims of heroism.

It is noteworthy, in my view, that of the 20 officers in the photo Kerry used in his early ads, only 3 support his candidacy openly -- one of whom is Kerry himself. In contrast, a majority of them have signed a letter saying they view him as unfit for service as CinC. That's significant in my view. And the sense that I get from reading their stuff and talking to a few of them is that they felt he was simply doing the minimum required of him to credential himself for a political career. He wanted to follow JFK's footsteps. And in that context, I find it very easy to believe that the entire stunt of (contrary to clear orders) ordering his boat to shore so he could dispatch the wounded enemy guerrilla might well have been intended to get him a hero medal at relatively minor risk. But that's just a guess.

On a scale of 10, I'd probably give Kerry a 6 or 7 for his service in Vietnam -- which is a higher mark that I would give myself, even though I was there much longer than he was. For whatever it is worth, although I lied about medical problems to get into the military (having been thrown out of Air Force ROTC on medical grounds), and volunteered for assignment as an Infantry recon platoon leader, when I got to Vietnam my prior expertise about the enemy led the Embassy to have me detailed to work in their "North Vietnamese/Viet Cong Affairs Division," and I returned from the war without a scratch on me. I lost the wife I dearly loved because when I volunteered to return for a second tour she concluded I had chosen Vietnam over her, and I'd gladly have traded an arm to have her back. But I still feel guilty that I returned alive and healthy while better men came home in bags.. My real point in even discussing Kerry's military record is that he MAY not have been the great "war hero" he likes to pretend to be.

If you've seen "Saving Private Ryan," you may recall the attitude of the private when they told him he was going home. He didn't want to leave his men. He wanted to carry his share of the load. That is a common characteristic of soldiers--all the more so of true "heroes." Men who have been wounded three times ARE permitted to request to go home, and that was as much a lawful option for Kerry (despite the superficial character of his injuries--UNLESS, of course, you conclude that his first Purple Heart was based upon a lie about a "firefight"), and exercising that right was as legal as Bush's decision to seek a position in the Guard or Reserves. But I knew men in Vietnam who were on their second or third tours and had been repeatedly wounded seriously who would lie about their injuries so they could stay and help protect their comrades. They were the real heroes of the war in my view.

As a very important distinction of the law, killing an enemy combatant who has not been wounded to the point of being clearly hors de combat is NOT an act of "murder" because soldiers in wartime receive something we often refer to as "combatant's privilege"--a right to kill the enemy on behalf of their government. Several people have alleged that shooting a fleeing soldier in the back is a "war crime," and that is untrue even if he has thrown down his weapon and is screaming "HELP!" as he runs away. The theory behind this is that a combatant who runs away today may come back tonight and kill you. (This is why the critics who accused the United States of "war crimes" for continuing to kill Iraqi troops on the "Highway of Death" at the end of Operation Desert Storm were mistaken. If they can walk, run, or drive away and have not indicated a desire to surrender, they are lawful targets. (Normally shooting a sleeping human being who has personally done nothing to threaten you is an unlawful homicide and likely murder, but in war it is perfectly lawful to toss a grenade into a tent where enemy soldiers sleep or even drop a bomb on their barracks at 3 AM.)

To me, as I say, his performance in Vietnam on balance scores him a few points. I can't be certain of exactly what happened, and since perhaps the most important witness (the M-60 gunner who claimed Kerry shot a wounded unarmed man in the back) is now dead, I'm prepared to give Kerry some points for his conduct. (But I do have some doubts. If Kerry had really wanted to "serve his country" in time of war, he was already a trained pilot and the Navy very much needed pilots. The choices he made don't strike me as being those of heroes, and Brinkley (and others) use quotes from Kerry that strongly suggest he did NOT want to go into harm's way. It is clear, for example, that when he volunteered for Swift boats they were being used in a relatively safe role, and Brinkley says that when Kerry was told of the new mission he replied "Do I have any choice?" or words to that effect.

To me, and most of the Vietnam vets with whom I have spoken about Kerry, the biggest problem by FAR was his behavior with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. This was a group that used to hand out leaflets in America alleging that U.S. infantry soldiers in Vietnam were "monsters" who routinely murdered people.

One might argue that Kerry was only in Vietnam a few short months and might well have had no idea what was really going on. But the Globe and Brinkley quote his "friends" at the time as saying he didn't seem "anti-war" until he withdrew from the Democratic primary and began looking for an "issue" to promote his political ambitions.

I'll overlook Jane Fonda's obvious treason because she was an unneducated Hollywood bimbo who was married to a Communist and surrounded by people with radical views. Some of her ignorance was almost humorous, such as the time she told Johnny Carson about the B-52 bombers taking off from the aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf. (In case you aren't into military hardware, a B-52 requires roughly a 12,000-foot runway.) And when she made radio broadcasts telling American sailors in the Gulf to refuse to load the bombs (because they were filled with poison gas that would make the sailors liable as war criminals after the war) she may even have believed it.

John Kerry had the finest education money can buy and military training as well. If he really was ignorant and simply duped by the Communists and Black Panthers he was dealing with, he should not have been undermining his country in a time of war authorized by Congress and he should not have been going abroad as an anti-war leader to meet with enemy leaders (a felony he acknowledged at the time he realized was a crime).

His fellow Swift boat officers say they weren't "committing war crimes" or "stoned 24 hours a day," and I find it hard to believe that his experience was all THAT different from that of other similarly situated officers.

There is a LOT more I could say, but I'm supposed to be finishing up a book tonight and tomorrow and suspect you don't really want to hear any more.

It is okay that we disagree on this. That's one of the wonderful things about a free society. In November the people will make a choice, and I will abide by that choice as American democrats have since the days of George Washington.

I don't know what I will say when I get to Boston in 2 weeks with Mr. Sherman. He has indicated that we are not gathering to discuss Messrs. Kerry or Bush, and I assumed my presentation(s) would focus upon the merits of the war and the factual arguments used against the war -- issues I researched and wrote about at length even before I entered active duty and well before I ever heard of John Kerry. If I speak critically of individuals, I would expect Robert McNamara to get a lot more attention than John Kerry. But these kinds of programs are difficult to really "script" in advance, and I'll likely play a few things by ear and "roll with the punches" if things get heated up a bit. It is my hope that everyone will maintain a civil attitude so we can have an honest exchange of views. I would personally love it if Sen. Kerry would designate a "champion" to defend his position on the war so we could have a serious debate on the merits. But I don't anticipate that will happen.

I want to talk about facts. I've spent a very long time -- off and on, nearly 40 years -- studying, writing about, and teaching about the Vietnam War. I don't pretend to have a monopoly on the facts, but I take pride in the fact that since my undergraduate days I have been willing to debate anyone and to defend my understanding of the facts. Just by the law of averages, I'm quite confident I'm wrong about some things I feel passionately about. And I think that's okay.

As Thomas Jefferson said in 1820, this University "will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

When people like Bill Colby, Doug Pike, or I say we believed that the war was essentially won by the end of '72, that is an _expression of OPINION -- but it is a conclusion based upon facts rather than values. (Saying the war should or should not have been fought would involved values.) I've spent a very long time studying these issues, and I stand ready to explain my views (and also to CHANGE them if I find more persuasive evidence during the ongoing search for the truth) to people of good will at any time (consistent with the other demands on my time, which includes my role as a single parent). I do not demand accord will my views as the price of my friendship, and I relish friends who disagree -- for, again to paraphrase Jefferson -- the man who corrects an error in my work serves me twice, by helping me find the truth and by preventing me from continuing to impart error to others.

Again, I don't ask that you accept any of my own conclusions. You are entitled to your opinions and I would not have you conceal them on the theory that they might cause me pain. I'm used to communicating with people who are shocked at some of my views, and I have concluded that above all other debts I must be true to myself in the search for truth.
Wilson Hart
08:56 PM ET (US)
I have read and reread your message several times in the past two days. I find it remarkable in many respects and shocking in one.

It is remarkable, for example, that you state that our side (i.e., the Government of South Vietnam) won the war in 1972 when in fact the war did not end until April 30, 1975, at which time the GSVN clearly had lost the war.

The part of your essay which shocks me is that which relates to the incident which allegedly forms the basis for the award of a Silver Star to John Kerry. You charge, by insinuation and innuendo, that Kerry committed deliberate, cold blooded murder of a child, as a cravenly cowardly way to play ëJohn Wayne‰ so that he could nominate himself for a Silver Star in order to pad his resume for a future campaign for president of the United States. You seem convinced that aspiring to become president is an ignoble pursuit which parents should discourage their children from doing.

I assume that you have decided to repeat this extraordinary accusation in public appearances, such as Steve Sherman‰s Boston seminar, whenever you have the opportunity to do so.

If, in your heart, you honestly believe that there is substance to that accusation, you would be performing a great public service if you initiated an investigation in pursuit of the facts which would determine whether the charges you have advanced have merit. If you should ultimately succeed in unearthing evidence which would lead to Kerry‰s arrest and conviction, you would become a national hero who would be applauded by everyone, including those who have concluded that another Bush administration will not serve the country‰s best interests. No one wants a president who has committed a capital offense.

On the other hand, if you go about disseminating slanderous and groundless accusations, even against a presidential candidate, you will be placing yourself in a position of moral equivalency with Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore, whom George Bush 41 recently described as a -slime balls.
Robert Turner
08:52 PM ET (US)
Knowing of my interest in these matters, Steve was kind enough to send me a copy of his exchange with you.

I certainly agree with everything he said about pursuing the truth and not wanting a food fight.

But I would expect a lot of people to be more favorably disposed to Kerry had he "dodged the draft" by joining the guard or reserve. Those were legal options, they served at least some social value, but they don't get anyone a lot of extra points from me.

I give anyone who went several points at the start. How they behaved can add or detract points.

Kerry was already a pilot, and we had a great need for Navy pilots in Vietnam -- but it was a highly dangerous mission and he elected to seek safer duty. When he volunteered for the Swift boats, they were used in a relatively safe coastal patrol role, and (according to Brinkley's biography) when he learned they had been assigned to more dangerous work he asked if he had any choice before accepting the assignment.

I honestly don't know the full story behind either his first Purple Heart or his Silver Star. We do know that his CO and the doctor who treated his first "wound" claim that it was a tiny splinter from an M-79 that went 1/8" into his arm and was treated with a band aid, and that men who were with Kerry contradicted his story that there had been a "fire fight" and asserted Kerry had been screwing around with an M-79, fired it into the water too close to his own boat, it apparently hit an offshore rock or something and detonated, hitting him with one tiny piece of shrapnel.

We do know that after 3 months in country (where he saw serious risk), without having been seriously injured in any way, he asked to be removed to a safe billet as an admiral's aide in the states. That was every much as legal an option for him (well, unless you want to quarrel about his first Purple Heart) as joining the guard or reserves was for others. But it was not a sign of great courage or patriotism in my view.

I've read various accounts of the Silver Star incident and am "troubled" by it. The kid who first shot the VC teenager later remarked that Kerry got his Silver Star for shooting a wounded unnarmed man inn the back. Kerry and some others say the VC had a loaded B-40/RPG-2 rocket. All agree he had been wounded previously by the M-60 and was moving away from Kerry down a trail when Kerry went after him with an M-16. I'm honestly not sure that anyone then or know knows what was in anyone's mind -- was the VC just a frightened kid trying to get to safety after he first his B-40 from too close a range to arm it and just broke some windows on the Fast boat, or was he instead running to increase the range so he could take cover and pop off a more effective round? I sure don't know.

We do know--as there are numerous witnesses who have talked about it--that Kerry was trying to credential himself so he could someday run for President as a "war hero" like JFK. And in that setting, it is possible that he saw a relatively safe chance to play "John Wayne" by running down and dispatching a frightened, wounded, kid whose B-40 at close range would be no match for Kerry's M-16. I've heard stories that there were VC at other points along the river, but it appears that during this engagement Kerry and the kid were basically alone (with other guys from the boat following Kerry. So I keep looking for the conspicuous gallantry that normally is required for a Silver Star--but perhaps it was there. Zumwalt justified the medal as an "impact award" trying to improve unit moral, and I've never favored giving out hero medals to boost morale--most people have to earn them.

My sense is the Bronze Star was clearly legit, and that in general Kerry "did his job" during the 3 months before he asked to be sent home.

On balance, I'd give people like Bush and Quayle a few negative points for seeking out less dangerous alternatives to risking going to Vietnam. (It was common among "conservative" college students of the era.) Bush gets a few extra good points for agreeing to be a pilot, as some of them were killed during training and the business of flying fighter aircraft has an element of danger in it even in the absence of an armed enemy. But, on balance, I'd still give him a negative score on that issue, and a BIG negative score for his DWI background. (The only reason he didn't kill people was chance.)

I'd give Kerry a positive score for his service in Vietnam--but fewer points than I would give anyone that I personally know who earned a Silver Star because his was essentially self-nominated and I think it makes a bit of a difference that his goal was not patriotic service to his country but rather punching his "hero" card so he could run for president.

I guess I treat his Silver Star about like I do most Bronze Stars with 'V' device. At best, he did his job well under serious risk to his own life. It's a big plus.

Bush v. Kerry for their "Vietnam-era military service," Kerry wins BIG.

The problem comes with what he did next. Both Brinkley and the Globe series say that Kerry's friends at the time say he did not appear expecially 'anti-war" until AFTER he lost the Democratic primary in 1970 to Bob Drinan, the radical anti-war priest. He realized that being a Vietnam war hero didn't impress the voters of Massachusetts in 1970. This friends said Kerry was then looking around to find "an issue" to further his political ambitions, when he found the VVAW.

As you may know, at one point the VVAW did a 3- or 4-day "march" to Valley Forge, PA, during which they acted a bit weird and passed out leaflets to people in the towns they went through saying, in essence: "A US Infantry Company Has Just Come Through Here. If you had been Vietnamese, we would likely have shot you, burned your home, killed your dog, and raped your wife and daughter. If you don't want your son to become a monster, oppose the war."

That was not the first time they characterized us as "monsters" and "war criminals" and "drug addicts." Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that 60-80% of us were "stoned" 24-hours a day. He said we were routinely committing "war crimes" with the knowledge and approval of every level of the chain of command, and compared our behavior to Ghengis Khan.

You have no reason to know me, but, FYI, I was no hero in Vietnam or anywhere else. I did volunteer, and even covered up some medical problems to get in. But I had done my undergrad honors thesis on the war, knew a fair amount about our enemy, and when I got to Vietnam I was detailed to an Embassy job working on North Vietnamese/Viet Cong affairs. In one capacity or another I was in Vietnam 5 times between 1968 and coming out during the final evacuation in 1975, and I visited 42 of 44 provinces in the south plus Laos and Cambodia. (Never got so much as a scratch, although on occasion people within 50 feet of me were killed.)

After the war I became the senior resident scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution on War, Revoltuion and Peace working on Vietnam, serving as Associate Editor for Asia & the Pacific of the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs and writing a 500+ page book on the history of Vietnamese Communism. A decade after earning my BA I returned to school and earned first a JD and later an SJD (academic doctorate) from the Univ. of Virginia Law School, where I have worked and taught for nearly 17 years. I've taught Vietnam seminars both at the law school and for undergrads at Virginia, and I spent 1994-95 as the Stockton Prof. of International Law at the Naval War College, where I also taught a seminar on "Lessons of the Vietnam War."

All of this is to suggest that I probably know more about the war than the average Vietnam veteran. But I certainly don't pretend to have all of the answers.

You are absolutely right that honorable people can and have drawn opposite conclusions about the war. But I would submit that OFTEN the differences are in reality based upon conflicting understandings of the facts. I took part in a number of early "teach ins" and Vietnam debates starting in '65, and I debated a number of the leaders of the so-called "New Left" during that period.

There was a lot of confusion about what was going on in Vietnam in 1966, but today I think that a lot of the factual debates of that era are no longer possible among serious people. I recall hearing speaker after speaker assert that the National Liberation Front was "independent" of Hanoi and that the State Department "lied" when it alleged we were getting involved because of (to mention the title of one major white paper): "Aggression from the North."

During those debates I would carry around copies of a number of North Vietnamese publications (they used to send me large packages a few times a year of all of their new publications in English, because I had sent in a form I picked up at an early teach-in and mailed it to Hanoi). I had all 4 volumes of Ho's Selected Works, the proceedings of the Third Party Congress in 1960 (where the Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam passed a resolution calling for "our people in the South" to establish a "united front" under the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist Party), and I used to point out that entire paragraphs of the NLF program were VERBATIM copies of the 1955 Fatherland Front program in Hanoi. In essence, the American peace movement was being "conned" by Hanoi's brilliant political warfare campaign.

In February 1983, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap and Gen. Vo Bam were featured in a French TV documentary in which they admitted that in May 1959 the Party had made a decision to liberate South Vietnam. Gen. Bam was ordered to open the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and five years later the United States decided we had to "contain" Communism in Indochina just as we had agreed to do in Korea, Europe, and elsewhere. I submit that at this point it is not credible for anyone to allege that Vo Nguyen Giap--Hanoi's Minister of Defense throughout the war--was a liar and the NLF was really an independent South Vietnamese resistance group. (And, by the way, I interviewed hundreds of defectors and POWs during the war and they often laughed at how successful they had been in deceiving the west on the Party's role in the NLF.)

I had several good friend who were very active in the anti-war movement, and while I disagreed with them I actually respected them more than I did the "silent majority" and the fraternity boys who just wanted to show them down and call them names for protesting. Most of them were sincere, and they were trying to keep their government from doing what they thought were evil things.

But VVAW was in an entire different category. It was a mixture of hard-core Communists, Black Panthers, misfit screw-ups, and a number of "wanna-bes" who got to pretend they were "warriors" by hanging around with the radicals.

The Executive Director claimed to have been seriously wounded as an Air Force Captain while landing at Da Nang on his second Vietnam tour. (He was also a Black Panther.) He and Kerry appeared on various TV shows and spoke together about the evils of the war at rallies. When a journalist finally bothered to check the "Captain" out, it turned out he had never passed E-5 in the Air Force, had never been assigned to Vietnam (and probably had never even landed there as a stopover since his jacket did not include authorization to wear the Vietnam Service Ribbon, which he would have qualified for with even a 1 minute stopover anywhere in country). His "wound" was from a 1961 soccer injury. He was, in short, a total fraud. And he was not the only one. There were guys who had never worn a uniform, a clerk from South Carolina, a mechanic who served in Germany, and several deserters who tried to pass themselves off as SEALS, green berets, and the like. They told stories of routinely using POWs for "target practice," of taking babies from their mothers to use for "bait" for booby traps, and one spoke having had "advanced genocide training" in the Army. But they wore ragged uniform parts, and lots of people believed them. I was just starting my second tour when I read about the "Winter Soldiers Investigation" and then Kerry's SFRC testimony, and I felt that he had betrayed us to further his political ambitions.

There were drug problems in Vietnam -- especially after '68. But the idea that 80% of us stayed "stoned" 24-hours a day is a lie. There were war crimes in Vietnam. But from what I saw and heard, most of our troops did a very good job and remain proud of their service. Because the VC intentionally refused to comply with the requirements of the Third Geneva Convention to wear a uniform or identifiable insignia, more civilians were killed than would likely otherwise have been the case. But we went to great lengths to try to avoid war crimes and injury to innocent civilians. At least that was my experience, and I've spoken to hundreds of vets over the years and don't recall a single one who though we were routinely committing war crimes.

I read DRV and PRG/VC propaganda almost daily, and when substantive political documents were captured anywhere in country and set up through intelligence channels they usually made their way at least in photocopy form to my desk. I spent nearly 10 years studying and reading their stuff, and when I read Kerry's Senate testimony red lights started going off. He covered at least half of the official "PRG" program, demanding that we withdraw immediately, impose a "coalition government" (a classic Leninist trick to dupe nationalists into "sharing" power, where the Leninists insist on controlling the internal security, military, and treasury and give the other members of the government responsibility for the ministries of agriculture, forestry, and tourism). Kerry said we should allow the Vietnamese to "settle their own problems" (another mainstay of Hanoi's propaganda line). Imagine someone arguing in 1942 that we should "allow the Europeans to solve their own problems" and not get involved in helping the French or British. He even demanded that we pay reparations to Vietnam after we left -- another of Hanoi's demands.

John Kerry clearly did not want the United States to fight the Cold War. He said that Communism was no threat to us, and made the audience laugh when he said they weren't going to attack our McDonalds hamburger stands. Pretending to speak for a broad cross-section of Vietnam vets, he said there was no reason for us to be involved in Vietnam.

Now, as a matter of historical fact, whether we wanted it or not, Vietnam had become a "test case" and was identified as such by all of the major players. Khrushchev had been deterred by Dulles and Ike's threats of massive retaliation after Korea, but Mao had come along (supported by Castro) and argued that while the Imperialists looked very fierce, in reality they were but "paper tigers" because we could not use our nukes against guerrillas who lived among the people. And people like Lin Piao and Che Guevara were saying that once the Americans were defeated in Vietnam, that would show the world we could not resist peoples warfare and they would quickly start a dozen or more "Vietnams." And had we walked away in 1965, I am in my own mind certain that we would have very quickly have faced a dozen or more "Vietnams" throughout the Third World--and in fact we COULD NOT have prevailed without resorting to nukes. Had we shown that we could not defend victims of "national liberation wars" we might easily have lost the Cold War or had to try to resolve the struggle in a nuclear war with Moscow. We simply lacked the men and money to win a dozen major guerrilla wars. (FYI, I was a lawyer working for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in 1981 when we decided on what became the Reagan Doctrine of supporting guerrillas in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, and Nicaragua--which almost bankrupted Moscow in trying to stop them.)

In 1971, Kerry pretended there was no real difference between our democratic system and other forms of government. Whether democracy, benevolent dictatorship, or communist system, what really mattered was whether a government could "meet the needs" of the people. So the communization of Indochina and other areas was basically none of our business and something we should stay out of.

Interestingly, he recognized that when we withdrew perhaps "millions" of people who had relied upon our promises (if you recall, JFK's promise to "defend any friend") to help them. But he said that would be our fault, because we convinced them to fight a war they could not win. But their deaths would of course be on our conscience for having the gall to intervene in someone else's business.

Two of the strongest arguments for getting out of Vietnam were the need to "stop the killing" and to promote "human rights." After leaving the Army in '71 I became very active in both of those debates, and indeed I was asked to write a piece for the NY Times on whether there would be a "bloodbath" if we withdrew and in Jan '73 I appeard on the PBS Sunday night show, "The Advocates," on the same issue. (A first-term congressman named Les Aspin was also on that show, which was moderated by a law professor named Michael Dukakis). I warned there would be major killing.

After the war, I got to know former Director of Central Intelligence Bill Colby, who would drive down each year to lecture to my Vietnam seminar (wouldn't even take money for his gas) until his death. He had been in and out of Vietnam for near 15 years starting as CIA Saigon station chief in the late '50s, and he knew the country better than any American I knew. We had incredibly similar "takes" on the war, both noting how much more secure things were after 1970. At one point in the early '70s Bill and John Paul Vann took off on a couple of motorcycles and drove unarmed across South Vietnam--just to show it could be done in safety. I had similar experiences driving around the delta during that period.

Another man who used to come down and guest lecture for me was Adm. Thomas Moorer, who had been Chairman of the JCS under Nixon at the end of the war. He told my students about Nixon calling him and and saying, in essence, that the JCS had been bitching for years that it was not being permitted to fight the war to win, and asked for a strategy. Moorer brought it back, they implemented it in 1972, and by the end of that year we essentially had the situation stabilized and in a meaningful sense the war was "won." Saigon controlled almost every population center (save for I think Quang Tri province), Hanoi's best had been stopped in their Easter Offensive assault by ARVN with just U.S. air support, and the first serious bombing of the entire war had left Hanoi totally vulnerable and without a single SAM left. Moscow and Beijing had told Hanoi to 'cool it' for a decade or so, and had cut supplies. Hanoi was forced back to the Paris talks and we got an agreement. We had B-52s in Guam to enforce the accord if Hanoi violated it.

Then the "Kerry effect" kicked in. Under pressure from Kerry and the anti-Vietnam movement, Senators like Church, Fulbright, Gore, Aiken--the same crew that showed up to hear Kerry--pushed through a statute (of very dubious constitutionality) making it unlawful for the President to spend Treasury funds on "combat operations" anywhere in Indochina. At that point, Pham Van Dong said "the Americans won't come back now even if we offer them candy," Moscow and Beijing dramatically stepped up their aid, and the PAVN launched conventional invasions to conquer their neighbors. I was in South Vietnam in April 1975 and watched their conquest up close.

In the next two years, the Communists slaughtered an estimated 2 million people in Cambodia and perhaps half-a-million in South Vietnam (not counting another half-million who died in the next few years trying to flee as boat people). More people died in the first two years after "liberation" than were killed in 14 years of war, and tens of millions of others were consigned to a Communist goulag that still ranks among the worst human rights violators in the world.

Some say that there was no "domino effect" and thus the war was for nothing. This ignores the fact that in 1965 both Thailand and Indonesia were economic basket cases ripe for revolution, and China was supplying arms and training to guerrillas not only there but as far away as Mozambique. By delaying their victory a decade, we bought time for Thailand and Indonesia to become stronger and for China to purge Lin Biao and turn inward after the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. An earlier defeat could have shown Moscow that Mao was correct about armed struggle and helped to reunify the Communist movements.

I didn't mean to turn this into a book, but was impressed by your note and wanted to engage you a bit on the issues. In my view, Kerry made statements that were so far from the truth that he should have known they were lies that had the effect of portraying those of us who were still in Vietnam as evil "monsters" and "war criminals." I think Jane Fonda was clearly a Communist at that point, but John Kerry was also pushing the "party line" and did a heck of a lot more harm to us than anything Fonda ever did. He had the credibility of being "one of us."

I do NOT think he was flirting with Communist at the time. I think it was a marriage of convenience for him. He needed a cause, the VVAW was in desperate need of a credible "voice" who had actually been to Vietnam, and he spouted their line in order to get to speak to the angry crowds.

Fonda clearly committed treason. (Because my legal work touches on this area, last year I was invited to address that issue at a conference sponsored by the Univ. of North Carolina Law Review and I made the full case -- and no one in the argument questioned it after I finished. I pointed out that she went to Hanoi and made radio broadcasts addressed to U.S. forces and urging them to refuse to obey orders, telling sailors that the bombs they were being asked to load really contained illegal poison gas and they could be tried as war criminals if they carried out their orders.) I honestly don't know if John Kerry did, or not, but we now do know that he made two visits to Paris where he met with DRV/PRG leaders--admitting to the Foreign Relations Committee that he know the visits probably were illegal. (In fact, they were felonies.) And if he said anything that gave them "aid and comfort," it probably was treason.

We know that Hanoi was using American communists to pressure families of POWs to denounce the war in return for promises they would get letters from their husbands and fathers. We also know that on at least one occasion John Kerry played "host" to such a press conference, and other POW wifes showed up and screamed at him "What are you going to run for next!" If he coordinated that effort with Hanoi, it would likely come within the realm of treason.

When Nixon complained that Hanoi was torturing our POWs, Jane Fonda screamed that was a "lie" and John Kerry expressed outrage that we would even mention the Geneva Conventions given our own blatant violations. (In reality, the International Committee of the Red Cross wrote Westmoreland that never before in history had an army gone to greater lengths to ensure respect for the rule of law, noting that we had made a policy decision to give the VC protections of the Third Convention despite the fact that they clearly did not qualify under the terms of the accord. But I would add that we made one exception--VC engaged in terrorist acts.)

As a Senator, Kerry's record has been anti-national security. He has opposed military weapons systems that are critical to us, and voted to weaken the Intelligence Community. He now claims that he would try to strengthen the UN, but it is noteworthy that when the UN Security Council in November 1990 called upon nations to go to the aid of Kuwait and enect Iraqi forces who were continuing to rape and torture the people of Kuwait, John Kerry voted to deny the President legal authority to assist the Security Council. Anyone who would turn to him for leadership in the war against terrorism would in my view deserve what they got. Sadly, the rest of us will also pay the price.

Well, Mr. Hart, I don't ask you to agree with any of this. But I think a lot of the dispute was not about values (I think all Americans prefer peace to war and favor justice and human rights) but rather about facts and about the likelihood that one particular policy option will produce the desired result (peace with freedom) that most of us want. In 1972 I published a short monograph showing how the documents in the Pentagon Papers refuted most of the major arguments being used by the anti-war crowd. (I think Steve has that on his web site as a link.)

My hope is that people who disagree with my views will show up in Boston and we can have a serious discussion of what really happened in Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos) and whether what we tried to do was a good or a bad thing. If you come, let me know and perhaps we can sit down for a few minutes and have a good chat.
Stephen Sherman
08:43 PM ET (US)
You are absolutely right that the "search for truth" can easily result in a food fight or partisan political confrontation, and while our search might be catagogized as an obsession, our strongly held beliefs are no less strongly held by others who have done far less homework than we have.

The problem with coming up with different answers suggests that there is no way to come to agreement based on some sort of agreed upon objective facts, even in hindsight. The philosophical problem with that is it also suggests that conundrum in which since you can't know the facts, you can't make a decision, but not making a decision is also a decision in itself.

Now the specific question you pose about the anti-war movement is a good one. Perhaps at the time, an individual may have honestly been motivated in one direction or another, but in hindsight he should have decided after 35 years whther he was right or wrong. His statements about how easily communism would suit the peope of Vietnam were flat wrong and I think that the role of the anti-war movement was not only to undermine the war effort and extend the war, but it was responsible for quitting a war that was effectively won at great cost in treasure and blood. The question however is esential to an understanding of the outcome of the war, so I have cc'd this to the person who will discuss that subject and suggest that he use this example in his presentation if he wishes.

If you can come to Boston, I would be pleased to see you there. I would like this conference to be the product of debate, not food fights and I would value you particiaption.
Wilson Hart
08:41 PM ET (US)
I have examined your viet-myth website and find it very stimulating.

Those of us who are still burdened with obsessions rooted in our experiences in Vietnam all have strong convictions about the still unresolved moral issues to which we were exposed as a result of those experiences. We all believe passionately that we have the right answers. The problem is that we do not all come up with the same answers. We discover that many have reached conclusions which are diametrically opposite to our own and are as passionately sure of the infallibility of their judgments as we are of ours. We tend to become so frustrated that we are tempted to impugn their intelligence and/or their character---not to mention their patriotism. What starts out as a scholarly pursuit for the truth can quickly deteriorate into a food fight---or a partisan political confrontation.

In short, what is one man's point of view is another man's "myth".

For example, consider these two declaratory conclusions:

     1. A Vietnam veteran who led a movement to terminate the war in 1969 committed a treasonous act which prolonged the war, gave aid and comfort to the enemy, and thereby disqualified himself from entitlement to hold public office.

     2. A Vietnam veteran who led a movement to terminate the war in 1969 committed an heroic act which helped his country extricate itself from an unjust an unnecessary war, and thereby deserves elevation to high public office.

Which, if either, of those statements is a myth? Could they not both be myths?

Who is qualified to make that detemination?

Let me give you one more example:

     1. If the Americans had stayed the course in Vietnam for one more day, one more month, one more year, or one more decade they would have won the war.

     2. The Vietnam war had become clearly unwinable by 1968 and the US was bogged down in a quagmire in which our lives and our treasure were being sacrificed needlessly and shamefully.

Which is truth and which is myth? Who really knows?

Finally, let me project this line of reasoning into the present and the immediate---until November 2---future.

It is crystal clear that there will be many sincere people who will declare themselves opposed to the election of John Kerry because of his anti-war activities in 1969. My question to you is this:

     Is there anyone who would have voted for John Kerry if he had spent the Vietnam war in the National Guard in Massachusetts but will not vote for him now because he went to Vietnam and became disillusioned by what he saw there?

I don't think so. Do you?

Stephen ShermanPerson was signed in when posted
09:09 AM ET (US)
I welcome your comments to this session where we will discuss the aftermath of the Vietnam War in South East Asia. To return to the Session Page go to http://www.viet-myths.net/Session11.htm

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