More on Hue’ Continued

Staff Columnist

As promised I’ll return to our discussion of the Tet Offensive in and around the ancient city of Hue’ in early 1968.  Our discussion began in these pages on June 23rd 2017.  We have been reading HUE’ 1968 by Mark Bowden.  See also the review by Karl Marlantes (The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, June 3 – 4 2017).  As I suspected this is not an easy read, but a great one.  I said in our earlier discussion that I had started with the Glossary; I did that to reconnect with place names I had known, and with the language I had all but forgotten.

In Bowden’s account the purpose is stated in a rather long piece in italics.  I include that here to remind us that we were at war with a different ideology – a Communist one.   I think it is important, even now, to see what we were dealing with. Vietnam is today, a Communist state, and a successful one.

Mark Bowden reports:  “  They had come on the run (on January 31, 1968)  some shouting party slogans, mostly men but also women, most of them young, by the thousands.  They poured across the city’s many bridges, through the fortress gates, swarmed up the wider avenues, and fanned out into side streets. Along the rivers and canals they came on sampans. The banks on the outskirts of the city were littered with the small plastic and bamboo rafts they had used to float their weapons and ammo across.  They came on motorbikes and in jeeps, the NVA in their clean, new green uniforms, the VC in khakis or worn black pajamas.  All were armed.”  I remember seeing the green uniformed NVA.  “Most believed they had come to stay.  They were the true believers, picturing the scenes in Hue playing out at the same time in cities throughout South Vietnam, the war’s great and final act.”

“Liberation Radio, the voice of Hanoi, had broadcast throughout the country an appeal – and a warning:

Compatriots, the hour to wash away our national dishonor and to liberate ourselves has come.  Everybody must rise up and launch attacks against the hideouts of the Thieu-Ky clique. (Ky was Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky) and topple the traitorous and sell-out government in various areas.    We must set up at once a revolutionary government, build  various  revolutionary  armed forces and patriotic organizations.  Punish and arrest all the cruel lackeys of the Thieu-Ky clique and foreign nations, and help the revolutionary armed forces fulfill their duties.

We exhort the officers, soldiers, and the police forces of the Siagon regime to side with the ranks of the people and give their arms and ammunition to the revolutionary armed forces.

We exhort all those who have been going astray to quickly wake up.  Those who recognize their faults and are willing to accomplish an exploit will be forgiven by the revolution.  Those who willingly resist the revolution will be duly punished., . .

. . . Compatriots, we want to be delivered from slavery and from the dictatorial and ruthless regime.  We do not want unemployment and bankruptcy.  We do not want our national aspirations to be thwarted.  We are determined to achieve our goals at any cost. . . .

. . . Let’s go forward together!  The revolution will certainly be crowned with success!  Long live an independent, democratic, peaceful, and neutral South Vietnam!”

Le Tu Minh, their overall commander, estimated it had taken only about three hours.

MACV took the City back in the next month, after difficult fighting.  I was home in Connecticut by this time.  My War was over!

Bowden treats the readers to several chapters on the fighting, and the dying, of our Soldiers and Marines in the retaking of the City of Hue, the ancient Capital of all Vietnam.  It is not pretty. This is stuff to be read, not reported on second hand.  I was impressed as any of you who lived some or part of those days will certainly be.  The ad hoc tales of individual heroes, mostly Marines, are worth the reading.  Try it out.

I turned to Hue’ 1968’s Epilogue for the closing thoughts of the Author.  The lessons are there.  I think we may have learned these as a nation.  I’m not so sure of later adventures.  First, I’ll add again a recitation of the Motto of our Marines.  They mean it and lived it again at Hue,  SEMPER FIDELIS.


Epilogue, Mark Bowden

“The battle of Hue has never been accorded the important position it deserves in our understanding of the Vietnam War, or what the Vietnamese call the “Resistance War Against America.”  By January 1968 public support for the war in America was eroding, but actual opposition remained on the fringes of American politics.  It had entered the mainstream by the end of February.  The pivot point was the Tet Offensive and this battle, its most wrenching episode.  After Tet, there was no more conjecture that the war could be won swiftly or easily.  The end was not in view.  The debate was never again about how to win, but how to leave.  In a larger sense, Tet delivered the first in a series of profound shocks to America’s faith in its leaders.”

“Under President Gerald Ford, the United States continued to provide substantial assistance to Thieu’s government, but its military was no match for Hanoi’s .  An offensive launched in 1975 quickly routed the ARVN.  The city of Hue fell again for good in March 1975, and Saigon followed a month later, as US helicopters scrambled to evacuate as many South Vietnamese officials as they could carry.  The final images of desperate civilians clinging to the skids of American choppers as they lifted off framed the futility of the decade-long effort.”

“From the perspective of nearly half a century, the Battle of Hue and the entire Vietnam War seem a tragic and meaningless waste.  So much heroism and slaughter for a cause that now seems dated and nearly irrelevant.  The whole painful experience ought to have (but has not) taught Americans to cultivate deep regional knowledge in the practice of foreign policy, and to avoid being led by ideology instead of understanding.  The United States went to war in Vietnam in the name of freedom, to stop the supposed monolithic threat of Communism from spreading across the globe like a dark stain.”

On my return, at my next duty station I, one of the few RVN Vets there, lectured on ‘Why Vietnam’ to our young Sailors.

“The Vietnam I (Bowden)  visited in 2015 and 2016 is an exciting, thriving nation, full of industry and promise.  It has become a popular tourist destination for Americans, particularly for those who fought in the war.

Still , there is no question that the Vietnamese people lost something precious when Hanoi won the war.  One young woman from Ho Chi Minh City, born decades after the war ended, told me that her generation looks at Seoul and at Tokyo and asks, ‘Is this what we could have been if we hadn’t chases the Americans away?’”

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