Vietnam War, Part V – How History Books Slander our Soldiers

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” God

 Instead of honoring the memory of the American heroes who fought and died in Vietnam, left-leaning historians tend to portray the GI’s as villains; or, at best, as under-educated tools of the government, who were not smart enough to avoid the draft.

America’s university faculties are overwhelmingly liberal in their politics, and many of the older male history professors of today were the campus radicals of the 1960’s. In describing the Vietnam War era, history professors tend to reserve the moral high ground for people like themselves, who avoided or evaded military service, while disparaging the soldiers who put their lives on the line in combat.

Teaching young Americans to view our nation’s defenders with contempt is perhaps the ugliest manifestation of the left wing bias that permeates our college faculties.

American Soldiers – Ignorant Henchmen of the Right Wing?

Bias often outweighs truth in determining how left-leaning scholars portray the GI’s who served in Vietnam. Most mainstream history books are written from the perspective that the only Americans who served in Vietnam were those not smart enough to avoid the draft, or not virtuous to evade it. Facts that contradict this template are often conveniently ignored.

The freshman textbook Nation of Nations, for example, tells students that “Most Americans sent to Vietnam were chosen by the draft.”1 This statement, from a textbook that thousands of college students are required to read, is a falsehood. Only a quarter of the soldiers who served in Vietnam, and thirty percent of those who died, were draftees.

The exact numbers have been tracked by the Veteran’s Administration, and are easy to find on any number of veteran-oriented websites (like this one). 

The same VA statistics contradict historians’ claims about the burden of fighting in Vietnam falling disproportionately on black Americans. The textbook Making a Nation, for example, uses surprisingly strong language in making this bogus claim: “A disproportionate number of poor African Americans, unable to go to college and avoid the draft, were being sent to kill nonwhites abroad on behalf of a racist United States.”2

In actual fact only 10.6% of those who served in Vietnam, and 12.5% of those who died, were black. And given that three quarters of the men who served were volunteers, it sounds more like propaganda than history to say that military service by blacks was an act of acquiescence to “a racist United States.”

Textbook Portrayals of Ben Tre – Destroying the Truth in Order to Save It

During the 1968 Tet Offensive the Viet Cong attacked the capitals of thirty-six South Vietnamese provinces. One of them was the town of Ben Tre, in the Ben Tre Province. The town was heavily shelled and badly damaged, first by the Communist forces trying to conquer it, and then by the American and South Vietnamese forces who eventually drove the Viet Cong back.

A few days after the Communist invaders were repelled a young Associated Press reporter named Peter Arnett visited the town.

Arnett  became the darling of the anti-war left when he attributed a crazy sounding quote to an un-named American military officer: “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.”

College professors and other left wing extremists love to use this quote as evidence of the irrational brutality of the US military during the Vietnam War. At least three widely used freshman history books3 use this quote in their coverage of the war.

The quote, important as it is to leftists, is highly apocryphal. Arnett refused to name the officer who supposedly made the statement, and the four officers he’d interviewed that day all denied saying such a thing.

It does seem improbable that an America officer would have made the statement.  Much of the “destruction” of Ben Tre had been the work of the Communists, who had attacked and sacked the town before American troops arrived.

The real destruction of the Tet Offensive took place in towns like Hue, where American forces were tardy in expelling the Communist invaders, and the Communists had more time to torture and murder the civilian populations.

As for Peter Arnett, he would go on to make a whole series of damning but ill-founded accusations against American soldiers. In 1998, while working for CNN, Arnett “reported” that American soldiers had attacked a Laotian village with nerve gas in 1970. CNN soon retracted the story and reprimanded Arnett.

During the 1991 Gulf War Arnett stirred up controversy when he accused American forces of bombing a baby food factory in Iraq. The military said the factory in question was a biological weapons plant. When Arnett’s contract with CNN expired, the network let him go.

On March 31 of 2003, while American forces were fighting to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial reign, Arnett appeared on Hussein’s state-run television system to announce that the US war strategy was a failure because “the American war plans misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces.” NBC, Arnett’s employer, fired him the next day. Nine days later American forces took the Iraqi capital.

The left wingers who write most mainstream history books, hostile as they are to veterans of the Vietnam generation, choose to accept Arnett’s questionable quote as a historical fact. That, however, is no reason for students to accept it as such.

War Crimes – An American Monopoly?

In March of 1968 American soldiers under the command of Lt. William Calley attacked the South Vietnamese village of My Lai. Finding no Viet Cong soldiers in the village, Calley’s men murdered most of the unarmed civilians in the village. The killing only stopped when American helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson, a sergeant, arrived on the scene and threatened to open fire on Calley’s men if they didn’t desist.

Lieutenant Calley was eventually court-martialed; Thompson and his men received medals.

When news of the massacre reached the United States, draft dodgers and war protestors eagerly seized on the My Lai story as a way to besmirch the reputation of all American GI’s in Vietnam. From that day to this, leftists have delighted in the My Lai story. Here at last was an actual true story of American soldiers doing the kind of things that draft-dodging protestors were claiming to oppose.

Virtually every mainstream freshman history book portrays the My Lai Massacre not as an aberration, but as an example of the cruelty and depravity of American GI’s in Vietnam.  The Textbook American Destiny, for example, tells students that when the news of the My Lai Massacre reached the American people it “revived the controversy over the purposes of the war and its corrosive effects on those who were fighting it.”4  Men who served, in other words, were morally inferior to those who avoided military service, because of the war’s “corrosive effects.”

When Atrocities Don’t Count

Eager as they are to trumpet this one documented case of an American war crime, history professors and other liberals are remarkably reticent about war crimes committed by the Communists. A student who accepts uncritically the “education” provided in a typical American classroom will come away thinking that the only atrocities committed in Vietnam were committed by US troops.

The truth is very different.

Abuses of the kind that got Lt. William Calley court-martialed were standard operating procedure for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong. Vietnamese Communists butchered civilians without compunction during the war, and they continue to brutalize the civilian population to this day.

And civilians were not the only victims of Communist savagery. The NVA routinely tortured and starved American prisoners of war. North Vietnam’s POW camps were hellholes where American GI’s struggled to survive in filthy cells, usually in isolation; without medical care and with very little food.

Beatings and other forms of torture were commonplace. Some of the worst abuses of American prisoners were actually perpetrated by guest torturers sent to Vietnam by other Communist countries, including Cuba.

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys

Over two and a half million American GI’s served in Vietnam, including nearly two million volunteers. The overwhelming majority of them served honorably, despite the stresses and hardships of fighting a stealthy and sadistic enemy under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. To make Vietnam veterans look like the kind of thugs and criminals their enemies actually were is grossly unfair. It is unfortunate that this slanderous portrayal is all that most history students get from their teachers and textbooks.

Al Fuller

1Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, and Stoff; Nation of Nations, McGraw-Hill 2006 edition, p.892
2 Boydston, Cullather, Lewis, McGerr, and Oakes; Making a Nation, Prentice Hall 2004 edition, p. 682
3Nation of Nations (p. 894) American Destiny (p. 826) and America’s Promise (p. 615)
4Carnes and Garraty, American Destiny, Pearson Longman 2008 edition, p. 829

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