Such practices violated important tenets of international law, including the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The moral and legal issues hardly concerned American military leadership, but they ate away at the conscience of many “grunts” and raised questions for an American public increasingly disenchanted with the war.
Other misconceptions attending U.S. policymaking lay beyond the realm of military strategy, one being that the U.S. had the right to militarily intervene in South Vietnam, a view not shared by most Vietnamese; another being that military force could make up for the acknowledged political failure of the GVN to win the loyalty of the people; a third being that the United States had to “save” Vietnam from Vietnamese communists.
If Charlemagne took his role as protector of Christianity seriously, he also took seriously his title as “Emperor.” Although he hardly looks like a Roman emperor to us, Charlemagne did conceive of himself as continuing the traditions of the Roman empire. And, indeed, as we have just seen, his Carolingian Renaissance did preserve much classical learning. When building his palace and chapel at Aachen, Charlemagne copied the Emperor Justinian’s church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Charlemagne even had ruins from the imperial palace at Ravenna transported to Aachen and incorporated into his residence.
Population growth immediately triggered other changes, first in agriculture. The need to feed more people led to land clearance: new fields were brought under cultivation by clearing forests and draining swamps. New villages arose. And population pressure also prompted innovations in agriculture. Europeans invented new heavier plows so that they could cultivate the heavier and more fertile soils of river valleys (as opposed to the lighter soil of the hillsides where agriculture was concentrated in the early Middle Ages). They experimented with new crops – such as beans and oats – and new patterns of crop rotation that left less acreage fallow. All these changes boosted agricultural productivity enormously, so much so that many scholars characterize these changes as an “agricultural revolution”. By the late eleventh century, not only could Europe feed an expanding population, but it could do so with less labor, freeing more people from farming to pursue other kinds of work.
In addition to population growth and economic change, Europe began to expand in other ways. New religious fervor led in 1095 to the calling of the First Crusade. Conceived as both a religious pilgrimage and a military expedition, the aim of the crusade was the recapture of Jerusalem which had long been under Muslim domination. In response to an obviously quite compelling sermon giving by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, five armies left Western Europe in 1096 and headed overland toward Palestine. These forces were an unwieldy mix of experienced warriors and unarmed pilgrims; many of the poorest and least prepared for the journey died en route or were massacred as soon as they crossed into hostile territory. Amazingly, these motley armies actually managed to capture the city of Jerusalem in 1099 and they established four crusader territories in the east: the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, and the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli. These first European colonies abroad had a fascinating, if brief, history. They served as profitable trading outposts for European merchants and they attracted some land-hungry European colonists. Like later European colonial ventures, they antagonized indigenous populations of the regions and within a century Islamic forces, rallied by the charismatic warrior Saladin, reduced the crusader colonies to a few cities on the coast. These eventually fell in 1291, bringing to an end this first chapter in the history of European colonialism.
In France, after the Carolingian line of kings died out during the invasions, a new dynasty arose. Hugh Capet (r. 987-996) founded the line of kings -- called, from his name “Capet”, the Capetians -- that would rule France into the late Middle Ages. But Hugh and his immediate successors in the eleventh century were kings more in name than in fact: they had the title of king, but they really controlled only their family lands around Paris. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, the Capetian kings slowly got control of all those regional lords that had emerged in the wake of the invasions. King Philip II -- called “Augustus” because he so increased the power of the Capetian monarchy – provides an excellent example of this process. He defeated some lords in battle: in 1214 at the Battle of Bouvines, Philip brought Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Poitou directly under his royal control. Others were brought under the crown’s power through crusade. When the papacy asked for assistance in extinguishing a heresy that had spread in southern France, around the city of Albi, Philip was glad to help out. He took an army on a papally sanctioned crusade (later called the Albigensian Crusade) into southern France, bringing all these regions under his control.
Truth was not only the first casualty of war, as the Greek dramatist Aeschylus said 2,500 years ago, it was also a continuing casualty of American war plans and operations. President Johnson and his advisers engaged in numerous and elaborate deceptions in order to keep American public opinion on their side, or at least sufficiently confused so as to not interfere with their war plans. Johnson’s deceptions included misrepresenting the nature of the guerrilla war in South Vietnam, the extent of U.S. military operations in South Vietnam, covert operations against North Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and U.S. peace proposals (which amounted to ultimatums). Added to these were continuing deceptions fostered by previous administrations concerning the Geneva Agreements, the nature of the South Vietnamese government, and the origins of the war.
One such GI, Tom Glen, who served with an American mortar platoon, expressed his moral concerns in a letter to General Creighton Abrams, the commander of all U.S. forces in Vietnam, in the fall of 1968. “The average GI’s attitude toward and treatment of the Vietnamese people all too often is a complete denial of all our country is attempting to accomplish in the realm of human relations,” he wrote.
With the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution enacted, Johnson had the power to expand the war as he saw fit. His strategy was to increase it in stages, allowing the DRV and NLF to capitulate to U.S. demands at any pause. If they did not, the U.S. would increase the punishment. That fall, Johnson expanded the war in the south without fanfare, increasing U.S. bombing runs, building and expanding air bases, dispatching three additional regiments (about 4,500 soldiers), lifting restrictions on the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus (napalm was already in use), and expanding the area of “free-fire zones” to encompass larger sections of the countryside, including heavily populated areas. It was still not enough. On October 31, 1964, the NLF used captured American mortars to attack the U.S. air base at Bien Hoa, destroying five B-57 bombers and badly damaging thirteen more; four Americans were killed and thirty wounded.
A second development was the opening of a backdoor dialogue between Diem’s brother, Nhu, and representatives of the NLF and DRV concerning the possibility of a reunited Vietnam. While this dialogue fell into the same category as reconciliation between the U.S. and Soviet Union, it was not perceived as such by the Kennedy administration, which moved quickly to squelch it. Nhu began talking with communist representatives in July 1963 about a possible accommodation that would allow him and his brother to remain in power while a lengthy unification of Vietnam proceeded. Hanoi and the NLF were willing to accept this delay if it meant ridding their country of foreign troops. President Kennedy, however, was committed to maintaining a separate, noncommunist South Vietnam. This meant not only staying the course in Washington, but also preventing the Vietnamese from working out a peace agreement among themselves. According to the diplomatic historian Fredrik Logevall:
In the same attack, a grandmother sought help for her one-year-old grandson. A South Vietnamese pilot flying a US-made Douglas A1 Skyraider dropped US-made napalm bombs on her village of Trang Bang, June 8, 1972. Photos by Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut.