Submitted by: Frank Munley of Salem
I too am critical of Cronkite, but from a quite opposite perspective: He should have known from the start of the 1965 buildup, if not before, that the U.S. war effort was futile.
My understanding of this futility was deepened a few years ago when I visited the Military History Museum at Dien Bien Phu, which explains in detail the great human effort that defeated Vietnam’s French colonial rulers in 1954. Even with $1 billion in U.S. aid, the French didn’t stand a chance against Vietnam’s powerful nationalist and anti-imperialist yearnings.
Benne cites a German friend who reported from Vietnam at the time and claimed that the 1968 Tet offensive was a failure for the North Vietnamese. This is misleading for the following reasons.
First, the Geneva Agreements of 1954, which formally ended French rule, were accepted by the U.S. and clearly stated that the military demarcation line at the 17th parallel “is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary.” So it is not true that North and South Vietnam were two different countries, but it was convenient for the U.S. to trumpet this propaganda to justify its own involvement in a civil war.
Second, the agreement called for elections in 1956 to unify the country, but President Eisenhower opposed them because he believed that Vietnam’s leader, Ho Chi Minh, in control of the north, would win with 80 percent of the vote.
Ho was anything but anti-American in 1945, when Vietnam issued its declaration of independence beginning with the same words as our own 1776 declaration. But caught up in self-serving Cold War mania, the U.S. rejected Ho’s friendly overtures and sided with colonialist France.
Third, the south’s National Liberation Front (the so-called Viet Cong) was organizationally and politically distinct from the north, despite the common aim to drive the U.S. out and the significant troop and material support provided by the north.
Contrary to Benne’s German friend, the NLF, not “North” Vietnam, was severely crippled by Tet and made more dependent on the north. This put the north in the catbird seat, as evidenced by its quick takeover of the south when the war ended in 1975.
This strategic setback for U.S. policymakers could have been alleviated earlier if they negotiated seriously with the NLF instead of pretending they were puppets of the Soviet Union and China. The U.S. shot itself in the foot.
One of the great lessons of the Vietnam War is to recognize nationalist struggles and civil wars for what they are and not conflate them with global struggles such as the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in at that time. Another lesson is to avoid thinking military force can work miracles in such a situation.
We should also have learned that our leaders are quick to lie to us to justify war. And finally, we should remember that despite U.S. warnings of terrible things to follow defeat in Vietnam, the U.S. defeat in 1975 (seven savage years after Cronkite’s warning) was inconsequential in furthering the aims of archenemies the Soviet Union (which no longer exists) and China (which fought a border war against Vietnam in 1979).
We now have diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam and are none the worse for it. All of these lessons, if learned, could have helped the U.S. avoid the instability it has instigated in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Let’s give Cronkite credit for waking up to reality in 1968 rather than continuing to believe the U.S. could win a futile war.
Posted By Valerie Garner