The Vietnam War was the first U.S. armed conflict with unprecedented television access. Yet no American war “is as shrouded in obfuscation and myth,” writes Phillip Jennings in The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War.
This new book attempts to set the record straight, bludgeoning past faulty broadsides from the press, Hollywood and historians alike.
Vietnam starts with a brief history of the country, detailing its evolution from a French-occupied country to a tortured, but functional, democratic nation threatened by Communism.
President John F. Kennedy once said South Vietnam was “the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia.” And what one Democratic President started via talk and limited action, a second — President Lyndon B. Johnson — continued with military muscle.
And it was Johnson’s inability to set up a strong, coherent battle plan which set the war on the wrong path from the start, Jennings writes. The President envisioned a fight against “a reasonable enemy,” one which could be fought with a modicum of restraint.
That didn’t happen, but it also hurt the war effort that major military campaigns occurred with erroneous information delivered to the public. Three major bombing campaigns –Operation Rolling Thunder, Operation Barrel Roll and Operation Steel Tiger — all got seriously misconstrued by the press so as to make U.S. efforts appear ill-conceived and monstrous.
Numbers involving the bombing amounts were used to feed the anti-war fervor, and reports routinely mischaracterized the goals of each campaign to make them look like failures.
The North Vietnamese quickly latched on to the anti-war movement—both the student revolution and the press’ willingness to distort the truth. It also helped to have willing accomplices like actress Jane Fonda to hammer home their propaganda stateside.
Perhaps the media’s biggest mistake came with the Tet Offensive, the Viet Cong assault which gave the press all the raw material required to set its anti-war narrative in stone. Burning buildings. Dead soldiers scattered across city streets. Crumpled neighborhoods.
And yet the real story behind the attack wasn’t told. The viciousness of the Viet Cong could have shown the public that the war was a noble one against a savage foe. But that meme never emerged. More importantly, the plan came at a huge cost for the Viet Cong—starting with the loss of up to 80,000 men.
“From a military point of view, the Tet Offensive was a massive Communist defeat,” he writes. Tell that to trusted news man Walter Cronkite, who reported after the offensive that victory for U.S. forces was no longer an option.
The ideological underpinnings of the war were quickly forgotten, then buried, in subsequent years.
“Vietnam started as a liberal’s war, fought … in a liberal way (with innumerable constraints on the use of force, civilian micromanaging, and the export of Great Society programs to South Vietnam). And yet liberals themselves led the charge to repudiate their own war and all the people who conducted it for them.”
Another missed narrative involves the years between 1969 and 1972, a time when American forces began a major withdrawal plan and left 90% of the country pacified.
Yet history books rarely delve deeply into this historical chapter. It’s no wonder the public’s image of the war is what it is.
President Richard Nixon’s involvement in Vietnam was routinely vilified, but his “Vietnamization” set the stage for potential victory. Anti-warriors would blast him as a modern-day monster for the so-called expansion of the war into Cambodia, even though the move was meant to cut off supplies, secure South Vietnam’s Eastern border and bring a quicker resolution to the conflict.
The book brings many other media mistakes regarding the war into crystal focus. While journalists mocked the military press briefings detailing enemy body counts as mere farce, the post-war examination of the numbers showed them to be more accurate than the press clippings from the era.
The media’s biased war coverage hit a new low with the 1972 Christmas bombing, an event press outlets dubbed an indiscriminate strafing of civilians on a major scale. The attack proved a military victory, killed far fewer innocents than previous air campaigns in past wars and made the North Vietnamese capitulate at the Paris peace talks.
“You didn’t need to read Pravda to get the Communist propaganda spin—you could read The New York Times,” he writes.
The war might have ended better for the South Vietnamese if only Congress hadn’t shattered promises made in the war’s waning time and, more importantly, kept up air campaigns against re-invigorated North Vietnamese forces.
But America, weakened by Nixon’s resignation and battered by an anti-war movement magnified by the press, didn’t have enough fight left in it. That left Communist forces free to run roughshod over Vietnam without fear of reprisals from the air.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Vietnam War (published by Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS sister company) offers much more, from an anti-war movement eager to embrace a vile enemy to the stigma veterans unfairly faced after serving their country with honor.
The historical record requires a significant reboot, and Jennings’ book offers a guide to just how much misinformation needs correcting.