As part of Washington Babylon’s release of Doug Valentine’s Life and Times of a South Vietnamese Special Police Officer we are going to feature content from worldwide archives that recall one of the most painful episodes of recent American and Asian history. This was one of many mainstream media news reels that portrayed the Vietnam war as one that America could win.
The following is excerpted from the Pentagon Papers:
In 1964 the U.S. tried to make GVN [Government of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)] strong, effective, and stable, and it failed. When the U.S. offered more aid, GVN accepted it without improving; they promised to mobilize, but failed to speed up the slow buildup of their forces. When the U.S. offered a firmer commitment to encourage them, including possible later bombing of North Vietnam, the GVN tried to pressure us to do it sooner. When the U.S. endorsed Khanh, he overplayed his hand, provoked mob violence, and had to back down to a weaker position than before. When Taylor lectured them and threatened them, the ruling generals of GVN defied him, and allied themselves with the street rioters. After several changes of government in Vietnam, the U.S. could set no higher goal than GVN stability. During this period, the USG was already starting to think about doing the job ourselves if our Vietnamese ally did not perform.
At first the U.S. thought that the power of the Vietnamese generals would make GVN strong and effective. In fact, the U.S. preference, at this time, was for military leadership in the GVN. However, the generals proved to be less than perfectly united. They found they had to bow to the power of student and Buddhist street mobs, and they lacked the will and the ability to compel the civil government to perform. Yet, the U.S. saw no alternative but to back them-to put up with Vietnamese hypersensitivity, their easy compliance combined with non-performance, and their occasional defiance. Moreover, MACV was even less ready to pressure the generals than was the Embassy and the Embassy less willing than Washington. MACV controlled the resources that mattered most to the South Vietnamese.
Pacification lagged, and the military picture steadily worsened. Planning of pressures against the North became more urgent, and the prospect of increasing U.S. inputs to all phases of the war loomed larger. The U.S. was more and more abandoning the hope that the Vietnamese could win the war by them;elves. At the same time, the U.S. was preparing itself internally (NSAM 288 with the objective of an “independent non-communist Vietnam”) and readyng the American people (the Tonkin Gulf Resolution) for deeper commitments.
The period saw six major changes of government. At the end of January, 1964, Khanh seized power from the Minh government. In August, after his attempt to formalize military control, mob violence forced him to give way and to join a Triumvirate. It presided over formation of the civilian High National Council, which wrote a Constitution and elected the civilian President Suu and Prime Minister Huong to replace the Triumvirate. In December the military dissolved the High National Council, and in January 1965 they dismissed Huong, replacing him by Khanh as caretaker. In February, they appointed a new civilian government, with Suu still President and with Quat as Prime Minister. In June, Ky took over. Besides all this, coup groups seized Saigon twice before being faced down each time.
During the first few months of this period the U.S. abandoned the plan for the phased withdrawal of most of our military assistance personnel, and stopped believing that the main-force war would come to a successful end by the close of 1965. With the start of planning pressures against the North, the U.S. first hoped that repeated preliminary signals to Hanoi would brmg a response before bombing began; and we hoped that the promise of U.S. force commitments would strengthen Vietnamese unity and resolve. Both hopes proved vain, and we started bombing North Vietnam systematically without getting anything from either Hanoi or GVN. Then the bombing itself failed to stop Hanoi’s intervention. Seeing no other choice, the U.S. poured troops into the country.