Opening Slate: WNDT: Channel 13; At Issue. Recorded: Apr. 16, 1964; Air Date: April 22, 1964. Stakes on Vietnam
NET and AT ISSUE graphics and credits overlay photo Vietnam soldier with rifle looking down at terrain from a plane.
Host Ed Bayley, Editor of public affairs programming for National Educational Television. Bayley introduces the very controversial issue of the Vietnam War, the many casualties this year (1964), the doubts about it,and the extremely divided opinions.
Host Bayley introduces guests on today's program seated at a semi circular table - Dr. Stanley Millet, Associate Professor Political Science at Briarcliff College; Bernard Fall, Professor of International Relations at Howard University and Author of the book The Two Vietnams; David Halberstam, New York Times Reporter who has covered the war in Vietnam extensively; and Neil Sheehan, Correspondent for the United Press International in Saigon.
DISCUSSIONS ABOUT OUR STAKE IN VIETNAM:
Gentlemen, what is our stake in Vietnam? Why is it important the United States? Neil?
Neil Sheehan 2:50
Well, I think Vietnam, the outcome of the war in Vietnam is very important to the United States. Because if we lose there, we will probably lose, we will undoubtedly lose the rest of Indochina, Laos and Cambodia. I think the Thailand will probably go neutral. And we it will possibly endanger and probably bring about a collapse of our entire position right now in Southeast Asia. I also think South Vietnam is important to us, because we've made it we've staked vast amounts of American prestige. 4 million $4 billion since 1954. They're an effort to keep the country from falling to the communist. I think we've made a commitment to the Vietnamese people. And I think we ought to do the best we can to carry out that commitment.
David Halberstam 3:41
I think it's important to us, because I think if we pull off from there, it would have a profound effect. As Neil said, on all the rest of Southeast Asia, I think it's important to us because we have as a nation, given our secret word to a generation of young Vietnamese that we were there to stay. And because if we pull out they will suffer badly for and because it is our country's word. And finally, I think it's important because I really do believe that in the long run, Vietnam stays outside of the communist bloc, and I think that people will be a little bit happier, a little bit more Jomi the women a little prettier and longer and life a little bit better.
Bernard Fall 4:18
I would say that the United States, in Vietnam at the moment finds itself in a treadmill. Sort of the sort of Tiger riding situation, it's pretty hard to get off the tire. It's pretty hard to stay with them. The Tiger is the Vietcong. And the question that remains open is only whether it will be possible to gain more honor from sticking it out in a war that may perhaps not be won than to cut losses at a certain time. For example, in the United States in 1952, a the President of the United States and it was a conservative president of the United States preferred to call off the Korean War rather than stay with a stalemated war. Apparently he felt that the stalemate in long run would be worse than accepting what was there. Obviously in Vietnam situation is much more deteriorated in the south. So it would be much harder to draw yet another salami slice parallel. And this is basically what happens at this very moment I feel that the United States simply is at the state, the American stake in Vietnam is simply that it cannot let go.
Stanley Millet 5:24
Well, I think Vietnam is one of those great, tragic situations. I don't think that the United States ever had a stake in any reasonable sense in Vietnam or Indochina, nor does it have one now I think we have great responsibilities. we've pursued an active policy in Vietnam since 1954, largely based on failure to understand the real problems of the country. And after 10 years of that policy, what we find is that that part of the country, which probably contain the largest anti communist peasant mass in Southeast Asia, is now overwhelmingly in the hands of the Vietcong under communist leadership. And we've been practically militarily defeated in the field and confront ourselves with only the task of a major and overwhelmingly major military effort to think of even regaining what we had when we started in 1954. I think that we it's about time we started to think of Vietnam in terms of the Vietnamese and our responsibilities to them is there we've made commitments to them. We've followed erroneous policies and we've worked the best that we can do is to try to find some way out of meaningless and destructive war bring about peace in the country. For my own part, I see no no alternative to to abandoning the policies which have been disastrous up till now to begin to policy based on political understandings in negotiations.
Ed Bayley 6:54
Are we winning as some people say, can we win?
David Halberstam 6:57
No, we haven't been winning that war. I don't like the word winning or losing when I was out there, it's down today. Every American general VIP came in use the word we are winning this war when we weren't winning it then I don't do like we're not winning the war. Now we're on sort of a part of a downward spiral. And it's very late in the game and the enemy is very highly motivated, he's better armed, he's got a lot of arm better arm than ever before. He's got a lot of initiative
Bernard Fall 7:22
in relation to itself, not better armed than we are
David Halberstam 7:24
not better on much better on shooting, it was a year and a half ago or so. And the many Vietnamese the war is very, very old. One of the real problems out there almost as much as anything else is psychological to the war is old. It doesn't seem like there's ever going to be any and the fiber is pretty weak was my impression. So I wouldn't say we're winning at all, I think I think it's very late in the game.
Ed Bayley 7:48
What about the future? The French proposal, other alternatives have been suggested. I'm sure some of you have ideas about that, too.
Stanley Millet 7:58
Well, that's that's Excuse me. On this one. I think that's one of the most astonishing things that the possibility of flexible deal flight handling the situation with some flexibility through the French offer was simply tossed aside by Washington was never never paid any attention to, except to condemn.
Bernard Fall 8:15
It still is not, as you saw what happened in Manila, the SEATO Council on during last week, there was a major victory scored in the sense that the French proposal not to consider any kind of negotiation was voted down seven to one. On the other hand, of course, none of the SEATO members present except the United States is willing to do anything for South Vietnam, for that matter. He bought this, of course. And I would say perhaps one part of the de mythologizing that we can do in this program is to run down literally what the military proposal means. What does it mean to win?
David Halberstam 8:48
Now, I want to challenge one point back here, I don't think there's really any negotiations that we can have over Vietnam because we haven't got anything to negotiate with we don't have any chips, we're in a position of considerable weakness about the only thing we could can negotiate with is sort of the French idea of neutralization, which all it does really is sort of allow us to save a little bit of face. So I think neutralization does mean sort of a communist to Vietnam, maybe give us a year of grace to save our face domestically, Laos and Cambodia. And, uh, well, I think this is a this is obviously, obviously there would be a vacuum when we move down this country would be taken over like that. I think that's what was that? Well, I you know, I mean, I think I think it is, in a sense, serious. I think after all, for one thing, we have made a commitment. The Americans went out there and they said they were going to make this commitment. They asked young Vietnamese of a generation to rally to them and I don't think we ought to bug out until we have to I I'm not very optimistic, but we've been there for nine years supporting an ineffective government that was squandering their resources. And I think we can allow this new young government a little bit more time. I don't think we ought to panic over what we've been finding. I don't think it's very hot, optimistic, but I I would like to see a stain and honor our commitment to long as we can I think neutralization is such an obvious step to the communism of the compensation area. And I think it would have a profound effect in the area that I don't think it's needed.
Bernard Fall 10:10
All right. Well, in that case, let's look what the military bill of particulars in this particular field, I don't think Vietnam is an exception to any other of the major Revolutionary Wars that we have encountered in the last 15 years. As you know, I've worked on some of those Revolutionary Wars, and I've been in four of them in France for two years in Laos, and in the in French and Chinese situation. And I've also been to Algeria. It takes usually to win it takes a tie down ratio of 10 regulars versus one gorilla in order to break even, for example, the British Amalia tune of 80,000 troops versus 8000, gorillas, the British and Cyprus at 20,000 versus 600, the French in Algeria at 760,000, versus 65,000, etc. In Vietnam with we have roughly 120-130,000 communists. On one hand, the present forces on our side, everything included from Americans to Vietnamese village militia is about five to 20,000, there has been an increase promised by Secretary McNamara 50,000 Men, this 20,000 of which will make up for the losses of the last one and a half years. In other words, we are reaching now a level of about five to one not even 4.4 and a half to one, which is obviously not a winning level, in order to get the Vietnamese to attend to one ratio, we'd have to increase the Vietnamese army to 1.1 million men. And since the second slice of a half a million man is going to be completely wrong on officers, etc, the officers will have to be trained, will have to put in quite a few more Americans and just the 16,000 where they are now. In other words, the total bill will run into about 1.1 million Vietnamese on the arms plus about 60 to 70,000 Americans. And since the present bill already costs about $700 million, that double effort plus more American will probably cost $1.5 billion. Now, do you on the basis of what you know, think that the United States is willing at the present juncture at this juncture, to put that kind of effort into Vietnam? I don't think the Vietnamese government yet has come up with what was 500,000 bodies, let alone was the equivalent for?
David Halberstam 12:09
Well, I think we can find out in the next couple months in next six months, whether we're going to be able to get any kind of real strength, any kind of real fiber out of this government, whether it's going to be able to do these things. Now all these statistics you quote and all these numbers, they're fine. I'm sure they do amazing. But the fact is, even if we'd had all those people under arms, in the old days, it wouldn't have anything because they would have stayed on static posts. The fact is, are we going to start trying to the things that we know need to be done in a guerrilla war? And if we do, so we really have to want to be enough men under arms to do a good deal better than we've been doing it, we can start getting some momentum and breaking the back of some of these hardcore units. I mean, actually, we have enough men under arms now to handle these hard our show, we don't show we do, should we do we could really start taking.
Stanley Millet 12:54
Everybody says Now is it as a matter of course, that the problem of a guerrilla war is a political one and not a military one. And if there is, let's let's take the task of winning the war. And I myself thought we always really had a chance to win it if we shifted to political techniques rather than the military one. From but if it's the case that a guerrilla war is a political problem, the increased mobility of the force, which is in the, in the unfortunate political side, so to speak, it won't change very much. And I don't see how it will how it will matter very much. And Neil talks about a total of 100 or 140,000, VC now. And this isn't the face of somewhere between when I first went out there, they were talking about 400 A month getting killed. Now they're talking about something like I don't know, 1000 1000 a month. So if we really wanted to calculate what in a political sense, in terms of the population VC support means, we would have to add on all the dead ones to find out what proportion of the Vietnamese population has really been fighting on the side of the VC.
Neil Sheehan 14:01
Well, we didn't know that we were killing 1000 vc before and we don't know Now, fortunately, a lot of other people get these statistics really don't mean very much. Maybe Maybe they're finally the only thing that rising casually statistics mean is that you are losing control of the population and you are losing the war because its intensity is increasing. In a guerrilla war, when you when the war starts to go away, it doesn't get bigger. And the the the one of the one of the things that always amused me in Saigon and still does is the fact that the American military, senior military officers would point to these rising casualty figures as a sign of victory when actually they are a sign of defeat, and of losing credit rather than a winning one. I would like to come back to this point of neutralization because As I I think it's becoming a major issue here, particularly when I read things such as Senator Morrison, other people are saying there seems to be a great deal of confusion in the country now and, and a lot of irresolution about Vietnam. I think that it must be made clear. Regardless of the outcome in South Vietnam, it must be made clear that there is no such thing as neutral ism or neutralization possible in South Vietnam. in Indochina, amen. Neutralization is simply a nice, polite diplomatic euphemism to cover an American withdrawal from South Vietnam, it is something which has been thought up by by Ho Chi Minh in in his in his great wisdom, and he's a very intelligent man, as a very polite way of saying to the Americans, now, you've gotten kicked around quite a bit. Now look, we'll let you get out, keep your face and we won't be very nasty about it. And we really won't take the country over publicly for two or three years.
Bernard Fall 16:06
Why should he be nice to the Americans Why should Ho Chi Minh nice
Neil Sheehan 16:09
because it's the technique don't stiffen resistance when you can weaken resistance. That's the same reason why they don't use mass terrorism. It weakens resistance, use limited terrorism. This is what what I always noticed in the Vietcong documents as persuading peace seekers in the ranks of the enemy. And these people are geniuses at this kind of thing. They did it with French, apparently from what I read earlier, and they're trying to do it with us now. And I think that it must be pointed out that both sides both the nationalists and the communists realize that any so called neutralised government the emergence of any so called neutralist Laos style government itself, yet I would merely be a transitional step in communism. There is a very interesting Vietcong document, which was captured in October of 1962 in the Mekong Delta, which I have had looked at by the text looked at by Vietnamese who I consider qualified. And they assured me that this is authentic. They believe that these are independent experts, and they're not, they're not people who work for the Vietnamese government. They believe that this document is written by a very high level Vietcong cadre, it's a policy document, probably the zone chief for the western zone along the Cambodian border. And in this document, this man very carefully explains that we are now fighting in order to wear down the resistance of the enemy, so that eventually he will be forced to negotiate and compromise. If he is forced to negotiate and compromise, it will be an important step towards victory for us. And he refers to the Laotian situation, and he says the emergence of a coalition government in Laos was an important transitional step for the Laotian revolution. And if we are able to achieve the same thing here, it will be an important transitional step for us because it will make the progress of the movement easier. He's talking about his movement, the Vietcong movement, and it will enable us to more easily persuade more easily neutralize bellicose elements and force.
Bernard Fall 18:31
Yeah, well, that's obvious. Well, this is just that for the communists, or that they will make the best out of the situation. It's up to us. Of course, if this were ever to occur, if it's not to make also make the best, let's take Laos again. I was allowed in 62. When Laos collapse, the hard fact is, and I'm sure you all also knew it had we fought on for another month, we would have been driven right to the Mekong River into Thailand. I mean, the situation Laos was desperate against a series of mistakes, whose horror and level can only match that a Vietnam both in size and idiocy. But the hard fact is in Laos, we were about to be driven right into the Mekong River and what Thailand would have done, I don't know, the hard fact is the two years later, this is a wobbly situation, it's a bad mess. But the whole Mekong Valley, this whole long sliver of covers a Thai border is still thank goodness in pro Western hands, and there's not really an immediate danger that it won't remain that way. So on the whole, I would say, and since it is under Secretary Harriman, who negotiated the Laotian thing I would say that he did the best of a pretty bad thing. On the whole it is yet to be proved that that was bought in 1962 in Laos was not rather a pretty acceptable situation under the circumstances. For example, just at the SEATO meeting the other day. This is precisely what the French delegates said. He said, France admires what America has done in South Vietnam, but the situation has reached a point where I'm translating from the French in numerous places, the authority of the central government of Vietnam can no longer be exercised. and that the South Vietnamese government, it does not have a government has not a regime that has the support of the population, which is the essential problem of South Vietnam.
David Halberstam 20:09
Well the French want to know, because by the time they left the South in the country they are the nationalism is so fragmented after that war in 1954, it would be very hard to get popular government diners for even one of the great problems there. No, I mean, all this is fine. All this talk of neutralization de Gaulle. de Gaulle talks about a neutralization and people say, Why doesn't he spell that? Well, there's nothing to spell out. Neutralization means the United States goes, it means we move out of them, does it? Of course. Of course.
Neil Sheehan 20:37
I disagree. I'd like to say something before we get in the big fight here. First of all, Dr. Fall. I disagree with you about Laos. I think that we indeed have lost Laos. I don't think the Viet Minh and the Prophet Lao are terribly interested right now in moving up to the Makong river because they're interested in the corridor, which leads into South Vietnam Seragam Ha Tao provinces.
Neil Sheehan 21:02
Well this happened the south happens to be to strike the stronghold of first put me no salon,They can't conrol anything Na Tao Pro province anymore outside of To pe . And they don't control anything Seragam anymore. Outside Seragam a few posts, and the communists, the prophet Lao and Vietminh control Laos, they own it. And when they when when they want to own the hinterland, they that's the only important area in any one of these countries, they can cut the city off later on at your at your leisure. And this is what they hope to do in South Vietnam, a neutralization will mean the same thing it meant and
Bernard Fall 21:37
in that case, you'll have to buy the war effort
David Halberstam 21:39
The chance to have the chance to to neutralize Indochina was lost about 17 years ago.
Ed Bayley 21:45
What is your solution that Neil?
Neil Sheehan 21:48
Well, I don't like to come up with solutions. I'm just, I just, I just like to point out my solution. If there is a solution to what's happening in in Vietnam, or Indo China, as you want to call it right now is, I think the Americans got out of Laos because they were unwilling to fight in Laos, they were unwilling to make a major American commitment in Laos, they were unwilling to fight the Chinese and in Southeast Asia, Chinese or the North Vietnamese. And I think this is something that that has always happened to us in that part of the world. It's either put up or shut up, and the other side's willing to take the risks and we're not. And each time they ease us out a little bit more, leads us out of another country. And now they're trying to eat us out of South Vietnam.
Stanley Millet 22:37
Well, I no one in his right mind could agree that the present disposition of forces in South Vietnam neutralization will meet internal domination by the by the communist because they want in the field, they hold the loyalty of the population. And just as at the end of the war, the French they're in a political position to, to do it. But this, and these are the facts. On the other hand, when you say when you say the other side is willing to ease us out, the real question is the ease us out of what, and who was easing us out? We weren't eased out.We lost the war
Neil Sheehan 23:11
the minute wait, we move out of South Vietnam, they will take the whole area. The Viet men, and they will take Cambodia too
Stanley Millet 23:19
the Vietcong. The Vietcong,
Neil Sheehan 23:21
and then the ties will go neutralist.
David Halberstam 23:24
the domino I don't want to title the domino theory, but there's a great deal to it, because the pressure I mean, I mean, all I mean, sooner has been behaving all this way for a long time, status and preferred prisoner. He sees China as the winner out there
Neil Sheehan 23:39
It's very edifying to remember that the Japanese planes with sunk the battleship, the Prince of Whales and the repulse off the Malayan Coast took off from Saigon airport.
Stanley Millet 23:48
Yes. And it's very interesting to remember the Japanese held Indochina. For the bulk of World War Two, we were busy marching all the way up to Tokyo and Indochina in the courses in the course of the Second World War played scarcely any role in a place where you were you housed or what Thailand for that matter. The domino theory is a very pretty theory when you look at it with an American point of view, but it's interesting that none of the Asian countries see it this way.
David Halberstam 24:20
You don't think China, you do you don't think China sees a reverse domino theory
Neil Sheehan 24:27
I think they will lose South East they will lose their chance to dominate Southeast Asia, which is what they've been aiming at since the Han. And then thereafter again, and they persuaded people like Norodom Sihanouk that they're going to do it. The ruler of Cambodia
Stanley Millet 24:46
This is one of those realness hypothetically the Chinese wish to dominate Southeast Asia in South Vietnam. In South Vietnam. There's scarcely any evidence of Chinese activity at all. In North Vietnam, presumably the supported the external support in South Vietnam is coming from the north. Actually, in point of view of the facts, the external support from North Vietnam turns out to be very slight, the bulk of the effort is carried racing in North last few months. In point of fact, the Chinese if anything, seemed to be extremely hesitant about making a real commitment to the north to the North Vietnamese, in this great discussion of whether the United States was going to, to move in on the north, and the Hanoi, Hanoi, I spoke very strongly. And Peking talked in a rather modest voice, exactly how big a commitment China has in in actie movement in South Vietnam is, is relatively small. Now, there are many ways in containing Chinese influence. And I agree that the containment of Chinese influence is a serious problem. But the containment of Chinese influence on the field of South Vietnam is to miss the whole problem of South Vietnam, that is to say, to build one theories, once again upon the kind of false hypotheses which get us into these predicaments in the first place.
David Halberstam 26:07
Well, I don't think Neil and I are bothered too much by the false hypotheses. I think it comes down to very simply, it's late in the game, what do you do? What are the alternatives? Well, the neutralization I think, to some of us, it does mean that we will, we'll be moving out. Is this a very good thing? No, I think are First off, I think we have to honor our commitments to the Vietnamese people. I've got friends, they're the ones the ones who've been the ones who have committed themselves most of the Americans are the ones are going to suffer the most.
Ed Bayley 26:33
One question of a different kind. Do you think our policy there has been affected by the fact that this is an election year
Neil Sheehan 26:40
some of the Vietnamese think that's why they got the extra $50 million the there's real fear in in Vietnam right now that the Americans are trying to coast along there and keep it from becoming an election issue during the present campaign, and that a deliberate attempt is being made to sort of say we have things under control out there and don't worry about it. And then the Vietnamese are really afraid that after the election that we will start talking like General de Gaulle and we will come up with very fancy neutralization solutions and in other words
Bernard Fall 27:15
Let's leave it on one single... I'd like to bring up one single thought and you know, which you think that this can be linked militarily or rather, it must be linked militarily if that is so you then agree if you say a it must be linkde military then you also have to say be it has to be a million man on 200,00 100,000 Americans
David Halberstam 27:35
I'm not saying about any of any of your ABCs all the talk like that as a talk almost like an American gentleman in Vietnam, you know, it's much more complex.
Bernard Fall 27:44
I know, it's much more complex. In this case, you have to speak of pacification, effective pacification, that sort of thing we muffed for the last 10 years
David Halberstam 27:50
Well, I think we can possibly pacify some areas we are we can find out whether we can we can find out whether government finally will listen to our ideas and will be effective in using its own research. And you don't need a million and a half a million 100,000 men to start being effective and long on province and vin vin province all these rise in the Delta
Bernard Fall 28:08
All you need is civil servants, the likes which got killed five years ago.
Ed Bayley 28:12
Gentlemen, that's all the time we have. Dr. Millet. Dr. Fall Mr. Halberstam. Mr Sheehan Thank you.
Discussion conclude. Host Bayley thanks guests.
Show title "The Stakes in Vietnam" and credits overlay soldier looking down from an aircraft
NET graphic and announcement.
Reel ends - At Issue - April 22, 1964
Description: Episode #29 OBD: 1964-04-6 / Airdate 1964-04-16 TRT: 30 min Description: This program examines United States policy and role in South Vietnam in view of the several options the United States can take – withdrawal, continued support of the South Vietnamese, extension of the war into North Vietnam, or neutralization of South Vietnam. These options are considered with respect to a series of more recent losses in South Vietnam and Viet Cong attacks within 15 miles of Saigon, and the assessment of the continuing crises by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Guests appearing on the program in the probing panel discussion will be: David Halberstam, foreign correspondent for the New York Times, who has covered Southeast Asia extensively Bernard Fall, professor of international relations at Howard University Stanley MilleT, associate professor of political science at Briarcliff Neil Sheehan, United Press International correspondent in Saigon The host is Ed Bayley, editor of public affairs programming, National Educational Television. AT ISSUE A 1964 National Educational Television production Executive producer: Alvin Perlmutter Producer: Leonard Zweig
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