They could not admit such a great loss, and so they concocted lies, false assessments, and poor recommendations just to cover themselves and their reputations. These essays are so disturbing because they show the culpability of the American people. They make the reader wonder what falsehoods are underway in military actions today, and if in another thirty years, the same kinds of revelations will continue the lies, deception, and false assessments that made up the Vietnam War.
Both authors indicate how essential the Tet Offensive was and how it crippled the military and gave the North Vietnamese a clear advantage in strategy and intimidation. It also caused Westmorland to bring in more troops, which started more protests back home and in other parts of the world. McMahon continues, "The resulting back channel memoranda between Westmoreland and Wheeler demonstrated that the military understood that its position in Vietnam was untenable" (McMahon 338). Thus, as early as 1968, there were suggestions Vietnam was a war that could not be won, and yet it lingered on until 1975. As with the last group of essays, the reader must wonder what would have happened if the military would have pulled out of Vietnam after the Tet Offensive. Certainly thousands of lives would have been saved on both sides of the conflict. In addition, the outcome would have remained the same, as the Communists overtook the country after American forces pulled out in 1975. These two essays are deeply disturbing because they paint a picture of the American military that understood it was fighting a losing battle, and fought on anyway.
It is clear both authors have studied the Tet Offensive and America's role in the offensive during and after it occurred. It is also clear that they find the military's actions and behavior unacceptable, which is probably why they chose to write about it. These essays show different aspects of the Tet and the military reaction to it, but they both show a military that is extremely willing to bend the truth and mislead the government and the American people. It is almost as if the military sees itself as a separate entity from the government and the country, and that is sees itself as the most important arm of the government. In doing so, it places itself above examination and reproach, and that is extremely frightening to consider. In fact, it calls into question many other military engagements. World War II was an allied victory, but after that, our military seems to take itself too seriously, and perhaps that is the ultimate Vietnam failure.
Comparative Essay #3
Small's essay discusses in detail the Nixon administration's development and implementation of their Vietnam policy, which basically continued Johnson's policy of reliance on bombing and participation in the Paris Peace Talks. He also discusses the American people's growing dissatisfaction with the war - feeling involvement had been a mistake, and becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction. Small writes, "When Nixon took office, 40% of the population considered the war to be the nation's most serious problem" (Small 407). Small shows how the war overshadowed all of Nixon's thoughts in office, and how politically important the war had become. In fact, Nixon believed he would not be reelected by the American people if he did not successfully end the war during his first term in office. In fact, Nixon felt he had the ability to end the war within six months of taking office, but of course, that did not happen.
Small also discusses the anti-war movement, which was largely made up of "unruly" band of young people, often college students, who very vocally opposed the war. The author maintains that the anti-war movement of "hippies" alienated many conservative Americans, who helped Nixon get reelected in 1972, even though America did not leave the war until 1973. The anti-war movement was made up mostly of liberals and young people who were enraged about the continuing involvement in the war. While they alienated many, many more Americans agreed with the anti-war sentiments, and began to demand an end to the war by gradually bringing troops home. It also played into the hands of the enemy, and helped give them bargaining power, because they knew Americans were tired of the war and were putting political pressure on the administration. The anti-war sentiments seem remarkably close to the sentiments about the Iraqi war today, and reading these essays has to make the reader wonder what policies and actions are going to be criticized when the Iraq war finally ends. Americans are equally tired of the war in Iraq, and yet, the administration is not bowing to pressure. Comparing these essays and the war today, it is difficult to see how Iraq is going to end, but it seems certain that it is not going to end any better than Vietnam did.
The lies and deception continued through the Nixon administration, only this time the military had their way - the administration was deceiving the American public and the North Vietnamese, because peace talks required no escalation of military activities during the peace talks. Nixon got around this by creating a system of deception about increased American bombings in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Again, this indicates the highly political nature of the war, and the duplicity on the part of the military and the administration. It does not seem to matter who is in charge in the White House; there will always be duplicity and deception. In addition, Nixon seems more concerned about his image, insisting he would not be "the first American president to lose a war" (Small 412), indicating how important public perception is even in wartime. It also shows how important the influence of the media is, as several of these essays address attempts to mislead or avoid the media, and Nixon was no different.
Throughout Nixon's attempts at peace, he continually escalated the war and then kept it from the American people or lied about it. The escalation took place in Laos and Cambodia too, and it enraged the anti-war movement. Many of Nixon's ideas were misguided, and many of his escalations were failures, which led to further demoralization of troops who were coming home to derision and hatred. While he assured the American people that the South Vietnamese would have no trouble managing the fight on their own, the administration knew that was not the case. In effect, much of what America knew about the war that came from the administration was a lie, created for Nixon's ego and success rather than having anything to do with the actuality of the war and the ensuing peace talks. Because the Americans had gone back on their word about escalation, the North Vietnamese also planned a huge offensive, and that led to massive losses of life, and the U.S. having to bail out the South Vietnamese. It is clear that once the U.S. left Vietnam, it was doomed, and it would fall into communist hands, it was just a question of when. While military leadership improved after Westmoreland was removed, there was still only so much they could accomplish.
Both authors discuss the aftermath of the war, and speculate on whether the war was actually "won" in 1970. If America had left the war then, perhaps the outcome might have been different. Both authors allude to this in their works, and while one concentrates on the military during the Nixon administration, and the other concentrates on the administration itself, they both illustrate a war that had gone on too long and was accomplishing very little, other than killing and maiming soldiers and civilians.
Both authors also discuss the press. Small presents them as liberal doves, while Sorley shows them as woefully misunderstanding about the real war of pacification, politics, and manipulation of the populations of Indochina. He writes, "In these later years the press simply missed the war. Maybe it wasn't exciting enough, maybe it wasn't graphic enough for television, maybe it was too difficult to comprehend or to explain" (Sorley 425). He shows the Asian side of the war while Americans were protesting it, and shows the difficulties the military faced in trying to win an unwinable war. All of these essays discuss different aspects of the war in Vietnam, and yet the all have commonalities. There were problems with Vietnam from the start; it was a political war the American people did not like. It sounds a lot like Iraq today, and that may be the most disturbing aspect of all these essays. They all seem to transcend time and place, and that is frightening.