Forty years ago, on Aug. 15, 1973, U.S. military action in Vietnam officially ended. That was the last time Washington, paying little attention to conditions on the ground, was decreeing an end to a war: Forty years ago the instrument was not presidential declaration but the Case-Church Amendment, which Congress passed in June 1973.
The result was death for millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians killed by the Communist victors or dying at sea. Millions more survived to live in poverty under dictators. Some 58,000 Americans also died, and those who returned unwounded were not unscathed. Our “Greatest Generation” World War II soldiers at least came home as heroes, but returnees from Vietnam received mocking and name-calling: “Murderers.” Journalists regularly wrote that they had failed.
Except they didn’t fail, and veteran German journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto tells the story at rice paddy-level in his new memoir DUC: A Reporter’s Love for a Wounded People. (Disclosure: Siemon-Netto up to 2003 wrote several articles for WORLD.) He’s strong on specific detail, such as this scene of civilians massacred at point-blank range by the Vietcong in the beautiful old city of Hue: “Even in death these women looked sublime as their bodies were draped protectively around those of their children. … They had just donned their freshly cleaned national dress, the ao dai, to welcome the Vietnamese New Year. … Their fingernails had just been carefully manicured.”
Siemon-Netto documents the refusal of American reporters, convinced the U.S. war effort should end, to document the truth. For example, he contrasts the coverage that Lt. William Calley rightfully received—Calley led a massacre of Vietnamese civilians at the village of My Lai—with the refusal of an American television cameraman to film a mass grave in Hue because he didn’t want to help anti-Communists. Siemon-Netto also notes the life sentence Calley received, and notes that “Calley’s crime violated stated U.S. government policy” while the Communist atrocities were “an integral part of a government policy that included a military strategy based on terror. To my mind it constituted massive malpractice by the media that they have not made this crucial point unmistakably clear to the general public.”
Much remains unclear to the general public and to college graduates taught by propagandistic historians. Siemon-Netto notes that more than half of the 80,000 Communist soldiers who participated in the attacks on Hue and 100 other cities died in the process, and the Vietcong never recovered. As Peter Braestrup wrote in The Big Story (Presidio, 1994), the best book about Vietnam reporting, “Rarely has contemporary crisis-journalism turned out, in retrospect, to have veered so widely from reality.” Journalists painted “a portrait of defeat for the allies. Historians, on the contrary, have concluded that the Tet Offensive resulted in a severe military-political setback for Hanoi.”
The reality didn’t matter. When Walter Cronkite, then America’s “most trusted” journalist, told his CBS viewers a month after Tet that South Vietnam and the United States could not defeat the Vietnamese Communists, President Lyndon Johnson told his aides, “I have lost Cronkite. I have lost Middle America.” He was right. North Vietnam finally conquered the South in 1975.
For more information on this, please go to www.siemon-netto.org. A personal note: During the early 1970s I cheered for North Vietnam. My apologies to the Vietnamese people and to U.S. soldiers who fought there. Please forgive me.
Asia Bibi’s Blasphemy: The True, Heart-breaking Story of the Woman Sentenced to Death Over a Cup of Water (Chicago Review Press, 2011, 2013), tells the moving story of a Christian still imprisoned in Pakistan. James R. White’s What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an (Bethany House, 2013) is a good introduction to a book that propels anti-Christian action. Debbie Thurman’s Post-Gay? Post-Christian? (Cedar House, 2011) is a vigorous defense of Christian orthodoxy from a woman who battled same-sex attraction. —M.O.