I grew up in the 1960s, watching news reports about the Vietnam War. I was encouraged every night because of the body counts. One day there would be a battle where we (the U. S.) lost 2 marines, and our allies (South Vietnam (SVA)) lost 10 soldiers, but the enemy (North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC)) lost 40 soldiers. The next day, in another battle, we lost only 15 soldiers and the SVA lost 75 men, but the NVA / VC lost 300 men. Although I had family members fighting there, I quickly became numbed to losing 15 soldiers, especially when the enemy lost 300. I got caught up in their game of numbers. I heard these news reports daily about how we were winning the war, day after day, year after year. We didn’t realize, even while this was happening, that we would lose an average of 15 soldiers every single day for ten years.
We praised President Nixon for withdrawing our 500,000 troops, and within two years, South Vietnam fell to the communists. Well, we didn’t win that war. We lost it. Nixon made us feel like we had won by getting (a good number of) our POWs back. Our government and military officials knew for 20 years that we wouldn’t win, but their lying and poor judgment kept us encouraged; that is, until we had lost 58,000 men–then we realized that something fishy was going on.
In 1954, President Eisenhower said, of Vietnam, that “No military victory is possible in this theater.” At the same time, he explained his falling domino principle. At a time when we were all scared to death of communists, he said that if one nation fell to communism, then the next one would fall, and the next one, until the last one fell. In 1957, he said that if South Vietnam fell, “… our prestige in Asia would sink to a new low.”
Then President Kennedy said that if South Vietnam fell, then Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even India would fall to the communists. He used this argument to scale up the war by increasing the number of advisors in Vietnam to 16,000, while being careful to refer to them as “advisors” instead of “combat troops,” even though they were going into combat with the SVA. In 1962, to defend the administration’s decisions for sending so many troops, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said that we were making “substantial progress” in Vietnam. Also that year, General Harkins ignored any negative reports from the combat zones, and he said that we would be victorious in six months.
Still, in 1963, President Kennedy contradicted his own actions by referring to the Vietnam War as “their war,” meaning that it was up to the South Vietnamese to fight it, and we couldn’t be expected to fight it for them. Also that year, he said that he should not have given his consent to support the coup which resulted in the death of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
In 1964, President Johnson said privately that the war wasn’t worth fighting for. Knowing that he would not win the presidential election if he escalated the war, he said, “We still seek no wider war.” Still, he quietly increased the number of “advisors” to 23,000, and he widened the war with the systematic bombing of North Vietnam in secret, keeping the American people unaware of it. Then, after the election, he announced “a graduated response” against the enemy.
In 1965, in an effort to avoid humiliation, President Johnson sent 100,000 combat troops to Vietnam. He would send more and more combat troops into a war that he was secretly told couldn’t be won. Eventually, we would lose 58,000 men in our losing effort. Like today’s leaders, he blamed bad intelligence. In public, he unsuccessfully tried to shift Americans’ attention from the war in Vietnam to his war on poverty, but he eventually lost both.
While the people in charge knew we were losing the war, General Westmoreland publicly declared that we were “on the five yard line,” about to win the war. He said that he was sure we would win the war in three years, if he could get just 200,000 more troops. He pointed to the 10-to-1 kill ratio where for every American who died, we killed ten of the enemy. As I stated above, this worked to fool me, and millions of other Americans. McNamara privately knew by this time that we wouldn’t be able to win the war that he had escalated. Yet, publicly he said that our “military progress exceeded expectations,” and, “We will prevail.”
LBJ thought that all anti-war sentiment was directly inspired by internal communists and the U.S.S.R. CBS aired Morley Safer’s report showing how bad things were on the battlefields. LBJ’s response was to place a disparaging phone call to the president of CBS. LBJ said that Safer was probably a communist.
By 1967, LBJ had more than a half-million troops in Vietnam, and still the public was caught up in the numbers game, where we always killed more of the enemy than we lost. In public, he said that we were making “dramatic progress,” but privately he knew he couldn’t win the war, and that every soldier we lost was in vain. He told the American people, “The grip of the Viet Cong on the people is being broken.” He claimed that we were reaching the crossover point, where the enemy could no longer replace their dead soldiers as fast as we killed them. Meanwhile, no victory seemed to matter, and lower officers were saying, “Victory is not close at hand. In fact, it may be beyond reach. LBJ complained that the war in Vietnam was taking him away from social programs at home, such as the war on poverty.
In 1968, LBJ publicly said that the “enemy has been defeated in battle after battle.” Yet he knew that all of those battle victories would not result in a war victory. He said privately that the bombing of North Vietnam wasn’t working. That year, Westmoreland said that he had “never been more optimistic” and that we were making “real progress.”
Then we began hearing reports about our own officers condoning U. S. soldiers who were raping, mutilating, and murdering women and children. We learned more about the misconduct of our soldiers and officers during the Me Lai Massacre, and that they had lied about it.
LBJ’s claim of victory in the Tet Offensive showed how we had been lied to. Americans began to ask: If we won the Tet Offensive, then why did we need 200,000 more troops in Vietnam? LBJ had so mismanaged the presidency: by sucking Americans into his war effort that he knew we couldn’t win; by sending 2.5 million boys to war; and, by watching and allowing 58,000 of them to be killed. As a result, he withdrew from seeking re-election in 1968 because he had no chance to win.
McNamara became so disillusioned with the war, and so sure that we couldn’t win it, that he quit his Secretary of Defense job and headed the world bank–all put into a positive light by LBJ and other politicians. LBJ’s new Secretary of State, Clark Clifford, also said privately that we could not win the war.
Then, three days before the presidential election of 1968, Richard Nixon underhandedly caused the South Vietnamese to boycott the peace talks. Once elected, Nixon secretly bombed Cambodia. In 1969, he privately agreed that military victory in Vietnam was impossible. In negotiating our withdrawal from Vietnam, Nixon appeased President Thieu of South Vietnam by assuring him that we would re-enter the war if South Vietnam was invaded–obviously a promise he never meant to keep.
Most of this proved to be endless lying. This taught me that we can’t trust the U. S. government. So, when we went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, I didn’t believe what the politicians said. When they sent “advisors,” I knew what they were doing. They continually said that we were winning these wars–drawn out for 17 years now, and with some 35,000 casualties, and costing $150 million a year. It appears that all presidents lie, whether Democrat or Republican. And with our presidents as our role models, the lying extends to the Cabinet, Congress, the media, military officers, and even enlisted men.