Skip to comments.The Long Shadow of Vietnam: Review of Comrades in Arms: How the Ameri-Cong Won the Vietnam War
Posted on 10/02/2012 9:21:09 AM PDT by Fedora
If you've ever wondered who's behind the antiwar movement, in the Vietnam War era or today, a book you'll want to read is Roger Canfield's Comrades in Arms: How the Ameri-Cong Won the Vietnam War, written by an author known to many of us here. Canfield documents in greater detail than any previous book Hanoi's direction of the Vietnam antiwar movement, the impact of the protests on losing the war, and the continuing influence of the Vietnam antiwar movement on the strategies and tactics still used by America's enemies today. "Hanoi made the peace movement the critical element in its political strategy for victory in revolutionary war, a peoples war, and. . .the U.S. never developed a significant understanding of political struggle let alone a counter strategy," Canfield argues.
Canfield divides his coverage into three major periods: from the beginning of the conflict to the Tet Offensive of 1968; from the Tet Offensive to the ceasefire agreement of 1973; and from 1973 to the fall of South Vietnam and its aftermath. Appendices add details about American citizens who traveled to Vietnam during this period, Weathermen terrorist actions in the United States, Viet Cong war crimes, casualties,
This book should be of interest to at least several audiences. The first is political activists researching the opposition. Second is Vietnam veterans and other veterans seeking a better historical understanding of the sometimes-hidden forces they fought, who some continue to fight. Third is historians of the Vietnam War, many of whom will find assumptions challenged and overturned, others who will feel vindicated to find proof of what they have long suspected. And fourth is those who are still resisting Communist control of Vietnam today (and Canfield has worked with translators to make a Vietnamese edition available).
To preserve the historical record, this is a meticulously-documented reference, not for the reader with a short attention span. The book comes out to over 1,400 pages in PDF format, including ample appendices and numerous illustrations.
This documentation is vital for history, but the information is too valuable to remain buried in footnotes for specialists. With my encouragement, Canfield has prepared a number of shorter presentations for non-academic audiences. In this short review I will highlight a few of what I find to be the book's most significant points.
How Hanoi Directed the Vietnam Antiwar Movement
One of the book's most important contributions to the record is to dispel a myth left-wing historians have perpetrated on the public, summed up by Tom Wells' statement in The War Within, "No evidence has ever been produced for foreign communist involvement in the anti-Vietnam War Movement." Canfield makes short work of this claim by contrasting it in bare opposition to quotations from internal Communist conversations and documents, as well as sources such as the U.S. military, the FBI, and the CIA.
Canfield quotes from internal Soviet and Viet Cong directives, which say things such as, "The spontaneous antiwar movements in the US have received assistance and guidance from the friendly delegations at the Paris Peace Talks. . . The PCPJ. . .maintains relations with us." Placing quotes like this in context, he documents the activities of groups like the PCPJ (People's Coalition for Peace and Justice), a front group of the Communist Party used to influence ceasefire negotiations, POW negotiations, and protest actions. He also demonstrates the influence of foreign powers on U.S. domestic terrorist groups. For instance, he cites an FBI quotation of seized 1969 notes from Weathermen leader Bernadine Dohrn which reference a meeting in Cuba, saying, "We understood the reason the Vietnamese called the meeting was to get us moving against the war again." Canfield delves deep into the details of such connections, and for quick reference convenience, he provides a cast of characters, featuring spies, terrorists, antiwar activists, and fellow travelers who wittingly or unwittingly aided the enemy.
Canfield's general thesis of enemy influence on the antiwar movement is not new. It was explored and documented during the Vietnam War by published U.S. government security investigations he quotes, such as a 1971 House Committee on Internal Security investigation of the PCPJ. What is new is the degree of documentation Canfield delivers, supplemented by sources from U.S. and foreign archives that were not available during the war. Any historian wishing to counter his thesis has an uphill battle going forward. Most likely left-wing academics and the media will ignore it in the hope the facts will go away, but the Internet and the renewed determination of Vietnam veterans will make that harder than it was forty years ago.
How the Antiwar Movement Helped Lose Vietnam
Another contribution Canfield makes is demonstrating the role that the antiwar movement played in influencing ceasefire negotiations and blocking US aid to South Vietnam after the ceasefire. Received history tends to assume that the war was so unpopular in South Vietnam from the beginning it had no hope of victory. This is far from the military reality, and while victory was by no means a given without antiwar interference (some have argued that Nixon and Kissinger sacrificed victory in Vietnam for detente, hoping to achieve a truce modeled on Eisenhower's ceasefire in Korea), the actual record shows that South Vietnam at least stood a chance of survival until the U.S. Congress blocked the Ford administration from extending aid to the falling republic.
Canfield cites internal Soviet, North Vietnamese, and U.S. intelligence communications demonstrating that developments after the Tet Offensive such as Vietnamization and U.S. raids into Cambodia were causing the Viet Cong more grief than historians have acknowledged. While better publicized for stirring controversy in America, the Cambodian operations also secretly struck at Viet Cong morale, triggering desertions and causing the Soviet embassy in Hanoi to worry, "the intensification of hostilities in Laos and Cambodia. . .truly created an extremely difficult position in Vietnam. . .Our Vietnamese comrades. . .permitted a number of miscalculations. . ."
Canfield further shows how Hanoi used the PCPJ and other groups to push their peace terms during ceasefire negotiations. He quotes documents demonstrating that the same talking points urged by Hanoi's ambassador in Paris were echoed by the PCPJ and passed on to sympathetic political allies in the U.S, like George McGovern and Mark Hatfield. Deliberately violent demonstrations like May Day, Weathermen bombings, and kidnapping and assassination plots against politicians were timed to force U.S. concessions at the bargaining table and to discourage effective U.S. military actions such as air strikes. Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda's Indochina Peace Campaign (IPC) coordinated a lobbying effort to put Congressional pressure on the Nixon administration.
This last tactic proved a decisive blow when Congress voted in 1973 to cut off funding for U.S. military actions in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The concomitant ceasefire was premised on North Vietnam honoring the treaty terms, a commitment which predictably did not last long. As the conflict resumed, the IPC and its allies followed up by continuing to work with Hanoi to ensure that the Nixon and Ford administrations would be unable to resume U.S. aid to South Vietnam or extend it to other Communist bloc targets like Cambodia, Chile, or Angola. Nixon had secretly promised resumed aid to Saigon in the event the ceasefire failed, and requested $1.450 billion in renewed aid just before resigning from office. Influenced by the IPC lobby, Congress subsequently trimmed President Ford's request for $1 billion in emergency aid to besieged Saigon plus air and naval support down to $100 million. After Saigon fell, the antiwar movement also followed up to secure desired outcomes on other loose ends such as prisoner releases and amnesty for draft dodgers.
The War Is Not Over
As the end of the story illustrates, the influence of the movement Canfield chronicles did not end with the Vietnam War, and his book draws attention to some noteworthy connections between the tactics and networks employed by America's enemies then and now. Some of the highlights are summarized in his cast of characters, and many more are mentioned in passing in the body of the book. Here I will include just a few examples.
Bill Clinton's Vietnam antiwar activity is discussed and placed in context of the antiwar groups sponsoring the protests he organized and attended. Included is a detailed summary of Clinton's protest activity during his student days. Also mentioned in passing is Clinton and his future White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes assisting Sam Brown of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee (VMC) in Brown's IPC-assisted Operations Pursestrings effort to cut off Congressional funding for the Vietnam War. As this illustrates, the lobbying network created by the VMC, the IPC, and related groups would linger as a social network into the Clinton administration.
The continuing influence of John Kerry and the VVAW is another example of this that Canfield covers in detail. Canfield documents the VVAW's ties to Soviet and Vietnamese front groups, the Communist Party, and other Marxist groups. In this context, he explores Kerry's activity. Among other tidbits, he discusses Kerry's 1970 visit to the Paris peace talks, noting that Kerry's contact with the Vietnamese delegation was David Dellinger of the PCPJ. He cites several examples of Kerry continuing to speak on behalf of VVAW after his alleged "resignation" from the group following its discussion of plans to assassinate American politicians. He critiques in great detail Kerry's Senate war crimes testimony, along with the antiwar movement's related allegations. And he reviews Kerry's role in normalizing relations with Vietnam during later years.
With respect to Barack Obama, Canfield provides a brief but significant list of Vietnam antiwar leaders who supported the Obama Presidential campaign in 2008: "Bill Ayers, Noam Chomsky, Carl Davidson, Bernardine Dohrn, Thorne Dreyer, Terry Dubose, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard Flacks, Jane Fonda, Jon Frappier, Todd Gitlen, Al Haber, Tom Hayden, Howard Machtinger, John McAuliff, Jeff Jones, Mike Klonsky, Mark Rudd, Stanley Sheinbaum, Steve Tappis, Arthur Waskow, Quinton Young, and others."
Canfield's book was completed during the Iraq War, and it includes a list of Vietnam-era antiwar organizations that remained active during the Iraq antiwar movement: "From the Vietnam era United For Peace and Justice includes AFSC, Center For Constitutional Rights, Coalition for Peace and Justice, Communist Party, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, IPS, Fellowship of Reconciliation, National Lawyers League, Peace Action, Pledge of Resistance, Students for a Democratic Society, Unitarian Universalists, United Congregational Church, United Church for Christ, United States Student Association, Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against theWar, War Resisters League, and WILPF."
Expect these same names and groups to resurface as hot spots emerge in Iran or elsewhere. Canfield argues that the same tactics used against America during the Vietnam War era remain the standard method of operation for today's Jihadists and Chinese Communist agents, the latter a subject Canfield has also written extensively about. "Now Jihadist terrorists and Red China practice Hanois dau tranh franchise," he writes. "They operate near freely in the open stirring up dissent that they do not allow in their midst. When does dissent become treason?. . . Until we understand the political warfare of Vietnam and of the Jihadists we shall never achieve todays limited counter insurgency and counterintelligence goals let alone victory."
These are just a few highlights from the rich tapestry of detail included in Canfield's book. You will find much more in the complete book, available on his website at in PDF or CD-ROM formats http://americong.com/
The most important result of the Tet offensive was it made you deescalate the bombing and brought you to the negotiation table. It was therefore a victory .The war was fought on many fronts. At that time (Tet) the most important was American public opinion.
--A 1989 Safer interview of Giap, quoted in Howard Langer, The Vietnam War: An Encyclopedia of Quotations
Historian Clay Blair claimed that May was responsible for a major release of highly confidential military information during World War II, known as the May Incident. In that incident, U.S. submarines had been conducting a successful undersea war against Japanese shipping during World War II, frequently escaping Japanese anti-submarine depth charge attacks. However, the deficiencies of Japanese depth-charge tactics were revealed in a press conference held in June 1943 by Congressman May on his return from a war zone junket. At this press conference, May revealed the highly sensitive fact that American submarines had a high survival rate because Japanese depth charges were typically fuzed to explode at too shallow a depth. Various press associations sent this leaked news story over their wires and many newspapers (including one in Honolulu, Hawaii), published it.
It was subsequently discovered that Japanese naval antisubmarine forces were adjusting their depth charges to explode at a deeper depth. Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, commander of the U.S. submarine fleet in the Pacific, later estimated that May's security breach cost the United States Navy as many as ten submarines and 800 crewmen killed in action. A report from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Submarine Fleet determined that Japanese ASW forces failed to uncover the maximum test depth ability of U.S. fleet submarines during the war. However, the report made no finding as to whether Japanese ASW forces altered their depth charge attacks to deeper settings as a consequence of May's revelation to the press.
I wasn't familiar with this before you mentioned it, so I will need to follow up on that. Thanks for drawing my attention to it!
That’s the one.
And ever since then, members of our government have had a grand time selling us out to the press for “atta boys” as they turn around and sell us out to the enemy.
True all of that. Nor do I know the whole story, but the impression only gets stronger with all of the seemingly unconnected parts. I don’t like to think poorly of a fellow alumnus, but everyone’s human. Peace.