This panel discussion on the Ken Burns Vietnam Documentary was hosted by the Joan Duffy Chapter of Veterans for Peace in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Although it was held back on October 15, 2017, we believe it’s an important take on the Burn’s series.
Toward an honest commemoration of the American War in Vietnam
The Full Disclosure campaign is a Veterans For Peace effort to speak truth to power and keep alive the antiwar perspective on the American war in Viet Nam — which is being commemorated during this decade with a series of 50th anniversary events. Full Disclosure represents a clear alternative to the Pentagon’s current efforts to sanitize and mythologize that war, and to thereby legitimize further unnecessary and destructive wars.
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1972: 50 Years Ago
January Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, Minnesota Senators Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy announce their candidacy for the Presidency (South Dakota Senator George McGovern had declared a year earlier). Muskie (the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate in 1968) calls for total withdrawal of US troops. Humphrey takes a more muddled position. McCarthy carried on his antiwar politics from his 1968 candidacy.
January 1 133,000 U.S. servicemen remain in South Vietnam. Two thirds of America’s troops have left in the previous two years. The ground war is now almost exclusively the responsibility of South Vietnam, which has over 1,000,000 men enlisted in its armed forces.
January 13 Nixon announces new troop withdrawals (70,000 are withdrawn leaving 69,000 ground forces after July 1) and reveals that there are secret talks being conducted with the North Vietnamese, and discloses his peace proposals.
January 22 Military agreement between DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in advance of Nixon’s visit to Beijing.
January 25 Nixon divulges the secret negotiations that had been carried on between Kissinger and DRV representatives, including Le Duc Tho, since August of 1969.
New York Representative Shirley Chisholm announced she would run and became the first African-American woman to run for the Democratic or Republican Presidential nomination. Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink also announced she would run and became the first Asian American to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination
January 27-February 2 20th Plenum of the Vietnam Workers Party: abandonment of “economy of forces” implemented since 1968; instead accelerating military struggle in the South while building up defenses in the North
January 31 DRV proposes new 9-Point peace program, continuing to call for the withdrawal of U.S. and Allied troops from all of Indochina without condition. Hanoi also demanded the immediate resignation of the South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu (Nguyễn Văn Thiệu).
February 13 In Versailles, 800-1200 delegates from more than 80 countries (including 147 from the US) meet at the World Assembly for Peace and Independence of the Peoples of Indochina. Plans are developed for a six‐week campaign, beginning April 1, by peace groups in the United States to end the Indochina war.
February 21-28 Nixon visits the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). This is the culmination of secret diplomacy by Kissinger and, in part, aims to cut off China (and also the USSR) from the DRV. Nixon and Kissinger’s détente strategy is to exploit tension between the Soviet Union and China to undermine the Vietnamese resistance and to cushion the US from defeat in Vietnam. The presumption is that China and the Soviet Union will value relations with the US above support for revolutionary Vietnam. This strategy is successful in that both China and the Soviet Union pressure the Vietnamese to come to a negotiated settlement with the US. In the Shanghai communiqué issued at the end of the talks, the PRC restated its support for North Vietnam, while the United States steadfastly supported South Vietnam. The Shanghai communiqué sets the stage for a dramatic reversal in U.S. policy toward China. Since 1949, the United States had recognized the Nationalist regime on Taiwan as the government of China. It had consistently refused efforts to have the PRC government represented in the United Nations. After 1972, relations between the United States and the PRC began to warm. By the end of the Jimmy Carter’s Presidency (1977-81), the United States had—in one of the most surprising twists of the Cold War—severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and formally extended diplomatic recognition to the PRC.
March Formal peace talks in Paris are broken off.
March 29 166 people, many of them seminarians, are arrested in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for encircling the Federal Courthouse with a chain, to protest the trial of the Harrisburg Seven.
The Harrisburg Seven were a group of religious anti-war activists, led by Philip Berrigan, charged in 1971 in a failed conspiracy case in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, located at Harrisburg. The “Seven” were Berrigan, Sister Elizabeth McAlister, Rev. Neil McLaughlin, Rev. Joseph Wenderoth, Eqbal Ahmad, Anthony Scoblick, and Mary Cain Scoblick. They are charged with 23 counts of conspiracy including plans for kidnap and blowing up heating tunnels in Washington. Although the government spent $2 million on the Harrisburg Seven trial in 1972, it did not win a conviction. This was one of the first court case reversals suffered by the U.S. government. See entry for January 12, 1971.
March 30-July 1972 The PAVN (People’s Army of Viet Nam) and the NLF begin a major offensive. The goal of Easter Offensive, officially known as The 1972 Spring – Summer Offensive, (also called the Nguyen Hue (Nguyễn Huệ) offensive) was to win a decisive victory in 1972 or at least improve the revolutionary position for future peace talks. The 3-pronged attacks began in the north, center, and south of the country. Massed North Vietnamese Army artillery open a shattering barrage, targeting South Vietnamese positions across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Upwards of 20,000 PAVN troops cross the DMZ, forcing the South Vietnamese units into a retreat. The Southern defense is thrown into complete chaos. Intelligence reports had predicted a Northern attack, but no one had expected it to come across the DMZ. A week after the launch of the offensive, Nixon decides to respond with a massive air campaign against the North. The campaign was by far the largest and most comprehensive of the war, using a wide variety of aircraft as well as new ‘smart’ bombs. The US committed 74 tactical squadrons to the attack. In addition, six aircraft carriers were assigned to the bombing mission as well as over 100 B-52 bombers. For the first time, the US places mines in Haiphong Harbor to cut off the North Vietnamese from foreign support.
The South Vietnamese with heavy American air support are able to turn back the attack after a month and a half. The city of Loc Ninh (Lộc Ninh), located close to the Cambodian border subsequently became the capital of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRGSVN), a distinction it held until it was disbanded after the war. While US bombing and a stiffened ARVN defense was able to turn back the PAVN and NLF offensive, it remains politically impossible to reintroduce sufficient U.S. combat troops to stem the PAVN drive. With his policy of Vietnamization at stake, Nixon implements a massive buildup of air power in Southeast Asia and a broadening of the eligible targets.
2016 National Book Award Finalist, Viet Thanh Nguyen:
“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory . . . . Memory is haunted, not just by ghostly others but by the horrors we have done, seen, and condoned, or by the unspeakable things from which we have profited.”