Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Book of the Month: Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-75

Forty years ago this month the Vietnam war ended. It's kind of hard to believe that it's already been 40 years...

For most Americans, the Vietnam War ended in 1973 with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, the release of the American POWs, and the last American troops withdrawn from Vietnam. Then there's a big blank spot in everyone's knowledge about Vietnam until April 1975, when we saw on television the North Vietnamese tanks smashing down the fence at the presidential palace, the helicopters evacuating the remaining Americans -- along with a few of our South Vietnamese allies -- and Vietnam "falling" to the communists.

Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-75 by George J. Veith is a meticulously-researched documentation of what really happened during those two years between the time we left Vietnam until North Vietnam's final victory, from Richard Nixon's mendacity towards South Vietnam's Nguyen Van Thieu ("Of course the United States will attack Hanoi if they break the accords. Now, sign here.") to the war-criminal behavior of Henry Kissinger (who, against all reason, was awarded a joint Nobel Peace Prize along with North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho, who at least had the good graces to turn it down), from the base corruption of the South Vietnam government to the bravery-in-the-face-of-impossible-odds of the South Vietnamese military.

The two years covered in this book came at the end of a full decade of American attempts to bomb North Vietnam back to the stone age, a decade of arraying the military might of a nation that had won WWII and was trying to use the same tactics on a civilian-based guerrilla-war enemy.

Ironically, from 1945 to 1973 almost the entire Ten Thousand Day War had been fought primarily as a hit-and-run guerrilla-action civil war. There were exceptions -- Dien Binh Phu, Khe Sanh and Lam Son 719 -- but it was only in 1973 that North Vietnam's strategy changed to the traditional armor-with-infantry attack-and-conquer tactics that won WWII. Then they were able to sweep down from the DMZ to swallow up South Vietnam.

Was it not inevitable? Was any other outcome possible? Veith seems to think there was, but I differ with that assessment.

How many times have you heard from revisionist-history "buffs" who want so desperately to believe it, that the war could have been won, If Only: If only the politicians had gotten out of the way and let the military fight, if only the anti-American leftwing journalists in the liberal media had reported "the truth" instead of pro-commie propaganda, if only Jane Fonda and her dirty maggot-infested hippie bums back home hadn't demonstrated against the war and given "aid and comfort to the enemy", not to mention the latest adventure into historical revisionism, the North Vietnamese were beaten and ready to "give up", but the politicians (i.e., the Democrats in Congress) wouldn't help South Vietnam.

Not that I believe for a minute that the North Vietnamese were ready to "give up" -- whatever you take that to mean -- but let's just pretend for the moment that they were.

So what? All that would have meant, in the long run, is that North Vietnam was ready to take a break, a vacation as it were, from the fighting, to give themselves time to rebuild the Viet Cong infrastructure in the south and their own army in the North. They had been at this since 1945 and they weren't about to let something like a cease fire, or even a "peace accord" stop them. They would never -- I repeat never -- have signed the kind of unconditional surrender that the Japanese were forced into at the end of WWII. At best (for the US) what would have happened was that we'd have had another Korea-like stalemate, in SE Asia this time, while North Vietnam would have had the breathing space it needed to rebuild.

The US had given only half-hearted support to the war even from the beginning. No one really knew why we were there, despite the assurances of Johnson and Nixon, and the US was facing the unwavering deterministic belief of the North Vietnamese that Marxist historical precedent, established in Russia and China, was inevitably on their side.

And, unlike in Korea, many of the South Vietnamese were supportive of reunification of the artificially-divided two Vietnams, and that reunification would have been -- could only have been -- under the regime of Ho Chi Minh's North Vietnam.

This book is military history primarily, and to the casual reader much of the detail of individual battles can be mind-numbing, but the overall descriptions of the blitzkrieg that Hanoi unleashed on South Vietnam -- and South Vietnam's heroic resistance to it -- are great.

We forget the lessons of Vietnam at our peril. As we have seen already in this century.


Paul Kepper said...

Triumph of the Absurd by Uwe Siemon-Netto, a poignant look at the Vietman War, and the people left in the aftermath. It's a very good read, is the site for Netto's book.

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks for the tip, Paul. I'll look for the book.
--The F Man