Amy Belasco, “Congressional Restrictions on U.S. Military Operations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, and Kosovo: Funding and Non-Funding Approaches,” CRS Report for Congress, January 16, 2007, .
Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, chapter 7; Bordenkircher, Tiger Cage, p. 199; Doris Longacre and Max Ediger, Release Us From Bondage: Six Days in a Vietnamese Prisoned (Akron, PA.: Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section, July 1974), pp. 7, 9-10; and Fred Branfman, “Vietnam: The POWs We Left Behind,” Ramparts (December 1973), p. 14; Holmes Brown and Don Luce, Hostages of War: Saigon’s Political Prisoners (Washington DC: Indochina Mobile Education Project, 1973); and Lars Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy Toward Latin America (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 181.
Twenty-seven months of US bombing of North Vietnam have had remarkably little effect on Hanoi’s over-all strategy in prosecuting the war, on its confident view of long-term Communist prospects, and on its political tactics regarding negotiations. The growing pressure of US air operations has not shaken the North Vietnamese leaders’ conviction that they can withstand the bombing and outlast the US and South Vietnam in a protracted war of attrition. Nor has it caused them to waver in their belief that the outcome of this test of will and endurance will be determined primarily by the course of the conflict on the ground in the South, not by the air war in the North.
A summary Pentagon report at the end of 1966 took stock of civilian casualties, estimating that about 80 percent of the 13,000 to 24,000 North Vietnamese killed by American bombs were civilians. The commanding generals discussed the issue of civilian casualties, not as a humanitarian crisis, but as a public relations problem, as any acknowledgement of civilian casualties would give North Vietnam a “propaganda” advantage and turn world opinion (more strongly) against the United States. The report also noted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were eager to abolish all legal restraints on bombing. A final report on Operation Rolling Thunder issued in the fall of 1968 summarized its failure to achieve stated military and psychological objectives:
On October 31, 1968, with the antiwar movement in full-swing and public opinion having turned against the war, President Johnson ended Operation Rolling Thunder, hoping to boost the presidential prospects of his vice president, Hubert Humphrey. Republican candidate Richard Nixon won the election and continued this official halt, while increasing the bombing of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He nonetheless wanted DRV leaders in Hanoi to believe that he was ready to employ all means necessary to win the war, perhaps even nuclear weapons. According to Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, Nixon had confided to him:
U.S. pilots also had to evade surface-to-air missiles and sometimes MiG-17s, which made precision bombing even less likely. North Vietnamese encryption specialists were often able to intercept American communications, resulting in foreknowledge of attacks. An estimated 900 U.S. warplanes were shot down or lost over North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder. Luu Huy Chao, a North Vietnamese fighter pilot trained in China, personally shot down four U.S. aircraft with his twenty-year-old MiG-17, which flew half the speed of American F-105s but was more maneuverable. This earned him a meeting with Ho Chi Minh, who told him, “don’t be overconfident. You must be extra careful when you fight the Americans. They come from a very advanced country and their aircraft are much faster and more powerful. Even so we can deal with them if we keep up our spirit and never lose courage.”
Following raids in Dai Lai village in the rural Thai Binh province (southeast of Hanoi) in October 1967, French journalist Gerard Chaliand witnessed men and women weeping as they swept debris from the floors of destroyed homes and recounted how their neighbors had been burned alive by the fires. Bui Van Nguu, age forty-six, told Chaliand that he had been outdoors making brooms for the cooperative when a bomb exploded in his kitchen, burying his three children. The only thing left of them was mangled limbs, shreds of flesh, and the ear of his eldest daughter which was found in a garden seven yards away. Rescue teams in the village dug out many other children who had been buried alive, burned to shreds, or asphyxiated in the bombing massacre that was one of many in the war. A woman who had lost her parents and six siblings in the bombing of Phy Le told visiting peace activist David Dellinger to “ask your president Johnson if our straw huts were made of steel and concrete” (as LBJ claimed) and to ask him if “our Catholic church that was destroyed was a military target….Tell him that we will continue our life and struggle no matter what future bombings there will be because we know that without independence and freedom, nothing is worthwhile.”
National Security adviser McGeorge Bundy claimed in Foreign Affairs (January 1967) that the bombing of the North was “the most accurate and restrained in modern warfare.” Eyewitnesses, however, pointed to the bombing of hospitals, schools, Buddhist pagodas, agricultural cooperatives, administrative buildings, fishing boats, dikes, and a leper colony and sanitarium, resulting in the death of an estimated 52,000 to 180,000 civilians. Nam Dinh, Vietnam’s third largest city in North Vietnam, was “made to resemble the city of a vanished civilization,” according to New York Times reporter Harrison Salisbury, despite being a center for silk and textile production, not war-related production. In Vinh (population 72,000), the destruction was akin to the German city of Dresden in World War II. This included nearly all homes, thirty-one schools, the university, four hospitals, the main bookstore and cinema, two churches, an historic 18th century Buddhist pagoda that served as the cultural center of the city, a museum of the revolution, and the 19th century imperial citadel.
The American massacre of civilians at My Lai on March 16, 1968, was part of the U.S. counteroffensive following Tet. The area in which the My Lai village was located was labeled “Pinkville” and a U.S. unit known as Charlie company – led by Captain Ernest Medina, with 2nd Lt. William Calley commanding the First Platoon – treated it as a free-fire zone, killing some 500 unarmed men, women, children, and infants. A number of women were raped as well. Not all soldiers participated in the murders; one broke down and cried; another shot animals instead. Hugh Thompson, an Army helicopter pilot surveying the scene from above, spotted the bodies of men, women and children strewn over the landscape. Realizing that a massacre was taking place, he landed his chopper and rescued ten civilians while ordering his crew chief to shoot any American soldiers who opened fire on the civilians. On the same day, another U.S. unit, Bravo company, murdered some 90 civilians in the village of My Khe, two kilometers to the east. These massacres were not acknowledged by military authorities at the time. The task force commander overseeing operations wrote in his after-action report that the day’s maneuvers were “well planned, well-executed, and successful.”
The day’s operation burned down 150 houses, wounded three women, killed one baby, wounded one marine and netted these four prisoners. Four old men who could not answer questions put to them in English. Four old men who had no idea what an I.D. card was. Today’s operation is the frustration of Vietnam in miniature. There is little doubt that American firepower can win a military victory here. But to a Vietnamese peasant whose home means a lifetime of backbreaking labor, it will take more than presidential promises to convince him that we are on his side.
The strength of the movement lay in its grassroots authenticity, creativity, and overall tenacity. People joined local peace organizations, committees, and study groups, exchanged information and opinions, wrote to legislators and newspaper editors, arranged educational programs, placed ads in newspapers, set up draft counseling centers, worked in election campaigns, lobbied legislators, boycotted products of Dow Chemical (maker of napalm), organized vigils, protests, guerrilla theater, and prayer services, engaged in civil disobedience actions, and boarded buses for national demonstrations. What could not be done at the local level was to create a sense of movement identity and momentum. In lieu of national leadership, coordinated national demonstrations served this function. Organized by a succession of coalitions, mass demonstrations of 100,000 or more people were held semi-annually from the spring of 1967 through the spring of 1971.