A VIETNAMESE PERSPECTIVE OF THE US WITHDRAWAL FROM THE VIETNAM WAR
"When they wanted to come, they came. And when they want to leave, they leave. It's as if a neighbor came over and made a shambles of your house, then all of a sudden he decided the whole thing is wrong, so he calls it quits. How can they just do that?" (Diem, page 342). The withdrawl of the United States, as stated by this common and unsophisticated Vietnamese store owner, left the Vietnamese people feeling extremely deserted, with a sense of hopelessness. By examining the reasons of the pullout we can better understand the indignation felt by those Vietnamese people. The reasons revolve around U.S. policy, the motivation of the troops, and public opinion. It is first pertinent to briefly look at the reasons why the U.S. got involved in Vietnam in the first place. Three main reasons include: fear of the spread of communism, American pursuits, and the Cold War.
Serving as South Vietnam's ambassador from 1967 to 1972, Bui Diem, with the help of David Chanoff, gives a personal account of the Vietnam War and what it was like to be a Southerner during this time. Starting with his own personal background as a small child in the 1940's, Diem takes us through decades of Vietnamese culture until the end of the war in 1975. He gives excellent descriptions of how it felt to be involved first hand with the war. The Vietnamese overtones are an excellent representation of how it felt to be a southerner during the war.
Living mostly in the United States, Washington D.C., Diem's primary responsibility during the latter part of the war was to deal directly with the U.S. government--specifically the Congress--in order to free up money to aid Vietnam and prevent a U.S. withdrawal. "My mission . . . was to do what I could to unstop the $700 million in emergency aid that was bottled up in the U.S. Congress, aid that would give shells to South Vietnam's nearly silent guns" (page 2). There was a "general belief [among Vietnamese] that the United States could not simply stand back and watch an ally of twenty years be destroyed by it's Soviet-supplied Communist enemy" (page 3).
The South Vietnamese government and army (ARVN) depended so heavily on the United States to fight the war for them that a pullout would have been disastrous to the plight of the democratic South. Diem gives an excellent account of the relations between the South and the US in the last years before the fatal pullout that ultimately led to the Communist take over of Saigon in April, 1975.
"From the various sources it is possible to put together a picture of how the climatic decision to intervene came about and how it was seen by some of the chief American policymakers and by those of us in the South Vietnamese government. Putting the two views side by side, one cannot help but be struck by the lack of clarity in the process, the absence of understanding and communication between the two allies, the un-self-conscious arrogance of the American approach, and the impotence of the South Vietnamese response. Considering the momentousness of the decision, it is an appalling picture" (page 127).
To the South Vietnamese, U.S. policies were the number one reason for the withdrawal. The U.S. simply did not know how to make rules for a culture that they did not understand. "If Vietnam has one single lesson to teach, it is that people cannot be saved in spite of themselves. Far better to get out and cut losses before ensnaring treasure, lives, prestige, and all in the service of those whose rule means violent discord and social breakdowns" (page 341).
Diem's view on what it was like to live in Vietnam gives an excellent perspective on the way the southerners felt when the U.S. finally withdrew. They felt abandoned and used. "It is the disengagement that will stick longest in the minds of the South Vietnamese. Major mistakes were made during the war by everyone concerned, but the manner in which the United States took its leave was more than a mistake; it was an act unworthy of a great power, one that I believe will be remembered long after such unfortunate misconceptions as the search and destroy strategy have been consigned to foot notes" (Diem, page 341).
"The same cannot be said, however, for the manipulative and callous manner with which the American administration and the American congress dealt with South Vietnam during the last years of the war. It was not one of America's finest hours, and there are plenty of lessons in it for both the United States and for other nations, particularly small ones that must rely on the United States for their defense" (Diem, page 341).
The United States, under the presidency of Richard Nixon, felt they had achieved an "honorable peace" after the withdrawal. Little did we know that our whole purpose of fighting the war to stop the spread of communism would turn around and slap us in the face. Not only was South Vietnam taken over by the North, the Vietnamese economy, that the U.S. had tried so wholeheartedly to strengthen, was left in shambles. Peasants were forced to live in poverty and face oppression. There were approximately 56,000 American deaths and 165,000 South Vietnamese deaths. The obvious question posed to everyone involved would have to be: "was it worth it?"
It is possible that the U.S. will never understand the profound effects it had on such a vulnerable country. No one can simply wash away the memories of the war by pretending that it never happened. We will always remember. "The truth is in the millions of Vietnamese families that have suffered the most horrible tragedies, people who understood what was happening only the vaguest way. The truth of this war lies buried with its victims, with those who dies, and with those who are consigned to live in an oppressed silence, for now and for the coming generations- a silence the world calls peace" (Diem, page 343).
"A GENERATION WHICH IGNORES HISTORY HAS NO PAST AND NO FUTURE"