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 (1946-1999) Other 20th Century Battles
AuthorMessage
John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
"Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 7/28/2015 12:00:41 AM
Realistic look at the ARVN and the military and political decisions of both North and South and the impact of the political "climate" in the US.(IMHO) Is also really hard on the Paris Accords because of the position it left S Vietnam especially without Nixon's promised support. Not easy on S Vietnam's leadership and their decisions during the period but nothing like the common held beliefs. Touches on the post war "re-education camps" and the fact that the last two ARVN Generals weren't released until 1992 and the the large majority of officers from major and above weren't released until 1987. Also identifies the North's main agent to be a NCO assigned to the JGS(Joint General Staff). Anybody else read this or want to discuss?
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/4/2016 7:36:52 PM
John, I just started reading Black April. It looks promising, and probably builds on Sorley's "A Better War." Will post more later.

scoucer
Berlin, Germany
Posts: 1980
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/5/2016 6:15:32 PM
Thanks John.Definitely on my (much too long) reading list. I'd be very much interested in what is slowly coming out in vietnamese sources.

Trevor
---------------
`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie

Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/19/2016 12:44:14 AM
Tom,

Have you finished? What did you think?
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


BWilson
, Posts: 3702
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/22/2016 6:36:10 AM
John,

 Ran across this, one of the many forgotten aspects of the war. I agree with Bolté's final comment in the article.


Quote:
In May 1967 an organization known as CORDS—Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support—was formed to coordinate the U.S. civil and military pacification programs.


[Read More]

Cheers

BW
---------------
With occasional, fatigued glances at life's rear-view mirror from the other side of time.

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/22/2016 2:12:11 PM
BW,

I don't disagree with the final comment but one of the points that I believe "Black April" tries to make is that the US trained portion of the ARVN officer corps was just starting to gain the upper hand and take command to the army at least at the tactical level near the end.

Plus I'm not sure if US public opinion would have allowed for US command of the ARVN.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/22/2016 6:08:52 PM

Quote:
Tom,

Have you finished? What did you think?
--John R. Price


John, I recently finished reading Louis Fortescue's memoir "Service with the Signal Corps" which I recommend for anyone interested in the intelligence operations side of the war. Am now about 2/3rds of the way through Shultz and Mingus's "The Second Day at Gettysburg."

I have only read the intro and part of the first chapter of Black April, but like what I see thus far. From the introduction, it appears the book will verify long held views that Congress undermined any chance SVN could hold out against the NVN invasion after withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1973. The failure to provide the necessary means in dollars and equipment to SVN led to rapid collapse of its ability to stand up to full scale invasion. Things might have been different if Nixon was not forced to resign. Without him there was little if any hope that the necessary support would be forthcoming for SVN to make an effort to survive.

It will be interesting to read George Vieth's take on how this all played out. He certainly dismisses the myth that the VC were an independent force opposed to the SVN government. The VC were part and parcel of the communist apparatus masterminded by the Hanoi government from the outset, despite the anti-war faction's claim to the contrary.

Will post more later.

Regards, Tom

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/22/2016 10:43:54 PM
Tom,

You have to love the story about the misfire of the APC recoilless rife due to a broken firing pin with no spare at the main gate of the ARVN compound in Ban Me Thuot as a clue for the direction the book is heading. While I think he paints Congress as the base from which everything snowballs I also think he spreads the blame pretty well and paints a realistic picture from both sides.

Edit I don't want to go too far in my comments because I really think the book is very informative and a good read. Don't want to spoil it
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


BWilson
, Posts: 3702
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/26/2016 1:31:23 AM
 Without having read the book, I will nonetheless offer a couple of thoughts.

 The ARVN, in one sense, shares an unfortunate characteristic with France's army of 1940. This characteristic is that both are seen as doomed forces because of the tendency of people to view events in hindsight. To paraphrase Patton, they lost, and no one gives a hoot in Hell for an army that failed to prevent the conquest of their homeland.

 But hindsight can be misleading. In the case of the ARVN, we witnessed the struggle to generate a competent force by a newly independent country invaded from without and beset by insurrection from within. The ARVN, in other words, never got any breathing space. That the ARVN developed as much as it did, considering the ongoing struggle, may in fact be one of the minor miracles of the Vietnam War. Of course, we needn't hold our breath waiting on the regime in Hanoi to acknowledge, that the RVN made what was not so much a wholly incompetent attempt, as one that was actually typical for minor Asian powers at the time.

 Why typical? Because, if one recalls the Korean War, the ROK Army was pretty much an awful force until near the war's end. Had Seoul had only the ROK Army to defend their country, all of Korea would be communist today. But where the history of the ROK Army and the ARVN diverge is that in Korea's case, the UN was able to force a cease-fire and thwart the communist attempt at conquest. From 1953 forward, the ROK Army, and ROK society, had the breathing room to organize themselves competently. Today, the ROK Army bears no resemblance to the corrupt and incompetent force it was in 1950. Had the RVN and the ARVN been able to enjoy enough years in peace, it is quite possible that an RVN of today would bear more resemblance to the ROK than the regime in Saigon that was defeated by the NVA in 1975.

 The historiography of the Vietnam War is long overdue for its own revolution. For too long, the narrative of Hanoi and the narrative of those in the USA who opposed the war has held almost unchallenged sway. One of the worst aspects of these narratives is the assumption that the Saigon regime and its army were so incompetent that the outcome of the war was predetermined. I would point out that in war, nothing is predetermined, and the facile acceptance of this view by academics in the West who should know better only points out how effective the propaganda of Hanoi was, and remains.

Cheers

BW
---------------
With occasional, fatigued glances at life's rear-view mirror from the other side of time.

wazza
Sydney , Australia
Posts: 359
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/26/2016 3:17:47 PM
Good post BW.
Its a point we should take on board regarding some blanket statements made regarding the efforts of the ARVN and the circumstances they endured in the early 70's.

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/26/2016 11:28:25 PM
BW,

Good post with a lot of good points. The thing that I found most interesting is a degree of admiration from at least some of Hanoi's leadership for the fight the ARVN made. The one quote basically said the proof was in the number of NVA casualties.

I also think that the book leans toward the idea that the outcome was predetermined but not for the reason of incompetence but by the conditions and handicaps imposed by the Paris Accords and the abandonment by the US Congress.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 2/26/2016 11:44:36 PM


"Back then I told people, 'If anyone says that we attacked and captured Saigon without breaking a single light, I will give him a shovel and have him dig the graves of our dead." Major General Hoang Dan Deputy Commander of the PAVN 2nd Corps.

"The entire division (including attached units) suffered more than 400 casualties. The number demonstrates that the attack to liberate Saigon was not conducted down a 'red carpet" laid out for us by the enemy, as many people mistakenly believe." Senior Colonel Ho De, Commander 10th Division.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 3/4/2016 9:49:21 PM
Just started reading "The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam" by Geoffrey Shaw. Finally a book that tells the truth about what took place back then, and how the Kennedy administration got it so wrong. This is a prelude to Black April, and I will finish reading before picking up with Black April again. It appears obvious that the Americans repeated the same type of mistakes in their policies toward both the Diem and Thieu administrations.

Shaw's book puts to rest the unsubstantiated propaganda that reporters Halberstam and Sheehan perpetrated on the American public that influenced the Kennedy admins policies during the Diem years.

Tom

tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 5/23/2016 4:38:07 PM
Been reading the book a few pages at a time, and have reached page 165. What stands out thus far, besides the hypocrisy of the U.S. Congress in its failure to support the GVN following the American withdrawal in Jan. 1963, is the dedication and professionalism of both the ARVN and the PAVN forces in this struggle. The image drawn by most American reporters in Vietnam of the South Vietnamese military was that of a cowardly, incompetent army that refused to fight.

Black April paints an entirely different story, and verifies the willingness of the SVN troops to fight and die for their freedom. The in-depth research that went into this book reinforces the narrative of the action that took place, and the conclusions the author reached about how both sides performed.

What stands out thus far is the sophisticated intelligence operations conducted by the PAVN that gave them advantages in both strategic planning and tactical implementation. Also, they used deception particularly well often based on knowledge of the enemy's plans gathered by spies within the ARVN or GVN organization, and by intercepts and captured documents.

I have not gotten to the section on reeducation camps as yet, but I met a former ARVN officer who spent eight years in one of these camps. He did not say much about his experience, except that it was pretty bad. Another Vietnamese person I met recently is the son of an ARVN colonel who was killed in the war. The son speaks highly of his father's service. The impression I get is that these Vietnamese survivors are dismayed about the Communist takeover of Vietnam, but are proud of their effort to prevent this from happening.

More later.

Tom

scoucer
Berlin, Germany
Posts: 1980
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 5/23/2016 8:56:11 PM
Thanks Tom.

Be glad to hear anything you've got to say.

Trevor
---------------
`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie

Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 5/24/2016 12:12:19 AM
Tom,

Not really that much about the reeducation camps. The "Aftermath" section is less than 10 pages long. I believe that the longest time was reserved for the most competent senior officers and I want to say that 92 was when the last senior officers were released.

I agree its a entirely different story but I also don't think he whitewashes the shortcomings of the ARVN nor the mistakes that contributed to defeat. IMO your just starting to get into the "meat" of the book.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 5/25/2016 9:33:27 AM
This conversation prompted me to go back to some papers that I wrote for classes I was taking in the 1960's and 1970's on the subject of Indochina in general and Vietnam in particular.

One paper dated January 1966 is titled "The Ngo Dinh Diem Administration: Its Conflict With the Buddhists." It includes a supplement titled "Selected Excerpts from Writings Depicting the Personal and Political Philosophy of Ngo Dinh Diem." In general, this paper provides a favorable look at what Diem was attempting to accomplish in Vietnam, and what he already had accomplished. I recall that my instructor was somewhat perplexed about the favorable tone of the paper, given that news reports coming out of Vietnam had been for the most part unfavorable about the Diem administration.

Another one dated Fall 1977 is titled "Ideology, Pragmatism, and the Future of Vietnam: An Analysis of Conflict and Decision-making in the Vietnamese Communist Party." This covers the birth and development of the Vietnamese Communist Party from the French colonial period up through the Vietnam war and it aftermath.

I plan to contact the Vietnam Project at Texas Tech University, and offer copies of these papers to them for their collection. They may find them of some interest.

Tom

Michigan Dave
Muskegon, Michigan, MI, USA
Posts: 3046
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 12/21/2016 8:23:25 PM
These guys would of helped!

[Read More]

Those last few evacuated troops leaving Saigon by helicopter,

definitely had a major scare!
---------------
"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 1/27/2017 10:14:02 AM
Dave,

Those last few evacuated troops leaving Saigon by helicopter,

definitely had a major scare!

I'm not sure what your getting at here? Were there any Army troops with the fleet in the South China Sea? I don't believe so.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 11/26/2017 3:08:20 PM
Finally finished reading "Black April." An outstanding piece of research and writing. Having spent a good portion of my early adult life working the Vietnam problem, I agree with George Veith's conclusions about what caused South Vietnam to fall into the hands of the communists. The villain of the piece was the U.S. Congress that gave in to the war protestors, and reduced before virtually eliminating financial and moral support for the South Vietnamese government.

The beginning of the downfall, however, was when JFK agreed to depose Ngo Dinh Diem as president, which led to his assassination. LBJ then made the gross mistake of taking over the war from the Vietnamese. And, finally, after Nixon had righted the ship to a great extent, his personal demise led to incompetence on the part of his successor and the wrongheadedness of Congress led by left-wing ideologues.

A sad story indeed.
Tom

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 11/26/2017 5:56:15 PM
Tom,

I'd love for you to expand on your thoughts on Diem. Personally I think a "strongman" along the lines of Rhee was what the situation called for but I think his family was not ever going to play well in the US press. That throughout the life of South Vietnam the US and to a certain degree the world press had unrealistic expectation of and set unattainable benchmarks of progress for the government of South Vietnam and those perceptions influenced public opinion which influenced governmental policy.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 12/1/2017 12:28:07 PM
John, my interest and involvement in the Vietnam situation began in the late 1950's, so I was able to observe what was going on there about the same time the American involvement was beginning to expand. My impression was, and still is, that Diem did a yeoman's job of pulling South Vietnam together as an independent country. Once the VC started to undermine security by attacking villages in the countryside, the solution of creating strategic hamlets was working well, and the people generally realized that they were necessary in order to insure security.

The Achilles heel was the porous Cambodian border, which unfortunately became a cause celebre from an international point of view.

Diplomatically, the biggest problem was that the U.S. State Department was reading the New York Times articles sent in by David Halberstam and others. He personally did more to undermine the Diem administration than any of the policies that Diem instituted in South Vietnam.

From my perspective, if the American government would have been willing to provide moral and financial support and not interfere with what Diem was hoping to achieve, eventually there would have been a standoff similar to what exists in the Korean situation which has lasted all these years.

The hardliners in the State Department misled Kennedy and undermined the Diem administration, eventually leading to chaos and the downfall of South Vietnam.

If the U.S. government would have been wise enough to not get directly involved in the governmental decisions South Vietnam, as well as essentially taking over the military responsibilities on the ground, and if they worked diplomatically with other nations to close the Cambodian border to infiltration from North Vietnam, I think South Vietnam would still be live and well to this day.

Tom

P.S. Given that JFK and the State Dept. sanctioned the overthrow and, in effect, the assassination of Diem and his brother Nhu in November 1863, it is ironic that three weeks later JFK suffered the same fate.

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 12/3/2017 3:00:31 AM
Tom,

I'm kind of split on this. To a large part I agree that Diem did a pretty good job up to a point and that the press did a hell of a lot to undermine Diem but I also think he made his fair share of mistakes. His handling of the Buddhist Crisis was idiotic. I understand it in large part was fermented by the communists but still there were valid concerns and once started his hard line played right into communists hands. Then loyalty and family connection rather than competency being the path to position and promotion was turning the officer corps and fermenting corruption and incompetence in the governmental bureaucracy. If you are going to be a strongman you need the officer corps and army behind you and he lost them so I'm not sure any amount of moral and financial support from the US is going to save him. But maybe a few less signals that they wouldn't object to a coup might have helped him and a definitive statement to the plotters that we didn't want him dead would have saved his life. I think Diem should have taken a little more advice from the US and maybe given in a little to the Buddhist demands if only to placate the officer corps and army which was predominantly Buddhist.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 12/3/2017 8:33:29 PM
John, I would have to go back and take another look at the Buddhist crisis, because the details have faded quite a bit. But, my sense is that Diem was caught in a "damned if you do; damned if you don't" situation. Also, I look upon that standoff as an internal issue that needed to be hashed out by the South Vietnamese people.

Even after Diem and family left the scene, the media continued pounding on whoever was in office, and they found another "bad guy" in Thieu when he gained power. Both Diem and Thieu were strongmen in their own way, and could have fought off the insurgency and the invasion with proper support -- or at least made it much harder for the North to gain control.

Another interesting aspect is that in war the side that has the best intelligence gathering system usually comes out the winner. The North had infiltrated the South's military command at the highest level, and that, I believe, was a direct result of the U.S. pulling out and no longer giving close operational support to the South Vietnamese army. Black April pointed out how intel coming out of SVN headquarters to the North influenced the outcome of battles on a number of occasions after the final invasion got underway in earnest.

I nominate the U.S. Democrat-controlled Congress as the villain in the piece. It was a heart-breaking experience to watch what was taking place toward the end; and, as I recall, most of the people in Congress did not give a damn -- despite millions of people being trapped behind the bamboo curtain, and many would pay a high price for their role in the resistance.

A family member married a Vietnamese girl whose uncle had been a SVN officer. He spent eight years in one of the "reeducation camps."

Tom

John R. Price
Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA
Posts: 556
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 12/6/2017 4:37:13 AM
Tom,

But it is in large part how Diem handled the Buddhist Crisis that prompted the coup in large part. Its not like JFK initiated the planning of the coup he only let it be known that if there was a coup the US would still support the new government. Look I agree that US reporting of Diem didn't help but he should have at least tried to be seen as negotiating and he shouldn't have and didn't need to use the army in his crackdown which went beyond targeting the Buddhist.

I agree completely that the press never was too hard on the ARVN basically throughout. I also agree that properly supported and advised the ARVN was a lot better than the very large majority give them credit. But where we differ is I'm not sure Diem was willing to accept much advice.

No sure that the US leaving matters. If I'm not mistaken the main spy was a ARVN senior NCO assigned to the ARVN Joint Chiefs of Staff basically from the start.

In the book yes but in a larger sense it was the press who shaped public opinion to elect that Congress.

I think all the anti-war crowd should sit down and have a long talk with a survivor of one of those camps and a survivor of a boat ride in the South China Sea.
---------------
A battle long forgotten by our country in a war never understood by our country.
"to satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds, in the name of destiny and in the name of God"


tom ryan
Bethany Beach, DE, USA
Posts: 108
Re: "Black April The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975"
Posted on: 12/7/2017 3:26:16 PM
Although my views on the VN situation may seem to some to be irrational or at least hard to justify, after focusing on the Vietnamese people and the war itself for the better part of 20 years (1957-1975) and having studied the language at Monterey for a year, my sense is that if the U.S. continued its role as military advisor and financial supporter, and allowed Diem to work his way through the domestic issues while coping with the insurrection and, at times, the invasion from the North, I think he had a decent chance of maintaining control of the South.

Diem in many ways was a lot like Ho Chi Minh -- both were dedicated to their country and to their people. Ho adopted communism as a method to achieve independence, but many Vietnamese, especially the Catholics, did not want to live under a totalitarian system that confiscated private property. Diem undoubtedly would have preferred a united Vietnam, but under a nationalist system. In the situation that existed after defeating the French, however, the only viable option was to focus on South Vietnam, and work hard to prevent a communist takeover.

The people in this country were woefully in the dark about Vietnam and the Vietnamese people, and had a difficult time relating to what was taking place over there. That is why an influential newspaper like the N.Y. Times dominated the information that Americans were receiving. There were not sufficient voices providing an alterative view of events. This included official Washington, many of whom had no clue about the lifestyle and characteristics of the Vietnamese people. Often, the U.S. officials in Vietnam came to a better understanding of what would and would not work, but they had a difficult time convincing the decision makers in Washington.

As it turned out, that was a recipe for disaster. Once society began to break down over the U.S. direct military involvement, it was not easy to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Nixon did his best to reverse the original sins of the Johnson administration, but he was holding things together by sheer willpower. Conceivably, if he stayed in office for the next two or three years, the end would not have come as quickly as it did. But, then it would have depended on the policies of his successor. And this is something we will never know.

The Vietnamese people are exceptionally resourceful, and I suspect they will continue to prosper. I have not followed the situation in Vietnam as closely in recent years, but it will be interesting to see what takes place there in the next decade or so. I would not be surprised if the governmental system evolves into less of a top down approach, and more freedom in the different regions to follow their own way of life as long as it leads to prosperity for the country as a whole, and, therefore, greater prestige in the world. At some point, as throughout history, Vietnam will have to confront China's expansionism, and they will need help to be successful.