A Primer on Why We Lost Vietnam : A Vietnamese general confirms the anti-war movement’s role in the U.S. defeat.
In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal that will hardly be noticed outside conservative circles, the North Vietnam general who received the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, has confirmed every argument made by the right about the war in Vietnam: It was a war to stop an aggression from the North, not to suppress a revolution in the South; it was a war that America could have won--by cutting off the Ho Chi Minh Trail through which North Vietnam was invading the South; it was a war that the left and its “anti-war” movement caused America to lose by sapping its will to fight.
The general who confirmed these conclusions recently to Stephen Young, a Minnesota attorney and human rights activist who interviewed him in Hanoi, is Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of North Vietnam’s army and who, after the war, became the editor of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of communist Vietnam. Young asked Bui what Hanoi’s strategy was to win the war. Bui quoted Ho Chi Minh: “We don’t need to win military victories; we only need to hit them until they give up and get out.”
Young asked if the anti-war movement was important to Hanoi’s victory. General Bui answered: “It was essential to our strategy. Support for 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 anti-war movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda and former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses.”
Bui further explained why the American anti-war movement was so strategic in creating a communist victory: “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.”
Bui acknowledged that the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was a creation of the communist government in the North, and that “there was only one party, only one army to liberate the South and unify the nation” under communist rule.
Young asked Bui how America might have won the war. The general answered: “Cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail inside Laos.” The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the invasion route along which the North Vietnamese Communists infiltrated the South with men and supplies. The military head of U.S. forces, Gen. William Westmoreland, asked for permission to cut off the trail early in the war. But President Johnson refused the request. “If Johnson had granted Westmoreland’s requests to enter Laos and block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Hanoi could not have won the war,” Bui said. The bombing of the trail, he added, was “ineffective” because even when real damage was caused “we put so much in at the top of the trail that enough men and weapons to prolong the war always came out at the bottom.”
In short, the liberal policies of the Johnson Administration--its refusal to “compromise” the “neutrality” of Laos by blocking the invasion route--denied America the possibility of victory. The anti-war agitation and collaboration of the American left undermined the war effort from within and gave victory to the communists.
In the first three years of the communist peace, more people were killed in Indochina than had been killed in the 13 years of the anti-communist war.
Gen. Bui Tin is a Vietnamese Robert McNamara without regrets. He is happy that the communists were able to conquer South Vietnam. But unlike Johnson’s defense secretary--and the veterans of the American left who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing all these years--he understands why the communists won.