Ivan W. Parkins
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About Ivan W. Parkins:
Dr. Parkins is a retired professor of Political Science from Central Michigan University. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Dr. Parkins served as a naval officer during WWII aboard the battleship Alabama. He is a recent widower with three daughters, 3 grand children and 2 great grand children. Dr. Parkins has written extensively, having authored 3 books and a newspaper opinion column for many years.
On the Inside
In This Issue:
Viet Nam Diaries,
*A discussion of Lewis Sorley’s book A BETTER WAR
* Real Lessons of Viet Nam
* “Clear and Hold” strategy for Afghanistan has roots in Viet Nam
* Desperate Offensive
VIET NAM DIARIES,
MY WAR OF WORDS
By Ivan W. Parkins
Saturday, October 10, 2009, I happened upon a repeat television broadcast of Lewis Sorley reviewing his excellent book, A BETTER WAR, published in 1999. Monday, October 12, I opened my WALL STREET JOURNAL, to find the upper 40 % of the Opinion Page devoted to similar remarks by Sorley. That was enough to convince me that some of my own remarks from the time of Vietnam may still have salience.
More re Sorely later; I will now return to the verbal war that I “fought”-- and lost.
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May 30, 1967, several faculty members, on the campus of what is now UNC Asheville, presented a prepared discussion of the war for students and local media. I began my argument with “I am happy to be here fighting the most necessary and most vital battle of the Vietnam War.”
My argument, based heavily upon writings of Walter Lippmann, was that American scholarship, as well as communist ideology, denied that the United States was capable of fighting a prolonged, low intensity, and in many respects irregular, war.
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June 29, 1969, in a letter published by the DETROIT FREE PRESS, I renewed my argument:
Two key dovish contentions are difficult to reconcile with the President’s [Nixon’s] hopeful plan of withdrawal. The first is that we are in Vietnam to satisfy some irrational anti-communist tendency which afflicts the more provincial of American leaders and public.
The second is that the South Vietnamese consist of Vietcong sympathizers on the one side and apathetic peasants led by greedy incompetents on the other. . . . ..
An American success, i.e. withdrawal leaving a viable and friendly regime in South Vietnam, would seriously damage the intellectual and moral standings of American doves.
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From my column entitled TREASON ISSUE, Daily Times-News, February 16, 1972:
…. On the military side the key to the position of the “doves” is the alleged hopelessness of our situation. . . . To say that they are consciously aiding and abetting the enemy with that position is, I think, inexact. When one compares the pre-Tet news of 1968 with that recently, it becomes difficult to believe that Asian Communists are really America’s principal adversaries. Two enemy ambushes of American convoys on one day recently made news—one of our men was wounded. Four years ago we lost dozens killed and scores wounded in ambushes just before Tet, and enemy sappers overran our airbase at Kontum. The largest Communist victory in recent days has been overrunning a thirty-man local defense force in South Vietnam. In fact, at rates prevailing for the last several months, more Americans are being shot to death by other Americans in Detroit than are killed by the enemy in Vietnam. . . . .
MORE ON SORLEY’S BOOK, “A BETTER WAR”…...
Sorely’s book has, in my opinion, at least one shortcoming. Emphasizing, appropriately, the great success of General Abrams’ clear-and-hold strategy, Sorley neglects the horrendous failure of North Vietnam’s 1968 Tet offensive.
Following Tet, much of our media speculated that “now” we would be confined to the cities; all of the countryside would again be hostile. It did not happen. Even before Abrams’ strategy was implemented, most of the countryside was quiet. The reason was simple. Many thousands of the most experienced Viet Cong entered the cities, not just to conquer them, but also to join with large civilian uprisings. Most of the VC remained there, not as conquerors, but as corpses. There were no uprisings. And that was still on General Westmoreland’s watch. He gets too little credit.
(Westmoreland’s book, A SOLDIER REPORTS, lists fatalities in the first two weeks as 32,000 enemy, 1001 American, and 2082 ARVN and other allies.)
Most importantly, Sorley makes it very clear that our Executive Branch (President Nixon, and the military) brought the war to an apparently victorious conclusion. South Vietnam appeared to be both willing and capable, with the limited support that we pledged, of defending itself. But, Congress quickly withdrew all three of the limited elements of support that we had promised. The Soviets and Chinese promptly increased their aid to North Vietnam beyond anything it had been before. And America’s reputation as a reliable ally evaporated. [Assuring that we would be tested again, and now we are.]
Today, our military has adjusted to the problem and has provided a workable solution, but our political system has not. Are we to suffer unnecessary casualties on the battlefield to satisfy the liberal elite’s political notion of an acceptable war? It certainly appears to me that we need to remember the lessons of Viet Nam.
Column, April 5, 1972, Daily Times-News
By Ivan W. Parkins
This communist offensive, because of its intensity, is being compared to Tet, 1968. The differences between the two are vast; a couple of examples may be extremely significant.
While the Tet offensive in 1968 attempted to infiltrate and overwhelm the defenses of Saigon and other major cities throughout South Vietnam, this offensive is concentrated in the one province closest to North Vietnam and farthest from Saigon. American strength in early 1968 was half a million and still building; it is now about twenty percent of that and declining. American casualties in early 1968 occurred at a rate one hundred times as high as at the present time. On the enemy’s side, the 1968 offensive was spearheaded by tens of thousands of guerrillas native to South Vietnam. Today, locally-born guerrillas are no large threat to the security of South Vietnam, and the enemy is a more or less conventional invasion carried out by regular units of the North Vietnamese Army. Thus, in his method of warfare, as well as in the scope of his offensive, the enemy has changed radically. Why?
Even early in the war the enemy was not particularly favored in his capacity for matching large units with the South Vietnamese in pitched battles. Why should he try now that the ARVN is larger, better trained, and better equipped than ever before? Our own press hails this as a test of the ARVN and of our Vietnamization policy. Since the enemy’s propaganda emphasizes that time is on his side, why should he be in any hurry for this larger test?
I am suggesting that the current enemy offensive is a product of desperation, a Vietnamese Battle of the Bulge. Except for the elements of enemy desperation and initial success, that analogy does not go very far. . . . .
The most probable goal of the current offensive is to hasten a negotiated peace. This is not to imply that the Communists are either peace-loving or humane. Evidently, the Communists’ capacity to make huge sacrifices of human beings is their most significant military advantage, in Vietnam and elsewhere. But, after having sacrificed many hundreds of thousands of lives, the North Vietnamese face more and better prepared opposition in S.E. Asia today than they did a decade ago. Now, they want to halt the fighting, but they also want to claim some sort of accomplishment. . . . . .
With only limited military gains in prospect, it requires an unstable mixture of desperation and reliance upon political sympathizers within America to explain why the enemy would concentrate his dwindling forces within range of South Vietnamese firepower and American aircraft.
Column, May 10, 1972, Daily Times-News
By Ivan W. Parkins
The gravest danger stemming from our involvement in Vietnam is not that we will suffer a defeat but that we will learn the wrong lessons from our experience. Even though what happens in S.E. Asia is important to our national interests, what Americans learn from what has happened there is more important than the actual events. Unless the outcome of the present fighting is so obviously favorable that it discredits most antiwar elements in the United States there is a danger that we will withdraw from Vietnam having less understanding of our public affairs than when we entered.
. . . . . .Based upon the historical record of nearly two centuries, to give more of the war power to Congress will increase, not the likelihood of our remaining at peace, but the likelihood of our being defeated in future wars.
. .. . . . The lesson that we need to learn is not how to keep Presidents from committing us to war against the will of Congress. That has not been a problem. But, how can we get members of Congress to honor commitments in which they have concurred?
A second lesson from Vietnam relates to the press. Much of the press insists that freeing it of all legal and political accountability to the American public will enable it to inform us more accurately, and to assure that Presidents hear more than the advice of a few yes men. I do not believe that the record of leading media supports that view. What the PENTAGON PAPERS illustrated was that the President had more detailed and varied advice than he might have gotten from THE NEW YORK TIMES. In this matter the TIMES has played the hypocrite in grand style, excoriating Presidents for decisions which it had originally supported, publishing stolen documents to prove its 20/20 hindsight, and failing to mention errors of its friends and its own reporting. The commitment of the mass media to truth and candor seems to be no more reliable than the commitment of Congress to peace, or to war.
A further lesson concerns the intellectuals, especially education and the arts. Are we to learn from their self-evaluations that they are unselfish and broadminded servants of humane and public values, or may we consider the statistical evidence? What the statistics show is that in the very period during which intellectuals were calling most loudly for reduced military spending and for public sacrifices to aid disadvantaged minorities they were claiming for themselves material benefits far exceeding any that they had enjoyed before.
There is little logical reason why our Vietnam experience should not be understood as a re-affirmation of our past. We need chiefly to avoid swallowing the nostrums being offered by Senators, journalists, and academics who (Is it mere coincidence?) stand to benefit in power, freedom, or money if we change America as they direct. Foremost among new lessons to be learned from Vietnam is one that I have never heard mentioned by those who are most enthusiastic in their advocacy of change. It is that leadership in matters of politics and public opinion cannot be left independent of military leadership. Our own suffering and such advantages as the enemy enjoyed in the course of the
Vietnam War both suggest that politics, information, and education are vital parts of any large military commitment.