Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Why is the War in Vietnam Important?


The War in Vietnam is not important because it was an interesting war that captured the attention of the country and led to the amazing period of the 60s in which a lot of young people like me grew up. It was all of those things to those of us who lived through it, even on the far distant sidelines of Canada. But there was more to it than that.

The War in Vietnam is important because of what it revealed about not just America, but the so-called free world. That includes us in Canada. This was the world of the west led initially by Europe and then the United States. It was the part of the world that was accustomed to having its way. It was accustomed to telling others what to do. It is important for what happens today.

If the west thought it should be allowed to colonize countries around the world that is just the way it was. Everyone had to accept that as just and reasonable—no matter how unjust and unreasonable it was. Europe was that way and then America took over for Europe when Europe faltered. Nowhere was that shown better (really worse!) than Vietnam.

Of course those attitudes continue to this day. Look at North Korea.  The major powers of the west have nuclear weapons. One country has even used them. What gives these countries the right to tell North Korea you can’t have nuclear weapons? I would hate to see more countries get nuclear weapons, but I can see why some countries want them.  A nuclear non-proliferation treaty was negotiated years ago. In that agreement many countries agreed to refrain from getting nuclear weapons, but those countries that already had them like the United States, England, Russia etc. agreed to negotiate seriously to eliminate nuclear weapons from their arsenal. After all why should other countries agree to refrain from acquiring them when so many countries have them?  The countries that had them have reneged on the agreement. They have not negotiated seriously for their elimination. As a result they have no right to deny them to North Korea, even though I wish North Korea would not get them. I fear that might be all it takes for other countries to get them too.

During the course of the Vietnam War, that wonderful politician Wayne Morse of Oregon knew this and understood this. It did not matter that every single politician, except him and one other, supported the Tonkin Resolution to authorize the President in effect to conduct a war in a far off country in the manner of his choosing. If it was not right he would not support it. He would proudly tell the truth no matter how unpopular it was. He spoke truth to power.

When we were young we watched the Dick Cavett Show on television nearly every evening. It was a ritual. My friends and I sat in our modest rental homes with our black and white rented television set and watched Dick Cavett interview an amazing array of interesting guests. Mainly they were celebrities but Cavett managed to get the best out of them.

The War in Vietnam was a frequent topic on his show. The War in Vietnam permeated so much of society it was difficult to avoid talking about it. One of his more interesting guests was an American Senator. Probably as old as I am now come to think of it. He was wise in other words. He was an old guy.  That older politician one of only two American Senators and Congressmen and women to vote against the Tonkin Bay resolution.   He was Senator Wayne Morse. I will comment more on that resolution later, but for now just read what he said.

This is what Senator Morse said on the Dick Cavett Show on ABC TV to explain his no vote against the Tonkin Bay resolution (That resolution authorized President Johnson to do almost anything he wanted to do in Vietnam):

If the Johnson administration had told the American people 5% of the facts of the Tonkin Bay incident the resolution never would have passed. The second thing I want to express in my conversation with you is watch out for the development of government by secrecy and executive supremacy. You had it manifested in the Tonkin Bay resolution. You just were not told the facts about America’s aggression in Tonkin Bay…We are a very proud people and its good that we’re proud, but we can’t run away from the facts just because we have a false sense of pride. And the difficulty with our Vietnam policy is that we have been the outlaw in South East Asia. We have been the aggressor. We violated one section after another of the Charter of the United Nations. We practically tore up the Geneva Accords. We have to face up to the fact that we cannot conduct a unilateral military course of action around the world without the world organizing against us. We’ve got to get out of Asia.

Throughout the decades of the War in Vietnam America was led by political and military leaders who felt no shame about lying to Americans or the world. They could do that because they were the good guys. Good guys lie but they do that for the good of all.

That was bad when the Americans had Presidents like Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, but it is many times worse when America is led by a President who has brought lying to an astonishing new level, like their current President. It was dangerous then; it is absolutely terrifying now.

It is like political leaders such as Judge Roy Moore of Alabama who is a good “Conservative Christian.” Because he is such a good conservative Christian it does not matter to many of his supporters that he may be a serial child molester in the Malls of Alabama. Because he is a good Christian whatever he does must be right.

Now we know, because of the War in Vietnam, that our leaders are not always good. Sometimes they are the bad guys. The War in Vietnam is important because it teaches us things about today. We should not forget the lessons that were learned the hard way. The very hard way.

I wonder if there is anyone around in the Republican Party to speak the truth to President Donald Trump. Perhaps John McCain, but he is not well He spoke up against Nixon. I don’ t see too many around of that quality today. That’s a pity

Do Good Guys commit Atrocities?

Dennis Stout,  a member of theAmerican  First Brigade of the 101st Airborne during the Vietnam War, was asked on the Ken Burns Television series if he had seen any atrocities on the part of American soldiers. He admitted he had. Stout was from Phoenix Arizona and had served 9 months in combat from 1966 to September 1967, but he had been there for a year. He spent most of his time with a small handpicked group of soldiers called Tiger Force. They spent weeks at a time in the jungle. They were “intended to out guerilla the guerillas.”

Tiger Force fought in 6 different provinces of Vietnam, repeatedly suffering heavy losses. As Rion Causey told it, “If you suffer losses and you lost your best friend it’s the officers who say no you can’t do that. If you do it then there’s consequences. But if the officers include a platoon leader and the Battalion commander are telling you that this is what you are supposed to do then it gets completely out of hand.”

Some at McV, an important base camp for American and South Vietnamese forces, realized that such a freewheeling outfit would be difficult to control. “But General Westmoreland and commanders in the field admired Tiger Force for its reliable ferocity.”

In the summer of 1967 Tiger Force was sent to the Song Ve Valley. The entire population had already been herded from their homes and crowded into a refugee camp. Some had come back to resume their farming life that they had traditionally done. “The valley had been officially declared a ‘Free-fire zone’ and Tiger Force’s officers took that literally. “There are no friendlies,” one lieutenant told us, “shoot anything that moves.” With a license like that from officers it is hardly surprising that atrocities occurred. How could they not?

“Over several months they killed scores of unarmed civilians. Among them were two blind brothers, an elderly Buddhist monk, women, children, and old people hiding in underground shelters, and 3 farmers trying to plant rice. All were reported as enemy killed in action.” These were atrocities, pure and simple.

Tiger Force was not the only platoon Dennis Stout witnesses that crossed the line. He also discovered a case where a Vietnamese girl was kept for 2 days and raped, and then on the 3rd day killed. She was raped by everyone in the platoon except for a medic, Dennis Stout, and possibly one other member. Every other member of that platoon raped her. According to the U.S. Army website a platoon contains between 16 and 40 soldiers. That is a lot of rapes even on the low end of the scale.

Stout complained to the Battalion Sergeant Major about the rape (he should really say rapes), but he explained that these things happened in wars all the time. He was told not to mention it and that it was a common occurrence. Stout also complained to the Chaplain who made an independent investigation. He found that this was true. The two of them then went to see the Sergeant Major who told the Chaplain to stick to religion and told Stout that he did not have to return for the next engagement.

Years later another soldier came forward with allegations of war crimes. An Army investigation found probable cause to try 18 members of Tiger Force for murder or assault. They found that soldiers had cut the throat of a woman and killed her. They also cut off the ears and killed 10 farmers before they stopped shooting. They also scalped a soldier. “But no charges were ever brought. The official records were buried in the archives.”

James Willbanks of the U.S. Army opined that all of them should have been charged with murder. “They should have all gone to jail. They were all guilty of murder. At the same time, I felt that incident was an aberration, not the norm, tarred all veterans, and there are 100s of thousands of veterans who went and did their duty as honorable as they possibly could and they are tarred with the same brush.”

Some people learned some important things about war. As one Vietnam veteran, Karl Marlantes, said,


One of the things I learned in the war is that we are not the top species on the planet because we are nice. We are a very aggressive species. It is in us. And people talk a lot about the military turns kids into killing machines and stuff. I have always argued it is just finishing school. What we do in civilisation is that we learn to inhibit and rope in these aggressive tendencies. And we have to recognize them. I worry about a whole country that doesn’t recognize it, because I think of how many times we get ourselves in scrapes as a nation because we are always the good guys. Sometimes I think that if we thought we weren’t always the good guys we might actually get in less wars.


Sometimes we have to take a hard look at ourselves. We owe it to ourselves; we owe to those who come after us.


Are we always the good guys?


The American Ambassador to Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, demanded that the President of South Vietnam Diêm (Our son-of-a-bitch) dismiss his brother who had been responsible for the raids on monks that disturbed people from around the world, but particularly Americans who were supporting the South Vietnamese regime.

Lodge also began to explore the possibility of a coup. The Americans were not shy about sponsoring coups in allied countries. They have done it in Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, and many other countries. Why not Vietnam too? While John F. Kennedy was on vacation, the American Under Secretary authorized a cable to Lodge approving a coup.

Kennedy actually had not wanted a coup. He thought his advisors had opposed a coup. It turned out they had supported it without his knowledge. As a result the Americans supported a coup against their own ally. When Kennedy was interviewed by Walter Cronkite and told him, unless Diêm changes his ways or “there is a change in personnel there is little chance in wining the war in Vietnam,” that certainly could have been interpreted as support for a coup.

Many of Kennedy’s advisors, including his Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, and the head of the CIA all counseled Kennedy against a coup. None of them liked Diêm, but they saw no realistic alternative. That is a lesson American Presidents have forgotten in many countries including Iraq and Libya. Disposing of an unattractive leader serves no useful purpose if the replacement is just as bad or even worse.

Former American Ambassador to Vietnam, Fritz Nolting, who had served in that capacity from 1961 to 1963 warned that if Ngô Dinh Diêm and his brother were gone there was no one in South Vietnam capable of taking over from them. He said, if we got rid of them we would be saddled with a descending cycle of mediocre generals. Was he ever right!

Other advisors on the other hand thought it would be impossible for the South Vietnamese government to last under Ngô Dinh Diêm’s leadership. Kennedy told Lodge, as a result that the Generals of South Vietnam should be warned that the United States did not want to stimulate a coup but would not thwart one either. In other words, the Americans would acquiesce in a coup, but did not want to be held responsible for it. That’s the way it is usually done–they act like weasels. The Generals took this as a blessing to plan a coup.

Kennedy later confided in his personal notes, that the almost inadvertent authorization of a coup was a mistake. He should have had a full round table discussion on the subject.

As a result, on November 1, 1963 the plotting South Vietnamese Generals led a coup in South Vietnam against President Ngô Dinh Diêm and his brother.   According to Lodge, that day every South Vietnamese he saw had a big smile on his wife. No one supported Diêm. He had burned too many bridges (or should I say too many monks?). Lodge believed that after the coup the chances of winning the war had greatly improved. Kennedy was not so sure. That might have been true, if the replacement for Ngô Dinh Diêm was much better. Sadly, Nolting was right, the General that replaced him was also incompetent. Kennedy was also appalled that the coup led to the assassination of Diêm and his brother.

The brutal murder of the South Vietnamese President Ngô Dinh Diêm and his equally corrupt brother Ngo Dinh Nhu on November 2, 1963 was a major turning point in the war in Vietnam. Until that time the Americans had been mainly “advising” the government of Vietnam in its war against the Việt Cộng and the North Vietnamese Army. At that time the U.S. had “only” 16,000 troops in Vietnam. Those troops helped to train the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) but also accompanied them on actual helicopter raids deep into enemy territory. It really was more than advising. It was engaging in battle, but it was done covertly.

When American casualties increased, and images of those dead were regularly seen on American television it became increasingly difficult to sell the American public on the idea that these were just advisors. After the assassination of the Diêm brothers, American policy in Vietnam took a dramatic turn. President Kennedy was also assassinated 3 weeks later and Lyndon Johnson became the new President. Johnson tried to follow Kennedy’s low-key approach to Vietnam until 1964 when American participation in the war increased sharply.

After the coup the question the Americans had to ask was whether or not the Generals would be able to create a stable democracy. Kennedy asked that question, but because he died 18 days later, he never really got an answer. Lyndon Johnson would have to deal with the issue.

Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter, was a perceptive commentator on the War in Vietnam. He pointed out that Americans thought they were an exception to history. They could never back the wrong side in a war. Americans are the good guys. They are always the good guys, Americans thought. Yet Sheehan said, “But the War in Vietnam proved we were not an exception to history.”

Johnson had opposed the coup that deposed Diem, thinking it would make a bad situation worse. That is exactly what it did. As Le Quan Cong, a VC soldier said, when Diem was killed the Vietcong was very excited. They thought they were about to liberate the whole country. They attacked night and day. As he said, “More and more puppet soldiers surrendered. More and more young people joined our forces.”

By then, “40% of the countryside and 50% of the people were effectively in the hands of the Vietcong.” Meanwhile the Generals that had overthrown Diem were bickering among themselves rather than concentrating on the war effort. As Robert Rheault of the American Special Forces said, “The assassination of Diem set in motion a series of coups each government was less effective than the one before it.” It was just as Nolting had predicted.

In January 1964 General Nguyen Khanh, with U.S. encouragement and support, completed another coup. Johnson told McNamara to show that he had U.S. support. Johnson told his advisors, “no more of this coup shit,” but Khanh lacked support too. Other generals continued to jockey for power thinking he had no legitimacy.

Things were far from stable, no matter what Johnson said. Johnson turned a blind eye to calls from the Buddhists for a genuinely representative government they thought they would get when Diem was overthrown. There were 8 different governments between January 1964 and June 1965. “All of the leaders were so close to the Americans they were seen as puppets.” That immediately destroyed their credibility. One of Johnson’s aids suggested that the national symbol of South Vietnam should be a turnstile.

What continually amazes is the extent to which politicians in America tied themselves to the most dubious of political leaders in far off lands. Often those leaders were incompetent, corrupt or both. Yet the careers and legacies of American political leaders were irrevocably connected to those leaders and once committed those American felt they could never sever that connection. Why were they not able to say, “you know we were wrong. We thought we had people to work with in Vietnam. That proved not to be the case so I am calling our soldiers home. We would like to work with the people of Vietnam to keep out the communists if that is what they really want but we can’t carry the load alone especially when the local leaders are not worth supporting with American lives. We would love to help but just can’t do it.” After such statements where American leaders came clean to the American public, would Americans not accept the decision of their own leaders and say thanks for not wasting any more lives of their young soldiers? Instead political leaders like Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon committing themselves to supporting Vietnamese leaders no matter how clearly it was evident that nothing good would come of it. Inertia is a powerful force.

This is particularly important today for American political leaders seem to have learned nothing from past disastrous experiences. They continue to support autocratic and corrupt leaders in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Burma, the Philippines, Chile, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, and so on and so on. The list is nearly endless. Such a policy seems absolutely suicidal and has proved disastrous over and over again, yet American political leaders keep doing it.

I am reminded of what one American leader said about Antonio Somoza a vicious and corrupt former leader of Nicaragua who said, “he is a son-of-a – bitch, but he is our son-of-a – bitch.” Why do American political leaders think they always have to support a son-of-a – bitch no matter what? Why not just abandon them at the outset or at the very least give up on them when it becomes clear what they are? They don’t really need son-of-a – bitches on their side. There is usually (always?) a better way, no matter what the masters of real politick believe.

Sadly the answer is clear–we are not always the good guys. In fact we often not the good guys.

The Tonkin Bay Resolution


When Lyndon Johnson became President after John Kennedy died, he realized that knew new plans and new strategy were urgently needed. The U.S. was getting mired in a war it did not need and Johnson did not want. But he felt he was stuck with it. He chose General Westmoreland to lead the American war effort in Vietnam. He had been a decorated military leader in Korea and Johnson chose him personally. He also replaced Henry Cabot Lodge as Ambassador with General Maxwell Taylor.

By the end of his first year as President, his cabinet and top military generals recommended that he increase the number of American military “advisors” in Vietnam from 16,000 to 23,400 by the end of 1964.

Johnson wanted to gradually increase military pressure on the North. Soon Johnson authorized American aircraft to bomb neighbouring Laos. He allowed American vessels to oversee shelling of coastal bases of the North. Of course, all of this was conducted in secret. “The American people were not to be told. It was an election year.” So the truth was withheld from them.

Misleading the public about critically important matters like war, is abhorrent. It makes one extremely wary of politicians. How can they possibly justify withholding the facts from the people who will have to pay the ultimate price for the decisions the politicians make? Or withholding the truth from parents who see their children volunteer to serve their county in war. No one has the right to withhold relevant information to them, least of all one’s elected officials.

Meanwhile the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the President that they were fighting on the North’s terms. They urged much more massive and dramatic action. They wanted air strikes on the north and the deployment of American forces in South Vietnam. They wanted boots on the ground. Johnson refused believing such aggressive action would pull China into the war just as such actions had pulled them into the Korean War in 1950.

Barry Goldwater, his opponent in the election blamed Johnson for holding back and doing nothing about Communist aggression. On July 30, 1964 South Vietnamese ships under the direction of the US military shelled two North Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Tonkin. The tiny North Vietnamese navy was on high alert. As the television series said,


What followed was one of the most controversial and consequential events in American history. On the afternoon of August 2nd the destroyer USS Maddox was moving slowly through international waters in the Gulf on an intelligence gathering mission in support of further South Vietnamese action against the north. The Commander of a North Vietnamese torpedo boat squadron moved to attack the Maddox. The Americans opened fire and missed. North Vietnamese torpedoes also missed, but US planes from an American carrier in the bay damaged two of the North Vietnamese boats and left a third dead in the water. Ho Chi Minh was shocked to hear of his Navy’s attack and demanded to know who had ordered it. The officer on duty was officially reprimanded for impulsiveness. No one may ever know who gave the order to attack. To this day, even the Vietnamese cannot agree but some believe it was Le Duan.


Many like Huy Duc a North Vietnamese soldier believed that the North Vietnamese leader who was gradually taking over from Ho Chi Minh wanted to “elevate the war.” Some of the North Vietnamese soldiers, like Nguyen Ngoc, believed that had this not been done the North would have achieved victory in 1965. They already had much of the countryside and the government would likely have collapsed within a year if the Americans had not intervened with a large military force, as they did. However, as we know, these actions drew the Americans in and drew them in big time. Johnson ignored military advice and did not retaliate immediately. However he warned the North that any more unprovoked military attacks against Americans would bring them into the war. He failed to mention of course to the American people that the actions of the North were not unprovoked. They had been provoked by shelling of he South Vietnamese forces. “Both sides were playing a dangerous game.” And, of course, in war dangerous games often lead to violence. I hope the current American President appreciates this, but I seriously doubt it. Trump like so many American Presidents before him is filled with hubris about how easily it will be for the US with all its weaponry to win any war it chooses to engage in.

On August 4, 1964 the American radio operators mistranslated North Vietnamese radio traffic and concluded that a new military operation was imminent. It was not. They were actually getting ready for attacks from the South. Although no attack occurred, hyper alert Americans convinced themselves wrongly that an attack had occurred. Johnson was told an attack had “probably occurred” and decided it should not go unanswered.

Johnson, in announcing relation against this aggression by the North said it would be limited because “Americans know, though others seem to forget, the risks of widening war. We still seek no wider war,” he said. After that, for the first time, American pilots dropped bombs on North Vietnam.

2 months earlier, Johnson had asked McGeorge Bundy one of his military advisors to draft a resolution for Congress to authorize the President to use force in against the North Vietnamese. He now sent that to Congress. The Tonkin Bay incident was what he needed to ask Congress for authorization by way of that draft resolution to deal with aggression against the US by North Vietnam. As a result he got the famous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution from Congress which as Johnson said, was “like my Grandma’s nightshirt, it covers everything.”

Johnson was waiting for the right time to send a message to North Vietnam that we are ready and serious to deal with North Vietnam by supporting South Vietnam. As James Willbanks, an American military commander said, “That message was sent; I think we misread the enemy, because they are just as serious as we are.”

I think Willbanks was wrong. The North Vietnamese were more serious. Much more serious. The Americans talked a great line. They spent a lot of money. They sacrificed a lot of lives, but eventually they cried ‘Uncle.’ The North Vietnamese never did. They defeated the greatest military power in the history of the world! They could only do that with more grit, more determination, and more intelligence. In all of these the Americans were second rate, no matter how loud their barrage of patriotic words.

On August 4, 1964 the Tonkin Resolution was passed by a vote of 88 to 2 in the Senate and in the House it received unanimous approval. When it comes to aggressive military measures, the President of the United States usually gets his way. And he did again. Overnight Johnson’s approval rating for handling the war jumped from 42% to 72%. Even doves considered him measured and reasonable compared to Goldwater who seemed extreme. “The American public believed their President.” Even though he had not been entirely honest with them.

Of course North Vietnam did not believe Johnson. They were not convinced that he sought no wider war. They decided to escalate their efforts in the south before the American sent in their own combat troops. For the first time Hanoi started sending North Vietnamese troops into the south out of the paths they had hacked out of the Laotian jungle–the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The war was ramping up.

It was really a small incident, but it was the first that had pitted North Vietnamese forces against US Forces. It is not without significance that this was just before a Presidential election that Lyndon Johnson wanted to win. Just like Kennedy had wanted to win and just like Nixon would want to win after him. Johnson wanted to show that the Vietnamese that America was strong. He wanted to show Americans that he was strong. He wanted to appear decisive.

The Tonkin Bay resolution is seen by many now as the crucial resolution that got America mired in the war in Vietnam. It was the basis–the legal basis–for all that happened from the American perspective.

Of the two dissenting votes one was given by an amazing American. This was Senator Wayne Morse from Oregon. He was interviewed by Dick Cavett. When I was in college we would watch the Dick Cavett show nearly every night. Cavett had intended to have a late night entertainment talk show but he and his viewers were attracted to controversial subjects. None was more controversial than the War in Vietnam. Morse was able to speak the truth to power, when almost no one else was able to do that. He was one of the only 2 Senators that failed to support the resolution. These are the powerful words he said on that show that day,


If the Johnson administration had told the American people 5% of the facts of the Tonkin Bay incident the resolution never would have passed. The second thing I want to express in my conversation with you is watch out for the development of government by secrecy and executive supremacy. You had it manifested in the Tonkin Bay resolution. You just were not told the facts about America’s aggression in Tonkin Bay…We are a very proud people and its good that we’re proud, but we can’t run away from the facts just because we have a false sense of pride. And the difficulty with our Vietnam policy is that we have been the outlaw in South East Asia. We have been the aggressor. We violated one section after another of the Charter of the United Nations. We practically tore up the Geneva Accords. We have to face up to the fact that we cannot conduct a unilateral military course of action around the world without the world organizing against us. We’ve got to get out of Asia.


Dick Cavett later described that show with obvious pride. Cavett said the audience fell dead silent when Morse spoke about why we were so mistaken about this war. Cavett believed that Senator Morse was a great man. “He would be almost the definition of one.” It is not easy to say ‘No” when all around you are clamoring for war. Morse could do that. What a pity that more political leaders were not able to hear him.

On November 1, 1964 the North Vietnamese forces shelled an American air base in the south. 5 Americans died, 30 were wounded, and 5 B-57 bombers were destroyed on the ground, and 15 more were damaged. The Joint Chiefs recommended the President authorize an immediate all out air attack on 94 targets in the north and to send in regular marine units, not as advisors but as combat forces. Johnson refused to this 2 days before the election. Johnson won the election by a landslide.

As soon as the election was over, Johnson approved what he called “a graduated response.” These included limited air attacks along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos and tit for tat attacks on North Vietnamese targets. He did not want to launch sustained attacks on the North until the South got their own house in order. In private, Johnson doubted that air power alone would ever work. He believed that eventually he would have to send in ground troops. He did not say so publicly. Again, the President did not tell the whole truth. And young men and young women volunteered to risk their lives to support their government. But their decisions to volunteer were made without knowing the truth. That should be a war crime.

All the News (or not)


General Paul Harkins was the America head of the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam in the early 1960s. Robert Strange McNamara was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense appointed first by President Kennedy in 1961. He kept his position under President Lyndon Johnson until 1968. He was considered a brilliant thinker and was responsible for implementing what was called systems analysis and later called policy analysis. Like so many of Kennedy’s advisors he was a Harvard Graduate. Harvard has never been famous for graduating students filled with modesty. They considered themselves the best and brightest.

McNamara loved data and he constantly demanded more of it from those under his supervision, such as General Paul Harkins. As a result, Harkins, doing as he was told, provided McNamara with mountains of data. In fact, McNamara was provided with “far more data than could ever be adequately analyzed.” As a result alarming reports from field officers such as John Paul Vann were not given the attention they deserved.

General Harkins had little use for sceptical reporters such as Neil Sheehan. Sometimes he even preferred that “bad news was buried.” Why advertise your own shortcomings?

When bad news is not seen or paid sufficient attention to, military analysts like McNamara are not in the best position to make the best decisions, no matter how bright they were. Even the best and brightest need all the news–the good, the bad, and the ugly. If military leaders are not in a position to make the best decisions their soldiers suffer more than anyone else.

The current occupant of the White House at the end of 2017 is famous for treating any news he does not like as “fake news.” As a result he too can fall into the same trap that Kennedy did. In fact this is much more likely in Trump’s case, because Kennedy was not a moron. Morons, more than most, need all the bad news.


The War in Vietnam was different than World War I or World War II. Many U.S. advisors did not understand the problems of fighting an insurgency. This was not like fighting a regular army in Europe. For example, many of these advisors failed to appreciate that if you “rescued” a village by destroying it you created a village of resisters rather than a village of supporters. Force had to be used effectively against a robust insurgency. The notion that the Americans must win the hearts and minds of the people was not a joke and was not to be taken lightly. It was vital to success against an insurgency. Yet very few American advisors understood how this could and could not be done.

One of the American military advisors that did understand these issues was John Paul Vann. Vann was a U.S. soldier who understood that the United States must not alienate the people. You could not shell a place with artillery because you might kill more women and children and in the process do more harm than good. You could only send in snipers to kill snipers. This is a lesson that may have been lost over the years.

The Americans had some unfortunate biases. For example, they assumed without much evidence to support it, that people in the cities were sympathetic to them and friendly to them, while all people in the countryside were Việt Cộng. In the villages it was actually very difficult to tell who was friendly and who was not. After all, the enemy did not wear identifiable uniforms or carry signs announcing their loyalties. That is how insurgencies and guerrilla wars work. That can be very challenging for a foreign power to deal with. Americans had problems with this in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

If the Americans saw someone in a village that was running away from them, they quickly assumed that this must be an enemy combatant. Tran Ngoc Toan put it well, “If they killed 1 enemy there would be one replacement. If they killed the wrong man there would be 10 replacements. Usually they kill the wrong man.” That is how insurgencies work and why they can be extremely successful, well beyond their apparent capacity.

Wars have to be fought with more than military might. They have to be fought with brains.


The Best and The Brightest


John F. Kennedy and all of his advisors were profoundly affected by what had happened in the Second World War. His advisors included Dean Rusk, Walter Rostow, McGeorge Bundy, General Maxwell Taylor and above all Robert McNamara. McNamara had been President of the Ford Motor Company and gave up a lucrative job to serve his country. He was a pioneer in systems analysis. These men (and interestingly now they were all men) were among those that Robert Halberstam called “The Best and the Brightest” in his book by the same name. All of Kennedy’s advisors believed, based on their experience or knowledge of World War II, a dictator had to be stopped in his tracks. Appeasement would lead to disaster they all believed. Therefore, appeasement was intolerable.

Halberstam was a journalist who wrote a book with that title in 1972 well before the war was over but long after it was realized by nearly everyone that it was a disaster. He focused his book on the foreign policy that was crafted by academics and intellectuals who were part of Kennedy’s administration. At the time some called them “whiz kids,” though few were kids. They were leaders of industry and academia that John F. Kennedy persuaded to join his administration. Halberstam referred to some of their policies as “brilliant policies that defied common sense.” Often their advice ran directly counter to advice Kennedy got from career American Department of State employees.

It must be remembered that Kennedy was a young President who had narrowly defeated a much more experienced political opponent, Richard M. Nixon, the former Vice-President of the United States. The first couple of months of his administration were disastrous. Kennedy had approved the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that turned into a complete debacle. Many Americans believed that Khrushchev the Premier of the archrival Soviet Union, had bullied Kennedy at a Summit meeting. Kennedy failed to stop the Soviets from building the Berlin Wall. Kennedy also failed to intervene to stop Communist insurrection in Laos. Americans hate to think of a leader as weak. As a result Kennedy was determined not want to seem weak at all costs. Those are ominous words: “at all costs.”

Many Americans called their new President immature, weak, and unable to stop the mounting Communist threat. It did not help that he was the youngest President ever at 43 years of age. Kennedy was, as a result eager to prove that he was a tough and capable leader of the country. All of these antecedents helped to position Kennedy perfectly for disaster in Vietnam.

There were even more factors that led to the ultimate debacle that was the War in Vietnam. For one thing there was politics. The Democratic Party was still haunted by claims that it had “lost” China to the Communists, and it did not want people to say about it that it also lost Vietnam. While Kennedy was getting advice from his inner ring of the Whiz Kids instead of the State Department that was not entirely because he preferred his specifically selected inner advisors. It was also because the State Department had been decimated by the McCarthy era in which the State Department was specifically targeted as harbouring Communists. As a result of that unfair attack, the government was forced to shred experts on Vietnam its surrounding countries and this left the young and inexperienced Kennedy solely reliant on his select group of experts many of whom had no experience with diplomacy.

Again this appears to be mirrored today, as Donald Trump has shred many career diplomats at the State Department. Lets hope the current President does not lead his country into disasters as a result.

Apparently there was an early study that indicated the United States would have to commit close to one million U.S. troops to completely defeat the Viet Cong. However it was inconceivable that the administration would be able to convince Congress or the U.S. public to deploy that many soldiers. As a result the political and military leadership of the United States was in a difficult position. They may have been trying to do the impossible.

At the same the American leadership was concerned about how their actions would influence the Chinese and Russians. The Americans, like the Chinese, had recently completed a costly war in Korea and had little taste for doing that again. The Americans were also worried that any precipitous actions by them would repair the growing Sino-Soviet rift. They liked that rift and wanted to see it maintained.

Very importantly the American military in conformity to the long standing military tradition that armies should prepare to fight the last war instead of the next war, was not prepared for a long guerrilla war. And as we all know, that is precisely what they faced in Vietnam.

Apparently some of the American war games indicated that a gradual escalation by the United States could be evenly matched by North Vietnam. Every year nearly 200,000 North Vietnamese came of draft age and could be sent into the meat grinder of the war. As a result as some pundit pointed out, the Americans and their allies in the South would be “fighting the birthrate”. Johnson as well wanted to concentrate on other important issues when he came to power such as Civil Rights laws and establishment of the Great Society. He really did not want to get bogged down in a war in Vietnam that he had not started but he was stuck with. And was he ever stuck with it.

Of course as happens in wars—as always seems to happen in wars—there was the effect of inertia. Once the Americans committed to sending troops they did not want to lose the war. Better to send more troops than face the difficult task of explaining why any forces had been sent at all. Political and military leaders continually worried about being accused of throwing good money after bad, and more lives after those that had already died.

Thus were aligned the forces that encouraged more war with more soldiers.

For all of these reasons (if they can be called reasons) John F. Kennedy in 1961 confided to an aide that he could only make so many concessions and still swim. Diplomacy inevitably involved concession. But too many concessions made it certain that he would be considered weak. And that would not do. For all of these reasons, Kennedy felt that he must act in South Vietnam. He could not acquiesce with business as usual.

For all of these reasons Kennedy thought he had no choice but to commit ground forces to fight in Vietnam and stop aggression from the north despite his initial assessment that this was foolish.

This is the mistake that each President made in Vietnam. Each one of them started his first term asserting he would not do exactly what he ended up doing. With Kennedy that mistake was to commit ground troops when he had earlier correctly assessed that this would be hopeless. This is the precise mistake Barbara Tuchman referred to in her book and aptly called “The March of Folly.” It was a march of folly all right.

Kennedy had earlier said that he would refuse to send troops because sending the first troops was like taking a first drink. There would inevitably be demands for more drinks. Over and over again the American Presidents made the same mistake and paid the same horrific price and it always led to the same tragic consequences.

The English philosopher, John Gray, is a relentless pessimist. He is invariably pessimistic about wars. That was the right attitude. President Barack Obama who vowed not to do anything stupid, was right. Recently Donald Trump promised not to get involved in foreign adventures and then abandoned that position within weeks of assuming office. That is not right! When it comes to war it is difficult to be too pessimistic!

Ho Chi Minh was a brilliant political leader. He had demonstrated that in the fight with France after 1945. He knew how to work with the people and the people loved him. This was very different from President Diem of South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh grew a long beard in order to look older and wiser. He used simple language that the people could easily understand. Unlike Diem, he was not aloof from the people he led. He was also a shrewd politician. As a result he was not in a hurry. He realized that a successful battle against the well-supported forces from the South might take 10 or 20 years or even longer. He was prepared to wait if necessary.

One of the wonderful things about the Burns/Novick television series is the fact that they interviewed people with many different points of view. For example, they interviewed veterans not just from the United States but from both South and North Vietnam. It was great to hear their points of view.

Huy Duc a veteran of the North Vietnam forces said, “Clearly South Vietnamese was more democratic, but in such a violent struggle the side whose soldiers had the fewest doubts and asked the fewest questions would win.”

Duong Van Mai Elliot realized that things were different in the south where its political leaders were not revered like Ho Chi Minh. As she said, “On our side (the south) we were not as committed and our leaders were corrupt and incompetent, so deep down we always had this fear and suspicion that in the end it would be the Communists who would win.”

Right from the outset, acute observers thought that the Americans might have bet all their wealth and power on the losing side.

President Kennedy of course, thought he had assembled the best and brightest of Americans elite universities and business leaders. How could the Americans possibly lose? Of course, Ho thought that he had also assembled the best and brightest of the Vietnamese who had been so successful against the French. How could they lose? When both sides of a struggle believe they have the best on their side you can bet that intransigence will surely follow. As Bob Dylan said, “You don’t count the dead with God on your side.

The American strategy would never work out very well and the more deeply one looked at it, the more you thought about it, the more you realized this hard cold fact. People who are the best and brightest, or believe that they are, seldom go in much for modesty, restraint or pessimism. They are gung ho. Voters often like political leaders who are gung ho and optimistic. I am more sceptical.




The Music of the Vietnam Years


The 1960s were a time of music. Music was the background to everything. The War in Vietnam was no exception. Neither is the series The War in Vietnam  produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and shown on PBS. The series is worth watching to listen to the music alone. Its worth the trip.

The television series is worth seeing for many reasons. It is definitely worth watching to hear the songs of the sixties. The music of the sixties is really the backdrop to the War. Most of the American portion of the war was fought during that decade.

Obviously a lot of time was spent by the producers getting the music right. The 10 part series features more than 120 popular songs many of them iconic. Many I would not have thought of as war songs. Of course what is a war song?

The series includes tracks from The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield. The Byrds, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and in particular Janis Joplin, Barry McGuire, Pete Singer, Jimi Hendrix Experience. Simon & Garfunkel and many more. The music is outstanding. Of course it was the music of the 60s who would expect anything less.

Episode 1 displays a classic: Bob Dylan singing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” Here are the words to that classic song:



“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall


Many classics are played in the series. I will never forget Barry McGuire’s “On the Even of Destruction.” That song was a hit in the summer between my 11th and 12 Grades. I remember we had a group of exchange students over to visit us from Windsor Ontario. We played this song over and over again at Johnny’s Grill in Steinbach. The restaurant was owned and operated by my “Uncle” John Vogt. It was the first “protest song” I can remember. Here are the lyrics:


On the Eve of Destruction The eastern world, it is explodingViolence flarin’, bullets loadin’You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’ But you tell meOver and over and over again, my friendAh, you don’t believeWe’re on the eveof destruction. Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to sayCan’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ awayThere’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave[Take a look around ya boy, it’s bound to scare ya boy] And you tell meOver and over and over again, my friendAh, you don’t believeWe’re on the eveof destruction. Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’I’m sitting here just contemplatin’I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.Handful of senators don’t pass legislationAnd marches alone can’t bring integrationWhen human respect is disintegratin’This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’ And you tell meOver and over and over again, my friendAh, you don’t believeWe’re on the eveof destruction. Think of all the hate there is in Red ChinaThen take a look around to Selma, AlabamaYou may leave here for 4 days in spaceBut when you return, it’s the same old placeThe poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgraceYou can bury your dead, but don’t leave a traceHate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say graceAnd… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friendYou don’t believeWe’re on the eveOf destructionMm, no no, you don’t believeWe’re on the eveof destruction.


In the television series not every song is played in its entirety. Some are played as subtle background music. It is all evocative of those times: the Sixties and the War in Vietnam. I will never forget those times.

One of the important commentators in the series was Merril McPeak who served as a fighter and bomber pilot in the war. He flew more than 200missions. He as a special advisor to the producers of the series. This is what he said about the music, that he felt like my friends and I felt that rock & roll music was becoming of age. It spoke our language and said what we thought of the war and life in the sixties. In fact we felt the music was revolutionary because it spoke of permanent dynamic change. This is what he said about the music:

The late Sixties were a kind of confluence of several rivulets, There was the anti-war movement itself, the whole movement towards racial equality, the environment, the role of women. And the anthems for that counterculture were provided by the most brilliant rock & roll music that you can imagine. I don’t know how we could exist today as a country without that experience, with all of its warts and ups and downs. That produced the America we have today, and we are better for it…

And I felt that way in Vietnam. I turned up the volume on all that stuff. That, for me, represented what I was trying to defend.

The Classic Vietnam war song was sung by Neil Young. It was called simply “Ohio”. It was written after 4 unarmed students were shot by young inexperienced but trigger-happy American National Guard soldiers at a peaceful anti-war protest on Kent State University. The Guards feared that the demonstration would turn violent as some of them had that summer. 2 of the students that were shot were not even involved in the protest. They were just innocent bystanders. Of course wars never respect innocent bystanders. But it shocked the world when 4 American students were shot by fellow Americans at a peaceful demonstration in the US.

Here are the words to that song:


Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.


Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young recorded the song in 1970 the year of the shooting. That was also the summer I met Christiane Calvez who later became my bride.

Those were amazing times. As Charles Dickens said about a different revolution,


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the Season of Light, it was the Season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


Did he write that in 1970? It sure sounds that way. Watch the series; listen to the music. Enjoy. Remember. Think.

The soundtrack ends with 4 classics: Ray Charles gospel version of “America the Beautiful,” Marvin Gaye’s 1971 song “What’s Going On,” that was inspired by his brother’s 3 year term in Vietnam and 2 songs I never thought of as Vietnam songs, but they did arise during that time. One was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” which I thought was what the series tried to be. In my mind it succeeded but I realized there are as many different views of the war as there are people who experienced those times. The finally that magnificent Beatle’s song sung by Paul McCartney “Let it Be.” That song I suppose was meant to bring perhaps not closure as one of the vets in the last episode said, but at least peace. That song is close enough to a hymn to do. Whisper words of wisdom. Let it be.





Karl Marlantes, was the author of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War published in 2010 that was called by Sebastian Junger “one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam.” The novel is based on his combat experience in the war. He was a frequent commentator in the television series. He was a significant contributor to the television series The War in Vietnam shown recently on PBS and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novice.

After the war he experienced, like to many other soldiers, post traumatic stress disorder. He said, “One of the things I learned in the war is that we are not the top species on the planet because we are nice. People talk a lot about how the military turns kids into killing machines and I will always argue that it is just finishing.

Gwynne Dyer, who was not a commentator in the series, but he had some things to say that I think are relevant and interesting. He pointed out that what sets soldiers apart from other groups of was that they have to be willing to kill. Yet as Dyer said, comparing soldiers to gangs:


But it is not a willingness that comes easily to most men—even young men who have been provided with uniform, guns, and official approval to kill those whom their government has designated as enemies. They will, it is true, fall very readily into the stereotypes of the tribal warrior group. Indeed most of them have had at least some glancing acquaintance in their early teens with gangs (more or less violent, depending on, among other things, the neighborhood), the modern relic of that ancient institution.

And in many ways what basic training produces is the uniformed equivalent of a modern street gang: a bunch of tough, confident kids full of bloodthirsty talk But gangs don’t actually kill each other in large numbers. If they behaved the way armies do, you’d need trucks to clean the bodies off the streets every morning. They’re held back by the civilian belief—the normal human belief—that killing another person is an awesome act with huge consequences. [1]


So people as a rule have to be taught to kill. They have to be taught to ignore their “normal” instincts not to kill people. Armies expect that when the times come, their soldiers will not hesitate to kill the designated enemy. That is not as simple as it might sound.

Armies actually contain fairly normal ordinary men and women. Such people find it difficult to kill in most circumstances. They have to be persuaded to kill. Armies always assumed their soldiers would kill when they had to.

The Americans decided to check in the Second World War. Were their soldiers actually killing as required? US Army Colonel S. L.A. Marshall actually looked into it and what he found surprised him and many others. He found that in 1943-1945 on average only 15% of trained combat riflemen actually fired their weapons during battle! The rest of the soldiers by and large did not flee or desert. They just did not fire their guns even when their own position was under attack and their own lives and that of their comrades were in danger! This was true whether the action was spread over a day, or a few days. In very aggressive companies the percentage rarely exceeded 25%. Another interesting fact, according to Dyer’s reading of the Marshall’s research, each man (they were mainly men) thought he was the only one not firing. Soldiers did fire if they were with other soldiers because they did not want to be seen holding back, but when alone most did not fire.

There is no similar problem with artillery soldiers or bomber crews. It is thought that this is because they are far enough away that they cannot see their victim. The victim is not real to them. According to Dyer, “they can pretend they are not killing human beings.”[2]

After that, the Americans stepped up their training to get more to kill. As a result it was found in a similar test in the Korean War that 50% of such soldiers fired their weapons. I don’t have the figures for the War in Vietnam. Ye tit is clear indoctrinating soldiers to kill helps “improve” the odds that they will kill.

In the end in the Vietnam War there was plenty of killing. Before the war was over more than 58,000 Americans would be dead, at least 250,000 South Vietnamese troops died, in the conflict as well. So did over a million North Vietnamese soldiers and Vietcong guerillas.”[3] Added to that, 2,000,000 Vietnamese civilians are thought to have died as well as tens of thousands in neighboring states such as Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam actually lost 10% of its population in the war. That is a lot of killing.

[1] Gwynne Dyer, War (1985) p. 116

[2] Gwynne Dyer, War (1985) p. 118

[3] Geoffrey Ward, The Vietnam War (2017) produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, PBS



I am not anti-American. I love almost all Americans that I have met. I visited the US for extended visits for 5 or 6 years in a row. But I do not want to hesitate to criticize them when necessary. I know Canadians have problems too. Our impact is just so much less than our neighbours to the south because we are so much smaller.

The US as the richest and most powerful country in the world has to be able to take criticism. I ask no more of them than to uphold their own ideals enshrined in their own public documents and public statements. They constantly claim to be the best country in the world. So understandably we tend to expect they act accordingly.

John Musgrave, an 18-year old American soldier did not know what to expect when he came to Vietnam. As a result he was scared to death of the Vietnamese. As Musgrave said, “I hated them so much I was terrified of them. The scarder I got, the more I hated them. I was so scared I thought I was hanging on to my honor by my fingernails the entire time I was there.”

I found this surprising. Soldiers from the richest most powerful country in the world were scared of the Vietnamese! How could that be? I think this fear is central to America’s role in Vietnam and also in the world. They seem so strong and secure and certain, yet they are filled with wild fears. I think that is why they spend more on their military than the next 9 countries ranked in military expenditures, put together! That is why they have more guns per capita than almost any other country in the world. That is why they want to build walls to keep out the rapists and murderers.

Fear is corrosive. It can destroy the best of motives, the best of intentions, and the best of people. In the case of Americans I have found, as Musgrave hinted, that their own ideals however are often corroded by fear. It is very difficult to be your best when you are scared.

As a result when Americans go to war they have to go in to the fullest. No half measures. They have go in with what Colin Powell later called “overwhelming force.” That was the Powell doctrine in a nutshell. Some have always felt the US failed to do that in Vietnam. They had too many rules about what they could and could not do. For example, General Curtis Lemay was said that the U.S. should have “bombed the North Vietnamese into the stone age.” He denied that he said that, but certainly some did believe that.

I was surprised to learn from this television series that one of the reasons Americans held back from using overwhelming force was fear of what Russia and China would do in response. American political leaders did not want another war like the one they had just finished in Korea. As a result, they got drawn into an even worse war in Vietnam. That’s what fear does. It shreds reason.

John Musgrave proudly became a Marine in 1967 but that experience changed him forever. When interviewed nearly 490 years later for the show, he said he was still scared of the dark and still has a night-light on when he goes to sleep. 50 years later he is still scared.