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Interview with Thomas H. Moorer, 1981

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Summary
Thomas H. Moorer was an Admiral in the United States Navy. During the Vietnam War, he was the Chief of Naval Operations from 1967 – 1970, and served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1970–1974. Admiral Moorer begins by talking about the events surrounding the Tonkin Gulf Incidents, and his belief that there was in fact two separate incidents. He then discusses the incursions into Cambodia to search for the COSVN headquarters, and the debate within the Defense Department over whether or not the US should push into Cambodia. He also briefly describes the failed attempt to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, the 1972 Spring Offensive, and the decision to mine Hai Phong harbor, despite worries of drawing the Soviets into the war. Admiral Moorer then details the 1972 “Christmas Bombing” of Hanoi, why it was necessary, and why it was effective. He finally comments on the limitations of the Vietnamization plan.
Topics
United States--History, Military--20th century, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Campaigns--Cambodia, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Prisoners and prisons, American, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Mass media and the war, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Aerial operations, American, Bombing, Aerial Vietnam, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Atrocities, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion, Military ethics, Military assistance, American, Logistics, Treaties, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Presidents--Messages, Strategy, Vietnam War, 1961-197--Campaigns--Laos
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Transcript

The Tonkin Gulf Incidents

VIETNAM
ADM. MOORER
SR #2824
T 876
Picture Roll 840. Sound Roll 2824. Admiral Moorer. Take one.
Clapstick.
Interviewer:
Could you ah, tell us about the Tonkin Gulf Incident? What happened – what were the ships the American Maddox and Turner Joy – doing there, and how did that incident unfold?
Moorer:
Well, as you recall the Tonkin Gulf Incident occurred in ah, August of 1964, at which time I was Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. So I am ah, well aware of the details of that operation. The Maddox was engaged in what we called a peripheral reconnaissance. This meant that the ship was simply to ah, stay in international waters but to cruise in the Tonkin Gulf ah, and to pick up such information in intelligence as was ah, existed at the time.
The ah, Maddox was engaged in ah, this ah, operation. And I think she was ah, steaming north along the coast of ah, ah, North Vietnam somewhere off ah, the ah, east of ah, Vinh, when ah, she was ah, attacked.
Now we ah, were aware that this was a possibility. As a matter of fact, the North Vietnamese issued orders ah, which said, as far as I recall ah, "get ready to make war," was the English translation of their message. And ah, so ah, there's no question about the fact that the Maddox was attacked.
Ah, as you know ah, they actually had ah, machine gun bullets impact on the ship, and the allegations that were made subsequently, that the ship was engaged in some kind of ah, ah, operation or joint operation with the South Vietnamese, or that she was inside territorial waters, or that she was violating international law in any way is just pure nonsense.
Interviewer:
Was there a second incident the Turner Joy? What happened with the second incident?
Moorer:
Yes, in the second incident, of course ah, we had reinforced the Maddox with the Turner Joy and um, the ah, the aircraft carrier down there was also supplying ah, air support over head when the torpedo boats from ah, Vinh made a second attack ah, in that area.
Now this was a night attack, and ah, ah, if you look at the history of night naval engagements, you'll find out that no two people see the same thing during ah, such confusion and such an uproar. And of course, as a result ah, there were many, stories concocted, and ah, allegedly some people said one thing, and some people said another, and I'm sure they did. And, but in all honesty.
And so this whole incident was just ah, built up, and matter of fact it got into the Congress, and ah, Senator Fulbright got into the act, and of course ah, after it was over I directed a full investigation to be conducted by ah, ah, Vice Admiral Roy Johnson, who at that time was ah, ah, Commander of the Seventh Fleet who was directly ah, in control of this particular operation.
And of course, as I expected, he ah, found that none of these allegations that were ah, published ah, frequently in the paper, and ah, were thrown about on the halls of Congress ah, were true.
Interviewer:
Well, could you just be a little precise on the second incident – was there a second incident, did it really take place?
Moorer:
Yes. There was definitely a separate, separate ah, incident.
Interviewer:
Would you repeat that?
Moorer:
I say yes, there was definitely a second incident, and ah, when they ah, the torpedo boats, which was as you recall, the only type of naval craft that the North Vietnamese had, again made ah, a high speed approach and attack on ah, these two ships.
Interviewer:
One more point about this, the, uhm, bombing – the air bombing that took place that was triggered by the Tonkin Gulf Incident – was there a contingency plan for that – had that been prepared in advance – or did you just organize that on the spur of the moment?
Moorer:
Well, we organized that as we do all bombing ah, attacks on the spur of the moment. Ah, the ah, the guidance that was given, of course, was that ah, we were to ah, attack the torpedo boat ah, base at Vinh and the fuel storage, which ah, supplied the ah, torpedo boats.
Ah, ah, of course, at that time ah, all instructions in the greatest detail were coming from Washington, even as to how many bombs to put on each wing of the airplane. But ah, in this case the ah, ah, objective, I guess was to ah, indicate that there was no attack on North Vietnam proper, only against ah, those elements that were involved in the attack.

The Cambodian Incursions and their rationale

Interviewer:
I'd like to go on now to the, uhm, Cambodian incursion. Could you describe your role in the Cambodian incursion – how it was planned, what it was supposed to achieve ah, – did you really intend to destroy the COSVN, the headquarters of the South Vietnamese communists? And also, what were President Nixon's attitudes at that time, as you recall?
Moorer:
Well, of course, you've got to remember that ah, before this particular ah, operation took place, that ah...
Interviewer:
Sorry, could you just repeat that it was the Cambodian incursion?
Moorer:
Ah, I say you have to remember before the Cambodian incursion took place, ah, we were having ah, ah, discussions as to how much logistic support was being supplied to the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong ah, through the ah, Cambodian ah, port. And ah, which, at that time was called Sihanoukville. And of course, many of the people, including Mr. McNamara ah, ah, stood fast on this statement that there was no supplies coming, uh, from, uh, Sihanoukville.
In addition to that ah, the North Vietnamese, and ah, had ah, created what we called sanctuaries, which were nothing more than ah, ah, rest camps and supply bases ah, from which they were organizing ah, forays into South Vietnam, and then after the action was ah, over, or if the action got too ah, difficult for them, they would immediately retire back into this sanctuary, and, of course, could not be followed.
Ah, many people ah, ah, of course ah, attacked this ah, Cambodian incursion on the grounds that it was widening the war ah, that we had violated the sovereignty of Sihanouk – the facts were that Sihanouk was not allowed by the North Vietnamese to visit that part of his country. And I think it’s ah, well established ah, in international law that if a ah, country permits a, a second country to use its sovereign territory to attack a third country, then this third country ah, is absolutely ah, within its rights to ah, ah, to ah, attack ah, such bases as the North Vietnamese had.
Now ah, as we began to concern ourselves about the United States casualties, which the North Vietnamese were able to inflict by virtue of making use of these sanctuaries, well of course, we began to ah, take a look at what kind of operation we could ah, mount in order to stop it. Ah, ah, we gave serious consideration to permitting the South Vietnamese only to go into Cambodia. But it was quite clear that at that point in their training ah, the South Vietnamese did not have the capability.
In the meantime ah, we, of course, were working up what our policy was going to be with respect to Cambodia. And so as far as my personal ah, involvement in it ah, I remember distinctly this – one evening ah, we had ah, ah, written and developed the policy that the United States was going to ah, utilize with respect to Cambodia. At that time I was not Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but I was Acting Chairman, because ah, General Wheeler was in the hospital.
And, so I was ah, sent for ah, with orders to ah, be in the White House, I believe it was at 6:00 in the morning. And when I arrived I ah, looked out into the Rose Garden and ah, President Nixon was coming into the Oval Office with a ah, copy of the New York Times ah, in his hand, and he was ah, very much upset and properly so, because a copy of the message we had written the evening before was in the right hand column of the front page under Bill Beecher's by line, verbatim. Ah, and it was a top secret, eyes only message.
And so those were the conditions under which ah, we were operating in those days because there were ah, people who were willing to sacrifice the interest of the United States for one reason or another. And, I'm sure they wanted to make certain that the ah, federal government didn't function at all.
In any event, we ah, at that point had another discussion about the operation and the decision was made to use our US troops. And, however, that we would only make a, a limited incursion to a distance which ah, ah, President Nixon ah, ultimately stated in a press conference of ah, twenty miles.
Well of course, that caused ah, quite a bit of ah, difficulty because ah, ah, the press, as a rule, are not very sharp at converting miles into kilometers, which they use in Cambodia, so they're always sending back press releases ah, sometimes talking about miles and sometimes talking about kilometers – I never thought they knew the difference.
But ah, ah, we did conduct the operation. It was very successful, and getting back to my comment about Sihanoukville, we did find that ah, some, uh, 20,000 tons of supplies had come through the Cambodian port and for that matter were trucked up to the sanctuaries by Sihanouk's trucks – his own army trucks. And so ah, the point is that they ah..
Interviewer:
Excuse me, we’ve run out of...
Camera Roll #841 coming up, 841. Picture Roll 841, Admiral Moorer. Take two. Clapstick.
Moorer:
Going back to my comments, going back to my comment concerning ah, the introduction of supplies through Sihanoukville, the facts were that ah, we found ah, complete evidence that ah, some 20,000 tons of supplies had come up through Cambodia and, for that matter, had been trucked up there by ah, ah, trucks of the Cambodian army ah, under the command of Sihanouk. So there was no question about the fact that Sihanouk was aiding and abetting ah, the North Vietnamese.
And so ah, based on any international law, the United States was totally and completely justified in this. Throughout this entire operation ah, of course, President Nixon was ah, very firm. He recognized that ah, casualties ah, to US forces were, ah, much higher than they would be if it wasn't for the fact that the North Vietnamese were using Cambodia as a base, and ah, there had been ah, comments about that ah, subsequently.
But the facts are that ah, if ah, President Nixon had not taken the action he did ah, when he did it, there would be ah, many ah, American boy that's alive and a useful citizen today that would be in Arlington instead. And so ah, the surprising thing about the Cambodian operation is ah, the question I have is why didn't we do it sooner?
Interviewer:
You said there were people who were against the operation – inside the Pentagon.
Moorer:
Well I think ah, that whole ah, ah, attitude in the, ah, ah, country at large, in the ah, both the legislative and executive branches of the government, and so on, were ah, adverse ah, to the operation, because as you recall, one of the ah, guidelines laid down by President Johnson was, "we seek no wider wars." So there was, there were all kinds of complaints that this was, in fact, widening the war, when in fact ah, the ah, whole purpose of it was to protect the lives of American boys.
And I must say that throughout this entire Vietnam operation ah, I was appalled at the fact that so many people in and out of the government, and certainly I would put the media at the top of the list, seemed far more concerned about the lives of the people in Southeast Asia than they were the lives of the young men that were fighting for their country.
Let me give you an example of this. For instance, when I was ah, describing the torture that was being inflicted on the POW's in ah, in North Vietnam I've actually had the American citizens tell me, "Well it serves them right – they had no business volunteering."
So this is just indicative of the whole attitude. So the many people in the President's cabinet. And ah, many of his advisors, and for that matter many in the Congress that thought we should not have conducted the Cambodian incursion.

Appraisal of Operation Lam Son 719

Interviewer:
I just want to go onto the Lam Son Operation – Lamson 719, which was the South Vietnamese thrust into Laos in February of 1971. Do you look at this as the first test of Vietnamization, and what was the American role in supporting the Vietnamese doing, South Vietnamese doing that?
Moorer:
Well so far as the Lamson 7l9 ah, was concerned, it was, in fact, the ah, ah, first ah, major operation ah, outside of, ah, ah, Vietnam, South Vietnam that was conducted under their command. And of course, the purpose of the ah, operation was to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was being used by the North Vietnamese to supply practically all of the operations in South Vietnam.
Ah, the American role was primarily in the form of ah, air support and ah, logistic support ah, ah, within South Vietnam up to the ah, Laotian border. Ah, the ah, ah, operation, of course ah, did finally succeed in reaching ah, Tchepone.
It ah, was not ah, successful as we ah, had ah, hoped in the sense that the ah, ah, South Vietnamese of course ah, subsequently withdrew after they had, ah, reached the objective. But I believe when one bears in mind that the French, for instance, took care to see that the Vietnamese and the Cambodians too, for that matter, gained ah, very little experience in the command role ah, that ah, they did ah, do ah, ah, a fairly good job.
Interviewer:
Were you disappointed by the ah, uhm, results of that operation?
Moorer:
Well I'd hoped that ah, you know ah, that we would have been able to permanently cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And of course there again, there were many restraints ah, placed upon us. Ah, had we been allowed to attack all of North Vietnam while that operation was taking place, then I think the results would have been different.
But the North Vietnamese were able to bring down ah, very large numbers of reinforcements, and keep feeding them into ah, the ah, through the passes into ah, the ah, Tchepone area.

The Spring Offensive and its aftermath

Interviewer:
I'd like to go on now to the, Hanoi’s 1972 Spring Offensive. When you look back on that what do you think the objective of the Communists was – it really to take all of South Vietnam? And what was the change in their approach – you had mentioned that they were using now for the first time Soviet tanks and artillery, and ah, could you describe the importance of US air support to the South Vietnamese in your statement about inching northward.
Moorer:
Well ah, so far as the ah, North Vietnamese offensive in ah, 1972 was concerned, as you recall, it was ah, 30 March when they crossed the DMZ in rather large numbers ah, coming down Highway One, which ah, was right along the coastline ah, the east coastline of South Vietnam. We had ah, anticipated that.
As a matter of fact, it was ah, ah, obvious to us that we had seen a large concentration of ah, North Vietnamese tanks around ah, ah, Bot Lat, which was just north of the DMZ. And here again, you have one of these restraints in the sense that ah, ah, the obvious thing to do with any kind of prudent military action would have been to clean those tanks out right then and there.
But we were not allowed to do that because ah, ah, the ah, political reasoning was that we had to wait until ah, the North Vietnamese violated ah, the agreement and crossed the DMZ. So, in effect, we had to give them a running start. Ah, they waited for some ah, foggy morning, and across they came. Ah, and ah, as you recall, they did ah, penetrate down into a certain part of the ah, ah, military region one, I think, to the Cua Viet River, about.
We ah, at that point, President Nixon, of course ah, ah, became ah, ah, very concerned. And we initiated what was called Linebacker II, which consisted of ah, large scale ah, attacks against ah, transportation and ah, logistics ah, supplies and bases ah, that were ah, being used to ah, to support this operation coming down through the South.
In addition to that, we ah, sent ah, additional aircraft carriers, additional destroyers, and additional tactical aircraft into ah, Thailand, and into the Tonkin Gulf. Ah, and began to conduct rather active ah, ah, operations.
On ah, May the 1st, I was ah, called by the President and ah, he ah, questioned me about the, ah, prospects of mining Hai Phong Harbor. And ah, which I told him we were already ready, already for that, as a matter of fact, for the first time I had recommended it, and I personally made the plan myself when I was Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet eight years before. So ah, there was no planning necessary. We already had the plan.
Ah, and consequently ah, ah, his next requirement was to ah, ah, ask me ah, can ah, we do this without it leaking? Because I would like to be on the, announcing it to the nation on tv at the same instant that the bombs were falling, bearing in mind that there's a twelve hour difference between Washington and ah, the ah, ah, North Vietnam, you see, that meant that if we drop the mines at 9:00 in the morning, then he would go on tv at 9:00 in the evening ah, which he did.
We did manage to keep it absolutely secret. And ah, the reason we were able to that is we did not permit any members of the press to board our ships. And so there was no way they could find out about it. And ah, consequently, it was ah, ah, conducted without anyone being aware of it.
I might ah, comment on that particular operation because ah, I had spent ah, much time thinking about it, At the time we had conducted that operation on 8 May 1972 ah, we were flying 1,000 sorties in ah, ah, Southeast Asia, overall, per day. We took about twenty-six aircraft off of one aircraft carrier, and they were airborne about an hour and a half, and we mined Hai Phong Harbor, and not one ship entered or left ah, that Harbor until we, ourselves, removed the mines. No one person was hurt, or in any way, and ah, consequently ah, that was again an operation that should have been conducted in 1974 if we really meant to go to war.
VIETNAM
T 876
SR #2825
ADM. MOORER
Picture roll 842. Sound 2825. Admiral Moorer. Take three.
Moorer:
At the time of the mining of Hai Phong Harbor ah, we were conducting ah 1000 sorties per day in Southeast Asia. Ah, for the mining operation we took only twenty-six aircraft and one aircraft carrier and ah, not one ship ah, departed or entered Hai Phong ah, subsequent to the mining.
It's only too bad we did not ah, get permission as the military commanders tried to do over and over to ah, mine that harbor ah, ah, in 1964. Because that would have made a significant difference in the outcome of the war.
Now, related to that, of course, is the aircraft bombings. So many people suggest that the bombing ah, had no effect. Well, the facts were, of course, that ah, a very large part of the supplies were brought in by ship because the ships had absolute free entrance and this meant that the ah, ah, load placed on the railroad, for instance, coming in from China was ah, very light - ah, some, something like ah, ten ah, fifteen percent of their total capacity. So, they only ran at night and hid in the tunnels in the daytime.
The ah, overall point here is that when ah, a military operation is laid on to attack transportation ah, it will not be effective unless all elements of that transportation are attacked, and if you impose all kinds of political restraints at the same time ah, then ah, you, of course, are ah, not ah, able to get full benefit of what the ah, military operation can ah, ah, you know, perform.
Interviewer:
Could you recall briefly the meeting on May 8th that you had with Senators Fulbright and Mansfield after the president, Describe that scene in which the president left you to deal with them.
Moorer:
Yes. Ah, at the ah, time that the ah, president ah, ah, was preparing to announce to the ah, ah, was preparing to announce to the people of the United States and the world at large that we were, in fact, conducting this mining operation ah, ah, a decision was made to invite to the White House the leaders ah, in the Congress from ah, both ah, sides of the house so to speak, which included ah, ah, among other people Senators Mansfield, Fulbright; Senator Stennis and ah, several others.
I ah, of course, was assigned ah, the task of ah, briefing these gentlemen and the president ah, after having introduced me ah, departed in order to prepare for his ah, tv announcement. Ah, I got very little ah, reaction from this particular high-level audience, although ah, I did observe Senator Fulbright and Mansfield shaking their heads ah, ah, quite a bit ah, over the thought because here again was this ah, concern that this would ah, ah, quote "widen the war" unquote, and that ah, the Soviets would immediately dash down to the Tonkin Gulf and ah, sweep the mines.
I'll tell you an ah, interesting ah, ah, aftermath of this. As a matter of fact, the Soviets did send two small minesweepers from Vladivostok headed ah, south and the hand-wringers in Washington ah, were ah, ah, very concerned that here was the beginning of the ah, Soviets' interference.
I ah, told them that in my opinion the Soviet minesweepers were set to going over to what is now Bangladesh at Chittagong where the Pakistanis had mined ah, the area during the India/Pakistan war that they had no intention of trying to sweep the kinds of mines that we had put in Hai Phong Harbor. And ah, this is exactly what happened. When those two little minesweepers ah, ah, passed ah, south of the Tonkin Gulf they ah, just kept right on going and wound up in Chittagong. But everyone ah was quite concerned you know that this was ah, widening the war that the Russians were going to get involved in it.

Enforcement of the Paris talks and ethical reasoning regarding the Christmas Bombings

Interviewer:
Let's go on to the Christmas Bombing of 1972. You said there was a lot of controversy. I wonder if you could describe how that affected you, but before that what was the purpose of the Christmas Bombing? What were the targets and I wish you'd get (clears throat) if you could get into the issue of the fact that some bombs did fall here in on residential areas and so forth, why did that happen?
Moorer:
I think that the ah, Christmas Bombing of ah, of ah, 1972 has ah, ah, been the victim of more ah, false information than almost any part of that war. I think one must go back to the time when ah, ah, Dr. Kissinger made his speech ah, wherein he reported “peace is at hand” in October of ah, ah, 1972 and ah, ah, the agreement ah, had ah, more or less been assigned with North Vietnam ah, under the auspices of their ah, negotiator Le Duc Tho.
And ah, ah, we were watching very carefully to see what the ah, North Vietnamese were going to do and they, it was obvious that they had no intention of ah, slowing the tempo of their supply effort ah, so far as pushing supplies down south.
Ah, You've got to also bear in mind that we in the Vietnamization Program had ah, withdrawn a very large number of troops ah, from Vietnam. I think perhaps we are the only country in the world that ever withdrew troops while the fighting was still taking place, but nevertheless ah, ah, this we did, and of course we were getting down to the point where we could not afford to withdraw every American and for all practical purposes simply de-desert those fine young men that were tortured and held prisoned in ah, North Vietnam.
And, so ah, I had ah, been working with ah, a small part of my staff ah, in ah, order to ah, generate or plan an operation which would ah, ah, get the attention of the North Vietnamese. Because I felt that they were nothing more than ah, revolutionaries, that they only understood just one thing, and that was brute force, and that unless you presented them with this problem ah, you could negotiate forever, and you would never get them to ah, agree. Or even if they agreed, they wouldn't comply.
Well, I had been to a NATO meeting, and was flying back to Washington when I received a message that the ah, President Nixon wanted to see me ah, and, at Camp David ah, as soon as I, arrived. When I arrived I joined ah, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ken Rush and we flew together to Camp David, and ah, discussed with the President, "what do we do now? We've had ah, ah, this agreement, we thought peace was at hand ah, it's not here yet, the North Vietnamese are violating it, our POW's are still in captivity, how do we get 'em out?"
And ah, so ah, it was my position ah, which I had taken all along, again that only through brute force could you force the North Vietnamese to get the word as to what was ah, what the facts of life really were, if they did continue to hold them. So consequently, ah, the President agreed that we should ah, lay on ah, a very heavy strike, this time using the B-52s as well as the tactical aircraft. Ah, part of that time we used the B-52s very sparingly in ah, North Vietnam.
Ah, I went back to ah, my office and we began to work ah, in the details of this operation. And ah, as I recalled ah, it began on the ah, 18th of December ah, in 1972.
As one might ah, expect in an operation of that kind, the ah, aircraft losses are always ah, higher the first day and the second day, and so on, than they are later on because ah, ah, the ah, air defenses at that time, are in ah, first class shape. Whereas they suffer from the impact of the bombing and ah, also from mechanical failure, and from ammunition supply, and so the ah, the ah, capability of the ah, North Vietnamese to shoot down our aircraft, um, degraded rather rapidly.
As a matter of fact, we could hear them on the radio ah, complaining bitterly that in some cases ah, some of their launches had no ah, ammunition. And so the last two days of the operation ah, we suffered no losses at all, and could've continued with impunity ah, subsequent to that time in my view, without losing any aircraft of ah, consequence.
So far as a target is concerned, again ah, the ah, idea was ah, to ah, destroy those ah, ah, facilities ah, in terms of warehouses, supplies, command and control stations, the missile assembly points ah, that ah, were again ah, allowing or enabling the North Vietnamese to continue their operations in South Vietnam and to continue to violate the very solemn agreement that they had already made with ah, ah, Dr. Kissinger.
So ah, we ah, selected targets of this kind, and, of course, you've got to ah, ah, realize that um, when ah, ah, an operation of that size takes place, that ah, sooner or later you might have a stray bomb or so. And ah, ah, we, however ah, I think no other authority than Walter Cronkite, himself, visited the area shortly thereafter and said that he was amazed at the accuracy ah, of the ah, bombing. We certainly ah, in no sense, ah, laid on what ah, we'd been accused of ah...
Interviewer:
We've run out of film.
Okay, we're switching to Pix Roll #843.
Pix Roll #843.
Admiral Moorer.
Take four.
Clapstick.
Moorer:
The targets selected in the 1972 Christmas Bombing consisted of...
Interviewer:
Start one more time.
Moorer:
The targets selected in the 1972 ah, Christmas Bombing consisted of entirely of military targets. Ah, for instance ah, they would ah, ah, consist of ah, warehouses ah, command and control stations ah, missile sites, ammunition storage, communications sites ah, things of that kind. Ah, the ah, the accusation that we were conducting ah, carpet bombing, of course, is ah, ah, absolutely false.
For that matter, had we ah, conducted carpet bombing ah, think that there wouldn't be a Hanoi today. And so, the fact that there is a Hanoi is proof positive that there was no ah, ah, carpet bombing.
And ah, in addition to that, I think one of the ah, most ah, ah, unhappy aspects for me associated with that particular operation was a fact that ah, we were accused of, in ah, the local papers, who were doing nothing more than repeating what Hanoi says of ah, killing our own POW's. And ah, I had many calls from the mothers and from the fathers ah, of these young men ah, ah, and ah, asking why we were doing this ah, when in fact, we knew where all the POW's were, and as you know they're all back now and none of 'em were touched. And so I will never be able to understand, as long as I live, why, the uh, media was willing to accept a flat statement from an enemy and ah, turn what was a very unhappy Christmas into a miserable Christmas for the mothers and fathers, wives and children of these boys that were being held in ah, ah, North Vietnam.
There were, of course, as I said ah, ah, occasion when a bomb or two ah, ah, went ah, astray, and uh, I think one corner of one hospital was hit. But ah, that was certainly ah, in any sense targeted. And I defy anyone to conduct an operation like that and have ah, no instance of that kind.
As a matter of fact, in World War II no one even give a, gave a ah, any thought to ah, ah, such things ah, Now ah, I think it's ah, interesting to ah, point out that ah, two things. In the first place, the losses of aircraft ah, ah, of the B-52 aircraft, in particular, were ah, precisely as we anticipated. I had uh, reported, uh, to the Secretary of Defense and the President that we would lose ah, 2% of the sorties.
As a matter of fact, I think there were seven hundred and uh, forty sorties, and we lost fifteen B-52's. However ah, many of them ah, recovered outside of ah, North Vietnam. So ah, ah, we did not ah, have the crews come down in ah, North Vietnamese ah, area.
Ah, the second point I'd like to make is that when ah, ah, at the time of Christmas ah, President Nixon ah, directed that there would be no bombing conducted ah, on Christmas Day. Well, since there was a twelve hour ah, ah, time difference, that meant that there was thirty-six hours during which we did not conduct any bombings, and this did give the ah, North Vietnamese and opportunity to ah, repair some of their anti-aircraft ah, facilities, and so on.
One of the interesting things about this operation was that the North ah, Vietnamese fighters payed a played a very minor part. As a matter of fact, it was just as if they didn't have any. Whereas they did have ah, many very fine fighters.
And ah, with respect to restraints, I think the public should know that ah, ah, in an effort not to widen the war, and in any way endanger either a Chinese or, or a Soviet ah, aircraft, we were never allowed to attack the Phuc Yen Airfield just outside of Hanoi. Well, of course, the North Vietnamese are not stupid, and they caught onto this. And they kept their best fighters in this ah, field, and here is another incident of where we had ah, sanctuary for enemy forces that we created ourselves.
Interviewer:
What about the story of some of the B-52 pilots being reluctant to go on these missions?
Moorer:
Of all the ah, B-52 pilots that ah, went on the ah, mission, only one refused to go. And as is the ah, ah, practice of the media these days, he was a hero ah, and ah, the others were doing what they shouldn't have been doing. Those that, uh, the real heroes were never mentioned and this one individual was played up ah, ah, several, ah, for several ah, editions of the paper.
Interviewer:
Could you recall some of your conversation with President Nixon at this particular time? What was his mood? And how did he convey his mood to you in these conversations?
Moorer:
Well, I, I think that ah, President Nixon ah, deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his ah, staunch way in which he carried this out despite the fact that, um, many, many ah, uh, people were ah, ah, some in his immediate staff were advising him to stop it, or to to call a halt to it, so on.
But ah, as a matter of fact ah, one ah, ah evening, during the time this operation was taking place ah, he invited me to the White House for, a dinner. And ah, I, I felt that ah, my, ah, ah, contacts with him were uh, uh, very, very uh, straight forward. And I, I think that, uh, every time I saw him he was, uh, what so many people say "gung ho" to ah, ah, proceed, whether he was determined to proceed with the operation and get the POW's back.
And as a matter of fact, after it was all over ah, sometime in January he called me over to the White House and ah, ah, we discussed the whole operation and he was ah, very complimentary and very ah, ah, appreciative of ah, the way the operation had been conducted.
I'd like to point out to you that the day after ah, Christmas ah, we conducted an operation involving 100 B-52's and about 350 tactical aircraft over Hanoi and Hai Phong in a very limited time – less than an hour. I don't think any other military service in the world could've done that. And this required the most ah, perfect ah, cooperation and coordination between the Air Force and the US Navy, uh, aircraft ah, from the ah, aircraft carriers. It was just ah, from a professional point of view it was a, total perfection.

Political and military errors of the Vietnam War

Interviewer:
Let's go on to this last segment study.
Maybe your meter’s going.
Moorer:
Oh, yes,
Take five is coming up.
Mark it.
Take five.
Clapstick.
Moorer:
There's been ah, much discussion of Vietnamization. And many have thought that it would have been more effective if Vietnamization had ah, ah, started before it actually before it actually did. Ah, the facts were, as I have mentioned before ah, the South Vietnamese simply did not have ah, qualified leaders to take over a military operation ah, in ah, of the kind that was necessary in order ah, withstand the attacks of the professional ah, North Vietnamese troops.
One must remember that the North Vietnamese, under Ho Chi Minh, had been fighting ah, first the French, then the Japanese, then the French again, and now the Americans. And they were professionals in every sense. Ah, the South Vietnamese, on the other hand, were ah, primarily those ah, that were ah, more or less, uh, under the command of the French, and had ah, never had an opportunity to uh, develop leadership.
However, Vietnamization or no Vietnamization, the big mistake made ah, in my opinion, by the United States was that, uh, such troops as we landed into Vietnam should have been landed north of the DMZ and not south of the DMZ. Because, in that way we could've completely cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail at the very outset.
And furthermore, it would've made the ah, ah, assignment of the young captains and lieutenants in the Marine Corps, and in the ah, ah, ah, Army so much ah, easier in the sense that they would've known then, that ah, every ah, individual they saw was an enemy. In other words ah, you would not had a, the circumstance that was encountered in the My Lai ah, episode.
Because there are many, many, again, young Americans dead because they would continually admonish, "Now don't shoot, because you might kill a friend." And we had women with hand grenades in their brassieres, and in their babies diapers, and I personally was in ah, ah, South Vietnam when ah, two Marines were trying to ah, teach some youngsters how to play volleyball, and one of 'em pulled a hand grenade out of his pocket and killed both of 'em.
So ah, had we had our troops in North Vietnam instead of South Vietnam without having two forces that look exactly alike, they all had on ah, black ah, clothes, and they all were ah, Vietnamese. And we, and so ah, that, to me, was the big mistake we made. Not going into North Vietnam.
But, uh, if you recall that President Johnson stated three things, that I think all of which, uh, uh, got us into quite a bit of trouble. He said we will not invade North Vietnam. He said we seek no wider war, and that accounted for Phuc Yen Airfield being a sanctuary. And finally, he said, "We will not overthrow Ho Chi Minh."
Well, the only way, the only reason to go to war, at any time, uh, is to overthrow a government that's doing something you don't like. And if you announce at the outset that you are not going to overthrow the government, then, so far as I’m concerned ah, you should come home immediately.
Interviewer:
Admiral, you have a reputation for salty language. Could you use a little salty language and tell us, looking back, do you think you were fighting with your hands tied behind your backs?
[Technical discussion with crew]
End of SR #2825
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