Bunny Mailbag: U.S. Strategy in Vietnam.

Added on by PS Cat02.

We got an interesting e-mail the other day from a guy named Darren:

Pinky (and friends),
I love your show... I recently watched the movie about the American War, and I was thoroughly impressed (as usual).... However, I disagree with one of Bunny's conclusions....It is a very important point that is not in history books....
Bunny asks why the US "Chose to devastate Vietnam to such an extreme" driving them "to the brink of annihilation". Bunny then says the Vietnam War "was that way by design". All of this is correct. But Bunny says that "the strategy failed". However, it worked perfectly.
We bombed Vietnam to the brink of annihilation - it will take a hundred years for Vietnam to recover fully. Now, there are American sweatshops in Vietnam - we have access to the Vietnamese market, just as we wanted. And we guaranteed the failure of Communism as a political model for the region - which secured other Asian markets for the US.
The US involved Latin American coups / wars of the last 60 years or so also demonstrate this principal - we either secure Latin American markets, or open them to the US with ultra violence and destruction - which guarantee open markets out of simple desperation.
Best wishes,

My reply:

Hi Darren,
Actually, in my report, when I said "the strategy failed" I was referring to the U.S. leadership's inability to get the Vietnamese - both in the South and in the North - to capitulate to foreign domination. Since it was the U.S. that eventually had to evacuate Vietnam in 1975, I still stand by this statement.
On the other hand your comments suggest an interesting possibility - that U.S. leaders somehow had a decades-long strategy that linked total social, economic, environmental, etc. destruction of their country to eventually enable the U.S. to re-enter Vietnam as master to Vietnamese labor and markets. This would seem plausible to me, except that in my review of Vietnam War-era governmental documents I haven't been able to find a paper trail that clearly demonstrates this kind of long-term vision on the part of the U.S. leadership. I'm not saying I'm willing to completely rule this kind of logic out; I just don't have the documentary evidence here in front of me to say, "A-ha! Here it is, directly from the mouth of McNamara..." (or Johnson, or Kissinger, or Nixon, or whomever). If you could point me in the right direction with a list of citations that illustrate your point I would appreciate it.
I think the U.S. - at least for a while - really did believe that Vietnam could be brought under U.S. control through a combination of traditional military force ("if only we could bomb them hard enough...") and ideological coercion ("winning hearts and minds", etc.). It's easy to find documents that show how many brilliant (and I'm not being sarcastic here) policy makers and war planners at the State Department and Pentagon mistakenly believed this, especially during the earlier phases of the war. But by 1968, long before the U.S. would be physically ejected from Saigon (1975), many of these same planners were already reaching into their bag of tricks for new tools (especially triangular diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union, and much later, devastating trade embargoes) in search of ways to salvage the U.S.'s damaged reputation and political standing among other nations, economy, national culture, etc. So while I agree with you that the U.S. corporate elite currently enjoys very lucrative access to Vietnamese labor and markets, I don't think this is because of visionary planning. Rather I think it just proves that the U.S. wields an impressive diversity of coercive tools, and is capable of successfully changing to new strategies when others fail.

[ Note from Kim: I think it's good to point out though that Darren and Bunny are in agreement that the main point is the US wanted to control Vietnam. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" ]


[ Bunny: Yeah that's true but I just wanted to be clear that I like to start with documentary evidence and then proceed with an analysis from there. If Darren can provide us with the documentation then I am more than happy to change my perspective. There's no reason why we can't release The American War: The U.S. in Vietnam, Version 2.0 ]


[ Pinky: Thanks Bunny. That was a good e-mail. And yes, it would be great to re-do that episode; it's one of my favorite ones we've done so far. But I think it would be easier to watch if we added more moving pictures and other stuff. ]