American equipment support during Vietnamization

SR 447
Richard Moose
Turn. Mark it. Forty seven. Clapsticks.
I'm ready.
Okay. We ah went out to Vietnam sixty days after the cease fire to assess for the Committee what had happened in that interval, and I think up to the time we went out there we had been unaware, the Committee had been unaware of the fact that there had been massive shipments of equipment and materiel of various sorts had been rushed into Vietnam just before the cease-fire, you know.
I suppose, I suppose the Russians were doing the same thing from their side, but I suspect that it was not on such a massive scale as this. We tried to put a dollar figure on this. The report that we wrote in April or May of 1969 we ah we called the ah we called the figure... No, I'm sorry. Wrong year.
Change. Turning. Mark it. Forty seven.
Take two. Clap sticks.
So, we went out out after the cease-fire to report for the Committee and it was in ah April of '74, I suppose, and we found that ah, I think we were able to put a dollar figure on on at least part of Enhance and Enhance Plus and it must have been over seven hundred and fifty million dollars that we could assign ah assign a value to. Now, that's that's exclusive of what it costs to ship it there and all of the rest of it, and I think by no means did we get it all.
Now, a great deal of it was just scarfed up, as one would say from US units, and ah posts all over the world and ah as of the time we were there still a great deal of it it was simply sitting around.
The Vietnamese were not adequately prepared to take this materiel into their units. In most cases they didn't have people trained for it, they may have been unfamiliar with some of it, but a great deal of it was wasted, or certainly the use of it was wasted for a long time.
I suspect that there was a good deal of that materiel from Enhance and Enhance Plus that had never really been used and ah and when the ah and when the North Vietnamese took over Saigon and the other bases, I suspect they found some of it just as it had been when they got, it arrived.
That's very good.

Moose's report to the Foreign Relations Committee

Cut. Turn. Mark it. Forty eight. Clapsticks.
Well, I, I joined the Committee staff 1969 at the, at the time when Nixon's Vietnamization Program had been ah a few months in operation and things seemed to be going well and and Vietnam was out of the news, and...
We went out for the Committee and we came back and I think the Committee really wanted us despite its record of opposition to the war. The Committee really wanted us to come back and say that everything's all right. They really didn't want us to come back and say there was a problem. They wanted the problem to go away.
We wrote in '69 that the war was far from won and far from over as far as American involvement was concerned. Well, we went out after the cease-fire and ah and we said really there's no essentially there's no cease-fire. There's a that there's a fighting cease fire, and it differs ah ah from one area of the country to the other. Ah.
I think I think again really this was unwelcome news because I think the members of the of the Committee by that time they were certainly exhausted with this. Ahh.
It had consumed their energies, it predominated in the debate in the Senate. It had, ah, it was a divisive issue and they really, they really wished it would go away, but it wouldn't go away. And, and they did keep sending us back to see what the situation was and we kept coming back and telling them that there really there was that it was a mixed picture. I remember after, after we came back April ah after the sixty days of the cease fire, we said we thought the South Vietnamese had a little bit the better of it, ah, in the positioning that had gone one but that ah in the long run, it was still going to depend on ah on on the Americans and ah that this is what the South Vietnamese believed. And, that if, if, if things went badly the decision would be up to us.
...previous sentence?
Go to camera roll 2433. Mark it. Forty nine. Clap sticks.
Paper off. Little further away.
I don't really need it. I don't really need them. I'm going to put them down there. How's that. All right.
...notes further away or something.
How's that? I don't really need 'em. I don't really need 'em. Let me put 'em down there. How's that?
Preferable. Uh, right. Go ahead.
Going out and assessing the situation sixty days after the cease fire, we believed that the South Vietnamese had a bit the better of it in the final jockeying for position and that ah and that the outlook for them was ah was ah a hopeful one.
However, we caveated it and we said in the end things will still seem to turn on the Americans, and if things ah if things begin to go badly the final decision will he up to the Americans it seems. Ah. Whether to re-enter Vietnam ah or whether to stay out ah and accept an outcome which will be judged to be an American defeat, but in the end it will be up to us.
What was the reaction of the Committee members that you said that to?
Well, I, I was afraid some time that the Committee members begin to think that we were a broken record. That we would go out and we would cone back and make these these observations. Ah. People always wanted answers. There were never answers in Vietnam. There were always more questions.
And, we tried to keep raising the questions and tried to keep figure what were the right questions to ask so that I think they, I think they, I think some of them thought that we were confirmed pessimists. I know, I know for a long time Senator Humphrey did. He thought we only went out only went to find the negative. Oddly enough, Senator Fulbright sometimes thought that we were altogether too charitable and understanding of situations, but ah, eventually ah eventually for example Senator Humphrey who was critical of us at first ahm paid more and more attention to this kind of reporting and I think the constant analysis, going back and looking at the same situations year after year, I think I think it was useful to some of the members of the Committee.
That's good. Cut. Turning. Mark it.

Watergate's impact on Vietnam policy

Fifty. Clap sticks.
It's difficult to know how much Watergate affected the end game of American policy in Vietnam. I think it was a flawed policy. It was a policy that was doomed from the beginning for reasons, some of our own making and some, as I've suggested, of of of deeper historical origin. I don't think any president, no matter how strong ah by '73 by ‘74 things happening the way they were developing in Vietnam. The attitude of the Congress about the war in Indochina I don't think, it's hard to imagine a president turning that entire experience around. Ah.
Ah, ah Nixon in in full ah under under full sail and doing well. I think that ah he could not have led the country. He could not have led American Armed Forces back into action in Vietnam and I don't think that ah ah he could have greatly escalated the air war in a crisis situation at the end and have avoided the denouement which occurred.
Surely, he was weaker but the Congress had had enough of Vietnam by that time. I don't think that I don't think I don't think even Nixon could have charmed them into it. Ah. Ah.
It was made, it was made markedly more difficult by the, by Watergate that's true. I think probably Watergate may have ah ah increased Secretary Kissinger's concern over the appearance of American will, ah, in the world. The that perhaps he felt that because of Watergate and because of the appearance of the of the United States and the ah of the ah of the ah leadership situation in the United States maybe seemed even more important that we stand firm right down to the last in Vietnam ah, ah, seemingly avoiding a real understanding of what was happening there. Ignoring it. Pretending that it didn't exist as as as as literally as the as the North Vietnamese truck columns converged on Saigon.
Tone. Cut. Turn. Marker. Fifty one.
They ah it was it was like it was like someone had come to see who was really sick and there wasn't anything really you could do about it. Ah. People felt sorry for him, but people didn't want to be put in position to have to respond. Ah. They got a polite reception but ah they can't have gotten any encouragement.
Stop. Cut.

Moose and Meisner's trip to Indochina

Turning. Fifty-two. Clap sticks. Okay.
Well, events were going so badly that it was, it was quite apparent to ah everyone that a real crisis moment had been had been reached. The administration arranged ah a Congressional delegation to go out to Southeast Asia to to see the situation and there was some talk of my going along on that but I, I was able to sidestep it because I felt one didn't often learn as much as one might traveling around with a group of Congressmen and senators.
I thought I could learn more if we went out ah the team of us and did the sort of report that we usually did. So, Meisner and I went out, Chuck Meisner and I went out and we went first to Saigon where we ah assessed the situation. Mainly, the military situation which was pretty grave already by then.
Ah. The ah there had been the rout in the north highlands, and ah we then decided that we should go to Phnom Penh. Ah. That took a little bit of doing. We flew over on one of the on one of the rice and ammunition flights. Ahm.
Had to circle down into into Pochentong Airport because it was under mortar fire at the time, and we got out of the, actually we dove out of the side of the airplane and into a car that raced off across the the tarmac and we went into town.
We drove to the old hotel, Hotel Phnom. It used to be the Hotel Royale and there was gathered the remnants of the American press corps, all sitting around. We'd carried in a few envelopes for them of of ah of messages and things from their offices in Saigon. A lot of, a lot of twenty dollar green ah in case they got into a bad situation and needed something. Ah.
We actually had more information about the military situation than they did because we'd gotten a number of intelligence bbb—briefings in Saigon and drawing on what was what was ah all right to tell them. We we, described what we understood the situation to be or what it was understood to be on the outside. So they told us the same, gave their perspective of it and they said they thought maybe it had a week or two weeks to go.
I saw John Dean, ah our Ambassador, Bob Keeley, who was the number two who was in charge of our embassy there, and we went around to see some of the leading Cambodians and I was interested on exploring on behalf of the Committee what their attitude was. Their prospects of of of of some last minute talks with the ah of the Khmer Rouge, to try to avoid a complete debacle at the end.
Ah. I came away awfully discouraged. Ah. We wrote in great haste the message from Phnom Penh back to the Committee through the State Department describing how that situation stood.
I said goodbye to ahm some Cambodian friends all and ah stopped in an old curio shop where I used to go and bought a teapot and a silver elephant ah and there was there was an air of death on the city. I mean, it was, it was unmistakable. One knew that the end was really there and ah and that it was only a matter of days.
I recall, I recall the first time we had gone to we had gone to Phnom Penh which was in May of 1970 right after the American incursion and I remembered that Sirik Matak, or Lon Nol had said to I guess it was Lon Nol had said to Jim Lowenstein and me in December of 1970 he said, you Americans have an opportunity here in Cambodia to retrieve the honor that you lost in Vietnam, I thought about Lon Nol’s statement, ah, at the time as we flew back to Saigon and into a situation which had deteriorated even further.

Fall of Saigon

We met then ah an old acquaintance ah of ours ah the a man who was the the CIA' s leading order of battle analyst who we had had known on other visits to Saigon who the agency, the station chief, had always used to brief us because he was a very intelligent man and extremely well informed, very committed to the pursuit of the war. A true believer, as I used to refer to those people. I had great respect for him. I disagreed with him but I had to I had to respect his superior knowledge of the, of the situation in Vietnam. I always had in years past. As I say he was a brilliant order of battle analyst.
Beep. End of SR 447. R. Moose.
SR 448 to go with
Head CR 2434
Richard Moose (continuing)
53 Clap.
Can you be quiet for a bit...We're rolling.
It was Frank Snepp who in addition to his duties as a Order of Battle Analyst, had also, I think he tells this in his book, had had been the agent who was handling some of the North Vietnamese agents, and some of the best ones. Essentially Frank wanted to meet with us and he wanted to tell us what he had been unable to get through official channels to Washington.
We met on the roof of the, on the top floor of the Majestic Hotel, and I still remember I had a tough pepper steak, and Frank started to tell his story and he gave us just enough of the background to establish his credibility for the story that he was telling.
And the story essentially was that the North Vietnamese were not going to stop pause outside the city while there was a negotiating effort that in fact they were coming in and that the city would fall. And that it was too late to do anything except to... well, he didn't draw this conclusion, but he says, "here is what is going to happen.”
It was a very somber, serious occasion, uh, Frank obviously was taking a step here that uh, demonstrated his frustration in being able to get a straightforward piece of information through a system which didn't want to hear something of that sort at that time, even though he was, I think, as much respected inside the agency as he was by us. Uhm, he'd been a golden boy of sorts.
Anyway, this was Frank's assessment of the thing. So Chuck Meisner and I decided what we should do. We decided that we should not extend our stay in Saigon, that we should cut it short, that we ought to get back and talk to the Committee as quickly as possible of the implications of what Frank had told us. Uh.
Coupled with our general broad assessment of the military assessment, we'd been talking to all of our sources in Saigon uh, in the US military, a few Vietnamese sources, and they had been giving a very dire prediction as far as the military situation, but nothing that had this dramatic element Frank's inside knowledge of what the North Vietnamese were gonna do.
We drafted a report to the Committee that night that said we were coming home immediately and suggested that the Committee might want to convene the session as soon as we got there.
We decided for a variety of reasons because of the things that happen sometimes the messages that went out of Embassy Saigon, we thought better of sending that telegram from Saigon, so we arranged to be evacuated the following day on an American military flight, along with some Americans, some Vietnamese dependents and a load of tupperware, and we went into Subic Bay uh in Manila and we filed our report from there. But the last morning at the Embassy, the place was surrounded by Vietnamese who wanted to get visas, people inside were packing things and uh in a quiet sort of way, the some Americans were leaving uhhhhhh.
No one in the Embassy, except maybe Ambassador Martin sitting upstairs, believed that there would be any tomorrow. Uhm, so we uh, we left, uh, carrying this message back to the Committee. The Committee. We stopped in CINCPAC at Honolulu on the way back where we heard that Phnom Penh had fallen.
We flew on back to Washington and the Committee did, uh I believe, uh it met uh the Monday we got back. I recall getting back on a Sunday, maybe it met on a Monday, and and when the members had heard basically what we had to say, they had read our message when they heard what we had to say, to ask the questions and ask what we thought of the implications of the thing as far as the evacuation of Americans, as the safety of Americans and others to whom we were beholden.
Uh, the suggestion was made, I believe, I believe by Senator Javits, but at least it was he who articulated it first, Senator Javits said, in the marvelous way that he had of saying things, he said, "I believe that the Committee should go and wait upon the the President. Ah, this as a body."
This was very unusual. There’s almost no precedent for it. And before the afternoon was out, we indeed we all went over to the White House. They took Chuck Meisner and me along with them. And we went over there, and the President sat there, and the Secretary of State were all there, the military people and uh the Committee said...
Oh, the Committee had sent our report down so that the President and Secretary of State could read it. So they had read our report. So there we were sitting there, and the Committee asking the President, "What are you going to do? You've got to get the Americans out of Saigon." Uhm, and that essentially is the is the story of that last trip.
Very good. Stop.

Failure of Vietnamization

54 Clap.
Go ahead.
I found myself thinking today about the pages after pages of information and interpretation and all that's been written and said about Vietnam, and I suppose the question that still comes to my mind is, is, is uh, why, after all of the money, after all of the lives, after all of the equipment, after all of the effort, everything that went into our support of South Vietnam, why couldn't they, why couldn't they defend themselves, and when it came right down to it. Through my observations going back through the years, there was always the question in Vietnam, this question would always be raised, when Vietnamization was started, how long would it take them to get on their own feet two years, four years, five years?
Uh, uh '74, after the after the offensive in the North, American airpower comes in and saves the day. This is what the generals in I Corps told us in II Corps, III Corps. It was American airpower that saved the day. That this was very reassuring to the Vietnamese because they thought after the withdrawal had begun it meant that the Americans wouldn't come back. But now they'd seen that the Americans would come back. So they were still clinging on to this hope, uh, could they do it by themselves they could do a lot? But, but in the end, in the end, they would need to count on the Americans.
Uh, why couldn't they do it? Uh, the North had, had nothing like the resources at its disposition that we gave to the South. Uh, and I think the answers, as close as I can get to an answer for myself is that the South, unlike the North, was divided factions, cliques.
Thieu spent so much of his time trying to balance one faction against another. One region, the Army commanders and so forth. No unity. No sense of belief. No sense of purpose. No motivation. No leadership. I put those all in all in one basket. There's the disunity. There's the lack of motivation and with that I put, I put leadership. Ah.
The third is that it may exactly have been American involvement in the war which which made it impossible unlikely that the South could sustain itself. We really took over from the South Vietnamese the responsibility at some point. There was a psychological transference in there. At some point, the Vietnamese gave it to us.
Now, wh—and and and they were happy to do it. Why? I don't know. Some people would say greed. Ah. Frustration. Ah. Ah. Perhaps it was fatalism. Ah. I don't know, but they handed it to us and when they handed it to us, ah I think it was probably lost from that moment on. I don't know how far back you can go to look for the roots of this. One could say that the American Congress lost the war.
Well, that means that sort of history begins at whatever time the Congress got involved in the thing. Was it '74 when they began to put a limit on appropriations or was it '73 or was it some time on back. I'd rather carry it back to I'd rather carry it back to the Second World War when Franklin Roosevelt ah ignored Ho Chi Minh's ah appeals. Um.
I think ah I think you go back in into that era there and ah you begin to see ah us becoming immersed in the situation which ultimately undermined the Vietnamese will to defend themselves. So that I think you know had we had we just given them the guns and the money and and all of the rest of it, could they have done it for themselves? Ah.
I don't know. By the end I think, I think probably our money and our help and our presence had corrupted them beyond the point where they could defend themselves.
Excellent. The timing is perfect.
End. Room tone for Richard Moose interview.
End of SR 448. Richard Moose