UNITED STATES, SOUTH VIETNAM AND THE VIETNAM WAR

UNITED STATES, SOUTH VIETNAM AND THE VIETNAM WAR

The first U.S. combat troops came ashore at Danang in March 1965. By December 1965 there were 184,300 U.S. military personnel in Vietnam and 636 Americans had died. By December 1967 the figures had risen to 485,600 US soldiers in country and 16, 021 dead. There were 1.3 million men fighting for the Saigon government, including the South Vietnamese and other allies.

The total cost of the Vietnam War was $600 billion. Vietnam War cost the United States $5.1 billion per month in 2005 dollars. By contrast the war in Iraq cost the United States about $5.6 billion a month. The Vietnam War ate up12 percent of the United States’s GNP. The war in Iraq ate up 2 percent.

One of the key American strategies of the war was "Vietnamization"—trying to turn the war over to the local population. The French employed the same strategy—janissemnt (or "yellowing")—unsuccessfully when it was Vietnam’s colonial overlord. The plan in the beginning of the war for the United States was to provide assistance to the South Vietnamese so they could fight North Vietnam and the strategy at the end of U.S. involvement was to pull out and leave South Vietnam strong enough so that it could continue fighting and eventually prevail.

Other expressions that became part of the American vocabulary included ‘pacification’, ‘search and destroy’ and ‘free-fire zones’. Pacification involved developing a pro-government civilian infrastructure in each village, and providing the soldiers to guard it. To protect the villages from VC raids, mobile search-and-destroy units of soldiers moved around the country hunting VC guerrillas. In some cases, villagers were evacuated so the Americans could use heavy weaponry such as napalm and tanks in areas that were declared free-fire zones.These strategies were only partially successful: US forces could control the countryside by day, while the VC usually controlled it by night. Even without heavy weapons, VC guerrillas continued to inflict heavy casualties in ambushes and by using mines and booby traps. Many civilians caught in the crossfire of fighting and the creation of free-fire zones were killed. [Source: Lonely Planet]

South Vietnamese Government

The South Vietnamese government was corrupt, weak an inept and neither democratic nor honestly elected. By 1967 it was near "moral collapse." Even so the United States supported it against a nationalist movement not unlike the one that carried out the American struggle during its war of independence in the late 18th century.

In his 1995 book "In Retrospect," Robert McNamara wrote: "South Vietnam lacked any tradition of national unity. It was besieged by religious animosities, political factionalism, corrupt police, and, not least, a growing guerilla insurgency supported by its northern neighbor."

The No. 2 man in the South Vietnam government was General Nguyen Cao Ky. He assumed power as a co-leader with Thieu in 1965 at the age 34 after a series of coups, ruled the country for two years, and then served as vice president under Thieu from 1967 to 1971. A flamboyant former fighter pilot, he was more well known in the United States than Thieu. He was even given a pair of pearl-handled revolvers as a gift from the actor John Wayne.

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu

South Vietnam was led for 10 years (1965-1975) by President Nguyen Van Thieu, an indecisive but crafty politician who changed his birthday to a year earlier so it would be on an auspicious date, changed his religion from Buddhism to Catholicism and changed from the Communist Viet Mihn to the non-Communist side. The son of farmers and fishermen, he emerged as president in a rigged election after a series of coups. Thieu had his admirers and his critics. Kissinger called him a great "patriot" and a "dauntless leader" but for the most part hated him. One South Vietnamese official said, "Thieu was really tough, one of those guys who, if you looked right into his eyes and tried to shoot him, you wouldn't be able to pull the trigger."

Thieu’s years in office coincided pretty closely with America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He proved to be a rather marginal commander in chief but was skilled at keeping power in the face of palace intrigues and feuds. He lived well in lavish palace in Saigon and accused the United States of double crossing him and abandoning him at the end of the war. He led South Vietnam until just days before it fell to North Vietnam. To North Vietnamese he was the head of ''the Saigon puppet regime." who "used to call for people to 'die for Saigon', then fled abroad, bringing along dozens of tonnes of gold."

Gabriel Kolko wrote in The Guardian, "Thieu came to power in South Vietnam in June 1965 as leader of a junta of senior military officers committed to ending the chronic political instability that had plagued the country since the CIA-aided assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963. The French-trained Thieu was soon able to shunt aside his fellow conspirators. He got himself elected president in the rigged elections of September 1967, and remained virtual dictator until he fled Saigon as the Vietnam war ended in April 1975. [Source: By Gabriel Kolko, The Guardian, October 2nd, 2001]

Associated Press said: Thieu assumed power in 1965 and presided over the U.S.-backed South Vietnam until the fall of its capital city, Saigon, in 1975, to Communist-led troops from North Vietnam. He remained, however, an enduring symbol of the futility of a war in which nearly 60,000 American troops died. With North Vietnamese closing in on the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, and the war all but officially lost, he still declared: "We will fight to the last bullet, the last grain of rice." Even with the assistance of 500,000 U.S. troops and massive amounts of military aid, he was never able to turn the tide against the Communist North. He left power defeated, despised and bitterly denouncing the superpower nation that had befriended him for more than a decade. [Source: Theo Emery, Associated Press, September 30, 2001]

"In some ways, Nguyen Van Thieu epitomized South Vietnam. Born a southerner, he was a fervent anti-communist, a military professional leading an army often vilified as unwilling to fight, and a crafty practitioner of the intrigues that typified Saigon politics. In many other countries, Thieu might have been seen as a dedicated, courageous patriot. In Saigon, he never managed to overcome the image of corrupt wheeler-dealer, and had no broad political support in the countryside, where the battle for the peasantry's "hearts and minds'' was being fought between his forces and the communist Viet Cong. While Hanoi and his own adversaries at home called him a U.S. "puppet,'' Thieu was a fiercely stubborn leader, who frequently exasperated U.S. officials and balked at their proposals. "He was very difficult (for the U.S.) to deal with. People called him a puppet, but if he was a puppet he pulled his own strings,'' said Stanley Karnow, a leading historian on the Vietnam War. [Source: George Esper and Richard Pyle, Associated Press, September 30, 2001]

Nguyen Van Thieu’s Life

Thieu was converted to Catholicism by his wife. The son of a fisherman and farmer, he was born the youngest of five children in Phan Rang, in Ninh Thuan province. He studied at the merchant navy academy and the national military academy in Hue, and went on to fight the Viet Minh in their struggle against the French. He rose to the rank of corps commander in the South Vietnamese army, and underwent training in the United States. He married his wife in 1951. They had two sons and a daughter.

Reuters reported: Thieu was born into a Buddhist family on April 5, 1923 in the poor southern coastal province of Ninh Thuan. A Buddhist, he converted to Roman Catholicism when he married a doctor's daughter from the fertile Mekong Delta south of Saigon. After independence, which followed the 1954 French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, he held a number of field and staff posts in the South Vietnamese military. During the confusion of the mid-1960s, when South Vietnam was wracked by coups and counter-coups, General Thieu became commander of the military region embracing the Mekong Delta and came to the notice of U.S. military and civilian officials. In June 1965, he was named chairman of a 10-member military directorate. From there it was a short step to the presidency. [Source: Reuters, September 30, 2001 ++]

Associated Press reported: "Thieu became involved as a youth in the national liberation movement led by Ho Chi Minh, who went on to become president of North Vietnam. Thieu, however, grew disillusioned and eventually switched sides. He established himself early in his career as a cautious, yet reliable, combat officer. He was one of the key participants in the overthrow of the Diem regime during the early 1960s. The same year that he rose to the nation's highest office in 1965, holding the ceremonial post of chief of state, President Johnson ordered the first major escalation of the war, sending more than 100,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam. In September 1967, Thieu was elected to the presidency after pulling off a stunning switch with his rival, Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky, who had previously wielded the most influence in the South Vietnamese military regime. [Source: Theo Emery, Associated Press, September 30, 2001]

"Early in life an adherent to the revolution led by Ho Chi Minh, Thieu switched sides to become an ardent South Vietnamese nationalist: one of a cadre of military officers committed to defending their country against a communist takeover from the North, but beholden to the United States for support. Thieu was a background participant in the coups and machinations that marked Saigon's political scene in the early 1960s. In 1965 he seized power from his longtime archrival, the flamboyant air marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, putting an end to the revolving door leadership and stabilizing the government, much to the delight of his American backers. He was elected president in 1967 and again four years later, in voting that was hardly a model of democracy. [Source: George Esper and Richard Pyle, Associated Press, September 30, 2001]

South Vietnam Under Nguyen Van Thieu

Reuters reported: "Elected in 1967, Thieu was for eight years the cornerstone of doomed U.S. policy in South Vietnam during the bloodiest period of the Vietnam War. He stood at the center of the storm of world affairs, seldom off the front pages of newspapers chronicling the agony of the conflict. He ruled with a tough, some said dictatorial style. A free-market capitalist, he advocated fierce resistance to the communist North Vietnamese, bitterly opposing any concessions even as his army crumbled under sustained assault. His communist enemies labeled him a "traitor, a murderer and a seller of his people's blood.'' Ironically, as a young man, Thieu briefly helped the Viet Minh, the Communist-nationalist precursors of the Viet Cong, fight the French colonial powers in his native province. But he said he stopped as soon as he realized their communist aims. [Source: Reuters, September 30, 2001]

Associated Press reported: "Thieu's entry into office initially brought stability and unity to a country in political chaos. In the years that followed, Thieu ruled with an iron hand, moving with the same caution as he had on the battlefield. He made decisions alone or with the advice of only one or two trusted aides and swiftly crushed any dissent. Several years later, his country's deteriorating economic situation, as well as corruption charges against his regime, but not necessarily against Thieu himself, left him scrambling to stay in power. [Source: Theo Emery, Associated Press, September 30, 2001]

Hai Vo, 48, who served as a soldier in the South Vietnamese army under Thieu's presidency told the Los Angeles Times, "I hated him. He wasn't the president for my country. He was president for himself. He ruined everything. He lived too long--he should have had to pay a price, but I don't feel that he ever did." Lan Nguyen said that Thieu "presided over a long period of time, fighting the war. Also, during that time he contributed to the defeat . . . because his government" was corrupt and plagued by political infighting. [Source: By Seema Mehta and David Haldane, Los Angeles Times, October 1st, 2001]

Gabriel Kolko wrote in The Guardian, "Like Diem, Thieu made certain that the principal function of his huge army was to reinforce his political power, and he was both unprepared and unwilling to fight either a conventional or a guerrilla war in so far as it weakened his control over the armed forces. Top officers were chosen solely because they were politically reliable, and heads of the four military regions were forbidden to communicate directly, even in battle. [Source: By Gabriel Kolko, The Guardian, October 2nd, 2001 :::]

"Unlike Diem, however, he had no firm ideological convictions; seizing and holding power was all that mattered to him. He neutralised, co-opted and pressured his rivals far more gently and effectively than his predecessors, and widespread corruption and avarice became the crucial lubricant keeping his alliance intact. The US had detailed knowledge of his many peculations, but when Richard Nixon became president in 1969, he and his then adviser Henry Kissinger determined to "Vietnamise" the war and greatly reduce American involvement. Thieu's army was to win the victory that had eluded Washington. :::

"Thieu believed that the Americans needed him desperately, and that they would continue to assume the principal military burdens of the war. It was not long before he began to clash with Kissinger over the terms of negotiations with the communist North Vietnamese in Paris, and although the two men detested each other, Thieu was able to shape America's political stance and military behaviour decisively. The infamous carpet bombing of Hanoi by B-52s in December 1972 was designed to assure Thieu that he could rely on the US should the communists violate the Paris Accords he refused to accept until January 1973. But although he was given assurances that American air power would re-enter the war in the event that the North Vietnamese violated the accords, neither Nixon nor Thieu calculated the extent of congressional opposition or the Pentagon's growing reticence, much less the impact of Watergate and Nixon's resignation. :::

Nguyen Van Thieu After the Americans Left

While president, he consistently rejected any idea of a coalition government including neutralists and Communists. For him, the surrender of Saigon was the total repudiation of all his efforts during the war. He had always claimed to want peace, but never in the way it finally came. Thieu reluctantly stepped down as president on April 21, 1975, when it became obvious his refusal to do so would result in an assault on Saigon. Thieu was bitter in defeat, blaming his one-time patrons the Americans who, he said, had been "blind and deaf'' to North Vietnamese violations of Paris peace agreements that took the last U.S. troops out of South Vietnam in 1973. When the accords were announced, he warned his people to be vigilant "because peace does not mean a long-lasting peace. I tell you that I believe this is solely a cease-fire agreement, no more, no less.'' [Source: Reuters, September 30, 2001]

Gabriel Kolko wrote in The Guardian, "After Gerald Ford became president in December 1973, the US supplied Thieu with huge quantities of military aid, and experts to teach his army how to use it. In purely firepower terms, Thieu was always far stronger than the communist forces, but he insisted on holding as much territory as possible - often seizing it in violation of the peace terms - thereby thinning out his forces and making what was, in the spring of 1975, a decisive military error. In early 1973, the Nixon administration had staked the outcome of the war on Thieu. At home, however, his grip on power was already beginning to erode, not merely politically, but also economically. His political difficulties were inevitable given tens of thousands of arrests, numerous press closures and his one-party state. Corruption kept his 120,000 policemen reasonably loyal, but, by 1974, his regime lacked political credibility. [Source: By Gabriel Kolko, The Guardian, October 2nd, 2001 :::]

"The opposition included not just communists, but also progressive Catholics, Buddhist leaders and millenarian sects. In late 1974, even American officials established contact with Thieu's rivals. Economically, the situation became especially serious after the Middle East war of October 1973 produced a global inflation that eroded the value of American aid. Thieu no longer had the resources to pay his bloated army of roughly 500,000 men and air force of 1,400 planes, as well as maintain the loyalty of his huge bureaucracy. Morale and discipline in the largely draft army sank with the economic crisis, and soldiers stole from the peasantry as never before. :::

"In early 1975, with the US Congress balking at additional aid for Saigon, Washington's experts were increasingly pessimistic that Thieu himself would survive. Few, however, anticipated a total collapse. The communists didn't either. When they attacked the central highlands on March 10, they believed the war would last another two years. No one expected Thieu to order his troops back from the highlands and the north, but as demoralised soldiers abandoned their units, the retreat became a rout. Thieu was a shrewd political manipulator, but wholly incompetent as a military strategist. :::

On April 24, 1975 with two huge suitcases stuffed with gold, the CIA flew him to Taiwan. Shunning almost all requests for interviews., he then largely disappeared from public view He spent most of his exile in Wimbledon, south London, later moving to Massachusetts. He re-emerged in 1992 to denounce rapprochement between the United States and the Communist government in Vietnam. But a year later, his tone had changed. Thieu spoke of his willingness to take part in national reconciliation talks that would allow members of the Vietnamese exile community to go home. The Vietnamese showed no interest in having him act as a go-between. He died in Boston in 2001 at the age of 78

South Vietnamese Army

The South Vietnamese army was known as ARNV (Army of Republic of Vietnam). It was made of mainly of conscripted men from the countryside. In 1975 it consisted of 1.6 million men. In the early years the South Vietnamese army "was more interested in preserving itself and President Diem than in meeting and engaging the enemy." For all intents and purposes collapsed after the Americans left.

Ex-GI Tobias Wolff wrote in Time magazine: "Their army suffered from corruption so pervasive and timeworn that it had become institutionalized: officer's don't get paid enough money to live on because it was assumed they'd make up the rest by graft. Their soldiers had it even harder, and they passed their suffering, with interest, to the people they were supposed to protect. They went into the field not to fight but to oppress. There were some exceptions of course. Some officers and men were honest and compassionate; some of their units fought well. Most didn't." The South Vietnamese army also did things that didn’t make any sense. Once Colin Powell asked a South Vietnamese officer why an outpost, guarded at great expense, was located where it was. The officer said, "Very important outposts. Outpost here to protect airfield." He was then asked why the airfield was here. The reply: "Airfield here to resupply outpost."

In his paper "Villager Attitudes During The Final Decade Of The Vietnam," Mark Moyar wrote: "Leadership, not surprisingly, usually determined the effectiveness of ARVN units far more than anything else. Good ARVN junior officers and NCOs generally motivated the enlisted men to fight aggressively and not desert. They gave the troops most of the training they needed; that task did not require Americans if the leadership was adequate. As long as the GVN could bring men into the Army-- which it did quite well-- and put them in units with good leaders and sufficient supplies, those men performed well. The attitudes of the peasants before they entered the Army had little effect on their performance. As with the territorial forces, strong high-level leadership produced strong leadership at the lower levels. Superior senior officers picked able subordinates and stimulated them, who in turn did the same at the echelon below them. They also minimized their units' involvement in distractions such as corruption and looting, and made sure that their soldiers received enough pay to take care of their families. Defense Department analyst Thomas Thayer, for example, explained the transformation of the 7th ARVN Division in 1969-1970 after US units left its area and the division proved incapable of taking over the Americans' work: "Recognizing the problem, President Thieu relieved the division's commander and appointed an aggressive brigade commander from the ARVN airborne division to the job. No other measures were taken nor was additional support furnished. The new commander quickly turned the division into an effective fighting unit, furnishing strong evidence that replacing a poor commander with a good one was the best way to improve a poor ARVN Division." [Source: Mark Moyar, Villager Attitudes During The Final Decade Of The Vietnam, Naval Institute Press, 1997 ++]

"Some have suggested that ARVN needed to let peasants serve in important leadership positions, in order to draw leaders from a larger pool and to keep potential leaders who longed for upward social mobility away from the Viet Cong. This argument not only exaggerates the peasants' desire for social mobility but also underestimates the difficulty inherent in extending the privileges of the poorer villagers while shrinking those of the upper classes. Such a drastic move might have turned some of the senior ARVN officers— Thieu's most important supporters— against Thieu. It most likely would have encountered the sort of fierce resistance one might expect if someone tried to abolish private schools and universities in America in order to eliminate the advantages those institutions confer. In any case, the ARVN officer corps had enough capable and motivated men from the wealthier segments of the South Vietnamese population that it did not need to draw men from the reservoir of peasants. The wealthier people, and most others who lived in towns and cities, strongly preferred the GVN (government of South Vietnam) to the VC throughout the war, and some of them were highly motivated and good leaders. The overall quality of the ARVN officer corps did not match that of the Communists because ARVN did not break down the selfish and familial impulses of its men as well as the Communist system did, but it had enough good men to fill the top positions in the army command that largely determined ARVN's fighting capabilities. Pervasive apathy among the GVN elite was not the main problem. Col. William Le Gro, who remained in Vietnam until the very end of the war as the Army's chief intelligence officer, remarked, "The required leadership was certainly available in the South Vietnamese armed forces, but it was not allowed to surface and take charge in enough situations." ++

The problem, then, lay in the selection of ARVN leaders. Nguyen Van Thieu was a moderately capable commander-in-chief leader who knew how to choose competent and motivated subordinate commanders when he wanted to. Thieu's improvement of the district and province chiefs in the years after the Tet Offensive was perhaps the best example of his ability to select and lead well. Unfortunately for the GVN, Thieu too often appointed men to key ARVN positions for their political loyalty rather than their abilities, for fear that subordinates might try to overthrow him. Thieu, indeed, had cause to choose generals who were ineffective on purpose, for the effective generals were more capable of marshalling the support of others in ARVN for a coup against him than were the weaker and less charismatic. While American pacification advisers succeeded in getting Thieu to replace many poor district and province chiefs with better people, the US military command seldom attempted to get Thieu to sack many of the generals who controlled the main force units. ARVN's high- level leadership deficiencies grew worse after most of the Americans left in early 1973. Thieu became increasingly worried that some ARVN officers were scheming to overthrow him because he no longer could deliver as much American aid as before. He underestimated ARVN's leadership needs because he overestimated the strength of ARVN's military position. ++

"ARVN's leadership was good by the standards of a third-world country, but it did not stack up well against the North Vietnamese commanders. Robert Komer, who headed the US pacification advisory effort in 1967 and 1968, said after the war, "I started out looking at Vietnam as a problem in resource allocation, and ended up looking at Vietnam as a problem in getting the right Vietnamese in the right jobs.... It was much less a question of the size of the ARVN or the size of the Vietnamese Civil Service than of the qualities of leadership.... The problem we never solved was how to get the right people in the right jobs doing the right thing at the right time." ++

"The inability of the commander-in-chief to gain the allegiance of most of the officer corps, which caused Thieu to put his cronies into key offices, may well have been an immutable characteristic of the Saigon political system. Thieu's predecessors all had encountered the same problem. The Communists succeeded in forging a unity of the elite in North Vietnam and had built a loyal following in the South, but the GVN's position differed in a couple of respects from that of the Communists which made the task much more difficult. Because of cultural traditions, the urban elite of the South tended to be more individualistic and conspiratorial than that of the North. They did not submit as easily to the will of a supreme leader as the Northerners did. Secondly, GVN leaders could not eliminate their rivals nearly as easily as Communist leaders could. They had to restrain themselves to some extent because Western journalists in South Vietnam might find out about political repression and publicize it, which would undermine American support for the guilty GVN premier as it had in Diem's case. By contrast, reporters did not circulate regularly in North Vietnam and document the jailings and killings, nor did they pay close attention to the VC's abduction and killing of its enemies in the South. Even if they had publicized these events, Hanoi's communist benefactors would not have withdrawn their assistance. During the Thieu era, a better ARVN leader was unlikely to attempt overthrowing Thieu, for the Americans discouraged potential coup leaders. The Americans, especially William Colby, believed Thieu's overthrow probably would destabilize the GVN rather than improve it. They may have been correct, but one cannot say for certain that no one could have built the same type of powerful leadership in South Vietnam that Ho Chi Minh built in the North. Perhaps a man of great capabilities and charisma could have achieved it, and several of these existed in the ARVN officer corps. Had such a transformation of power occurred in Saigon in the 1960s or the early 1970s, the GVN almost certainly could have obtained more support from the US and could have fought off the North Vietnamese Army indefinitely. ++

Non-American Foreign Troops

The Americans and South Vietnamese weren't the only one who fought against the North Vietnamese. There were also 46,000 Australians (with 496 killed and 2,398 wounded), and soldiers from new Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines. By far the largest contingent was from South Korea. Some 300,000 South Koreans fought in Vietnam, with 50,000 stationed there at one time. The South Koreans were accused of committing atrocities in Vietnam (See Below).

South Korean journalist Ku Su-Jeong told Reuters that during the Vietnam War, Seoul wholeheartedly supported U.S.-backed South Vietnam, afraid that Washington might withdraw American troops stationed in South Korea. About 300,000 Korean troops fought in the war, and they had a fearsome reputation among ordinary Vietnamese. [Source: Reuters, January 10, 2000]

Troops from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand were part of of what the Americans called the ‘Free World Military Forces’, whose purpose was to give the American war effort some legitimacy by internationalizing it. According to Lonely Planet: "Australia’s participation in the conflict constituted the most significant commitment of its military forces since WWII. There were 46, 852 Australian military personnel that served in the war; the Australian casualties totalled 496 dead and 2398 wounded. Most of New Zealand’s contingent, which numbered 548 at its high point in 1968, operated as an integral part of the Australian Task Force, which was stationed near Baria, just north of Vung Tau. " [Source: Lonely Planet ]

Atrocities Committed by South Korean Soldiers in Vietnam

The South Koreans were accused of committing atrocities in Vietnam. They reportedly rounded up villagers and placed them in barbed-wire-enclosed enclaves called New Life Villages and gunned them down and killed them with grenades. By some accounts South Korea soldiers killed 8,000 civilians in this way in Vietnam. One South Korean soldier told Newsweek, "Searching a village we found a young guy—with his daughter. My company commander ordered me to kill him right there next to his girl, who looked 7 or 8. My heart was broken. I couldn’t do it. So my commander killed them both."

Reuters reported: In central Vietnam's Binh Dinh province stands a large gravestone with 1,004 names etched in the granite — victims, local officials say, of a killing spree by South Korean troops during the Vietnam War. The locals say 1,000 people, mainly civilians, died in the six-week rampage in early 1966 — including 380 in one day. Ku Su-Jeong, who works part-time for South Korea's Hankyoreh21 magazine and researched the massacre at Binh Dinh, said, "South Koreans must know about these massacres. They cast shame on us and we have a duty to apologise,'' Ku said. [Source: Reuters, January 10, 2000 <|>]

Three local officials, including one who said he survived the alleged killings told Reuters that in early 1966, Korean troops entered the then Binh An commune, a collection of villages within Tay Son district which they believed was a Viet Cong stronghold. The Koreans were intent on flushing out opposing forces but civilians bore the brunt of their actions, the officials said. An official at Tay Son's Communist Party history unit said the attacks began in early 1966 and culminated in a massacre of 380 people on February 26, 1966, at a place called Go Dai. "They (the Korean troops) herded people up onto the hill, shot them and threw grenades,'' he said. "In some cases they tied old men up... until they died. They tore children apart and threw their (limbs) onto trees,'' he said, adding that some Viet Cong were also killed. The Korean troops threw some bodies into an existing 150-200 metre (500-650 ft) long trench, the official said. Survivors later buried most of the rest of the dead. The names of those who died at Go Dai, along with other known victims of the six-week killing period, were carved on the gravestone, the official said. The number totalled 1,004. <|>

"There has been a lot of propaganda about this in the area, but because no correspondents witnessed it, I think that is why no one outside knows about it,'' he said. One local official who said he survived the attacks reported that the main victims were women, children and the elderly. "It was all part of a Korean campaign called 'burn all, destroy all and kill all'. They aimed to clear the whole area, which is why they killed old people and children. They also killed cattle, burned houses and paddy (rice),'' he said. A People's Committee official in Tay Son district also confirmed the details, saying 1,200 people were killed. A government official in Hanoi said central authorities had later investigated what happened at Binh Dinh and compiled detailed reports, which showed more than 1,000 people were killed during the period, including around 380 at Go Dai." <|>

Lack of Publicity About South Korean Massacre, Why?

Reuters reported: "When asked for comment and to confirm the alleged killings, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said it did not want to dwell on the matter. Reuters could not visit Binh Dinh to interview survivors."South Korean troops committed crimes against Vietnamese people. With humanitarian and peaceful neighbourly traditions, it is Vietnam's policy to close the past...,'' the Foreign Ministry said. [Source: Reuters, January 10, 2000 <|>]

"This issue (of Korean actions in Vietnam) has long been very sensitive in Korea,'' said No Gun Ri. Professor Chun Kyung-soo at Seoul National University, who has spent years researching the role of Korean troops in Vietnam. Publicity about alleged Korean massacres during the Vietnam War stands in sharp contrast to the events on March 16, 1968, when U.S. troops commanded by Army Lieutenant William Calley entered My Lai village and gunned down 500 civilians. That massacre reverberated around the world when it was exposed and became synonymous with the horror of the conflict. <|>

"During a visit to Hanoi in 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung expressed regret over Korean actions in the Vietnam War, but he did not apologise. Vietnam responded by saying it sought no apology from any nation that fought on its soil. Long-time Vietnam watchers say Hanoi does not like to highlight specific horrors from decades of wars against the French and then the U.S.-backed South Vietnam. Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, said the killing of civilians by Koreans had largely faded from view because the Vietnam War was mainly seen as an American war. "Vietnamese propagandists always make a distinction between the American government and the American people,'' he said. "In their view the Vietnam War was a war launched by a wicked government. Koreans, Thais and Australians were all lackeys. "It is easier to point the propaganda finger at one enemy, several only clouds the issue,'' he said. <|>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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