Indochina, Viet Nam and my Dad

As part of a family project, via my older brother, I received a copy of this letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy to my parents, whom, I assume under the leadership of my father, penned an initial letter to the Senator, urging the end of the Viet Nam war and decrying U.S. involvement in Cambodia.  I was amazed at the timing of this letter which was written in the same month and year as this article, which provides some context.

Summary:

During the last week of April 1970 the Vietnam war became the Second Indochina War. On April 24 and 25 representatives of the four movements of the Indochinese Left convened at a certain spot in south China to seal an alliance that had been contracted many years before by three of the movements-the North Vietnamese Lao Dong, the Pathet Lao and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF)-and to which Prince Sihanouk, overthrown a month earlier by the Cambodian Right, was now adhering in a conspicuously unconditional manner. The Indochinese revolutionary front thus came into being.

During the last week of April 1970 the Vietnam war became the Second Indochina War. On April 24 and 25 representatives of the four movements of the Indochinese Left convened at a certain spot in south China to seal an alliance that had been contracted many years before by three of the movements-the North Vietnamese Lao Dong, the Pathet Lao and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF)-and to which Prince Sihanouk, overthrown a month earlier by the Cambodian Right, was now adhering in a conspicuously unconditional manner. The Indochinese revolutionary front thus came into being.

Five days later, President Nixon announced the entry into Cambodia of sizable American contingents backed up by South Vietnamese units. This operation, dubbed “Total Victory,” was presented in Saigon as an attempt to wind up the war and be done with it. In this manner a strategy was defined which confuses the idea of victory with that of extending the conflict outside Vietnam. In the light of the disclosures made two weeks before by a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding American participation in the fighting in Laos, the conclusion is inescapable that on April 30, 1970, the United States embarked on what is now the Second Indochina War.

Thus Richard Nixon became the first Republican President to increase the responsibilities of the United States on that Asian landmass into which Washington’s best strategists have so often insisted that no American army must ever plunge. And the operation was launched under conditions that the worst enemies of the United States might have hoped for. “We must have two or three Vietnams!” Ernesto “Che” Guevara had trumpeted in 1967 in the name of the worldwide revolution. And there they are, from Luang Prabang to Kep: two or three Vietnams, that is to say, the whole of that territory of Indochina which French colonization seems, in retrospect, to have put together to serve as the framework for a revolutionary undertaking-a framework that is more open to Vietnamese energies than the restricted territory of Vietnam alone.

My Dad was never a fan of Ted Kennedy.  Indeed, he believes the Kennedys were and are “a bunch of crooks.”  I cannot say I blame him (though his rantings, which I unfortunately inherited somewhat, can be off-putting).  So this letter is an historic artifact both internationally and personally.

I can guess why my Dad wrote the letter which initiated the response from the White House.  First, my father had served his country as a member of the Coast Guard.  He literally traveled around the world. Second, my father witnessed first-hand the devastating effects the Viet Name war had on his brothers and my mother’s brothers.  He saw PTSD in action as he watched the continuing tragedy in Indochina unfolding in the media.

The Viet Nam war was intimate.  It stole the lives of millions of soldiers and altered the reality of families.  Revolution threatened not only the people of Indochina, but of the United States.  People feared the country was falling apart, similar to the fears elicited from the Civil War and the current war in the Middle East.  The Viet Nam war felt endless, as has the war in the Middle East.

It is ironic that I write this entry the morning on the day on which our President will announce a decision on whether or not to continue the conflict full force or begin attempts to withdraw. I don’t know how sincere a withdrawal attempt might be made, but I do know the U.S. and the world, (with the exception of a minority of terrorists and dictators), are exhausted from war.  We are depleting ourselves of people and resources.  We are slowly disintegrating our economy, here and worldwide. One must question the wisdom of our leaders’ past and potential decisions.

 

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