“The Vietnam War:” Episode Nine: “A Disrespectful Loyalty” (May 1970 – March 1973)

[What follows is a brief summary of Episode Nine of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Special “The Vietnam War” along with my personal commentaries, songs, and writings about where I was during this period. – Former 1Lt. Richard Morris, A Co. 2nd Bn 5th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division (Airmobile) 1967-68]

Episode Nine: “A Disrespectful Loyalty” (May 1970 – March 1973), Wednesday, Sept. 27:

Vietnam Veterans Against The War – April 1971 – Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Stop the war; no more war
VS
Nixon needs our support; Love it or leave it [the country]

Most Americans blamed the students for the Kent State murders.

John Kerry of the Vietnam Veterans Against The War Winter Soldier Investigation speaks to Senate Foreign Relations Cmt, April 22, 1971

April 22, 1971 – Vietnam Veterans Against the War – John Kerry spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:  we have rationalized destroying cities, free fire zones, falsification and glorification of body counts, but no accusation of torture or atrocities. Threw medals over the fence at the U.S. Capitol. Kerry later served as the U.S. Secretary of State from 2013 to 2017.

The 1971 May Day protests was a series of large-scale demonstrations against the war  in which the May Day Tribe sought to shut down roads and bridges in the Washington, DC area. Twelve thousand demonstrators were arrested, seven thousand in one day.

The Pentagon Papers are a systematic history of the Vietnam War by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Daniel Ellsberg, who worked on the project, released them to the New York Times in June, 1971. After the Boston Globe and Washington Post published excerpts, the U.S. Supreme Court authorized publication by the NY Times.

McNamara said that the purpose of the war was to contain China. The papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of its actions in the war with the bombings of Cambodia and Laos, which were not reported in the mainstream media.

Ellsberg was initially charged with conspiracy, espionage, and theft of government property, but the charges were later dismissed after prosecutors investigating the Watergate Scandal discovered that the staff members in the Nixon White House had ordered the so-called White House Plumbers to engage in unlawful efforts to discredit Ellsberg.

In 1971, 17,000 ARVN troops were sent to Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and to prove that Vietnamization can work. There were said to be 22,000 VC/NVA troops in area (actually, 60,000), and the invasion failed. Half of the South Vietnamese troops were killed, wounded, or captured. Yet Nixon claimed victory.

U.S. discipline and morale low. One fourth of soldiers used marijuana, but never in combat. However, 40,000 U.S. troops were addicted to heroin. Creighton Abrams was quoted as saying, “I need to get this army home.”

In 1970, we had 334,600 troops; in 1971, 156,800; in 1972, 24,200. Add to these numbers a million or more ARVN troops [SOURCE: Dept of Defense Manopower Data Center].

On March 30, 1972, Le Duan and The North Vietnamese chose to test the strength of the ARVN and bring the war to a rapid close with an Easter Offensive by sending fourteen tank divisions crossing the DMZ into Quang Tri Province, aiming south for Saigon. At this time, the U.S. had only 60,000 combat troops in country. However, the U.S. mounted Operation Linebacker “bombing the hell out of them.” The ARVN fought bravely, and the tanks made easy targets for the bombs. Most tanks were destroyed.

Pulitzer-prize-winning photo of girl with clothing burned off by napalm, 1972, by Kim Phuc

In response to the Easter Offensive, Nixon resumed the bombing of North Vietnam and mined the Haiphong Harbor on May 9 where most war supplies came in country from China and Russia. The Soviets and Chinese denounced the mining. As part of the Paris Peace Accord, the U.S. Operation End Sweep removed the mines between February 6 and July 27, 1973.

March 29, 1971: Lieutenant Calley was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor, but spent only three days behind bars. The public decided that Calley was not guilty; the war was. Twenty-three officers and men were acquitted or dismissed; they were only following orders.

In March, 1972, Nixon traveled to China, the first step in normalizing relations with the country, and later to the U.S.S.R.  to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which curbed the growth of nuclear arsenals and was also the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I).

On the home front, Nixon authorized the Watergate break-in to place eavesdropping equipment in the Democratic National Headquarters.

Jane Fonda

And Jane Fonda was pilloried as a traitor for broadcasting on Radio Hanoi that American pilots and bombers were war criminals.

January 22, 1973, Lyndon Baines Johnson died of congestive heart failure on his ranch in Texas.

After being re-elected over George McGovern in a landslide on November 8, 1972, Nixon announced that Hanoi agreed to a peace deal. American prisoners of war will finally come home – to a bitterly divided country. Nixon did not consult the South Vietnamese in this agreement; nor did Le Duan consult the Viet Cong.

In May of 1970 I graduated from Harvard with an MBA in Production, and took a job as Materials Manager for a small prefabricated housing company in Millis, MA, where I had written a purchasing handbook for them during my internship the previous summer. We still supported the war; my wife remembers  talking with other students at Boston University Law School (where student protests had closed the library the preceding year) and saying that we couldn’t just leave Viet Nam, because of all the lives that had been lost in this effort. They countered with the idea of preventing further loss of life.

In 1971 in pursuit of more opportunity, I started my own design-build firm in a small rural county in the mountains of Western Maryland. First Barbara transferred to West Virginia University Law School but then traded student life to work for both an attorney and for me … and we started our family with the birth of a daughter. Our geographical isolation where the mountains blocked communication signals and the constant attention to building work and family made us mostly disconnected from the history narrated in this segment. Referencing the communications isolation, one friend excitedly announced that at her high location on a ridge, she was able to listen to the Watergate hearings which opened on May 17, 1973. This was our first awareness of National Public Radio, founded 2/26/70.

Our best friends who were anti-war politely tolerated my Vietnam stories and songs, including my sad ballad symbolizing the need to be successful in Vietnam:

11. Smoking Hamlet (Together We Can Empty The South China Sea)

[Inspired by a “Stars and Stripes” article about the Vietcong destruction of a Montagnard village in the Central Highlands]

We moved into a smoking hamlet at the break of day.
The hooches lay in dying embers. Gone their roofs of clay.
The cattle lay in bloody pools awaiting their decay.
The only sound the crackling embers gorging down their prey.

A shadow moved and snapped a twig. I jerked my rifle high.
An aged man with placid visage soon came hobbling by.
Without a fear he came to me and gave the reason why.
The VC kidnapped everyone and left him there to die.

Quietly he said to me.

Together we can empty the South China Sea
And move the purple mountains with one bold decree.
Together we can make every bamboo viper flee.
Together you and I can be free.

Last Episode (Ten): “The Weight of Memory” (March 1973 – Onward), Thursday, Sept. 28: While the Watergate scandal rivets Americans’ attention and forces President Nixon to resign, the Vietnamese continue to savage one another in a brutal civil war. When hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese troops pour into the south, Saigon descends rapidly into chaos and collapses. For the next 40 years, Americans and Vietnamese from all sides search for healing and reconciliation.

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