What Today’s Students are Learning About the Vietnam Era
THIRTY YEARS IN THIRTY PAGES
There has to be an enormous amount of care taken when compiling and editing any historical work. If the objective is to present history in the most accurate, factual light, there has to be a weigh in of sorts between the historian’s world view and the relevant facts uncovered in the research. An editor must be able to overcome his own biases when exposed to facts that contradict his beliefs. Exposure to a fresh history, like a first impression, imprints a powerful residue on the psyche of the reader. A fresh history, or the first exposure to an event or era, usually takes place in school. So it is not so much the history per se to which a student is first exposed, but the attitude of the editor presenting that history.
In recent years school books across the country have come under scrutiny for blatant bias. These are easy to expose because they are so blatant. Traditional American values, our Judeo-Christian origins and American exceptionalism are disappearing in textbooks at an alarming rate. In that newly available space themes more hostile to our unique heritage are inserted. This comes in concert with the successful effort to remove from the schools and vilify our traditions, prayer and virtue.
Generally speaking, we can trace the current climate to the 60s. Since the introduction of Marxism in the 19th Century, the philosophy had mainly been promoted by elitist intellectuals; those who know better how a peasant should live than the peasant himself.
By the 60s our post WWII prosperity had deprived us of peasants. It had also filled our universities with the beneficiaries of our capitalist prosperity. It was in these universities that Marxism established a serious base among those suffering from prosperity guilt; those who wished to assist the less fortunate with gifts of other people’s wealth. The vehicle that drove Marxism to its stealth position of esteem today was the Vietnam conflict.
It is an editor’s prerogative to choose what stays and what goes in presenting a comprehensive history in a confined space. Very often it is what is not in the history that exposes an editor’s bias and distorts history. Brevard County High School students are getting their Vietnam era history from The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century. This textbook is published by The Holt McDougal Publishing Company; copyright 2005. It will be teaching students until 2012 when a review of textbooks is scheduled.
In The Americans the editors cram 30 plus years of Vietnamese history into 30 pages. Chapter 22 is devoted to the Vietnam War in conjunction with the turbulent 60s.
A good historian need not experience the history he’s presenting but regardless, it should be well researched. Generally, the presentation is accurate in what this textbook chooses to present. But it is far from an accurate history. In this one, an entire theme is missing. The silence on this theme is a lie of omission so blatant that it corrupts the entire history and ignores a large part of the legacy of that era.
POW/MIA: MISSING IN TEXT
One of the most recognized icons in America is the POW/MIA flag and logo.When studying the history of America’s involvement in Vietnam you would expect to run into that very important, if not defining issue. You won’t find any of that in The Americans. On page 759 there is a photo of Lt. Col. Robert Stirm’s family reunion in 1973. The caption identifies Stirm and mentions that Lt. Everett Alvarez was the longest held POW. That’s it. There is nothing in the text whatsoever concerning POWs, MIAs or the post war efforts to get them back.
There is nothing about the treachery of leaving them behind, the Congressional Committees formed to address and bury the issue, the activism that gave birth to ‘Rolling Thunder’, the veteran’s group dedicated to accounting for our missing or the origin and purpose of the POW/MIA logo. There isn’t even a display of the logo in the entire text.
If there is one image that stands above all others as a symbol of the Vietnam War it is the POW/MIA logo. Created after the fact, it brings home the idea unique only to the Vietnam era---that for military brothers and family members the war never ended.
What is it a student sees when he is exposed to that logo if his only exposure to that era comes from this textbook?
A POPULAR BRUTE?
Right from the gate we are told that just after WWII, “Vietnam’s independence came under communist influence. Ho Chi Minh directed a brutal and repressive regime,” but “won popular support in the north by breaking up large estates and redistributing the land to peasants.”It was “Uncle Ho” who declared Vietnam independent on September 2, 1945 in Hanoi. No one else did. He had adopted communist philosophy twenty years earlier while in exile in the Soviet Union and China. So Vietnam independence was a communist ideal, not an influence. The Geneva Accords took place immediately after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and divided the country along the 17th Parallel in anticipation of elections to unify the two halves by 1956. In that two year interval civilians were allowed to migrate north or south. Not mentioned in The Americans is that between one and two million northerners went south—only 90,000 southerners went north. Obviously, Ho wasn’t popular with everyone and all that free land couldn’t make him so.
There is no doubt ‘Uncle Ho’ became a beloved figure in Vietnam’s independence and unification movements. Who else was working toward that goal? How this “brutal and repressive” character got this way may be explained by an anonymous Vietnamese expatriate when asked to explain Ho’s impact on reunification:
“My wife, family-in-laws (sic.) and direct families in North Vietnam have the highest honor and respect for Ho Chi Minh. They consider him among the greatest of all Vietnamese. If you truly know how communism controls the masses, then you would better understand why the North Vietnamese would think this way. Communism doesn't have to hold a gun to your head and force your beliefs. Rather, the communists take the choices of what you could believe away so you only know one thing to believe.”
In the textbook industry this is called editing.
MORE BULLETS, LESS VOTES
The elections of 1956 were never held because, says The Americans, “Recognizing Ho Chi Minh’s widespread popularity, South Vietnamese President Diem was a strong anti-communist and refused to take part in the countrywide elections…” and “[T]he United States also sensed that a countrywide election might spell victory for Ho Chi Minh…”
In fact, in the final Declaration at the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954 the U.S. made it clear that it would only support free and fair elections. In the interim, South Vietnamese communists, the Vietcong (VC) already a force long before 1956, according to The Americans, “by 1957…had begun attacks on the Diem government, assassinating thousands of South Vietnamese government officials.”
It is difficult to see how fair and free elections can be held when one side is successful in assassinating thousands of their opponents. The Americans doesn’t make this connection and leaves the student with the impression the U. S. and South Vietnamese governments feared free election results. There weren’t any South Vietnamese Democrats executing communist officials in the North or intimidating its citizens to make these elections “fair”.
In Section 2 The Americans goes into some detail as to why the allied use of napalm, Agent Orange and search and destroy missions forced, “many villagers to flee into the cities creating by 1967 more than 3 million refugees in the South.” The editors failed to mention that large tracts of rural South Vietnam were under the control of communists, by far the primary producer of urban refugee sprawl.
The above examples are significant because they alter the perception of fact in the student’s mind. There are other, more obtuse entries mentioned such as the higher casualty rate for black soldiers and the lower socio-economic status of those who fought the war. The former carries on the premise based on Martin Luther King’s perception and complaint to President Johnson. It has since been debunked by post war statistics but still, we continue to argue over the statistical gathering process. The latter is a ‘so what?’ fact. With the possible exception of WWII all of America’s wars have been fought mainly by troops from a lower socio-economic class. The statistic given here is 80% but does not define ‘class’. What was the ‘wealth threshold’ in 1960s America?
In a more egregious but representative parry to factual history, The Americans referenced the specific chaos at Columbia University in April, 1968 as “students protesting the university’s community policies…” The anarchy began when some students and neighborhood residents aggressively made their concerns known that a new gym under construction may exclude minorities from the surrounding communities. Some participants remembered it differently when interviewed by NPR 40 years later.
Mark Rudd, then Chairman of Columbia’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and future fugitive said this about that, “I see it as part of the enormous part of the anti-Vietnam War movement involving millions of people. We stopped a war of aggression.” And Rudd ought to know what the chaos was about back then because he was leading it.
Another participant, Louise Yelin saw, “a spur to a new way of looking at the world and also a feminist movement that changed our lives in many ways.”
Probably the most eloquent and careful observer of those riots was Robert Siegel who worked at the university’s radio station.
“Some SDS members saw the sudden radicalization of kids who had been witnesses or victims of police brutality, and they put two and two together and got: Nineteen. America was on the verge of revolution, they reasoned, provoke more Columbias, more police crackdowns, and then more radicals would emerge. The Weather Underground came of that.
“Of course, just a handful of people became urban terrorists.
“And that's the enduring impression I have of those events: How few people it really takes — a few impetuous activists, one aloof and insensitive university president, cops who abandon discipline, the protestor who destroys a professor's papers — how very few people it takes to ignite a crisis, to create chaos and to write a piece of history.”
If the Columbia University protests, which lasted more than a week were part of the anti-war movement, spurred a new way of looking at the world and sowed the seeds of the Weather Underground, where would a student get this information? In his textbook this was only a dispute over community policy.
SDS: THE ROOTS OF THE TEA PARTY?
In Section 3 under the heading, The Roots of Opposition, our textbook defines the opponents of America’s involvement in Vietnam:
“The growing youth movement of the 1960s became known as the New Left (bold in original).”
The Americans preferred to reference the activities of these early radical groups as “campus activism” where “[s]tudents addressed mostly campus issues such as dress codes, curfews, dormitory regulations and mandatory ROTC programs. The movement was “new” in relation to the “old left” of the 1930s, which had generally tried to move the nation toward socialism, and, in some cases, communism. While the new left movement did not preach socialism, its followers demanded sweeping changes in American society.”
Of course, none of this is true. No Dean’s office ever burned because students weren’t given enough toilet paper. From inception, these groups were socialists at best, Marxists at worse.
And what were some of those sweeping changes? The textbook tells us that two of the first “new left” groups, The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Free Speech Movement (FSM), circa 1960 and 1964 respectively, “charged that corporations and large government institutions had taken over America” and “called for a participatory democracy and greater individual freedom.”
Sounds like a Tea Party.
LOOKING FOR WORDS
The textbook claims the SDS was founded by Tom Hayden and Al Haber. Haber was the first President and Hayden followed him in that position but the SDS was conceived by Aryeh Neier, as an off shoot from the youth movement of the League of Industrial Democracy. This was a socialist group founded in 1905 and affiliated with the ACLU. Both organizations were infested with progressives, the palatable name for radical Marxists.
The SDS itself spawned the Weather Underground of Bill Ayers bombing notoriety before evaporating in 1969. But the Weather Underground went on to flourish in the 70s as the domestic assassination arm of radical, anti-American “new leftists”. In 2006 the SDS reincarnated.
Absolutely none of this is mentioned in The Americans. Since the research could be had by any bright sixth-grader, it is difficult to believe this is an oversight or an omission due to page space considerations.
Hayden’s more famous ex-wife, Jane Fonda is not mentioned in the entire history. Hayden accompanied her on her well publicized 1972 trip to North Vietnam. But Hayden had made other trips to enemy territory as well; his first in early 1965 long before the U.S. was “mired” in Vietnam.
In 1970 Congress revealed it had found a letter dated June 4, 1968 from Hayden to an NVA official, Col. Lao, where Hayden signed off with, “Good Fortune. Victory”. The letter was written on behalf of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. This group was an umbrella under which numerous Soviet and North Vietnamese communist front groups were organized. And it was hardly a secret. Stanley Karnow’s article appeared in the Washington Post on October 18, 1969 from which the following excerpts were taken:
"VC TO CULTIVATE U.S. ANTIWAR GROUPS"“The so-called National Liberation Movement (Viet Cong), announced the creation of the South Vietnam's People's Committee for Solidarity with the American People, an organization whose function was to establish relations with ‘all progressive organizations and individuals in the United States who are struggling for peace, justice, freedom, democracy and civil rights.’”And further on in the article, “In another dispatch today, the agency [VC's Liberation Press Agency] disclosed that the new Vietcong group had sent a message of support to two New York antiwar organizations, the National Mobilization Committee and the Student Mobilization Committee.”
Had The Americans pointed out the true nature of the SDS a student might get a substantially different picture of his history. But here, Hayden and his cohorts are painted as peace-loving student organizers bent on improving campus conditions and ending the war rather than anti-American domestic enemies working to insure a communist victory. In 1968 Americans were still dying on the battlefield in Vietnam. Hayden’s support of our enemy was treason, a crime which, for some reason does not warrant prosecution anymore. Hayden went on to a successful career in politics and became, like his communist ex-wife, a wealthy capitalist.
For anyone who has ever dug a futile hole looking for the roots of America’s “political correctness” infection, it is probably here that we hit the top of this treasure trunk. While the concept and phrase are of Soviet origin, the idea immigrated here on the civil rights ship. Aside from its organizational skill, the genius of communist manipulation can be seen in the ability to seamlessly tie righteous causes in with a treacherous agenda.
Criticism of the anti-war movement could and was easily turned into criticism of the civil rights movement. Support of the civil rights movement could not be easily separated from perceived support of the anti-war movement. Thus, it appeared that the anti-war, anti-American communist movement was much more popular with the average American than it actually was. Once that “perception ball” was rolling, it isn’t hard to see how the perception became reality when many uninformed Americans unwittingly jumped on the communist bandwagon. This also explains why an anti-American communist working on behalf of civil rights would not be prosecuted for treason or, in a more contemporary comparison; a jihadist supporter working at an “Islamic charity” is not deported.
Who could possibly be against peace, justice, freedom, democracy and human rights for which the South Vietnamese People’s Committee with the American People strives? One must be a “warmonger” to oppose this group.
While it would have been nice to meet Jane Fonda in the text, if for no other reason than to give a male student a little background when he first discovers her likeness on a urinal cake, it is her belief system’s absence that causes more concern. The word ‘Marxist’ never appears in the text. The word ‘radical’ appears only once to describe one of the more dedicated draft dodgers and the word ‘communist’ is only used to describe Ho, his followers and 1930s American leftists.
Robert Siegel’s observation about how few people it takes to ignite a crisis is critical to understanding the anti-war movement for what it became. Arguments are still engaged as to how many core Marxists it took to hijack the “peace” movement. It’s even doubtful any “peace” movement was born absent any communist influence at all. But there is no doubt the movement was Marxist—and it was Marxist early and openly. Many Americans became familiar with the North Vietnamese and VC flags not from watching clips of the war on television but from watching clips of the demonstrations here at home. Many or even most of its protesters may have been nothing more than Lenin’s useful idiots; but regardless, the failure of the textbook to make the connection is appalling. It is the premier lie in this history conspicuous only by its silence on the issue.
The Americans wraps up this history with more important omissions and one very startling conclusion. Under the Peace Agreement it says, “North Vietnamese troops would remain in South Vietnam. However, Nixon promised to respond ‘with full force’ to any violation of the peace agreement.”
A sharp student may wonder how a peace agreement is supposed to work when you allow enemy troops to remain within your borders. This is not explained nor is the number of NVA troops, between 100,000 and 200,000 stationed in the South worth a mention.
Nixon’s promise to respond to violations would be hampered by the Cooper-Church Amendment enacted in 1971 to allow Congress to limit the President’s prerogative on the conduct of the war. This was historic legislation not mentioned in the textbook.
Following on its heels was the Case-Church Amendment; essentially a Congressional Act of self-defeat. This legislation forbid any U.S. military action in Southeast Asia which took effect in August, 1973. It guaranteed a communist victory if the North decided to repeat an attack similar to its Easter Offensive of 1972, which, of course, it did in 1975. It was to greatly hamper the rescue of the SS Mayaguez two years later as well, an incident also left unmentioned in the textbook.
This legislation, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and added to the War Powers Act in 1973, set historic precedents on the way we conduct overseas military operations to this day. Right or wrong, legislating our way out of conflicts rather than fighting our way to victory is one of the most dramatic and lasting legacies to the Vietnam War.
The Americans includes the War Powers Act when discussing the War’s legacy and that section is fair and accurate. But it was the Church Amendments, specific to Vietnam and the region that were the culmination of communist efforts, both here and abroad that sealed the fate of three countries. That legislation also set precedent for the possibility of future legislation specific to future conflicts the U.S. may find itself in. We see it playing out currently from judicial challenges to military tactics to how we handle those captured on the battlefield. Even after Vietnam, the concept of our enemies suing us in our own courts was laughable. Today it’s a reality. That discussion was absent in the textbook.
…”SO YOU ONLY KNOW ONE THING TO BELIEVE”
It is in the post 1975 aftermath of communist victory that The Americans textbook jumps to a startling conclusion. The following quote is found on page 760:
“The U.S. invasion of Cambodia (in 1970) had unleashed a brutal war in which a communist group known as the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, seized power in 1975. During its reign of terror, the Khmer Rouge is believed to have killed at least 1 million Cambodians.”
The above quote is edited but stands in accurate context. It blames the American invasion of Cambodia in 1970 for one million (perhaps 2 million) Cambodian deaths. It is the most remarkable and dangerous piece of stated fiction in this entire history.
The slaughter was the direct result of communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia aided if not mandated by the Church Amendments. The North Vietnamese operated with impunity in Cambodia except for the brief two month American invasion to destroy their staging and supply bases. The textbook makes no connection to the North Vietnamese communist’s presence in Laos and Cambodia; to the communist insurgencies in these two countries in this particular matter. Three U.S. Marines left behind on a Cambodian Island during the Mayaguez rescue operation were among the first victims of the killing fields. The Khmer Rouge had been a thorn in the side of the Cambodian government since 1967. The textbook would have students believe they sprung up in 1970 as a direct result of U.S. forces entry into Cambodia. The textbook editors made a specific assertion that this fiction was fact. How they came to that conclusion is uncertain. But the story ends there in the textbook.
It continues in real history. The slaughter was so great that the communist Vietnamese had to invade Cambodia in 1979 to stop it. While engaged in that endeavor, about 1.5 million Vietnamese were seeking relief from Uncle Ho’s own legacy by slipping away in rickety boats. About 50,000 died doing so giving us a true picture of Uncle Ho’s post mortem popularity.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
The failure to tie together the two movements; the domestic anti-war movement and international Marxism, necessarily excludes any reference to the most fundamental legacy of the Vietnam era; that is the undeniable fact that many of those 60s radicals now hold positions of power today, and most of those leopards have not changed their spots.
Among the few NVA leaders mentioned by name in this history is NVA Col. Bui Tin quoted in the text on page 760 reassuring South Vietnamese they have nothing to fear as far as reprisals go (a half million were sent to re-education camps and many disappeared). Tin was the NVA commander that accepted the surrender of South Vietnam in 1975. He became disillusioned with the communists and sought asylum in France in 1990.
It is ironic his name would be included in the history since the textbook completely ignores the homegrown communist support which Tin says was instrumental in the communist victory. A full ten years prior to the publication of The Americans, Tin gave an interview to journalist Stephen Young published in the Wall Street Journal. Had the publishers of The Americans bothered to read what he had to say, and had they been interested in an accurate history of that era, they could not have justified such a tepid picture of the American radical left.
When Young asked Tin how important the American anti-war effort was to Hanoi’s victory, Tin had this to say:
“It was essential to our strategy. Support of the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda, and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.
Those people represented the conscience of America. The conscience of America was part of its war-making capability, and we were turning that power in our favor. America lost because of its democracy; through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win.”
The confidence to hold on in the face of battlefield reverses is a telling passage. It is doubtful that Vietnam would ever have been unified had the “new left” not been so active. America wasn’t seeking to unify the country; it was seeking to maintain the South’s integrity. But from Bui Tin’s revelations it is possible to imagine Vietnam in a permanent state similar to Korea. While the U. S. was able to bring Hanoi to its knees, it wasn’t able to defeat its allies here at home. The core of the “new left” wanted communist victory, not peace.
How can we learn from history if it is selectively taught? Do our young people think Code Pink is a band of crazy feminists or a serious threat to our troops? Do they think the ACLU is more interested in terrorists’ rights or America’s wrongs? Will they too, grow tired of watching the current war on TV? Do they even understand what a communist is? What an enemy is?
How many Bui Tins are out there among the current crop of enemies waiting to tell us how simple it would have been to defeat them? Tin was wrong in one respect. It wasn’t our democracy and our right to protest that cost us our will to win, it was our failure or refusal to recognize that our enemy walked among us, looked like us and even told us so. Unless they hold political power, they are still telling us to this day who they are. Why don’t we learn?
There is no better example of why we don’t learn from history than The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century. In a nutshell, it simply isn't taught.
Dick Lancaster, October, 2010