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How Thieu Hangs On

Relief and Rehabilitation of War Victims in Indochina: One Year after the Cease-fire Escapees, Senate Judiciary Committee

Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and
US Government Printing Office, $3.50

Current Economic Position and Prospects of the Republic of South Vietnam Development Association

International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International
Not for Public Use”

The Economic Promise of the Republic of Vietnam

Ministry of Finance, Saigon

Letters, Reports and Interviews of Graham Martin, US Ambassador to Vietnam American Report, April 15, 1974; US News and World Report, April 29, 1974

Reproduced in Congressional Record, March 19 and April 2, 1974;

Letters Between Senator Kennedy and Dr. Kissinger, March 13 and 14, 1974

Reproduced in Congressional Record

Indochina Today and US and Indochina

by Indochina Resource Center
Indochina Resource Center, 1322 18th Street, NW, Washington DC

Outside the home of Mrs. Ngo Ba Thanh, behind the now near-empty Hotel Continentale, half a dozen motorcycle policemen sprawl across their machines. Mrs. Thanh is an indomitable proponent of the “Third Force” solution to Vietnam’s problems and periodically one of those political prisoners of President Thieu whose existence the State Department blandly denies.1 She now seems more determined and enthusiastic than ever. “The core of the problem in Vietnam,” she told me, “is the GVN’s suppression of the Third Force.”

That is wishful thinking, but listening to her, and, indeed, to many other Vietnamese and foreigners who talk of a “Third Force” in a Saigon once more free of American uniforms, one is always aware that the earnest plainclothes employees of Nixon and Kissinger, led by Ambassador Graham Martin, are audibly contemptuous of the idea of any political change whatever.

On March 22 the PRG proposed a six-point peace plan. It included: an end to the fighting; the return of all prisoners; guarantees of all democratic liberties; the formation of the National Council of National Conciliation and Concord with participation of the Third Force component; free elections; and a “solution” to the problem of the armed forces. It was immediately rejected by the GVN. On April 14 Thieu declared that “those who pretend to be members of the Third Force [are] traitors and lackeys of North Vietnam.” The GVN then proposed its own four-point peace plan which included the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam. It too was not accepted.

The report of the Senate Refugee Subcommittee is based on a visit made to all four countries of Indochina in the spring of 1973, and on hearings held last August in Washington. It is intended, says the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Kennedy, to show that America’s continuing obligations to Indochina “are less to the governments than to the people—to the millions of war victims and others disadvantaged….”

The World Bank’s report was written after several of its staff visited Saigon in November, 1973. It is supposed to help members of the Bank to determine whether they might make good profits by investing in South Vietnam. The Vietnamese ministry of finance’s short document was written in the fall of 1973 and is a plug for the glorious future of the republic under the rule of President Thieu. So are all of Ambassador Martin’s declarations, threats, and inprecations. US and Indochina is a monthly critical analysis of current US policies; Indochina Today is a collection of the latest articles from the world press which provides invaluable source and reference material. Both are published by what Mr. Martin would call a “remnant” of the peace movement and both are threatened with financial extinction.

In the foreword to his committee’s report Kennedy suggests, perhaps a trifle hopefully, that the January, 1973, cease-fire agreements gave the United States the opportunity “to reorder our priorities in Indochina—to change the character of our involvement, to embark on new policies and to practice some lessons from the failures and frustrations of the past.”2 That opportunity has, of course, not been taken because to the Administration it was an irrelevant by-product of an agreement whose primary purpose was the extrication of uniformed Americans from both sides of the DMZ. US policy has not changed in the slightest since President Nixon declared, four days before the pact was signed, that the GVN was “the sole legitimate government of South Vietnam.”

Since then, all of President Thieu’s efforts to improve his position over the communists have been given at least tacit US approval, whether or not they contravened provisions of a document which has long since served its purpose. From Ambassador Martin, an entirely appropriate choice as the Nixon-Kissinger envoy to Saigon, the approval has been not tacit but boisterously loud. He believes that North Vietnam is committed “to bring the people of South Vietnam under a regime so totalitarian that, in comparison, Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago describes a moderate and liberal regime.”3 It is therefore entirely understandable that he should seize every opportunity to denounce as members of “Hanoi’s well-orchestrated chorus” those who, like Kennedy and his staff, wonder whether the interests of the Vietnamese are identical to those of President Thieu.

Washington’s attitude is perhaps best illustrated by an exchange among Kissinger, Kennedy, and Martin. On March 13 Kennedy sent Kissinger a series of questions about current US policy toward Indochina. On March 21 Martin cabled the State Department, advising, “It would be the height of folly to permit Kennedy, whose staff will spearhead this effort, the tactical advantage of an honest and detailed answer to the questions of substance raised in his letter.” A week later a copy of Martin’s cable was slipped under the door of the Refugee Subcommittee’s office in the Old Senate Office Building, and, on April 2, Kennedy read it into the Congressional Record, along with his own questions about what country Mr. Martin was supposed to represent.

Kennedy also commended “Secretary Kissinger…for not following the Ambassador’s advice that a member of the Senate should not be given honest answers to questions of substance in a significant area of public policy and concern.” He was being overgenerous, for it is hard to see any way in which Kissinger’s replies, sent to Kennedy on March 25, could be called honest.4

Our objective in Vietnam,” Kissinger replied, “continues to be to help strengthen the conditions which made possible the Paris Agreement.” But the most important of those conditions no longer exists. Hanoi no longer holds American hostages; there is no longer any visible American troop presence in South Vietnam; there is little or no public concern about the country’s future in America. Neither Dr. Kissinger nor Mr. Nixon has much need (or, indeed, time) to try to force either side to make any further paper concessions. Chou En-lai recently told both Zambian President Kaunda and Algerian President Boumédienne that he was disappointed by Kissinger’s failure to try to end the war in either Vietnam or Cambodia; he should not, however, have been surprised.

The cease-fire agreement which Kissinger negotiated eighteen months ago sanctioned the presence of North Vietnamese troops over large parts of South Vietnam. Now, however, Kissinger, with what one can only call remarkable logic, declares, “The presence of large numbers of North Vietnamese troops in the South demonstrates that the military threat from Hanoi is still very much in existence.” What was fifteen months ago integral to the settlement by which the US regained its POWs has now become an excuse for America’s continuing to pour the matériel of war into Vietnam. Kennedy remarks that Kissinger has merely devised “a new rationalization for our continued heavy involvement in Indochina.”5

Kissinger explains that Administration policy toward Indochina is based on the premises first that “a secure peace” there is an important part of Nixon’s search for “a worldwide structure of peace,” and second that “forcible conquest” of the South by the North would provide only a temporary solution and would also have “serious destabilizing effects which are not limited to the area under immediate threat.” He neglects to explain:

(a) How an agreement which allowed two irredeemably hostile armies both to occupy and to re-arm in the country over which they were fighting could ever lead to a “secure peace”;

(b) Why the “forcible conquest” of South Vietnam by the PRG and the North Vietnamese would provide only a “temporary” solution (would it perhaps bring back the B-52s—months to a flaming Saigon?);

(c) Why a temporary solution should be worse than no solution at all, which is what he is proposing;

(d) Why a communist victory in Vietnam and/or Cambodia would cause serious instability outside Indochina. How often was the subject raised in his negotiations in the Middle East?

Instead, Kissinger claims in extenuation of US policies that “the level of violence is markedly less than it was prior to the cease-fire.” But how markedly? Neither side has yet launched an all-out offensive but during the past sixteen months each has tried continually to increase its holdings of land and people, at the cost of the lives of many thousands of those people. The leopard may be, over all, not much blacker or whiter than it was in January, 1973, but many of its spots have changed and a lot of them are bloodied.

The only casualty figures we now have are those provided by the ARVN and they are not always reliable. But we know from the Refugee Subcommittee’s report that the first year of peace with honor produced enough violence to create 818,700 new refugees in Vietnam.6 This figure is certainly lower than that created by the communists’ spring 1972 offensive (1,320,000) but it is far higher than in any other year since 1968. Before the cease-fire the fighting created an average of 636,375 refugees every year between 1965 and 1973 (excluding “temporary dislocations” in 1968 and 1972).7 Last year’s total of 818,700 does little to justify Kissinger’s self-satisfaction.

During 1973, 43,166 civilian “warrelated casualties” were admitted to GVN hospitals. This means 3,597 a month—down from 4,228 a month in 1971 and 4,491 a month in 1972. Kennedy’s staff points out, “When the 1973 toll of wounded and killed civilians (85,000 by subcommittee estimates) is added to the official statistics on military casualties for 1973, it becomes tragically clear just how violent the cease-fire war has been.”8 Twelve months after the cease-fire was signed, an average of 141 people were being killed every day; by now well over 70,000 Vietnamese have died since January, 1973.

The Vietnamese have, in short, suffered more in one year of peace with honor than America experienced during a decade of war,” the subcommittee staff reports.9 John Paul Vann, |the legendary US adviser, was not voicing just a personal opinion when, in April, 1972, he explained Vietnamization to reporters in Kontum by declaring, “You and I regard human life as of some value. That’s the difficulty for Western nations fighting Oriental countries. One American life means a lot in America but the North Vietnamese can lose twenty people without worrying. Fortunately standards here are changing as this becomes largely an Oriental ground war.”

But it is American standards that have changed. The Refugee Subcommittee’s report shows clearly that while Nixon and Kissinger were managing to Vietnamize the killing and the wounding, official American concern for the casualties of war just faded away. For example, there are—according to the subcommittee’s estimates—between 300 and 600 million pounds of explosives still littering the villages, fields, and forests of Vietnam. “Mines and unexploded ordnance are today among the principal causes of civilian casualty admissions to South Vietnamese hospitals,” according to the subcommittee report. Yet last August, USAID officials admitted that the US was doing absolutely nothing to help clear them. The excuse given was that “no US assistance has been requested by the Government of Vietnam.”10 No such request was necessary, for article five of the second protocol of the cease-fire agreement states that

  1. 1

    In a letter to Kennedy of May 17, the State Department announced that it “cannot agree with the…assertion that ‘the record is clear that political prisoners exist in South Vietnam.’ ” It was, said the department, all a problem of definition. No one disagrees with that. Most people, however, consider President Thieu’s definition rather broad.

  2. 2

    Preface to the Report of the Senate Refugee Subcommittee, p. vii.

  3. 3

    Letter to the Reverend George W. Webber, President of the New York Theological Seminary, published in American Report, April 15, 1974.

  4. 4

    For texts of Kennedy and Kissinger letters see Congressional Record, April 1, 1974.

  5. 5

    Kennedy press release, April 1, 1974.

  6. 6

    Report of the Senate Refugee Subcommittee, pp. 6-10.

  7. 7

    See Table I, Report of the Senate Refugee Subcommittee, p. 6. The official USAID/GVN figures for new refugees are: 1965—772,000; 1966—906,000; 1967—463,000; 1968—494,000; 1969—590,000; 1970—129,000; 1971—136,000; 1972—1,320,000; 1973—818,000.

  8. 8

    Report of the Senate Refugee Subcommittee, p. 10.

  9. 9

    Ibid, p. 10.

  10. 10

    Ibid, p. 23.

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