Critics of the war might offer a different set of goals: (1) beyond thanking veterans, to discuss whether the war itself was necessary or honorable; (2) in regard to the Armed Forces, to examine the debilitating effects of U.S. aerial assaults, ground operations, and counterinsurgency doctrine, especially on civilians; (3) on the home front, to recognize the contributions of those who opposed the war as patriotic and honorable; (4) with respect to science and technology, to examine the environmental and human devastation wrought by high-tech weaponry and poisons such as Agent Orange, and to reassess the slavish dependence on statistical benchmarks that obscured the inhumanity of the war; and (5) to recognize that America’s most important allies did not support the war and that the United Nations and other nations strongly advised against it. Such goals would likely produce sobering lessons that would strengthen efforts to prevent future wars.
The NLF and NVA studied American weapons systems and attempted to evade or counter them by developing effective warning systems, spy networks, camouflage techniques, clever battlefield tactics, knowledge of the jungle terrain, and support from the local population. Although southern fighters were aided by the north, they had to rely on their own ingenuity to neutralize the advantages of American weapons. Expert at navigating the waterways and moving supplies by boat, they built a network of underground tunnels where they could live for days and even perform medical surgeries. A cook by the name of Hoang Tram became a national hero for developing a stove that could cook meals without giving off tell-tale smoke.
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A summary Pentagon report at the end of 1966 took stock of civilian casualties, estimating that about 80 percent of the 13,000 to 24,000 North Vietnamese killed by American bombs were civilians. The commanding generals discussed the issue of civilian casualties, not as a humanitarian crisis, but as a public relations problem, as any acknowledgement of civilian casualties would give North Vietnam a “propaganda” advantage and turn world opinion (more strongly) against the United States. The report also noted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were eager to abolish all legal restraints on bombing. A final report on Operation Rolling Thunder issued in the fall of 1968 summarized its failure to achieve stated military and psychological objectives:
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Max Paul Friedman, Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012), pp. 176-77.
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“The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 1964,” Avalon Project, . See also Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War (New York: Skyhorse, 2003); and Edwin Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina press, 2000).
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Logevall, Choosing War, p. xx. Thirty-seven years prior to Logevall’s account, Gareth Porter, in A Peace Denied, pp. 18-20, documented this development, noting that in September 1963, Diem and Nhu had reached a definitive agreement with the North through the Polish intermediary Mieczyslaw Maneli and that negotiations were to be completed in New Dehli in November, thus adding further motive for the U.S.-approved assassinations.
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Cheng Guan Ang, Vietnamese Communists’ Relations with China and the Second Indochina Conflict, 1956-1962 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1997), p. 229.
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William Conrad Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part II (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 42, 43.