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28 February 2009


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John Waring


Why couldn't the South Vietnamese stop the North Vietnamese conventional offensive?

Patrick Lang

John Waring

Ah... Now that is a good question.

My answer would be that European style nationalism harnessed to the service of Marxism-Leninism was a much stronger organizing principle than the old style Confucianist society that the Republic of Vietnam represented.

And then, there was the debilitating effect of understanding that there would be no help from outside.

Some fought, but not enough. Social Darwinism prevailed. pl



Naturally pure rationalism does not exist and everyone has their biases. However, that people are subject to passions and prejudices does not mean they are absolute slaves to them, nor does it mean that everyone is affected equally. In the end, those differences matter when considering policy and the more ideological one is, the more likely inconvenient facts and alternatives will be ignored or explained away leading to bad policy.


Why couldn't the South Vietnamese stop the North Vietnamese conventional offensive?

Posted by: John Waring | 01 March 2009 at 07:49 PM

There is no single answer to this. it's a process that had started 20 years before then. The parties, the bureaucracy, the supply, war strategies, international geopolitics, public disenchantment, etc ... It was not about about a single battle line anymore.

simple snipped from wiki, pretty much capture the complexity.


In 1960, at the Third Party Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party, ostensibly renamed the Labor Party since 1951, Lê Duẩn arrived from the South and strongly advocated the use of revolutionary warfare to topple Diệm's regime, unifying the country, and build Marxist-Leninist socialism. Despite some elements in the Party opposing the use of force, Lê Duẩn won the seat of First Secretary of the Party. As Hồ Chí Minh was aging, Lê Duẩn virtually took the helm of war from him. The first step of his war plan was coordinating a rural uprising in the South (Đồng Khởi) and forming the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) toward the end of 1960. The figurehead leader of the NLF was Nguyễn Hữu Thọ, a South Vietnamese lawyer, but the true leadership was the Communist Party hierarchy in South Vietnam. Arms, supplies, and troops came from North Vietnam into South Vietnam via a system of trails, named the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that branched into Laos and Cambodia before entering South Vietnam. At first, most foreign aid for North Vietnam came from China, as Lê Duẩn distanced Vietnam from the "revisionist" policy of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev. However, under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union picked up the pace of aid and provided North Vietnam with heavy weapons, such as T-54 tanks, artillery, MIG fighter planes, surface-to-air missiles, etc.

Meanwhile, in South Vietnam, although Ngô Đình Diệm personally was respected for his nationalism, he ran a nepotistic and authoritarian regime. Elections were routinely rigged and Diem discriminated in favour of minority Roman Catholics on many issues. His religious policies sparked protests from the Buddhist community after demonstrators were killed on Vesak, Buddha's birthday, in 1963 when they were protesting a ban on the Buddhist flag. This incident sparked mass protests calling for religious equality. The most famous case was of Venerable Thích Quảng Đức, who burned himself to death to protest. The images of this event made worldwide headlines and brought extreme embarrassment for Diem. The tension was not resolved, and on August 21, the ARVN Special Forces loyal to his brother and chief adviser Ngô Đình Nhu and commanded by Le Quang Tung raided Buddhist pagodas across the country. In the United States, the Kennedy administration became worried that the problems of Diệm's regime were undermining the US's anti-Communist effort in Southeast Asia. On November 1 1963, confident the US would not intervene or cut off aid as a result, South Vietnamese generals led by Dương Văn Minh engineered a coup d'etat and overthrew Ngô Đình Diệm, killing both him and hid brother Nhu.


My counterpart, a Vietnamese Army paratroop lieutenant colonel with one eye and one leg told me that it was "only a matter of time before you abandon us." He was right. A decent interval passed and it was so.

In retrospect, do you think the para was wrong? Even in at the time, did you think there was a real chance that the politicians would have ever approved starting the war back up after declaring victory or something approximating it?

I ask, because I think this has some relevance to potentially similar “guarantees” that we might issue in Iraq or Afghanistan. I begin to surmise that any such guarantee would be hollow (which is fine if that is the intention, but I would prefer we not deceive ourselves).



I speculate that Cheney convinced Bush that the Iraq colony could have been got on the cheap. When it didn't turn out that way it was too late to matter. Bush/Cheney had lost all credibility after ginning up the invasion on the pretext of WMD that never did exist.

I am glad that Obama made it very clear. I actually believe that Obama gets foreign policy and strategy and has got a solid national security team. I feel his real Achilles heel is his economic team and it seems so far he is out of his depth when dealing with the financial institutions.

Babak Makkinejad


I think most mainstream economists are out of their depth when it comes to the current financial crisis.

I recall the late Marxist economist Paul Sweezy repeatedly warning against the growth of financial sector is US (and abroad). I suppose it would make too much sense to hire a few Marxist economists to guide the rescue effort - at least they might help prevent groupthink.

Babak Makkinejad


yes, I agree.

But then all policy choices ought to be considered as choices among evils.

Perhaps the best policy paradigm would be to do nothing.


With all due respect to everyone here --

It would seem to me that doing honor to another's sacrifice would also include the ability to admit that what was accomplished -- or sought -- was never worth the gamble in the first place.

The sense of betrayal felt by the men and women who have killed and died in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq stems, it seems to me, not from the lingering questions over the ethics that motivated the violence, but rather from the lack of public awareness -- and lack of public empathy -- for the experiences of those men and women who served the public will.

WWII, WWI, the Spanish-American War -- these were all highly publicized, and in each case the entire U.S. infrastructure was universally focused upon them. During those wars, everyone in the U.S., everywhere, knew what the end goal was and followed it closely. In most cases, when the warriors returned their opinions were closely attended to, and their needs closely followed.

Ever since Korea, that has not been true. For my part, virtually no-one outside of my father has anything to do with the war, and his role is only that of a money-handler for a military firm (an honest one, let me add).

I think that is true for most Americans.

Ignorance breeds contempt, and in the current U.S. culture -- with "men" like Rick Santelli selling their souls on T.V. -- such contempt for our soldiers' effort is shameful.

I would like to point out one other thing:

There is a fundamental disparity of action between those who would begin a war of aggression, and those who would only seek to expand our political and economic power peacefully. It's much easier for a Cheney to lie the United States into an imperialistic war than it is for the Congress, or the U.S. people, to get us out once it's started.

In situations like that, the people who bear the brunt of the emotional and physical damage are our military. But it seems clear, now, 60 years later, that the U.S. was wrong to get involved in Vietnam in the first place.

Many mistakes were made, at that time -- by the military, by the economic and social elite, by our religious and political leaders -- the U.S. made a terrible, awful mistake, and it resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent and defenseless people.

Nobody in the U.S, i think, deserves to be blamed any more or less than the others -- we are all equally guilty, and -- from my standpoint -- very deeply guilty. Withdrawal was handled badly, sure; but that wasn't the only mistake made.

But for the Vietnam War, there is more than enough blame to go around. It makes me sad to see that, 60 years later, our public opinions remain so fractured that they still cause such rifts as have been opened here, on this blog, in the last few days.

I am glad we have people like you serving as our highest advisors, Colonel. I consider it a great gift to read and learn from your insight; thank you for your efforts here --

and i can see clearly that, sometimes, it is an effort few of us readers can really fathom.

I have followed closely what you have said, here, and your wisdom and recollections have tempered any inclination i might have to push for a rushed withdrawal, or to urge others to that end. For that, you have my deepest respect and gratitude -- you have given me a role to play among my fellow citizens, and however small it may be it is something i hope you can take pride in --

and i hope -- fiercely -- that you will continue engage this challenge, that through this pulbic dialog, these struggles may at last be elevated to something that benefits us all.


I think most mainstream economists are out of their depth when it comes to the current financial crisis.

Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 02 March 2009 at 11:53 AM

On the contrary, all the experts already know what to do. The problem is political. (the rich and powerful have to lose a lot of money. equity cut, investment wiped out, holding lost, etc)

This is the reason they keep bailing out what everybody already say...zombie banks. It's pretty much basic banana republic problem.

And by now, the market is anticipating an "L" shape recovery as a result. Everybody expect the banks will be weak, cannot clean up and admit massive lost, and as a result cannot function as conduit of investment properly. (Hence Japan 'L" shape recovery.

as you notice, people now start pulling money out of stock market (that stock market isn't going anywhere with L shape recovery) Lesson learned from Japan.

and with continuing collapsing equity, that means portofolio value deflate further. ..etc, etc.. the negative cycle.

It will be interesting to watch middle east economy with L shape US recovery. I hate to be the saudi, egypt, kuwait...Iran even. It will be massive inflation and slow growth for next 10-20 months. (dollar being dumped into the market will drown the middle east with no place to recycle it.)


i'm not sure what "democratic left" you're looking at.
i'm satisfied with obama's plan and numbers. juan cole is satisfied (in salon, sunday)and seems to understand the significance, as you noted,of this "address to the troops". and move on sends me 2 emails nearly every day telling me how truly cool it is.
maybe it's just the right biased media pushing that meme,as they do at most any opportunity to discourage change and progress.

Babak Makkinejad


On another thread, I submitted my estimate of the amount of financial instruments that cannot be backed by the real economy to be around 222 trillion dollars globally.

The actual figure might be close to 300 trillion dollars.

US is responsible for 1/3 of global production. Thus her share of bad assets would be - at a minimum - close to 70 trillion dollars. [Probably more ~ 100 trillion dollars).

How can an economy of ~ 13 trillion dollars a year deal with bad assets with nominal valuation of 70 to 100 trillion dollars?

This is not a political problem alone - it is a problem of political economy [where is a Marxist when you need one?]


You heard all of this first from me here.


It's all paper money. Fiat. there is no such thing as "real" economy. The whole transaction is as real as it can get. The joy of having world currency. Inflation goes somewhere else (as oppose to zimbabwe). Plus if one look at US sovereign debt, it's still in range of 40% or so. compared to Japan and Germany, way over 100%+. I think Japan is near 200% of GDP. That's just jiggling big number. In the short term it's not a big disaster if it's U recovery.

In the long term however, with baby boomer retiring, social security and tax revenue balance will change quite drastic. L shape decade long recovery is definitely bad.


If the military is a tool of the polity and war the extreme application of that tool by the polity then it is a misconception to define spheres of military operations or political activity in such a way as to lead to thinking “if only the politicians had let us do it the right way…” or “if only our generals had adopted the right military strategy from the beginning…”. One does not exist without the deep influence of the other.

Political choices were made to initiate military involvement in Vietnam and prescribe the nature of operations there. Those operations in turn influenced subsequent political decisions. Vested interests became established in the military and the polity for staying engaged there and for doing things this way or that. Feedback loops established themselves and information started to flow with both predictable and unpredictable consequences. For instance, following the quiescent Fifties the rise to prominence of the New Left came about as a relatively small group of people seized a moment to become the lens for focusing the energy of socially and economically liberated Baby Boomers coming of age and the eventual groundswell of their opposition to the war. The New Left, while rooted in a variety of past political and cultural causes, was essentially an artifact of the war that quickly faded away with the end of the conflict.

The war, its supporters and its opposition all shaped one another. The deceit and corruption of the Johnson and Nixon administrations could be said to have engendered an opposition so distrustful, and in a sense so reactionary, that it was blinded to prudence and common sense when it came to disengagement from the war. The way we left Vietnam is a national disgrace, but it was the culmination of an historical process that generated imperatives not simply of the moment but out of the complex continuum. I believe that President Obama is taking responsibility for a prudent and honorable withdrawal from Iraq. However, this is but one thread - though a powerful one - in the process that will generate the imperatives of our disengagement there. All kinds of other elements are likely to be heard from and we will do well to keep our heads and refrain from self indulgence or excessive zeal of any kind as we ride and - we hope - guide history to the moment of our departure from that place.

Paul Escobar

Back in 2006, that 'old lefty' Noam Chomsky had a good take on this:

"The principle is that invading armies have no rights whatsoever. They have responsibilities. The prime responsibility is to heed the will of the victims."

He went on to cite Iraqi opinion polls:

"The (Iraqi) population has made it pretty clear. Even U.S. and British polls make that clear. Overwhelming majorities want the U.S. to set a timetable to withdraw and adhere to it."

The website "World Public Opinion" has a collection of polling data from Iraqis. That's what Chomsky cites.

His position made alot of sense back then...& it still makes sense today.
What do the Iraqi people think of Obama's withdrawal plan?

Maybe they want the pace of withdrawal to slow.
Or maybe they'd like the occupying force gone yesterday.

That's the crucial issue here: What do the Iraqi people want?

Babak Makkinejad


Once again we have to agree to disagree.

I think there is such a thing as real economy - it produces bread, clothes, cars, and various sundry objects. It has men in hard hats digging ditches and fixing broken pipes and electrical conduits.

I cannot comment on the various projections of the future but I think focus has to be on the real economy - in the sense that I have described - rather than on what to do with these financial assets.

Eric Dönges


I admit I'm not an economist, so I may be way off here, but it seems to me most of the bad debt is not really real - it's pretend money that banks owe to each other and investors. There are no assets in the real economy to back it. If the real economy refused to believe in it, it would simply go away, because nothing has changed in the real economy (except that Americans can no longer finance their lifestyle on credit).

Of course, our masters will never let us stop believing in their make-believe riches, because then they would stop being our masters. Instead, we get the bailouts that are designed to turn the make-believe money into real money by passing the debts on to people who actually have real assets, namely those of us who work for a living.

Reading your last comment again, it seems to me we might actually agree - the important thing is to make sure the real economy keeps running. I say we don't need the geniuses who got us into this mess for that; let them rot.


Babak Makkinejad:
In fact, I cannot think of a single war or historical leader whose actions could be justified or understood on basis of Reason.

Louis XIV's cannons were inscribed with the motto "Ultima Ratio Regum" (the Last Argument of Kings).

(That little factoid comes from Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy, the first novels I have read since rereading LOTR when the Jackson films came out.)

I don't know if I agree with you though, some aggressive war aims are rational from a realpolitik standpoint, at least in the beginning, like Frederick the Great's seizure of Silesia. Others (the Athenian invasion of Sicily, France's rivalry with Britain 1688-1815, the Thirty Year's War) are less so. Or maybe that's hindsight.

Or does your capitalization of Reason denote the philosophical concept? I enjoyed Logic but always thought philosopy was a waste of time.

Babak Makkinejad

Eric Dönges:

The investors mentioned by you included pension funds [defined benefits] and a variety of retirement saving instruments.

They will have to absorb some of these - as you say, paper -losses with the attendant reduction in purchasing power and standard of living of the retired people that they cover. The loss in some retirement instruments in US is close to 50% of face-value. These losses will severely limit consumption [including drugs, elective surgery, etc.] among the retired people.

Some of the other investors were Venture Capitalists who used their money and invested [mostly for amusement]in High-Tech & Bio-Tech; creating he Silicon Valley etc. They are also going to be very very restricted in what they can fund. And these people were the real force behind much of US R&D.

A third group of investors hurt very badly are charities and universities in the United States. Charities cannot fund at the levels that they used to. And the universities can neither do capital improvements to their facilities, hire more faculty, or help students with their educational costs to the extent they could even a year ago.

You are correct that these assets constituted largely paper wealth but in industrialized countries financial assets (i.e. promissory notes) have constituted the predominant form of wealth for decades – even before WWII. These losses are quite painful in a real sense for many many people.

Babak Makkinejad


Men claim that there is a faculty of human mind called Reason. It is in that sense that I have used it.

Your usage of the word rational, on the other hand, is that of the application of an algorithm [if one such exists] to reaching a stated goal. I think this may also be called cunning.

But the goal itself will forever remain beyond the reach of either "reason" or "Reason".


I think there is such a thing as real economy - it produces bread, clothes, cars, and various sundry objects. It has men in hard hats digging ditches and fixing broken pipes and electrical conduits.

Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 04 March 2009 at 09:23 AM

I don't dispute that manufacturing or farming are the life and death of national economy. But the meaning of money (the amount of debt you quoted, is not entirely grounded on manufacturing alone. It is fiat. As world currency, dollar has slightly different behavior.)

if the US economy were iceland or korea, or Belgium, it would have blown to pieces. With top 10 banks all collapsing. The export, import imbalance will also sunk the nation long time ago.

It takes a long time and much more mismanagement to doom US economy. (tho' I seriously doubt anybody wants to find out how much more.)

different clue

I was in upper elementary
school, junior high school and senior high school while
the Vietnam War was going on. The War looked unwinnable to the best of my
adolescent knowledge at the time and all I really knew beyond that was that I did not want to get sent and I hoped they stopped the War before it was time for me to
Based on what little I may have actually learned from everything I have read or heard or been told; I think the North Vietnamese would have never stopped fighting to take South Vietnam. So if winning meant getting the North to stop fighting and accept the
long-term existence of South
Vietnam as a separate country; I don't see how we could have won that kind of surrender-of-ultimate-goal by the North. If we had used total unlimited violence (which we did not use) we could have destroyed the North into admitting long term defeat; but did we dare risk an outright war with the North's Soviet and Red Chinese backers? At the time I think our leadership decided we dare not risk that. And the Soviet and Chinese backers were never going to stop their massive assistance to North Vietnam to secure a victory deemed crucial to the Soviet and Chinese backers. So we could delay that victory as long as we kept fighting and/or aiding South Vietnam,
but were we going to keep fighting for years more? Or
decades more? With North Vietnam and its Soviet/Chinese backers still fighting and/or supporting just as hard as ever? Far more people than just the left wing Democrats
were tired of that. And the Congress (and the people
it represented) had learned such distrust of the Executive Branch whomever the occupant, that they probably viewed a request for aid as a holding action to prepare the political ground for a return to active American combat engagement if the aid proved to be not enough for the South to stop the North with. Congress might have been wrong to distrust the Executive so totally, but that is how they felt. And to the best of my recollection today, I felt the same way too.

Would staying and aiding, or staying and fighting, for 5 more years or 10 more years have altered the final outcome? Or merely delayed it anyway?
(Though if we had stayed just longer enough to plan and assist an orderly withdrawal and resettlement-to-America of all our South Vietnamese friends, colleagues, and supporters who felt they would have no future or even safety in the
eventual Communist Vietnam; that would have been fairer to them then the sudden departure by which we left).

Does the memory of bitter
treachery enhance or detract from the ability to dispassionately analyze all the events in America affecting the Anerican political and social side of
the course of the conflict?

(There is a school of thought that the time America spent fighting there
was time given to the South East Asian dominoes to nail themselves to the table. So
when the Communists took the
South; the broader Communist
movement found itself unable
to advance beyond IndoChina into the rest of Southeast Asia. Lee Kwan Yew laid this view out in a speech he
gave in 2006, which can be found here:

I regret that my programming/computer combination doesn't allow me
to make that URL come up blue and clickable.)

Eric Dönges


but how much of these losses are directly linked to bad investments in financial services companies, as opposed to the collateral damage to companies that actually produce something of value ? My point is that if we told the financial wizards to go screw themselves, then perhaps the real economy would only take a moderate hit. 2009 would be a bad year, not a catastrophic one. Instead of pouring billions into the banks, maybe we should be using that money to keep the real economy afloat.

Babak Makkinejad

Eric Dönges:

In 2006, 40% of US corporate profits came from the financial sector.

A decision was made, back in 1950s, that US was going to be the banker of the world [a similar decision was made 60 years earlier in UK, leading to a de-industrialized UK}.

This worked for a long time quite well- if you were in that sector but it deprived the rest of US economy from capital.

In the meantime, US began selling her manufacturing jobs abroad to attract more capital and to grow the financial sector.

This process has come to a screeching halt leaving millions of people with no livelihood all over the world.

Whether 2009 will be a catastrophe or not depends on how the rules of capitalist economy are applied to these so-called toxic assets. In other words, how can US deal with 50 to 75 trillion dollars of bad assets within the rules of capitalist economy?

There were studies of scenarios in 1980s about how to deal with US budget deficits. One way was sustaining 20% inflation for a number of years - less than a decade, if I recall correctly. Would that solution work now? Yes it will but it will take decades of 20% inflation in US to absorb 70 trillion dollars of bad assets.

Alternatively, US can declare a default and let the rest of the world go screw itself.

Or it can be added to the national debt and serviced - just like the debt of WWII or the Japanses debt accumulated during 1990s - as a budgetary item. But then that item may come to eat more and more of the US Federal budget, won't it?

Some one has to hold the bag. This someone will be the people of the world - there is no other way. But "Who is going to tell the people?".


A decision was made, back in 1950s, that US was going to be the banker of the world [a similar decision was made 60 years earlier in UK, leading to a de-industrialized UK}. Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 05 March 2009 at 03:32 PM

Yes. but that was the most practical outcome of WWII ruin. There are only one industrial and capital center left, the US. And Europe can only be revived by martial plan. But it turns out by 60's dollar is not big enough to cover world economic growth, it was perpetual deflation. So somebody has to print the money. (follow the various global monetary agreements/accords/treaty.) They are not an overnight construction, but a long process mostly a reaction out of crisis or imbalances.

UK collapse is not mainly because of competition from the US, but their imperial economic structure weren't sustainable after WWII. An imperial doesn't lost a huge chunk of colony without experiencing major disruption in industrial supply chain and capital movement.

>In the meantime, US began selling her manufacturing jobs abroad to attract more capital and to grow the financial sector.>

you can
t create a super power economy by manufacturing alone. Who cares about garment industry, farming, or what not. They are boring and job for machines.

I had this long discussion with a professor that lament about the demise of TV manufacturing industry. And I said, yeah but who cares about making tv set? Nobody is making money making television tubes. on top of that those tube is gong away. (this was before LCD and plasma mind you)

and lo and behold, we are watching full collision between internet and TV. They say it would be interactive TV and all that BS. but the kids and new generation simply don't watch TV anymore. They are glued to computer and smartphones. TV is dead.

You were very annoyed when I said the possibility of high automation line for centrifuge assembly. Well, that's the future of manufacturing. If I were the power that be I will kill current car companies and transfer the worker to post combustion vehicles.

How fast do you think we will drop combustion engine car with full burn research? less than a decade!

so that's the biggest chunk of trade balance. Do you still want to talk about how important car manufacturing is to national economy?

basic manufacturing on specific product will go the way analog phone, TV tube, newspaper, labor intensive farming, etc.. WHO CARES... by the time one is done training a division of workers to assemble something, the technology is already obsolete.

National resource should be focused on maintaining high quality education, research centers, sensible policy, and well being of citizen. Not saving obsolete manufacturing lines or bailing out has been industry.

do you really think the oil culture is sustainable? It is not. all those plastics have to be replaced with something more sustainable. All those combustion engines has to be replaced. It's not a question of if. It's a question of when.

imagine the global balance of power with 60% of car running on hybrid and advance battery. Even Iran learn that high dependency on gasoline is national security liability.

... etc. quit living in the 80's already. gah... It's the new millenium.

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