Vietnam (Continuación)

Dan Mouer in Vietnam in 1966. The magazine was sent by his wife, along with a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

There’s a famous scene about halfway through “Apocalypse Now” in which Martin Sheen’s river boat pulls into a supply base, deep in the jungle. While the crew members are buying diesel fuel, the supply clerk gives them free tickets to a show — “You know,” he says, “the bunnies.” Soon they’re sitting in an improvised amphitheater around a landing pad, watching as three Playboy models hop out of a helicopter and dance to “Suzie Q.”

The scene is entirely fictional; Playboy models almost never toured Vietnam, and certainly not in groups. But if the women were never there themselves in force, the magazine itself certainly was.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam in 1966. Credit Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Presidential Library

On the morning of May 27, 1964, a little more than two months before the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution sailed through the House and Senate, allowing the White House the military authority to do what was needed in Southeast Asia, President Lyndon B. Johnson made two phone calls.

The first, which phone logs show he made at 10:55, was with Senator Richard B. Russell, the Georgia Democrat who headed the Armed Services Committee. “What do you think about this Vietnam thing?” Johnson asked the senator, a longtime friend and mentor. “I’d like to hear you talk a little.”

“Frankly, Mr. President,” Russell replied, “if you were to tell me that I was authorized to settle it as I saw fit, I would respectfully decline to undertake it.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bernard Fall: The Man Who Knew the War

Fifty years ago today, on Feb. 21, 1967, the journalist Bernard Fall stepped on a land mine while accompanying Marines on a mission near Hue, in South Vietnam. He died instantly. He was 40 years old.

The literature on the Vietnam War is enormous and growing, but Fall’s work still stands out for its insight and sagacity. He remains our greatest writer on the struggle, despite the fact that he died before the period of heavy American military involvement had reached its halfway point.

Fall wrote six books on the Indochina conflict, along with more than 100 articles in popular publications like The New York Times Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post and The New Republic, as well as academic journals.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Grunt’s War

By 1967, protesters were gathering regularly in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. They’d hold signs, give speeches and chant: “Hey, hey, L.B.J. How many babies did you kill today?”

Implicit in the chant was the instrument of Lyndon B. Johnson’s brutal, inhuman policy: the young men fighting in Vietnam. And it didn’t take much for many Americans, especially war protesters, to decide that the soldiers were themselves brutal and inhuman — leading to an ugly backlash against returning servicemen. In one case, a young man accosted a veteran missing an arm at a Colorado college in 1968.…  Seguir leyendo »

Le Duan, left, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, with Ho Chi Minh at a rally in Hanoi in 1966. Nihon Denpa News/Associated Press

As any account of combat in the Vietnam War will tell you, America fought an “elusive enemy”: guerrillas who would strike and then disappear; battalion commanders who refused to engage in open battles. But there’s more to the cliché than most people realize. Even by 1967, America’s military, intelligence and civilian leaders had no real idea who was actually calling the shots in Hanoi.

To some extent, this is what the North wanted — the impression that decisions were made collectively, albeit under the gentle guiding hand of President Ho Chi Minh. But the American confusion also, inadvertently, reflected the messy, factionalized reality of North Vietnamese politics, one that historians are only now coming to grasp.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ho Chi Minh, right, with Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, in 1945. Associated Press

It should go without saying that the Vietnam War is remembered by different people in very different ways. Most Americans remember it as a war fought between 1965 and 1975 that bogged down their military in a struggle to prevent the Communists from marching into Southeast Asia, deeply dividing Americans as it did. The French remember their loss there as a decade-long conflict, fought from 1945 to 1954, when they tried to hold on to the Asian pearl of their colonial empire until losing it in a place called Dien Bien Phu.

The Vietnamese, in contrast, see the war as a national liberation struggle, or as a civil conflict, depending on which side they were on, ending in victory in 1975 for one side and tragedy for the other.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tom, left, and Dick Smothers on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” CBS, via Getty Images

On Sunday nights at 9, 50 years ago, more than a quarter of American households were watching NBC’s “Bonanza.” That comfortable and comforting western series was so dominant that CBS felt it had nothing to lose by taking a chance and giving that time slot to two brothers, musical satirists who interrupted songs like “Boil That Cabbage Down” and “Dance, Boatman, Dance” with ridiculous bouts of sibling rivalry.

The brothers, Tom and Dick Smothers, had had a successful run of appearances in nightclubs and on television variety shows with subversive takes on folk songs. When “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” made its premiere on Feb.…  Seguir leyendo »

Recent college graduates joined the Red Cross to serve refreshments and present recreational programs to American servicemen in Vietnam. Larry Ray/American Red Cross

Joyce Denke was 19 years old when her fiancé, Cpl. David Ives, received his orders for Vietnam. It was early 1967, and he had only six months left in the service. The young couple, who lived in Temple, Tex., just south of Waco, decided not to let the war dampen their excitement about their future life together, and they started making plans to get married when he came home in November.

After just seven weeks in Vietnam, Ives was killed in action on April 23, 1967, at the age of 20. Ms. Denke still has the last letter he wrote to her, dated April 19, 1967.…  Seguir leyendo »

Anti-war demonstrators at the Pentagon in October 1967. Associated Press

In popular memory, America’s war in Vietnam begins sometime in the Kennedy administration. But its roots go much deeper, to the end of World War II and the revolution of Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh against French colonial rule.

As part of its broader — in this case misguided — Cold War policy of containing communism, the United States supported France’s war against the Communist-led Viet Minh, paying close to 80 percent of the cost by 1953. The war ended in 1954, with Vietnam divided at the 17th parallel, pending elections to be held in two years.

After the war, the Eisenhower administration backed the refusal of the South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem, to hold the elections, sparking a new insurgency by former Viet Minh, later known as the National Liberation Front (and to its enemies, the Viet Cong).…  Seguir leyendo »

Marsh Carter holding an enemy flag in Vietnam, a month before the Quang Nam raid.

In January 1967, I was a 26-year-old Marine Corps captain commanding a 224-man rifle company — Company C, First Battalion, First Regiment, First Marine Division — near Danang, near the North Vietnamese border. I had been in the field for four months and was getting to be relatively experienced in small-unit combat operations. In a rifle company — clearly the pointed end of the spear of American policy — there isn’t a lot of strategic thinking. Our day-to-day tactical responsibilities, designed to achieve our military objectives, dictated our activities.

Daily life was focused on continuous small patrols of 15 to 45 men with the mission of finding and killing or capturing Vietcong guerrillas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Operation Cedar Falls, viewed from the air, on a U.S. Army helicopter gunship, left, and below ground, where soldiers uncover hidden bags of rice. Dick Swanson/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

In January 1967, when the First and 25th Infantry Divisions of the United States Army began Operation Cedar Falls, their all-out offensive against the Communist strongholds of the “Iron Triangle” northwest of Saigon, Vo Thi Mo, 20, was ready.

Born in Cu Chi, in the middle of the Cedar Falls battle zone, Ms. Mo had been in the fight against American troops and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam — the South Vietnamese force, known as ARVN — since the age of 13, when she helped to build the extensive tunnel system that southern Communist forces, known as the National Liberation Front (and to its enemies as the Vietcong), used as barracks, command center and communications network.…  Seguir leyendo »

Bamboo huts in flames in Ben Suc, a Viet Cong-controlled village, in January 1967. Bettmann, via Getty Images

By the beginning of 1967, there were 490,000 American troops in South Vietnam — along with some 850,000 from South Vietnam, South Korea and other allies — and America’s civilian and military leaders were starting to think big. This, they believed, would be the year to crush both the southerners fighting as the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies, who had infiltrated the south.

Doing so, though, would require enormous multidivisional operations involving all branches of the military. Already by the end of 1966, they had begun planning for the “era of big battles,” and specifically for operations designed to eradicate the enemy from around the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon.…  Seguir leyendo »

American soldiers watching helicopters landing as part of Operation Pershing in South Vietnam in 1967. Credit Patrick Christain/Getty Images

In the early spring of 1967, I was in the middle of a heated 2 a.m. hallway discussion with fellow students at Yale about the Vietnam War. I was from a small town in Oregon, and I had already joined the Marine Corps Reserve. My friends were mostly from East Coast prep schools. One said that Lyndon B. Johnson was lying to us about the war. I blurted out, “But … but an American president wouldn’t lie to Americans!” They all burst out laughing.

When I told that story to my children, they all burst out laughing, too. Of course presidents lie.…  Seguir leyendo »

Aquí, en la selva de Bach Ma, latió una vez el corazón de las tinieblas. Era 1968. Cuando sobre Vietnam se fracturaba la segunda mitad del siglo veinte. Conmigo va esa fractura. Va con todos, supongo; los de mi edad, al menos. Con todos los que nunca pisaron esta maleza, victoriosa de la guerra química, igual que con aquellos que perdieron aquí sus años jóvenes. Con los que oyeron y los que no oyeron este desasosegante sollozar de las cigarras, bajo el azogue de una luz en pestañeo. Aquí, a muy pocos kilómetros de Da Nang y Hué, pero infinitamente lejos de cualquier cartografía.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Vietnam y China les une la ideología pero les distancia la desconfianza estratégica. Ambos países están gobernados por partidos comunistas y aplican similares políticas de reforma y apertura. Esta circunstancia facilita que tanto las dinámicas de cooperación como las incertidumbres predominen en el orden bilateral. La reciente visita oficial del presidente Obama a Vietnam (Clinton lo hizo en el 2000 y Bush en el 2006) se explica y enmarca en este contexto. En julio del año pasado, el presidente estadounidense recibió en la Casa Blanca al secretario de los comunistas vietnamitas, Nguyen Phu Trong, considerado equidistante con Washington y Beijing, con quien no rechaza la posibilidad de un compromiso en el asunto que más incordia su entendimiento, las controversias en el Mar de China meridional.…  Seguir leyendo »

As President Obama visits Vietnam, we are struck by the fact that most citizens of both countries have no living memory of a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 58,000 Americans and upward of a million Vietnamese.

As Americans who fought in that war, we are frequently asked about its lessons. There are few easy answers, in part because every conflict is unique and because we have learned that attempts to apply past lessons to new crises sometimes do more harm than good. But a few things are clear.

The first is not personal to us, but a principle that applies to all who wear the uniform: We must never again confuse a war with the warriors.…  Seguir leyendo »

A worker repaints a statue of late president Ho Chi Minh at a public park in the southern city of Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo by Getty Images.

Every five years, the Communist Party of Vietnam holds a Congress to set the country’s agenda for the next five years, and choose a new leadership. The most powerful figure in the country is not the prime minister or president, but the general secretary of the Party. In the months leading up to the most recent Congress, held this week, the country’s prime minister for the past 10 years, Nguyen Tan Dung, had made it clear that he wanted the top job. As one of the key architects of Vietnam’s recently impressive economic growth and with a reputation as a shrewd political operator, most outside observers assumed that he would get his way.…  Seguir leyendo »

American soldiers guarding North Vietnamese prisoners in the Ia Drang Valley in South Vietnam, November 15, 1965. Credit Neil Sheehan/The New York Times

A few weeks ago, an archivist at The New York Times discovered a small trove of photographs I’d taken 50 years ago while covering the first major clash of the Vietnam War between the American and North Vietnamese Armies. Though I had written about the battle for The Times, and later in my book “A Bright Shining Lie,” I’d completely forgotten about the photographs. Seeing them brought back a cascade of memories of one of my most extraordinary days as a young war correspondent.

It was Nov. 15, 1965, in the valley of the Ia Drang in the wild mountains of the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.…  Seguir leyendo »

Farmers wait to sell their lychee fruit to local traders last month in Luc Ngan district in Vietnam's northern province of Bac Giang. (Hoang Dinh Nam/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Few nations have changed the course of their relationship as profoundly in as little time as Vietnam and the United States have. This week, the official U.S. visit of Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, will mark yet another milestone in the relations between our countries.

Over the past 20 years, we have progressed from an embargo to fuller diplomatic relations, a bilateral trade agreement and a comprehensive partnership. Now the visit by the general secretary at the invitation of the Obama administration signals U.S. respect for Vietnam’s choice of political regime. To be sure, Vietnam’s political system does not mirror that of the United States, but in important ways we seek to move in the same direction — a market economy, stronger investor protections, and peace and stability in international affairs.…  Seguir leyendo »

Whose Vietnam War

Exactly 40 years ago, I left home. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was about to be taken over by North Vietnamese soldiers and renamed Ho Chi Minh City. It was April 30, 1975. I was 17.

I was staying with my uncles, and they took me with them when they escaped. I felt shameful about being on the losing side of the war, but also relieved: The millions staying behind seemed sure to face a bloodbath at the hands of the Communists. My parents were among them: My mother was stranded in Danang, in central Vietnam, and my father, a civil servant for the southern government, had been captured during the 1968 Tet offensive and was being held prisoner somewhere in North Vietnam.…  Seguir leyendo »