SOUND TO GO WITH CAMERA ROLL #742.
When Americans came into the war the revolution had been
in process for almost two decades. Lines of conflict had been
established that we were, for the most part, totally unaware of. It was
paradoxical that in our view, progress in bringing a Saigon government
into the countryside, into areas it had not been in many years, was in
fact a re establishing of a very narrow oligarchy of land owners who
were dispossessing people of ownership that they had gotten of their
land through the revolution. I say it's paradoxical because the change
in land tenure was a very important part of our own revolution. Along
the way America was fighting against its own best traditions in Vietnam
because we were unprepared to see what, in fact, was the process at work
a village based revolution.
Seventy-five percent of the population of Vietnam at
that time were villagers. Their whole life was involved in the growing
of rice. No other resource in Vietnam counts for as much as growing of
rice. I saw this firsthand as a Navy advisor in the Mekong
Delta for two years, from 1959 to 1961
. I was there at the time that America felt that
its greatest success had been achieved in establishing the Ngo Dinh Diem government
as the legitimate government throughout South Vietnam.
But that legitimacy was based upon a concept that was
not recognized by the villagers themselves. And, therefore, in order to
maintain the legitimacy of that government, a alien unsupportable
legitimacy as far as the village people were concerned, larger and
larger amounts of military power were required.
I think probably the easiest way to, to explain the
difference between a revolutionary society that existed from '45 to the present
, 1945 to the present,
and that which existed before, is to tell you that in 1939
, 11,000 French troops were the sole means of establishing French colonial authority
throughout all of Indochina
an area half again the size of France itself. In 1968
over a half million American forces plus a larger number of
Vietnamese forces was unable, as the Tet Offensive demonstrated, to be able
to establish the legitimacy and authority of the Saigon government in
only a portion of that territory.
Something drastic had happened. I learned about that
not only firsthand, but as a scholar I studied with a French professor,
Paul Meusse, who had grown up in Vietnam and with,
and through his perspective and experiences as a military advisor to the
French high command during
the French phase, began to
understand the nature of the Vietnamese revolution. That revolution is
not so exotic as to he beyond our comprehension.
It's just that we never made the effort to explore
what that revolution was all about why it was that we, perhaps
inadvertently, joined the side of those opposing the revolution rather
than supporting it, to be sure our opposition to Communism was a major
part of our decision. But the point of our opposing Communism meant that
we had nothing that was relevant to the villagers to put in its place
other than increasing levels of fire power. And the more fire power we
brought to bear in Vietnam, the more force we brought to bear the less
our power became the less authority the Saigon government had because we
polarized the villagers, we forced them to make a choice.
That choice between a government that was urban and
alien to their experience and background as distinct from a
revolutionary force based in villages was a choice that was easy for
them to make. This is saying that Vietnam was, has been involved in a
revolution is not to say that the revolutionaries have been good and
decent people, that they are benign and do not believe violence.