As I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies
about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding.
In the villages, Americans are unable to differentiate friend and foe. If you kill one Viet Cong, your enemy count reduces by one. If you kill one wrong man, your enemy count increases by 10. Mostly they kill the wrong man.
— S. Vietnam general, Vietnam War (Netflix series)
They're sending me to Vietnam. It's this whole other country.
You got us in this mess, and now you can't get us out, because you don't know where the hell you're going, do you? Do you?!
'It wasn't my
war! You asked me, I didn't ask you! And I did what I had to do to win.
But somebody wouldn't let us win! And I come back to the world, and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting, throwing stuff and calling me a baby killer and all kinds of vile crap. Who are they to protest me for, huh?! Who are they?! Unless they've been me and been there, and know what the hell they're yelling about?!
: Change always comes slowly. I pulled out more than half the troops. I'm trying to cut the military budget for the first time in 30 years. I want a volunteer army. But it's also a question of American credibility, our position in the world... Student
don't want the war, we
don't want the war, the Vietnamese
don't want the war, so why does it go on? [Nixon is mute] You can't stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to, because it's not you, it's the system. The system won't let you stop it.
Otto: Shut up
. We didn't lose Vietnam. It was a tie
I'm tellin' ya baby, they kicked your little ass there. Boy, they whooped yer hide REAL GOOD.
So as history slowly places it into some kind of perspective, a few things about the Vietnam War have become clear. It was a war that never should have begun, and a country we never should have entered. And as thousands of victims died without really understanding why. Mainly, because the reasons for the war were beyond any rules of logic. On Wednesday we'll sing patriotic songs and pretend I said none of the above.
— John T. Booker, Good Guys Wear Black
LTJD Deborah Solomon:
I heard about Quang Dien. I was concerned. LTCDR Don Jardian:
Did you volunteer for this? LTJG Solomon:
My whole unit volunteered there. We were promised R&R afterward. LTCDR Jardian:
I see. Well enjoy it. LTJG Solomon:
You were good doctor. LTCDR Jardian:
I'm glad my competence impressed you. I guess the practice shows. LTJG Solomon:
It's more than competence. You know that. LTCDR Jardian:
Yeah. You should have seen those little bastards go at it. You don't even wonder. You don't ask. Stupid little bastards and I'll do anything for them. LTJG Solomon:
I know. So would I.
— Purple Hearts'
PFC Vinnie Fazio:
What's oh-three-hundred? SSgt Loyce:
Oh-three-hundred... basic infantryman. PFC Fazio:
Does that mean Vietnam? SSgt Loyce:
Goddamn right it means Vietnam, numb nuts. Goddamnit, oh-three-hundred is basic infantryman. Oh-three-hundred is the United States Marine Corps
Live Action TV
Dick: You mean we're not allowed to travel to Italy?
Tom: No. Not to Italy, or to France. We shouldn't travel to Germany.
Dick: To Germany?
Dick: To Spain?
Tom: No. Nothing abroad. Absolutely nothing abroad.
Dick: They don't want American citizens traveling abroad?
Tom: Not they. Our government is asking us as as citizens to refrain from traveling to foreign lands.
Okay, all you guys in Vietnam: Come on home.
Members of the Corps
All hate the thought of war
They'd rather kill them off by peaceful means
Stop calling it 'aggression'
hate that expression!
We only want the world to know
That we support the status quo
They love us everywhere we go,
So when in doubt, send the marines!
And it's 1, 2, 3, what're we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's 5, 6, 7, open up the pearly gates
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die
— "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag", Country Joe and the Fish
They crossed the water
Back in '69
They fought for glory
Behind the enemy lines
Fighting for the nations
Pushed into the war
Without not even knowing why
Or what they're fighting for
Kiss me goodbye and write me while I'm gone
Goodbye my sweetheart, hello Vietnam
America has heard the bugle call
And you know it involves us, one and all
I don't suppose that war will ever end
There's fighting that will break us up again
— "Hello Vietnam" by Johnny Wright
February 12, 1973
The prayers of thousands were answered
The war was over and the first of the prisoners returned
Needless to say
It was the happiest day in up to thirteen years for most
For others, the nightmare had just begun
The nightmare of readjustment
And for those, we will pray.
In February of 1965, in order to get Hanoi to the negotiating table, with heavy heart I ordered my bombers to strike North Vietnam. This strategy proved in many ways successful. But it did not get Hanoi to the negotiating table.
In July of 1966, in order to get Hanoi to the negotiating table, with sombre dismay I order my bombers to strike Hanoi and Haiphong. This strategy proved in many ways effective. But it did no get Hanoi to the negotiating table.
In January of 1967, in order to get Hanoi to the negotiating table, with mainfest sobriety I ordered my bombers to take out China's nuclear capability. This strategy proved in many ways fruitful, but it did not get Hanoi to the negotiating table.
In July of 1967, in order to get Hanoi to the negotiating table, with the agony of power I ordered my bombers to strike Peking. Now at this very moment, my missiles are reluctantly alerted for Moscow.
Let me warn Hanoi — My restraint is not inexhaustible.
What did we do wrong in Vietnam? We pulled out!
Huh? Not a very manly
thing to do is it? When youre fucking people, you gotta stay in there and fuck 'em good. Fuck em all the way, fuck em til the end, stay in there and keep fucking 'em until theyre all dead. We left a few women and children alive in Vietnam and we havent felt good about ourselves since!
Oh boo hoo. Americans making a movie about what Vietnam did to the soldiers is like a serial killer telling you what stopping suddenly for hitchhikers did to his clutch.''
The draft is white people sending black people to make war on the yellow people to defend the land they stole from the red people!note
Vietnam, to this day, is far removed from the manner of civilization westerners are accustomed to. Many of the country's populace either reside in or have ties to tribal roots. It is a culture that lies in the midst of the old and the modern.
The Indochina Conflict was a struggle for the independence of a people. The Vietnam War was a continuance of world politics
imposing itself on the Vietnamese.
"Bomb the village
Kill the people
Throw some napalm in the square
Do it on a Sunday morning
Kill them on their way to prayer
Ring the bell inside the schoolhouse
Watch the kiddies gather round
Lock and load with your 240
Mow them little motherfuckers down
— "Napalm Sticks to Kids" - US Army Military Cadence during the Vietnam War
He fired at it [the baby] with a .45. He missed. We all laughed. He got up three or four feet closer and missed again. We laughed. Then he got up right on top and plugged him.
— Transcript of the Court Martial for the My Lai Massacre
Private Robert Maples
: Calley and Meadlo were firing at the people. They were firing into the hole. I saw Meadlo firing into the hole. Interrogator
: Well, tell me, what was so remarkable about Meadlo that made you remember him? RM
: He was firing and crying. I
: He was pointing his weapon away from you and then you saw tears in his eyes? RM
— Transcript of the Court Martial for the My Lai Massacre
: So you fired something like sixty-seven shots? Paul Meadlo
: Right. Wallace
: And you killed how many? At that time? Meadlo
: Well, I fired them automatic, so you cant- You just spray the area on them and so you cant know how many you killed cause they were going fast. So I might have killed ten or fifteen of them. Wallace
: Men, women, and children? Meadlo
: Men, women, and children. Wallace
: And babies? Meadlo
: And babies.
— Interview with Meadlo on CBS News, 1969
'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,' a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.
— Journalist Peter Arnett in The New York Times, 1968
We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality. Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop.
—Journalist Michael Herr, Dispatches
We sure liberated the hell
out of this place.
— Attributed to an anonymous soldier, on a village destroyed during a firefight
Well, the Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient. And as the... philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is... is not important.
— General William Westmoreland, in the documentary Hearts and Minds (1974)
The North Vietnamese used their armed forces the way a bull-fighter uses his cape to keep us lunging in areas of marginal political importance.
If you want to, go ahead and fight in the jungles of Vietnam... Perhaps the Americans will be able to stick it out for a little longer [than the French], but eventually they will have to quit too.
The Vietnamese people deeply love independence, freedom and peace. But in the face of United States aggression they have risen up, united as one man.
— Ho Chi Minh
In the final analysis, it's their
war: they're the ones who have to win it or lose it.
People in the United States happen to believe that the United States policy is wrong in Vietnam and the Viet Cong are correct in wanting to organise their country in their own way politically. This happens to be pretty much the opinion of western Europe and many other parts of the world. If it is a novelty in Chicago
, that is too bad, but I assume that the point of the American democracy is that you can express any point of view you wanted— William F. Buckley: And some people are pro-Nazi, too.
— 1968 televised debate
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
— John Kerry, addressing a U.S. Senate subcommittee in April, 1971
How are you, GI Joe? It seems to me that most of you are poorly informed about the going of the war, to say nothing about a correct explanation of your presence over here. Nothing is more confused than to be ordered into a war to die or to be maimed for life without the faintest idea of what's going on.
— North Vietnamese propaganda broadcast directed at US troops
Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America—not on the battlefields of Vietnam.
—Marshall McLuhran, 1975
Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I'm not sure.
The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khesanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff.
On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.
We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that — negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms.
For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations.
But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.
Hey! Hey! LBJ
! How many kids did you kill today?
— Anti-War Protest Chant
If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam.
— Martin Luther King, 1967
Mr. McNamara, You must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians.
McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for 1000 years
? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us.
—Thach, former Foreign Minister of Vietnam, 1995
What makes us omniscient? Have we a record of omniscience? ...None of our allies supported us. Not Japan, not Germany, not Britain or France. If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we'd better reexamine our reasoning.
—Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in the documentary The Fog of War (2003)
We believed we were there for a high moral purpose. But somehow our our idealism was lost, our morals corrupted, and the purpose forgotten.
—Phillip Caputo, Rumor of War
We cannot commit a crime. It's contradiction in terms
. Anything we do is by necessity not only right, but noble. Therefore, there can't be a crime... Almost nobody, including me, dared to criticize the U.S. attack on South Vietnam. That's like talking Hittite. Nobody even understood the words. They still don't.
Nationalist triumphalism was shunned and discredited in America after Vietnam. We were forced to see ourselves as others saw us, and it was not always pleasant. We understood, at least for a moment, the lie. But the plague of nationalism was resurrected during the Reagan
years. It became ascendant with the Persian Gulf War
, when we embraced the mythic and unachievable goal of a 'New World Order
.' The infection of nationalism now lies unchecked and blindly accepted in the march we make as a nation toward another war
, one as ill-conceived as the was we lost in southeast Asia.
— Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Even though, we knew we lost the war, I still fought. I was filled with despair after the loss of the northern Corps, but I still fight.
Let's "do something crazy" in Vietnam: let's get out.
You cannot defend to the death, when every week you hear from your family that they don't have enough food to eat. And you look to Saigon the rich had food, liquor they have money, they relax, have a good time. Why fight to the death? For whom?
We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.
In compliance with modern politics, the war was originally intended to save South Vietnam from communism, but the proclaimed purpose of the war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system-it was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to "national self-determination" i.e. the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming).
The right to vote is a consequence, not a primary cause
of a free social system-and the value depends on the constitutional structure implementing and strictly delimiting the voter's power; unlimited majority rule is an instance of the principle of tyranny. Outside the context of a free society, who would want to die for the right to vote? Yet that
is what the American soldiers were asked to die for-not even their own vote, but to secure that privilege for the South Vietnamese, who had no other rights and no knowledge of rights and freedom.
Picking up the liberals' discarded old slogan of World War I
days-"the self -determination of nations"-the American conservatives were trying to hide the American system, capitalism
under some sort of collective cover. And it is not
capitalism that most of them were (and are) advocating, it was a mixed economy. Who would want to die for a mixed economy?
Today, Americans can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.
Well, I am not going to try to predict the drift of world events and the course of world events over the next months. I say I cannot conceive of a greater tragedy for America than to get heavily involved in an all-out war in any of these regions, particularly with large units. So what we are doing is supporting the Vietnamese and the French in their conduct of that war; because as we see it; it is a case of independent and free nations operating against the encroachment of communism.
Anyone wanting to commit ground troops to the mainland of Asia should have his head examined.
Now, we have been able to hold this line of this internal subversion by the Communists, as well as the external threat of military invasion because for many years the United States has assisted these countries in meeting their own problems. We are assisting the people of Viet-Nam. We are assisting countries which are faced with staggering problems. If we stop helping them, they will become ripe for internal subversion and a Communist takeover.
Dear Mr. President
, On behalf of myself and my associates, I volunteer a group of loyal Americans
for behind the line duty in Vietnam. We feel a crack group of trained guerillas could demoralize the Viet Cong and advance the cause of freedom.
—Ralph "Sonny" Barger, 1965
The peace movement, for a while, got real nasty, calling veterans "baby killers." It did more than piss us off - it broke our hearts. What were they thinking? You don't turn your back on your warriors. I didn't trust anyone anymore - just my family.
—John D. Musgrave
, Marine veteran, counselor and poet, on the struggles veterans faced upon returning from the war, in the 2017 Ken Burns
documentary series The Vietnam War
I don't want these fucking medals, man! The Silver Star—the third highest medal in the country—it doesn't mean anything! Bob Smeal died for these medals; Lieutenant Panamaroff died so I got a medal; Sergeant Johns died so I got a medal; I got a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, Army Commendation medal, eight air medals, national defense, and the rest of this garbage
—it doesn't mean a THING!
On the one hand I did think the war was less than righteous. On the other hand I love my country. And I valued my life in a small town and my friends and family. So I wrestled with what was, for me, at least, more torturous and devastating and emotionally painful than anything that happened in Vietnam. Do you go off and kill people if you're not pretty sure it's right? And if your nation isn't pretty sure it's right? If there isn't some consensus, do you do that? In the end, I just capitulated, and one day I got on a bus with some other recent graduates, and we went over to Sioux Falls about sixty miles away, and raised our hands and went into the Army. But it wasn't a decision; it was a forfeiture of a decision. It was letting my body go, turning a switch in my conscience, just turning it off, so it wouldn't be barking at me saying, "You're doing a bad and evil and stupid and unpatriotic thing."
What I attempted to do before the Scranton Committee was to explain what could motivate someone to blow up a building. I did not say I endorse this, and if you read my testimony quite carefully, you'll know that I didn't. And it's this type of just picking up on what allegedly I said instead of really studying what I said that really disturbs me. ... You're making people afraid of their own children. Yet they're your children. They're my parents' children, they're the children of this country, yet you're making people afraid of them, and I think this is the greatest disservice. There's an honest difference of agreement on issues, but when you make people afraid of each other, you isolate people. And maybe this is your goal, but I think this is - this could only have a disastrous effect on the country.
—Eva Jefferson (Paterson), Northwestern University student body president, debating Vice President Spiro Agnew on The David Frost Show, September 26, 1970