Vietnam '67

Historians, veterans and journalists recall 1967 in Vietnam, a year that changed the war and changed America.

El puertorriqueño Rafael Matos es un veterano de la guerra Vietnam. Durante 1967 fue un médico militar. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Los médicos militares nunca lo olvidan: la apariencia, el olor, la textura de la sangre que fluye. Las extremidades mutiladas. Observar con impotencia el momento en que la vida se transforma en muerte. Cincuenta años después, los recuerdos aún se filtran en mi alma, como si una sonda intravenosa los liberara y me veo esperando, herido, a que inicie la evacuación en un paraje vietnamita.

Entonces, en 1967, en Puerto Rico, mi país de origen, no tenía idea de en qué me había metido cuando decidí enlistarme en el ejército de Estados Unidos en vez de esperar a que me reclutaran.…  Seguir leyendo »

Elizabeth Becker’s press card

This year Australia put the journalist Kate Webb on a stamp to commemorate the country’s Veterans Day. It is a reproduction of a famous photo of Kate wearing a safari shirt, holding open her notebook while looking intently at the subject of an interview.

By recognizing Kate, who covered the Vietnam War for United Press International, as a “woman in war,” the stamp quietly acknowledges what has been glossed over in the annals of the conflict. Female reporters covered that war, rewriting the rules so that the phrase “woman war correspondent” would never again be an oxymoron.

Reporters like Kate and me didn’t go to Vietnam because of enlightened decisions by newsrooms; in the 1960s, news organizations weren’t sending women to cover the most important story of our generation.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Sunday, PBS debuted “The Vietnam War,” Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s long-awaited, 18-hour documentary on the conflict and its legacy. As engrossing as the film is, just as noteworthy has been the commentary about it, both critical and in praise. And this, I am sure, is one of the filmmakers’ goals: to jumpstart a conversation about a conflict that deepened divisions within America, opened new ones and redefined the country’s role in the world — with repercussions that are still felt today.

What do you think of the documentary? Discuss it by clicking here and going to the comments section.…  Seguir leyendo »

A solidarity rally with United States and South Vietnam officials in Saigon in 1964. Credit Larry Burrows/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

In August 1965, a resolute President Lyndon Johnson said: “America wins the wars that she undertakes. Make no mistake about it.” But the strategy on which he committed America to its ill-fated intervention in Vietnam that year did not aim at winning, but at not losing. McGeorge Bundy, Johnson’s national security adviser, later admitted as much to a biographer, saying that he had personally approved a strategy that used just enough military pressure to achieve a battlefield stalemate, which “would eventually compel the Vietnamese Communists to compromise their objectives,” forcing them to the negotiating table or to a Korea-style armistice.

Bundy added that his strategy rested, in hindsight, on “little more than an unexamined assumption.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Students marching in an anti-American protest in South Vietnam, in 1965. Credit Associated Press

The year 1967 was a watershed for antiwar protest in the United States, from bold statements like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church speech in April to the March on the Pentagon in October. Equally noteworthy, but less well known, is the student protest movement that emerged in South Vietnam. Vietnamese youth, of all political orientations, played an active and critical role in the politics of South Vietnam, at times acting like the official opposition with the ability to shape events on the national stage. And just like in the United States, 1967 was a momentous year for the movement.…  Seguir leyendo »

Phan Thanh Hung Duc, 20, a patient at the Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, last October. Credit Richard Hughes

Phan Thanh Hung Duc, 20, lies immobile and silent, his midsection covered haphazardly by a white shirt with an ornate Cambodian temple design. His mouth is agape and his chest thrusts upward, his hands and feet locked in gnarled deformity. He appears to be frozen in agony. He is one of the thousands of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

Pham Thi Phuong Khanh, 21, is another such patient. She quietly pulls a towel over her face as a visitor to the Peace Village ward in Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, starts to take a picture of her enlarged, hydrocephalic head.…  Seguir leyendo »

People gathered for a concert in Tompkins Square Park in 1967. Credit Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times

In June 1967, in the freewheeling spirit of the times, I dropped out of Antioch College, in Ohio, and hitchhiked to New York. I was 19, mildly though not madly political. In junior high, I had joined civil rights demonstrations. Now I opposed the Vietnam War. But my ideology was simply the counterculture’s: peace and love, plus anything fun that could undermine convention.

I floated into that summer in a luminous haze of artistic impulse, magical thinking and pot smoke. But by September, things were darkening. Reality — menace — began to intrude. I found a focus. I joined the staff of Students for a Democratic Society, the principal organization of the New Left; I became an organizer.…  Seguir leyendo »

Walt Rostow, third from left, speaking to Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office in 1967. Between them, in the background, is Robert McNamara. Credit LBJ Presidential Library

As Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, wrote in his book “Dereliction of Duty,” the early stages of the Vietnam War caught America’s military leaders flat-footed. Having gone through World War II and Korea, they were all ready for a conventional war. But insurgencies and unconventional warfare were something else. As a result, they were inordinately acquiescent to the wishful thinking of their civilian overseers — and no one thought more wishfully about the war than Walt Whitman Rostow.

A Yale Ph.D. and a Rhodes scholar, Rostow left his academic perch at M.I.T. to join the State Department under John F.…  Seguir leyendo »

I first visited the United States in the summer of 1998, when I was invited to attend a literary conference in Montana with four other Vietnamese writers. We flew from Hanoi to Taiwan to Los Angeles. As we crossed the Pacific Ocean, passing through many time zones, I buried myself in sleep and woke up only when the plane hit the tarmac. At passport control, we found ourselves in a huge hall, and I was abruptly taken aback: There were Americans all around us, lots of them! I will never forget that strange feeling. It was bizarre, unbelievable, surreal, that I, a veteran of the Vietnamese People’s Army, was in the United States, surrounded by Americans.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the South Vietnamese Constituent Assembly voting in 1967 to confirm the election of Nguyen Van Thieu as president. Credit Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of Vietnam’s most democratic election.

Admittedly, this is a low bar. And to be sure, though the 1967 South Vietnamese presidential election was conducted with more propriety than Saigon’s previous debacles, which were typically won with 98 percent of the vote, or than the North’s one-party, pro forma affairs, it was an event likewise riddled with vote-rigging and intimidation. The result, a modest victory for the military slate, was certain even before campaigning began.

But if its administration was less than impartial, it was still one of the most important moments in the short life of the Republic of South Vietnam, and an underappreciated moment in the history of the Vietnam War.…  Seguir leyendo »

The North Vietnamese Communist Party leader Le Duan strengthened the “counter counterrevolutionary” campaign to quell dissent against the war. Credit Nehon Denpa News/Associated Press

When we think back to the signal events of the antiwar movement in 1967, we recall the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful April 4 speech denouncing the war, the thousands of returned registration cards during the “Stop the Draft” week, and the March on the Pentagon that brought record numbers of demonstrators to the nation’s capital.

That year also witnessed global protests condemning the war, as demonstrations in European capitals and the International War Crimes Tribunal issued powerful rebukes against American intervention in Southeast Asia. News coverage of the war also shifted that year, including the first call by The New York Times for a halt to the bombing and the initiation of peace talks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators trying to return their draft cards in New York City on Oct. 16, 1967. Credit Jack Manning/The New York Times

Growing up in Fresno, Calif., I believed in “my country, right or wrong,” just like everyone I knew. I could not have anticipated that when I came of age I would realize that my country was wrong and that I would have to do something about it. When I did, everything changed for me.

I went from Fresno High School Boy of the Year 1963, Stanford Class of 1967, to Prisoner 4697-159, C Block, maximum security, La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution, near El Paso.

I was among the quarter-million to half-million men who violated the law that required us to register for military service and face deployment to Vietnam — the draft.…  Seguir leyendo »

Butch Eakins, standing, with Ronnie Bryan, seated on left, and the author in Vietnam.

It was the spring of 1966 and I was 19 years old, working nights at a General Motors plant in Van Nuys, Calif., and attending day classes at Pierce College, carrying 12 credits and a student deferment status. I owned a brand new 1965 Chevelle Malibu Super Sport, and I had a gorgeous girlfriend. Life was simply great! But I soon grew weary of my college curriculum and dropped out, intending to resume the following semester.

The next thing I knew, Uncle Sam sent his greeting. It read, “You are hereby ordered for induction to the Armed Forces of the United States.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Ken Burns has already directed landmark documentaries on the Civil War and World War II, but the Vietnam War was a different challenge entirely. From the Vietnamese declaration of independence in 1945 to the fall of Saigon 30 years later, the war killed millions of civilians and combatants and left deep fissures in American society, creating cultural and political rifts that still divide the country.

In a TimesTalks event on Thursday, Mr. Burns and his co-director, Lynn Novick, along with the veteran and novelist Karl Marlantes and the Vietnamese-American memoirist Duong Van Mai Elliott, spoke about the war and its legacy with James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The New York Times.

A video of the conversation is below:

President Lyndon Johnson with Robert McNamara, right, and Dean Rusk in 1967. Credit Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Perhaps no question hovers more ominously over the history of the Vietnam War in 1967 than this: If the United States and its Vietnamese adversaries had been able to hammer out an acceptable peace deal before the major escalation of the 1968 Tet offensive, hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved. Was such a peace possible?

For years, pundits and policy makers have speculated on this possibility. Many argue that escalation was irreversible, that the adversaries’ collective fate, as it were, was sealed. But recent scholarship has pointed in a different direction. The prospects of peace were arguably brighter than we once thought.…  Seguir leyendo »

Plasma being given to a wounded soldier on a ridge in Dak To, South Vietnam, in November 1967, as another soldier races into battle. Credit Dana Stone/Bettmann Archive, via Getty Images

There are some events that can be understood only with the perspective of time. The war in Vietnam is one.

It was June 21, 1989, and I was interviewing a diminutive man with four stars on the epaulets of his dark green uniform shirt. We were talking in what had once been the mansion of a French colonial governor in Hanoi. The man was Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese military genius who had led his country to victory, first against France’s attempt to reimpose colonial rule in the aftermath of World War II, then against the unparalleled might of the United States when it subsequently sought to permanently divide Vietnam and install a client state in Saigon.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ellsworth Bunker, left, presenting his credentials as new ambassador of the U.S. to South Vietnam, to Nguyen Van Thieu on April 28, 1967. Credit Associated Press

On Oct. 14, 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who had been principally responsible for waging war against the Communists in South Vietnam, threw in the towel. A little over a year before he officially resigned as secretary, he sent a long memorandum to President Lyndon Johnson, artfully admitting that he and his Pentagon had no strategy to end the war on favorable terms for the South Vietnamese.

Johnson quickly turned to others for a new approach. A month after McNamara’s memo, the president asked two aides — Walt Rostow, his national security adviser, and Robert Komer, a National Security Council staff member — to come up with something more effective than McNamara’s tactics of attrition and bombing.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ronald Steinman’s press card, 1972

I arrived in Saigon in mid-April 1966 as the new NBC bureau chief. My job, simply defined, was to supply NBC News with an endless story of the war. I understood there would be no letup, no relief day to day as our stories poured from the bureau.

Vietnam was the first truly televised war; the war and the medium through which millions of Americans experienced it were inextricable. To understand the war, one needs to understand how NBC — and our colleagues at CBS and ABC — shaped how that story was told.

Those of us in broadcast news understood our role clearly.…  Seguir leyendo »

Wayne Schell beside his F-100 Super Sabre.

The heat was suffocating as we got off the Continental charter flight that late summer afternoon in 1966 at South Vietnam’s sprawling Bien Hoa Air Base, but I was more amazed at the incredible activity everywhere. There were other charter planes arriving, constant flights of F-100 and F-5 fighters taking off and landing, lumbering C-130 transports loading and unloading. There was a U-2 circling above the base as it soared to high altitudes for a reconnaissance mission. There were lines of soldiers getting onto another Continental flight, heading home. I soon learned that the thing everyone in the military kept track of, even more than the daily body count, was the countdown to rotating home — “121 days and counting,” someone would say.…  Seguir leyendo »

A casualty of the Battle of Hill 881, near Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.

Very few women went to Vietnam as journalists, and even fewer as dedicated war photojournalists. In fact, for most of the 1960s, there were only two: Dickie Chapelle, who was killed by a grenade in 1965, and Catherine Leroy.

Leroy was widely considered the most daring photographer in Vietnam. She almost certainly spent the most time in combat — in part because she had no money, having traveled from her native France to Vietnam as a freelancer in 1966 with no contracts and a short list of published work. Living with soldiers meant that she could eat rations and sleep in the countryside.…  Seguir leyendo »