Conservative agitator David Horowitz’s controversial new nationwide ad campaign, "An Open Letter to the ‘Anti-War’ Demonstrators: Think Twice Before You Bring The War Home", denounces the anti-Vietnam War protest movement as "treason" and tells us that it was he and other protesters who were responsible for the US defeat. The ad, which has run in the student newspapers at UCLA, Berkeley, Yale and a dozen other universities, says "blood…is on the hands of the anti-war activists who…gave the victory to the Communists" and scolds and stigmatizes the many college students who have participated in "peace" protests held over the past few weeks.
The ad is part of an attempt to use the Vietnam experience as a way to stop Americans from asking questions about US military intervention at a time when there are a lot of legitimate questions to ask. It is an attempt to brand dissenters as enemy-sympathizing "Fifth Columnists" (Horowitz’s term, from his website) though I have no doubt that even the most vocal protesters abhor September 11’s despicable slaughter of American civilians.
Beyond this, Horowitz’s ad campaign is simply a bad history lesson, because the Vietnam War was lost not at home due to student demonstrators but instead on the battlefields of Vietnam, due to the bravery and almost fanatical dedication of America’s enemies. According to US General Maxwell Taylor:
"The ability of the Viet Cong [communist guerillas] to continuously rebuild their units and to make good their losses in one of the mysteries of the guerrilla war...not only do the Vietcong units have the recuperative power of the phoenix [a mythical bird always capable of re-birthing itself out of the ashes of its dead body] but they have an amazing ability to maintain morale."
In Bloods, an account of black Vietnam veterans’ experiences, one former Marine explained:
"The enemy would do anything to win. You had to respect that. They believed in a cause. They had the support of the Vietnamese people. That’s the key thing that we Americans don’t understand yet."
John Jacobs, a medic who served in Vietnam in 1967-1968, believes the "war protesters caused our defeat" theory insults American soldiers and diminishes the military difficulties they faced. He says:
"Whatever one thinks of their cause, the Viet Cong showed tremendous dedication and courage. It was obvious that most of the Vietnamese people saw us as the enemy."
According to scholar John Mueller, the military losses accepted by the Vietnamese communists, both the National Liberation Front (NLF, generally known in the US as "Viet Cong") and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), were "virtually unprecedented in history." In fact, even the Japanese army of World War II (including kamikaze pilots), which has always been seen as the best example of military fanaticism, pales in comparison. The NLF and NVA took causalities at twice the rate of the Japanese army, for eight years running.
By contrast, America’s South Vietnamese allies, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), though lavishly armed by the US, were never a reliable fighting force. Often disparaged as "puppet troops", the ARVN were frequently the butt of American soldiers’ jokes, such as "Want to buy an ARVN rifle? It’s a good deal—it’s never been fired and has only been dropped once." After the US pullout, the ARVN were soon overwhelmed and defeated by the NVA, who then captured billions of dollars in US military equipment.
Placed in the impossible position of fighting to "defend" a hostile population while forced to commit countless atrocities against civilians caught in the middle, the morale of the average American draftee collapsed as the war went on. The first reported occurrence of mass mutiny took place on August 24, 1968 when, after four days of failed assaults on an NVA bunker, the 60 men remaining in Alpha company refused to fight, despite the fact that they knew that the standard punishment for mutiny was the firing squad. Mutinies soon because so common that the Pentagon brass assigned them the gentler name of "combat refusals."
At the same time, the "fragging" (killing by fragmentation weapon) of American officers who put soldiers’ lives at risk by seeking out the enemy became so common that many officers refused to allow their troops to carry grenades. Desertion and instances of AWOL (Absence Without Leave) skyrocketed during the war’s later years, and the Pentagon estimates that 500,000 soldiers either were AWOL at some point or outright deserted during the Vietnam War.
The idea that the Americans lost because they weren’t trying to win is simply false. The US dropped more bombs on Vietnam than all of the combatants in W.W.II dropped on each other combined. The US—with 10 times the population of communist North Vietnam and infinitely more national wealth—used 60% of its total infantry and Marines, 50% of its strategic air force, and over 10 million tons of bombs.
Of course, the NLF and NVA never beat the US Army in a major battle but, wisely, this was never their strategy. Instead, they sought to make the war so costly for us that we would be unwilling to pay the price and would leave—the same strategy they had used to defeat France during the First Indochina War (1946-1954).
Before the war Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh said, "In this war you will kill 10 of us for every one of you we kill, but in the end it is you who will tire of it." As it turned out, the ratio was closer to 20 to 1, but let’s give the devil his due. Like it or not, the Vietnamese Communists won not because of antiwar protesters, but because their soldiers were willing to do whatever they had to do to win.
- Daily Bruin10/23/01