President Lyndon Johnson and the
excerpted from the book
Lying for Empire
How to Commit War Crimes With
A Straight Face
by David Model
Common Courage Press, 2005, paper
During the early 19th century the French set their sights on Vietnam
and when diplomatic overtures failed, they opted for war. By 1893,
the French had conquered much of Southeast Asia including Vietnam,
Laos, and Cambodia. When the French began to plunder the wealth
of their new colonies, many resistance movements sprang up but
were quickly extinguished. In 1925, Nguyen Ai Quoc, later called
Ho Chi Minh, created a revolutionary movement to force the French
to leave Vietnam. His movement's struggle did not succeed until
after World War II.
Shortly after Ho Chi Minh's return to Vietnam on February 28,
1941, he created a broad front of patriots, peasants, workers,
merchants and soldiers soon to be called the Viet Minh. Their
purpose was to fight the Japanese and the French. In 1945, Ho
Chi Minh led the Viet Minh into Hanoi and demanded the abdication
of Bao Dai, who had been emperor of Vietnam since 1924. After
seizing power, Ho Chi Minh decreed the establishment of the Democratic
Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The DRV had only ruled Vietnam for
twenty days when French forces overthrew them and reestablished
In 1946, full-scale war broke out between
the French and the Viet Minh in Vietnam.
For one year, beginning in the autumn of 1945, Ho Chi Minh had
reached out to the United States and, invoking the principles
of the Atlantic Charter and the United Nations Charter, beseeched
the U.S. to at least to recognize them as a trusteeship under
the United Nations Charter.
Between 1946 and 1949, the United States was very ambivalent about
events in Vietnam. Roosevelt had been firmly committed to the
Atlantic Charter and viewed Vietnam as a flagrant example of colonial
exploitation but the U.S. had guaranteed the French that its colonies
would be returned after the war. The U.S. regarded the conflict
in Vietnam as a conflict to be resolved by the French. Although
the United States formally respected Vietnam's right to self-determination,
they refused to endorse Ho Chi Minh or the Viet Minh because of
Ho's communist affiliations.
The Viet Minh seemed to be gaining the military advantage over
the French in 1950 when Viet Minh forces scored a number of victories
along a string of French border posts. Becoming somewhat desperate,
the French requested United States military assistance on February
16, 1950. A memorandum to President Truman from the Secretary
of Defense, stated that:
... [the choice now] confronting the United States is to support
the legal government in Indochina or to face the extension of
Communism over the remainder of the continental area of Southeast
Asia and possibly westward...
Following a recommendation from the JCS
(Joint Chiefs of Staff), President Truman sent American bombers,
military advisors, technicians by the hundreds, and direct military
assistance which totaled $1.4 billion (the equivalent sum in 2005
would be approximately $6.5 billion).
While the Americans were providing aid to the French, China was
aiding North Vietnam. One of the foreign policy objectives of
the U.S. was to contain China in Korea and Southeast Asia. American
leaders feared that a negotiated settlement between the French
and the Viet Minh would leave the Viet Minh in power in Northern
Vietnam with strong ties to Communist China. In 1952, the U. S.
applied strong pressure on the French to cancel negotiations in
Burma with the Viet Minh resulting in a hasty French retreat.
The United States attempted to deter any further negotiations
between the French and Viet Minh by threatening to withdraw all
support and assistance from France.
As the war raged on and the Viet Minh
forces were threatening to defeat the French, the United States,
fearing a Communist victory, considered a number of options to
avert a catastrophe. The United States was not willing to accept
either a French loss or a negotiated settlement with North Vietnam.
Either option would have placed a key country in Southeast Asia
in jeopardy of communist control. The National Security Council
paper stated that:
It was U.S. policy to accept nothing short of a military victory
in Indo-China... [The] U.S. actively opposes any negotiated settlements
in Indo-China at Geneva.
The Security Council recommended that
the United States continue the war if the French were not capable
of defeating the Viet Minh. President Eisenhower contemplated
sending American troops to Vietnam but abandoned that option because
Congressional approval was problematic. The Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Radford, sent a message to the Secretary
of Defense, stating that "The employment of atomic weapons
is contemplated in the event that such a course appears militarily
advantageous." Two American aircraft carriers equipped with
atomic weapons steamed toward the Gulf of Tonkin.
On February 18, 1954, the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet
Union, and France announced that in late April, the above countries
and any other parties concerned would meet in Geneva in April
to seek a solution to the eight year conflict in Vietnam. Differences
among the allies appeared to be irresolvable. The Soviets, preoccupied
with domestic issues, were hoping for a reduction in
... During the Geneva Conference, the
interested parties to the conflict in Vietnam hammered out a set
of accords on July 21, 1954. To resolve the Vietnamese issues,
the Accords specified that:
* there would be a ceasefire in Vietnam;
* there would be a temporary division
of North and South Vietnam to be drawn at the 17" parallel;
* Ho Chi Minh and his government would
rule North Vietnam; o Ngo Dinh Diem would rule a non-communist
state in South Vietnam; o an election would be called in 1956
to allow the people to vote for the government of their choice
in a reunited Vietnam.
Both the United States and South Vietnam
refused to sign the Geneva Accords because American intelligence
reported that Ho Chi Minh would win an election in a united Vietnam.
Neither country was willing to risk a united communist Vietnam.
North Vietnam was very disposed to pursuing elections with South
Vietnam. President Eisenhower believed that in a vote in a united
Vietnam, 80% of the Vietnamese people would vote for Ho Chi Minh
as their great liberator.
Until 1965, the United States and the Diem government were waging
war against the people in South Vietnam. The enemy in South Vietnam
was anyone suspected of being a communist and all members of the
Viet Minh. People were rounded up and placed in reeducation centres
and prisons, villages were destroyed, and many suspects were murdered.
There was a swelling of hatred toward Diem and the Americans between
the years 1954 and 1961. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, in Manufacturing
Consent, document the repression by noting that:
With peaceful settlement successfully
deterred, the United States and its client regime turned to the
task of internal repression, killing tens of thousands and imprisoning
tens of thousands more. Diem supporter and advisor Joseph Buttinger
describes "massive expeditions" in 1956 that destroyed
villages, with hundreds of thousands of peasants killed, and tens
of thousands arrested by soldiers in regions "controlled
William Blum confirms the repression in
the south by noting that:
... [with] the elections cancelled, the
nation still divided, and Diem with his "mandate" free
to continue his heavy, tyrannical rule, the turn to violence in
South Vietnam became inevitable. As if in knowledge of and preparation
for this the United States sent 350 additional military men to
Saigon in May 1956, an "example of the U.S. ignoring the
Geneva Accords stated the Pentagon study." (Pentagon Papers)
Furthermore, Diem destroyed the traditional
autonomy enjoyed in the villages by abolishing village council
elections for fear that the Viet Minh might win. Diem endeavored
to destroy his enemies in the south by seeking out not only the
Viet Minh but also their supporters, arresting them, torturing
them, and frequently killing them. The campaign to eliminate his
enemies alienated the peasants even further because of the fact
that the Viet Minh implemented j more progressive agrarian policies.
The impact of the repressive measures and ineffective policies
was that the Diem government lost the support of the people in
South Vietnam. Philippe Devillers, in the Pentagon Papers, remarked
It was thus by its home policy that the
government of the South finally destroyed the confidence of the
population, which it had won during the early years, and practically
drove them into revolt and desperation. The nonCommunist (and
even the anti-Communist) opposition had long been aware of the
turn events were taking. But at the beginning of 1960 very many
elements, both civilian and military, in the Nationalist camp
came to a clear realization that things were moving from bad to
worse, and if nothing were done to put an end to the absolute
power of Diem, then Communism would end up gaining power with
the aid, or at least with the consent, of the population
Historian Arthur Schlesinger also reports
in the Pentagon Papers that:
Diem's authoritarianism, which increasingly
involved manhunts, political reeducation camps, and the "regroupment"
of population, caused spreading discontent and then armed resistance
in the countryside... few scholars believe that the growing resistance
was at the start organized or directed by Hanoi. Indeed, there
is some indication that the Communists at first hung back... it
was not until September, 1960 that the Communist Party of North
Vietnam bestowed its formal blessing and called for the liberation
of the south from American Imperialism.
Hatred of the United States was growing
as money, arms, and advisors poured into South Vietnam to bolster
the power of Diem. The Americans were perceived as just another
colonizer following in the boot prints of Japan and France.
At this point, the U.S. was in so deep,
and committed to rolling back what it called communism but which
was, in fact, a democratic expression of the Vietnamese people,
that it would have been virtually impossible for a U.S. president
to start telling the truth. The entire government apparatus was
built on a lie and for a president to take any position resembling
honesty would have been devastating to the general aims of U.S.
When J.F. Kennedy took office in 1961, conditions in Vietnam were
beginning to deteriorate. The impact of the war in Laos, the question
of assistance to South Vietnam, the increasing Buddhist riots,
and the problem of Diem's leadership converged to the point where
Washington was forced / to make some difficult decisions.
... The counter-insurgency war against
the guerillas in South Vietnam war doomed to failure unless the
rural population was brought under control because they provided
a base of support for the National Liberation Front and its military
wing, the People's Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). The GVN (Government
of South Vietnam) and the United States referred to the members
of these two groups as the Viet Cong. Viet Cong is the contraction
of the two Vietnamese words, "Vietnamese" and "Communists."
To gain control of the population, the GVN would gather people
from areas threatened by guerrillas and concentrate them in centralized
locations or fortified hamlets. Once physical security was established,
the peasants would then be the subjected to a pacification program
that was designed to encourage the peasants to identify with the
Diem government. The peasants were provided with materials to
build homes for themselves and to build fortifications for the
hamlet. This strategy of controlling the rural population was
called the Strategic Hamlet Program which could only succeed if
the peasants were willing to be transferred to these fortified
hamlets. When they resisted, the United States engaged in bombing
and defoliation to drive the peasants into the strategic hamlets.
(Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent) On August
1962, Diem produced his pacification program which included 2,500
completed hamlets and 2,500 more under construction.
The Strategic Hamlet and Pacification
programs failed because of the farmers' resentment of being displaced
from their land and forced to resettle in hamlets.
In April 1963, Diem banned the traditional Buddhist flag just
prior to a major festival to celebrate Buddha's birthday. There
were between three and four million practicing Buddhists in South
Vietnam and 80% of the population were nominal Buddhists (population
South Vietnam: 1011 million). Buddhists in Hue, the centre of
Buddhist learning, defiantly flew their flag despite the order.
The local administration's failure to take action encouraged them
to continue to fly their flags and, on May 8, Buddhists in Hue
met to celebrate Buddha's birthday with their flags held high.
Diem viewed the flags as a challenge to his authority and ordered
local authorities to disperse the crowds. When the local officials
needed assistance, government troops arrived and killed nine demonstrators
and wounded fourteen. Buddhists reacted by launching a nationwide
protest. On May 9, 10,000 people demonstrated in protest of the
killings. The rioting quickly spread from Hue to Saigon and became
a full-blown political crisis.
Kennedy gave Lodge a mandate to manage American policy in Vietnam
in other words, to support the coup plotters. On November 1, 1963,
General Minh executed coup against Diem who was murdered along
with his brother.
... Twenty-two days after the Diem coup,
J.F.K. was assassinated and VicePresident Johnson (L.B.J.) became
president. Three days after assuming the presidency, L.B. J. endorsed
the policies of his predecessor.
The theory that Kennedy was at least thinking
about withdrawing from Vietnam is entirely false. According to
Stanley Karnow in Vietnam: A History:
In April 1961, Kennedy created a "task
force" to prepare economic, social, political and military
programs aimed at preventing Communist "domination"
of South Vietnam... He agreed to send an additional hundred military
advisors to Vietnam... A11 the rhetoric now emanating from his
administration reiterated its resolve to stop Communism in Southeast
Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, in Manufacturing
Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, give a synopsis
of Kennedy's polices in South Vietnam claiming that:
The Kennedy administration escalated the
war in South Vietnam, engaging U.S. military forces directly in
bombing, defoliating, and "advising" combat troops from
1961 to 1962 as part of an effort to drive several million people
into concentration camps ("strategic hamlets")..."
Edward Herman, in Beyond Hypocrisy
... from our first entry in support of
the French, then with our imported leader "Diem", and
up to the time of the Paris Peace Agreement of 1973, we refused
to negotiate a political settlement because we had no political
base in Vietnam... South Vietnamese governments were installed
and overthrown by the United States until it had gotten into place
two former French mercenaries, Ky and Thieu who were willing to
fight until the end.
Not long after signing the Geneva Accords, the United States and
South Vietnam commenced a series of covert operations headed by
CIA agent Lucien Conein who trained squads of anti-communist South
Vietnamese. The operation involved assassinating and abducting
officials in the north, destruction of military installations,
establishing bases, organizing local cadres, and propaganda campaigns.
In 1964, the covert intelligence effort was code-named Operation
Plan 34A or 34 Alpha.
To intimidate the North Vietnamese, Washington ordered Commander
in I Chief Pacific Admiral Ulysses Grant Sharp, Jr. to station
a task group in the Gulf of Tonkin and conduct aerial reconnaissance.
The carrier Ticonderoga and the destroyer Maddox initiated the
naval operations. General William C. Westmoreland, the military
commander in South Vietnam, asked for and received the authority
to broaden the scope of the 34 Alpha operations by shelling radar
sites, defence posts, and other coastal targets. The new operation
commenced July 30-31 against Hon Me and Hon Ngu, two islands in
the Gulf of Tonkin.
In retaliation, on August 2, 1964, the
North Vietnamese conducted an attack against the Maddox during
which two North Vietnamese patrol boats were severely damaged
by the Maddox. Both patrol boats came under attacked by planes
from the Ticonderoga which sank one and further damaged the other.
On August 4, 1964, the National Security
Agency (NSA) warned the Maddox of another possible attack. An
hour after NSA's warning, the Maddox claimed that she had radar
contact with three or four unidentified vessels in the Gulf of
Tonkin. The pivotal incident, which had a critical impact on American
involvement in South Vietnam, occurred when, allegedly, the unidentified
vessels attacked the Maddox. The Ticonderoga launched aircraft
to assist the Maddox and C. Turner Joy but stormy seas, low clouds,
and thunderstorms thwarted any attempts by the American pilots
to locate any Vietnamese ships. Captain John J. Herrick, captain
of the Maddox, recommended a thorough investigation of reports
from the crew of radar contact, visual sightings, and weapons
fire which could have been attributable to the stormy seas, darkness,
and inexperienced, nervous crewmen. There was no damage as a result
of these alleged attacks.
Despite the request for an investigation
by Captain Herrick who was not convinced that there was a second
attack, Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara reported to Congress
that there was "unequivocal proof" of a second "unprovoked
attack" on U.S. ships. McNamara's account was backed by the
administration including President Johnson. As well as lying about
the Gulf of Tonkin incident, McNamara denied any American involvement
in South Vietnamese operations including 34 Alpha and the DeSoto
Since then, McNamara has admitted that
his statements regarding the Gulf of Tonkin were false. According
to Captain Ronnie E. Ford, in Shedding New Light on the Gulf of
Former Secretary of Defence McNamara recently
visited Hanoi, where he met with Communist Vietnamese Senior General
Vo Nguyen Giap. McNamara also invited the Vietnamese to participate
in a conference of top Vietnam War decision-makers to, according
to press reports of the visit, "correct the historical record."
During his visit, Giap told McNamara that "absolutely nothing"
happened on August 4, 1964. McNamara later endorsed this statement
by his former adversary.
President Johnson exploited the Gulf of Tonkin incident t1 ask
Congress to pass a resolution authorizing him to declare war on
North Vietnam and conduct the war as he saw fit without approval
from Congress. Congress overwhelmingly approved the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution which allowed the President "to promote the maintenance
of international peace / and security of Southeast Asia."
On August 4, 1964, President Johnson delivered a speech to the
American people explaining what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin
and his proposed response. In his speech, he stated that:
Renewed hostile actions against United
States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today
required me to order the military forces of the United States
to take action in reply. The initial attack on the destroyer Maddox,
on August 2, was repeated today by a number of hostile vessels
attacking two U.S. destroyers with torpedoes... repeated acts
of violence against the Armed Forces of the United States must
be met not only with alert defense, but with positive reply...
Aggression by terror against the peaceful villagers of South Vietnam
has now been joined by open aggression against the United States
of America... (Department of Communication at Texas A & M
Based on a lie, Congress had given Johnson
the authority to conduct the war as he saw fit, another example
of "lying for empire." Following the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution there was a massive build-up of U.S. forces in Vietnam,
eventually to 550,000 people, a massive escalation of the war
which posed a myriad of risks given the tensions of the Cold War
and the conflicts in other countries in Southeast Asia.
William Blum, in Killing Hope, states
Perhaps the most significant fabrication
was that of the alleged attack in August 1964 on two US destroyers
in the Tonkin Gulf off the coast of North Vietnam. President Johnson
used the incident to induce a resolution from Congress to take
"all necessary steps, including the use of armed forces"
to prevent further North Vietnamese aggression... Serious enough
doubts were raised at the time about the reality of the attack,
but over the years other information has come to light which has
left the official story in tatters.
The ... purpose of the bombing was to defoliate South Vietnam.
American troops were not as skilled at fighting guerrilla warfare
as the Viet Cong forcing American policymakers to shift the war
from jungle warfare to conventional warfare by destroying the
jungle. Destroying vegetation also destroyed rice and deprived
the enemy of a major source of food. The main herbicide defoliant
was called Agent Orange which is highly toxic to humans. Approximately
20 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed in Southeast Asia.
Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, in Manufacturing
... The combined ecological, economic,
and social consequences of the wartime defoliation operations
have been vast and will take several generations to reverse"...
there is no way to estimate the human effects of the chemical
poison dioxin at levels "300 to 400% greater than the average
levels obtaining among exposed groups in North America."
The damage caused in the south included
9000 hamlets, 25 million acres of farmland, 12 million acres of
forest, one-and-a-half-million dead cattle, the creation of one
million widows, and approximately 800,000 orphans.
Agent Orange is a chemical weapon and
clearly qualifies as a weapon of mass destruction. It was also
aimed primarily at foliage in the jungle which is clearly a civilian
target. Many civilians died or were severely burned by Agent Orange
and many American soldiers who had handled the defoliant experienced
effects many years later. Therefore, the use of Agent Orange,
authorized by President Johnson on March 9, 1965, was a war crime.
It should also be noted that this weapon of mass destruction was
used in South Vietnam against the people whom the United States
were supporting in this war.
Napalm, a sticky substance which disperses
over a wide area and ignites, was another chemical used to defoliate
the jungles in South Vietnam. Edward Herman, in Beyond Hypocrisy,
refers to the effects as follows:
it burns at 800 to 1300 degrees centigrade
and may continue to bum for fifteen minutes, causing deep, severe
bums with a very high death rate-about half of those wounded by
napalm die from the burns. Among those suffering phosphorus bums,
about three fourths die ...
The Vietnam War caused massive destruction to the land, factories,
and infrastructure of North and South Vietnam. It was also devastating
to Cambodia and Laos. The estimated death toll in South Vietnam
was over 3 million and in North Vietnam over 30,000. By way of
comparison, U.S. casualties, though devastating, were far smaller
in number. The number of U.S. troops stationed in Vietnam was
540,000. American deaths numbered 58,152, those seriously wounded,
Headquarters for the Viet Cong was suspected
of being situated in Cambodia and the Ho Chi Minh trail, which
was located in Laos and Cambodia, was used for troop movements
and supply routes. The United States, in attempting to destroy
these targets, was responsible for the death of another one million
people, bringing the total death toll for Indochina to over four
million. Tens of millions of people in Indochina were displaced
from their homes. People are still suffering the effects of the
war as Noam Chomsky points out in Necessary Illusions:
Thousands of Vietnamese still die from
the effects of American chemical warfare." He [Amnon Kapeliouk]
reports estimates of one-quarter of a million victims in South
Vietnam in addition to the thousands killed by unexploded ordinance...
Kapeliouk describes the "terrifying" scenes in hospitals
in the South with children dying of cancer and hideous birth deformities...
Dr. Le Cao Dai, a Hanoi surgeon, and other
doctors observed the effects of Agent Orange and its impact on
people and the environment. They concluded that the millions of
gallons of Agent Orange that poured down on South Vietnam during
the Vietnam War caused liver and other cancers, immune-deficiency
diseases, miscarriages, birth defects and persistent malaria.
Vietnamese estimates show that 400,000 people have been killed
or injured by Agent Orange and it has contributed to the birth
defects of 500,000 children. (Robert Dreyfuss, Mother Jones)
Many of the 2.6 million U.S. vets who
served in Vietnam have complained about a litany of ailments that
have been traced to exposure to Agent Orange. The Department of
Veterans Affairs agreed to compensate 270,000 vets registered
with the Veteran Affairs Agent Orange Program for respiratory
cancers, soft tissue sarcoma, prostate cancer and skin diseases.
(Robert Dreyfus, Mother Jones)
The multiplicity of lies and war crimes
of a number of presidents that were needed to defend the American
sphere of influence in South-East Asia resulted in widespread
and massive destruction in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. President
Johnson contributed his share.