Episode 93: The Second Indochina War, Part 20

 

 

Better late than never, as the saying goes!  Sorry for the delays.  This episode covers the war in Vietnam during 1970 and 1971.  Also covered are events in the United States at the same time that affected the war:  more antiwar protests, and the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

https://blubrry.com/hoseasia/64228638/episode-93-the-second-indochina-war-part-20/

 

(Transcript)

 

This episode is dedicated to Ben G., Willem P., and Alejandro F., for the donations they made to the podcast.  This time the donations were particularly generous.  I don’t know if that was in response to the announcement I made at the beginning of July, about the need to cut back on the time I was spending recording and editing, but I am always thankful, even when the donations are small.  Since today’s episode is focused on war stories, may all of you continue to live in peace and prosperity, even in these crazy times.  And speaking of war stories, let’s get on with the show!

Episode 93: The Second Indochina War, Part 20

or, Vietnamization Continues

Greetings, dear listeners!  If you are a regular listener, you will remember that for the past three episodes, I have been promoting the Intelligent Speech Conference, an online conference of 40 producers of educational podcasts.  That took place last Saturday, June 27, 2020, and I certainly had a great time, meeting podcasters I have been listening to for as long as five years.  The presentation I gave went well, too; afterwards all the feedback I got for it was positive.  I have been informed that the videos made of the presentations will be made available to speakers like myself, but I don’t know how that will work yet.  Maybe I will upload my video on YouTube, for the benefit of those who missed it.  Go to the podcast’s Facebook page to keep up to date on that.

Alright, what’s in store for today’s show?  Today we are resuming the narrative for the part of the Second Indochina War that took place in Vietnam.  You probably know this conflict better as the Vietnam War if you are in the United States, or the American War if you are in Vietnam.  We broke off the Vietnam narrative in Episode 89, when we reached the end of 1969.  So that’s the episode you need to listen to, in order to understand what’s going on in this one.  Or if this is the first episode you have listened to in this podcast, in order to catch up on the Second Indochina War, you will need to listen to Episodes 71 through 92, except for 76, 77, and 85.

If you’re still here, I will assume you already listened to the other episodes, and are ready for this one.  To the Batmobile, let’s go!

<Interlude>

*****

1970

1970 and 1971 were relatively quiet years in Vietnam, compared with what had happened there over the past decade.  To be sure, there were still clashes, and some soldiers on both sides would be killed, but the fighting was on a small scale – no major campaigns were launched by any of the four armies active in Vietnam: MACV, the American force, ARVN, the Army of South Vietnam, PAVN, the Army of North Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front, better known as the Viet Cong.  During these years, most of the action was not in South Vietnam, but in Cambodia and Laos.  Go to the previous episode, Episode 92, for the events in Cambodia at this time, while Episode 79 covered the events in Laos.  Now why did the four players hold back in Vietnam?

If you listened to Episode 89, you know why the Americans didn’t want to act – they were winding down their own involvement, and turning over the war’s responsibilities to the South Vietnamese, so they could go home.  The South Vietnamese had been training for this, through a program called “Vietnamization,” but they were not confident yet, and thus showed little initiative where the Americans were not around to back them up.  By contrast, the North Vietnamese were confident, but they were not ready to act yet.  And in the episode on the Tet Offensive, we saw how the Viet Cong had suffered losses so severe that they would not recover for the rest of the war, so instead of acting on their own, they followed the lead of the North Vietnamese.

We noted previously that the United States had gotten five of its allies to send troops to fight alongside them in Vietnam.  Of these, South Korea made the largest commitment, and because they had fought communists at home, in the Korean War, the Koreans hated communists, and they fought so hard here that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong learned to fear them.  Still, at the peak of their involvement, the South Koreans had 50,000 troops in South Vietnam, about one tenth the number of US servicemen in the peak year, 1969.  Now all five allies were following the American lead, and reducing their involvement, too.  The Philippines had already withdrawn its troops in December 1969, while Australia, New Zealand and Thailand pulled their troops out by 1972.  The last ally to go was – you guessed it – South Korea; they had a few soldiers in South Vietnam until early 1973.

One theater with events related to the war was not in Southeast Asia at all, but in the United States.  We will get to those events shortly.  Finally, there was Paris, France, where peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam had been deadlocked since 1968.  One sticking point was that the communists refused to recognize the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government, while the South Vietnamese wouldn’t recognize the legitimacy of the Viet Cong.  This impasse was resolved by only naming North Vietnam and the United States as participating parties; Viet Cong officials could join the North Vietnam team without being recognized as Viet Cong, while South Vietnamese delegates joined the US team.  Aside from that, the only real change was that during the Johnson presidency, the issue of several hundred Americans being held prisoner in North Vietnam was largely ignored, but Richard Nixon’s negotiators now made it a priority to demand the release of those prisoners.  A former foreign minister, Xuan Thuy, continued to lead the talks on the North Vietnamese side, while after Nixon became president, the chief American negotiator was always a former ambassador, first Henry Cabot Lodge, and later David Bruce.

Meanwhile, to break the deadlock, Nixon gave his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, a special mission.  While the official peace talks continued, Kissinger would meet secretly with another North Vietnamese official, Le Duc Tho.  In Episode 89 I mentioned a four-man team running North Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh’s death; since Tho was not part of that team, he ranked as the Number Five member of the Hanoi Politburo.  They had their first meeting on August 4, 1969, and a steady series of secret negotiations between them began on February 12, 1970.  Here is how Stanley Karnow, Time-Life’s Vietnam War correspondent, described Tho.  Quote: “Le Duc Tho, a gray, austere, aloof man then in his late fifties, had none of the charm of Ho Chi Minh, the flair of Vo Nguyen Giap, or the warmth of Pham Van Dong.” End quote.

Le Duc Tho was born in the Red River Delta in 1911, the son of a worker in the French colonial government of Vietnam, so he got to attend French schools, and then became a nationalist upon graduation.  When Ho Chi Minh founded the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930, Tho was a charter member.  For this, the French imprisoned him twice, from 1930 to 1936 and again from 1939 to 1944.  This included time on Poulo Condore Island, the French prison island in the South China Sea; now it’s called Con Son Island.  Between prison sentences, Tho spent most of his time running or hiding from the police.  After World War II ended, he joined the Viet Minh, and for the First Indochina War, he was in the southernmost part of Vietnam, serving as Deputy Secretary, Head of the Organization Department of Cochinchina Committee Party.  With the partition of Vietnam in 1954, Tho had to move to the North, but after the Second Indochina War began, Tho was the senior party member overseeing the communist insurgency in the South.  This meant he sneaked into the South from time to time, to supervise the development of the Viet Cong movement; this time, when he hid in jungles or villages, it was to escape the Americans.  After the war, he did not talk about what he did in the war, aside from the peace talks, and refused to be interviewed.  He died of cancer in 1990, and today we know less about him than about other North Vietnamese leaders.

At the peace talks, Tho saw negotiations as another form of protracted guerrilla warfare.  Thus, he would drag out the talks by haggling over the smallest details.  Still, Kissinger developed a perverse kind of respect for him.  Quote: “I don’t look back on our meetings with any great joy, yet he was a person of substance and discipline who defended the position he represented with dedication.”  Unquote.  Despite the lack of progress, Kissinger and Tho would keep meeting for secret talks, on and off, for nearly three years.  The North Vietnamese liked having a place where they could meet with a senior US official, and not have the South Vietnamese getting in the way, while Kissinger was free from the supervision of Secretary of State William Rogers and Defense Secretary Melvin Laird.  Indeed, those two Cabinet members did not know about the secret peace talks until a year after they started.  Don’t worry, they didn’t miss anything!  On October 7, during a TV speech, President Nixon proposed a "standstill" cease-fire in which all troops would stop shooting and remain in place, to wait for a formal peace agreement.  Hanoi did not respond; they weren’t ready yet to cease hostilities in any way.  We will come back to the peace talks when the secret talks became known to the public, in 1972.

*****

Meanwhile, Nixon announced on April 20, 1970, that another 150,000 Americans would leave Vietnam within a year.  But then just ten days later, Nixon stunned Americans with another announcement, that US troops and South Vietnamese forces would be going into Cambodia to fight North Vietnamese troops there.  We covered this action in the previous episode of this podcast; Nixon said the purpose of it was, quote, "…not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam and winning the just peace we desire."  Unquote.  Many Americans didn’t see the Cambodian incursion this way; they saw it as a step in the wrong direction.  A tidal wave of protests followed from politicians, the press, students, professors, clergy members, business leaders, and many average Americans against Nixon and the Vietnam War.

As before, college campuses became hotbeds for antiwar protests.  The worst clash was in Ohio, at Kent State University, where on May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen shot student protestors, killing four and wounding nine.  In response to this, more than 400 colleges and universities across the United States shut down.  In Washington, nearly 100,000 protesters surrounded various government buildings, including the White House and historical monuments.  Still, a Gallup poll taken at the time showed that most Americans felt the National Guard wasn’t responsible for the violence; they had acted in self-defense.  This encouraged Nixon to feel that by and large, the American people were on his side; he called them the “silent majority.”

On June 22, 1970, American usage of jungle defoliants in Vietnam was halted, after studies were published showing that chemicals like Agent Orange can cause birth defects.  Then two days later, the US Congress repealed the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  The president would no longer be given a quote-unquote “blank check” by Congress to do whatever he pleased in a war zone.  President Nixon pushed back by claiming he had the authority to continue the war to protect American soldiers in Vietnam.  Still, the US troops in Cambodia were pulled out by the end of June.  In December, the Cooper-Church amendment was added to the US defense appropriations bill, forbidding the use of any more US ground forces in Laos or Cambodia.

Here I will share with you what Stanley Karnow wrote about Nixon’s situation in mid-1970, from his book, Vietnam: A History.

<play Karnow quote>

In Vietnam, the last big battle between Americans and North Vietnamese was the battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord.  By now, because of troop pullouts, the only American division left in full strength was the famous 101st Airborne Division.  To regain the initiative against the enemy, the commander of the 101st, General Ben Harrison, was put in charge of an operation codenamed “Texas Star.”  The plan was to go into the A Shau valley, and use helicopters to rebuild an abandoned firebase on four hilltops, Fire Support Base Ripcord.  We mentioned the A Shau valley in previous episodes; located just west of the important city of Hue, this was the site of some other battles.  Once completed, the firebase would be used as an outpost for a planned offensive by the Marines, to search and destroy North Vietnamese supply lines in the mountains overlooking the valley.

While the 101st Airborne Division was at work, the enemy was gathering intelligence.  From the middle of March until the end of June, the North Vietnamese used mortars, anti-aircraft guns and small arms to launch sporadic attacks, and they silently moved as many as 25,000 NVA troops into the A Shau Valley.  The main battle began on July 1, 1970, and lasted until July 23.  During that time, the firebase was bombarded with mortars, as 30,000 North Vietnamese, a force almost ten times the size of the 101st Division, tried to take the firebase.  It was only the high ground and the bravery of its defenders that kept the enemy from overrunning Fire Support Base Ripcord.

The final death toll of the battle was 138 Americans killed and 3 missing in action, versus 422 North Vietnamese killed and six captured.  Among the dead was 1st Lt. Bob Kalsu, rookie of the year for the Buffalo Bills in 1968; he was the only active pro football player to die in Vietnam.  Another killed in action here was Weiland Norris, brother of the actor Chuck Norris.  I know what you’re thinking, Chuck Norris should have been there to save the day!  Three Medals of Honor and six Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to those who took part in the battle.  Afterwards, ARVN troops replaced American troops at the northern border of South Vietnam.  The Americans supported ARVN’s move with B-52 raids on the Demilitarized Zone.

Next came a campaign called Operation Jefferson Glenn.  This was the last US offensive in Vietnam, and the last operation involving the Marines.  Begun on September 5, 1970, it involved the 101st Airborne Division, the 1st Brigade of the 5th Infantry Division, and the South Vietnamese 1st Division.  Based in Thua Thien, the province containing Hue, the purposes of the operation were to locate and destroy enemy rocket belts around Hue and Da Nang, and to strengthen the defenses of Hue, Da Nang, and Quang Tri.  It went on for thirteen months, until October 6, 1971.  On the American and South Vietnamese side, the casualty count was 60 killed, 291 wounded, 1 missing, while 2,026 enemy combatants were reported killed in action; of course this was called another victory for anti-communist forces.  Finally, it is worth noting that shortly after Operation Jefferson Glenn was finished, the 101st Airborne began preparations to depart South Vietnam, and returned to the United States in March 1972.

For 1970, American troop levels dropped from 428,000 at the year’s beginning to 280,000 by year’s end.  6,173 Americans were killed in action for that year.

<Interlude>

1971

February and March of 1971 saw the most ambitious venture ever attempted by ARVN – an invasion of Laos from the area of the Demilitarized Zone.  We looked at this operation, called Lam Son 719, in Episode 79.  The objective was to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, North Vietnam’s supply line to its forces in the South.  Unfortunately the operation was bungled from the start.  As Henry Kissinger later described it, quote, “the operation, conceived in doubt and assailed by skepticism, proceeded in confusion.”  Unquote.  American strategists estimated that sixty thousand soldiers would have been needed for the operation to succeed, but Saigon committed an inexperienced force only half as large.  Naturally the prime minister of Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma, protested at this violation of his country’s sovereignty, and the combatants simply ignored him.  The ARVN troops took an abandoned Laotian town, Tchepone, and then the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, ordered them to turn back before they reached the Trail, so the operation was a failure.  The Americans could not send ground troops to accompany the South Vietnamese, but they could provide air support, and lost more than one hundred helicopters by the end of the operation.

Afterwards, an upbeat President Nixon declared that, quote, "Vietnamization has succeeded," unquote, but the failed offensive indicated true Vietnamization of the war might be difficult to achieve.  As a result, ARVN would never go on the offensive again.  The one bit of good news was that the North Vietnamese had to postpone their next campaign in South Vietnam until 1972, because they lost so many men and supplies in Laos.

The last US Marine combat units departed from Vietnam at the end of April 1971.  However, those who thought the troops weren’t leaving fast enough continued to hold anti-war demonstrations.  In the past, Nixon dismissed the protesters as, quote, "bums blowing up campuses."  Unquote.  But he couldn’t do it for one group of servicemen called Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who began a week of protests on April 19.  Their main demonstration was in Washington, DC, of course, where the high point came the next day, with the appearance of one of the organization’s leaders, Navy Lieutenant John Kerry, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

<play first Kerry quote>

It was hard to argue with what Kerry said here.  However, earlier in the same speech, he also claimed the troops had committed a number of atrocities:

<play second Kerry quote>

Did you listen to Episode 90, where I discussed the My Lai Massacre?  Here Kerry was making it sound like My Lai-style events were the rule, not the exception.  After the war Kerry went into politics, becoming a senator from Massachusetts, the Democratic candidate for president in 2004, and a Secretary of State, and a lot of veterans have hated him for what he said, arguing that it not only hurt them, but it was also used in communist propaganda.  On April 21, more than 50 veterans marched to The Pentagon, and tried to give themselves up as war criminals.  A Pentagon spokesman took their names and turned them away.  The fact that the veterans were never prosecuted shows that no American leaders took Kerry’s atrocity claims seriously.

On April 23, another group of veterans, including Kerry, went to the Capitol building to return the medals and ribbons they had been awarded for their service, and when a fence was set up to keep them out, they tossed their medals over the fence.  The police were ordered not to arrest any of these demonstrators, because they were widely respected by the American people.  As Pat Buchanan, a White House spokesman, put it at the time, quote, “The Crazies will be in town soon enough, and if we want a confrontation, let’s have it with them.”  Unquote.  Right on cue, another mass demonstration, numbering 200,000 and led by hippies, took place in Washington after the veterans were done.  Here more than 7,000 protestors were arrested, for shutting down traffic in Washington on May Day 1971.  This was the largest mass arrest in US history, according to the historian L. A. Kauffman.  Public opinion polls taken after the demonstration showed that most Americans approved of the police getting tough on these protesters.  Meanwhile, membership in Vietnam Veterans Against the War peaked that year, at around 25,000.  Membership shrank when American servicemen came home from Vietnam, but the organization is still around today, with about 2,000 members demonstrating against war in general.

*****

On the morning of June 13, 1971, President Nixon picked up the latest edition of The New York Times.  The president’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, had gotten married the day before, and on the front page, next to the story about the wedding, was another article, entitled Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing US Involvement.  The article was written by Neil Sheehan; you may remember him from Episode 73, when he was the first reporter to call the battle of Ap Bac a defeat for the Americans.  This was the first excerpt published from the “Pentagon Papers,” a Defense Department archive of the paperwork involved in decisions concerning Vietnam, made by previous White House administrations.  Dated from 1945 to 1967, these papers had been collected by Robert MacNamara, the former Secretary of Defense, so that a future history text could cover how the United States got involved in Vietnam, and they were supposed to be kept secret.  The Pentagon Papers did not make Nixon look bad, because they talked about things done by the presidents before him, but Henry Kissinger pointed out that some day the Times might also get its hands on papers discussing Nixon’s activities, so publication of these classified documents infuriated Nixon.

Completed in January 1969, just before Nixon took office, and bound into 47 volumes, the Pentagon Papers were 3,000 pages of narrative combined with 4,000 pages of supporting documents.  One of those involved in the project was Daniel Ellsberg, an ex-Marine who had worked as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation and at the Department of Defense.  Ellsberg had originally supported US involvement in Indochina, but later came to oppose the war, feeling it was unwinnable.  When Sheehan found out about the papers, he persuaded Ellsberg to photocopy some of them and give the copies to the Times.  That was the source of the upcoming articles revealing the most damning information on US policy, including the Kennedy administration’s approval of the coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, and the fact that bombing raids had been carried out over Laos and Cambodia, long before they were reported in the news.

The New York Times published three articles in the series by June 15, when Nixon attempted to stop further publication by obtaining a federal court injunction against the Times, arguing that publication was detrimental to national security.  Instead, The Washington Post began its own publication of the Pentagon Papers; Ellsberg had also given them copies of the documents.  The legal case quickly went to the Supreme Court, which saw this as a First Amendment issue, and at the end of June it ruled 6-3 in favor of the New York Times and Washington Post, since the information in the papers did not threaten what the United States was doing in Indochina now.

That should have been the end of the matter, but the White House went on to press legal charges against Ellsberg, which took until 1973 to be dismissed.  As for the Pentagon Papers themselves, they were declassified on June 13, 2011, the 40th anniversary of the first article taken from them, so they are all available for public viewing today.  In response to the Pentagon Papers affair, two Nixon aides, John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson, established a group called the “White House Plumbers,” to investigate Daniel Ellsberg and to “plug” future news leaks.  Colson also compiled an “enemies list” featuring the names of 200 prominent Americans considered to be anti-Nixon.  One year later, in June 1972, all this would lead to the “Plumbers” breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters, starting the Watergate scandal and eventually causing the downfall of the Nixon presidency, but those are topics for another podcast.

Now let’s go back to South Vietnam, where it was time for new elections.  Parliamentary elections were held first, on August 29.  Then the presidential election took place on October 2, 1971.  Nguyen Van Thieu was worried that the Army’s poor performance in Laos, from earlier in the year, would hurt his chances for re-election, but that fear was groundless.  The two candidates who initially challenged him were the vice president, Nguyen Cao Ky, and General Duong Van Minh.  We met both Ky and Minh in earlier episodes of the podcast.  Thieu and Ky stopped getting along after they had been elected together in 1967, and now they were fierce rivals, while Minh simply wanted to end the war through a peace settlement with North Vietnam.  Thieu found a technicality that disqualified Ky from running, and Minh, knowing that he would lose, dropped out of the race, so when their names were taken off the ballot, Thieu was the only candidate left.  South Vietnamese who opposed Thieu called this a “one-man election.”  Thieu was re-elected easily, with 94 percent of the vote, a much better performance than the one he gave for the 1967 election.  However, there was a new vice president; Ky’s replacement was Tran Van Huong, who had been prime minister in late 1964-early 1965.  Huong was 67 years old, making him twenty years older than Thieu, and nobody expected him to give any trouble.  Little did anyone know, this would be South Vietnam’s last election.

On December 26, 1971, President Nixon ordered the initiation of Operation Proud Deep Alpha, an intensive five-day bombing campaign against military targets in North Vietnam just north of the Demilitarized Zone, citing violations of the agreements surrounding the 1968 bombing halt.  1971 ended with 156,800 American troops left in Vietnam.  2,357 Americans had been killed in action that year.  At the same time, almost ten times as many South Vietnamese troops had been killed, and this was cited as more evidence that the Vietnamization program was working.

*****

And that’s all for now.    I honestly thought we would get to cover 1972 in this episode, but here we are at the end of 1971, and have run out of time already!  After all, we want enough information in each episode to feel that we thoroughly understand the subject matter, and I told you in the past that it’s easier to do several short episodes, than one that takes multiple hours to finish.  Currently I estimate we will need three more episodes to finish the Second Indochina War narrative.  So join me next time as we continue our coverage of the war into 1972.  We are in the home stretch on this story, that’s for sure!

Podcast update: Remember at the beginning of the episode, when I said I was going to upload my presentation from the Intelligent Speech Conference to YouTube?  And then I would post a link to the video from the podcast Facebook page?  Well, all that has been done already!  Several days passed from the time I recorded the beginning of the episode, until I recorded the part you’re hearing now, and the first part sounded good enough that I didn’t want to record it again.  I think I will also post a link on the Blubrry.com page hosting this episode.  Watch and enjoy!  End update.

If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider supporting it financially.  You can make a one-time donation through Paypal, or a small monthly donation through Patreon.  Go to the page on Blubrry.com hosting this episode, and there you will find links to Paypal, Patreon, and the Podcast Hall of Fame page.  If you make a Paypal donation, your first name will be added to the Podcast Hall of Fame page.  Meanwhile on the Patreon page, the number of Patrons has risen to nine, which includes one new $10/month contributor, Willem P. again.  Way to go, Willem!  If you cannot afford to send a donation, you can still help the podcast, by writing a review, liking the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page on Facebook, and by telling your family and friends about the show.  Finally, if you made it to the end of this episode, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!

<Outro>

Episode 91: The Second Indochina War, Part 18

 

 

After thirteen episodes about the Second Indochina War in Vietnam, and four episodes about the same war in Laos, it is time for the podcast to shift our attention to Cambodia.  This episode covers Cambodian history from 1953, when independence from France was achieved, to 1970, when the Indochina War spilled across its borders.  The first reign of Norodom Sihanouk is covered, and we meet the Khmer Rouge.

https://blubrry.com/hoseasia/61640294/episode-91-the-second-indochina-war-part-18/

This episode is dedicated to Seamus P. and Louis E., who each made a donation to the podcast.  As with the others who have given in this difficult time, I want to thank you for keeping the lights on here, figuratively speaking.  What’s more, both of you have donated before.  I added Louis’ name to the Podcast Hall of Fame Page with a mention of that.  And since Seamus’ first donation came in last year, he has now received the Coveted Water Buffalo icon next to his name on the page!  To both of you, may the plans you have made for this year work out successfully, no matter what strange event happens next.  And now, if you are ready to begin today’s narrative, so am I.

Episode 91: The Second Indochina War, Part 18

or, Spillover Into Cambodia

Greetings, dear listeners!  You can tell from the title that we are in a long-running series on the Second Indochina War, a conflict better known as the Vietnam War by Americans, and the American War by Vietnamese.  It took twenty episodes to cover World War II in and around Southeast Asia, and now it looks like we will need more episodes than that to finish the Indochina conflicts.  Of the previous episodes, five covered the initial war between local communists and France, the colonial power that claimed all of Indochina, thirteen covered Vietnam between 1955 and 1969, and the other four covered Laos up to 1974.  That leaves one part of Indochina we haven’t talked about lately.  Which country is that?

<pause>

Did I hear one of you say “Cambodia?”  You go to the head of the class!  In fact, since civilization has existed in Cambodia for at least two thousand years, it is surprising we haven’t said more about the place.  The only episode we had that was just about Cambodia was Episode 7, where we covered the rise and fall of the Angkor Empire, Southeast Asia’s most impressive nation during the Middle Ages.  At the empire’s peak, the Khmers dominated not only Cambodia, but also Laos, and much of present-day Vietnam and Thailand.  Those glory days ended in 1431, when a raid from the Thais sacked Angkor, the glorious Khmer capital.  After that, the two big neighbors of of the Khmers, Siam and Vietnam, put the squeeze on Cambodia.  Both of those powers wanted Cambodia because it contained the lower Mekong River basin, the best place in all of Southeast Asia for growing rice.  Vietnam ended up taking away the Mekong River delta in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, so that rich land, which once was part of Cambodia, is now the southernmost part of present-day Vietnam.

Podcast footnote:  In Episode 3, I mentioned that Cambodia’s seaport in ancient times was called Oc Eo.  Then in Episode 19, I gave you the name of Cambodia’s medieval seaport, Prey Nokor.  Both of those ports were taken by the Vietnamese, and Prey Nokor was called Saigon until 1975, when it became Ho Chi Minh City.  That left one deep-water port for Cambodia.  The traditional name of it is Kompong Som, but since the 1950s it has usually been called Sihanoukville.  Whereas the other ports had access to the South China Sea, via the Mekong River delta, Sihanoukville is on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand.  End footnote.

By the nineteenth century, the Khmer kings had to buy off Siam and Vietnam, paying both of them tribute to keep their armies away.  Then the French arrived on the scene in 1863 and declared Cambodia a protectorate of theirs, adding Cambodia to the colony they were building in Vietnam.  Although this sounds bad for the Khmers, it also saved them from being absorbed into either the Vietnamese or the Thai state.  If it wasn’t for the French colonial period, from 1863 to 1953, there might be no Cambodian nation today.  Instead, the Khmers would be one more of Southeast Asia’s many ethnic minorities, living in an expanded Thailand or Vietnam.  You can compare the fate of the Khmers with that of the Chams, who had a kingdom of their own in ancient and medieval times, but now are a minority group of a few hundred thousand people, divided between Vietnam and Cambodia.

The French did not rule Cambodia as harshly as they ruled Vietnam.  Because Cambodia was officially a protectorate, rather than an outright colony, the French allowed the Khmers to have their own king.  However, the French also decided which member of the Cambodian royal family could be king, to keep the territory pacified.  Thus, when the throne became vacant in 1941, the heir to it was a prince named Norodom Suramarit, but the French passed over him and instead crowned Suramarit’s eighteen-year-old son, Norodom Sihanouk, who they figured would be more pliable.  Before World War II there was no nationalist movement like the one that developed in Vietnam, so the French did not launch cruel reprisals against the Khmer people in order to keep themselves in charge.

There were no battles in Cambodia during World War II.  The Khmers found themselves ruled distantly, first by the Vichy French, then by the Japanese.  After the war France regained control, and that was when the first Cambodian nationalists appeared.  The early nationalists can be classified in three groups, according to political ideology: right-wing, left-wing, and monarchist.  The right-wing nationalists called themselves the Khmer Serei, meaning Free Khmer, and they were anti-monarchy, anti-French, and anti-communist, meaning they probably would have set up a Western-style republic if they had gotten the chance.  Many of their members were ethnic Khmers who came not from Cambodia, but from southern Vietnam; they called themselves the Khmer Krom, and besides supporting the platform of the Khmer Serei, they also wanted to return the Mekong delta to Cambodian rule.  The Khmer Serei leader was Son Ngoc Thanh, who had briefly been prime minister in 1945. 

In the long run, though, the left-wing nationalists were more important.  They formed a coalition of six groups, which were collectively called first the Khmer Issarak, meaning pro-independence Khmers, and later the United Issarak Front, or UIF.  Four of the six groups were communist, and at least half of the UIF members were monks, showing that the Buddhist clergy favored independence.  Because of the current war in Vietnam between the French and the communist Viet Minh movement, the Viet Minh crossed the border into Cambodia a few times to clash with the French.

Communism in Indochina got started in Vietnam first, so when communist groups appeared in Cambodia, they were founded with Vietnamese help, and like the Pathet Lao, the communist movement in Laos, the early Cambodian communists did whatever the Viet Minh told them to do.  The most important of these groups called itself the Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party, KPRP for short.  By 1952 they claimed to occupy one sixth of Cambodian territory, and by 1954, they claimed half of it.  I don’t believe these claims myself, because there were no battles in Cambodia as big as the battles in Vietnam or even in Laos, and the number of Cambodian leftists was small – they probably had no more than three thousand members.  For the Geneva peace conference that ended the First Indochina War, the Viet Minh promised the communists in Laos and Cambodia that they would be allowed to participate, but that did not happen, and when the cease-fire agreement was signed, the Cambodian communists got nothing.  Zero, nada, zilch.  As a result, after this the Cambodian communists trusted their Vietnamese backers a lot less, and would eventually break with them completely.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Cambodian people wanted to be ruled by the traditional royal family, so they rooted not for the Khmer Serei or the leftists, but for those nationalists who wanted to keep the monarchy.  Eventually King Sihanouk joined them, and by 1953 he had single-handedly persuaded the French to end the protectorate, thereby restoring Cambodia’s independence.

*****
<Ta-da>

Okay, that’s a summary of what we have said about Cambodia in past episodes.  If you want more details, I suggest you go back and re-listen to Episodes 34, 64, and 67.  For this episode we are going to cover the years when Sihanouk was first in charge, from 1953 to 1970, and that will bring us to the beginning of the all-out war that broke out in 1970.  Let’s play a bit of Cambodian music, and then begin today’s narrative!

<Interlude>

One of my sources summarized Cambodian history as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

<theme music>

All right, we got the idea!  The good time was the age of the Angkor Empire, which I said was back in Episode 7.  Then the bad time set in, beginning when the empire started its decline in the 13th century, and going on until the mid-twentieth century.  You can call the first decade after French rule ended, 1953 to 1963, another good time, because as we shall soon see, Cambodia was independent and neutral.  After that came another bad time, as Cambodia was sucked into the Second Indochina War.  The years from 1970 to 1993 were definitely ugly; first there was a brutal civil war, then the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge, and finally the Third Indochina War between Cambodia and Vietnam.  Cambodia has been making a slow recovery since the ugly time ended.  Both the ugly time and the time of recovery are material for future podcast episodes.

Cambodia’s neutral period was not only a time of peace, but also a time of prosperity.  King Sihanouk made the expansion of education a priority; before independence, there was only one high school in the whole country.  Phnom Penh grew to become a modern capital city, the ancient temples of Angkor became the most popular tourist attraction in Southeast Asia, and Sihanouk played host to the world leaders who came to visit.  For a peek at Cambodia during this time, I recommend you check out the October 1964 issue of National Geographic Magazine; the featured article’s title is Cambodia, Indochina’s Neutral Corner, because it emphasized how Cambodia was peaceful while war raged in neighboring Vietnam and Laos.

Before long, Sihanouk grew concerned that the pomp of royal ceremony was taking up too much of his time, and that the constitution restricted what he could do as king.  Because of this, in March 1955 he abdicated, giving the throne to his passed-over father, Norodom Suramarit.  This was an excellent move, because it showed Sihanouk honored his father, which is always important in Far Eastern countries.  Then he proclaimed himself prime minister, which allowed him to keep most of the political power, while Suramarit now took care of the ceremonial duties that he used to do.  In the tradition of the French Revolution, Sihanouk stopped calling himself the “Royal Crusader,” switching his title to “Citizen Sihanouk,” and vowing he would never return to the throne.

Next, parliamentary elections were held.  Originally scheduled for June 1955, they were postponed until September.  A year earlier, Sihanouk had founded his own political party, which he called the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, meaning the People’s Socialist Community, though there was nothing socialist about it.  When the voting took place, the Sangkum won all 91 seats in the National Assembly.  The leading left-wing party, the Pracheachon Party, got 4 percent of the votes, but no seats were assigned to it.  Naturally it and the other parties claimed there had been voter fraud and intimidation, and Sihanouk admitted to this in 1958.  In that year new elections were held.  Sihanouk published three articles about communism in Cambodia, which emphasized the dependence of Cambodian communists on North Vietnam, a declaration that was sure to make communists look bad in the eyes of the Vietnamese-hating Khmers.  After that it was easy to link the country’s leftist opposition with the communists, and again the Sangkum Party won all the available seats.  It was the same story for the next election, held in 1962; the Sangkum Party won all the seats for a third time.

In 1959 Sieu Heng, the leader of the Cambodian communist party’s rural faction, defected to the government and provided the security forces with the information they needed to destroy as much as 90 percent of that faction.  The leader of the communist networks in the cities, Tou Samouth, now became leader of the whole party, but only a few hundred communists remained active in the country as the 1950s came to an end.

King Norodom Suramarit died in 1960, at the age of 64.  This meant Norodom Sihanouk was technically king again, but instead of taking the throne back, he left it vacant, so the outside world continued to call him Prince Sihanouk.  In 1963, Sihanouk forced the National Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment that made him head of state with no fixed term of office.  This allowed him to continue holding power in a constitutional monarchy, without requiring him to perform the ceremonial duties that would have been expected if he was king.  Thirty more years would pass before he claimed the throne for a second time.

*****

When it came to foreign policy, Sihanouk played a dangerous game to keep his country out of war.  He wanted the United States to pay the cost of his army, because the Americans were already sending military aid to South Vietnam and Thailand, and that would help to defend Cambodia against communism.  But as we have seen, South Vietnam and Thailand were also Cambodia’s historical enemies, and the greatest threat to Cambodia’s existence.  Therefore he declared Cambodia neutral and refused to accept any more US aid.   He also nationalized several industries, including the rice trade.

Sihanouk never could get along with the Khmer Serei movement, because, as we saw, they were anti-monarchist.  Son Ngoc Thanh, the Khmer Serei leader, formed an anti-Sihanouk militia.  From 1956 onward this militia received aid from the US Central Intelligence Agency, since in those days the United States would back any group that declared itself anti-Communist.  In 1961, Sihanouk severed diplomatic relations with Bangkok because of “Thai support” provided to the Khmer Serei.  After that, the militia was only active in the jungles near the Vietnamese border, since Thailand did not support them anymore.  Most of all, Sihanouk was annoyed by Khmer Serei propaganda against him and the royal family, which was broadcast into Cambodia from radio stations in South Vietnam.

Over the course of his rule, Sihanouk may have executed as many as 1,000 Khmer Serei suspects.  The most notorious example came when Preap In, a Khmer Serei activist, offered to go to the National Assembly and negotiate directly with Sihanouk.  Preap In was promised safe passage from Vietnam to Cambodia by his uncle in November 1963.  Instead he was arrested, displayed in a cage at the National Assembly, subjected to a military trial, and shot by a firing squad.  This execution was filmed as a fifteen-minute newsreel, and shown in all Cambodian cinemas for a month, an event which remained in the memories of Cambodians for many years.

The Khmer Serei failed to win over many new members; most Cambodians with a conservative point of view joined the Sangkum Party instead.  In early 1969, five hundred Khmer Serei soldiers based in South Vietnam defected, and joined the Cambodian army.  Today there are two theories on why they did this.  One theory suggests that Son Ngoc Thanh ordered them to infiltrate the armed forces, the other proposes that the CIA sent them to take part in the 1970 coup against Sihanouk.  We will hear more about that shortly.

By May 1965 Sihanouk was convinced that the United States was plotting against him and his family, so he broke diplomatic relations with Washington.  Since Cambodia needed to get along with somebody, Sihanouk looked to the Soviet Union and Communist China for economic and military aid.  Then, to improve relations with North Vietnam, he allowed the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong to set up campsites on Cambodian territory, for use in their war against South Vietnam and the United States, and he agreed to let ships from communist countries deliver supplies for those camps at the port of Sihanoukville.  Soon the communists built a network of trails connecting Sihanoukville to their camps and to the Ho Chi Minh Trail; this came to be known as the “Sihanouk Trail.”

Sihanouk’s initial response to the camps and the trails was to simply ignore them.  Pretending that nothing was going on seemed like the best way to avoid antagonizing the North Vietnamese, while at the same time he hoped that the Americans would not expand their military operations beyond Thailand, South Vietnam and Laos.  The way he saw it, someday the groups allied with the People’s Republic of China, and not those with the United States, would win the Indochina War, and that, quote, "our interests are best served by dealing with the camp that one day will dominate the whole of Asia – and coming to terms before its victory – in order to obtain the best terms possible."  Unquote.

The rapid growth of the communist presence in Cambodia prompted Sihanouk to change his position again.  In 1966 he told his pro-American minister of defense, General Lon Nol, that he had the prince’s permission to crack down on leftist activities, discrediting the left-wing political parties by accusing them of subversion and subservience to Hanoi.  Long-time listeners will remember that Lon Nol had been Sihanouk’s right-hand man in the early 1950s, when he was working to gain independence from the French.  Naturally this alienated Cambodian students, many of whom were educated abroad.  In response, Sihanouk began calling his leftist opponents Khmer Rouge, which is French for “Red Khmers”; that name would stick!

*****

Since I just said the name “Khmer Rouge,” this is a good place to introduce the man who would become its most important leader – Saloth Sar, better known by his nom de guerre, Pol Pot.  Saloth Sar was born in Kampong Thom, a province in central Cambodia, as the eighth of nine children.  My sources give a birth date of May 19, meaning he shared the same birthday with Ho Chi Minh, but they disagree on whether the year of birth was 1925 or 1928 – that shows how mysterious he was.  Although his family lived in a small fishing village, they did well by Cambodian standards.  An older sister was a concubine of King Sisowath Monivong, Sihanouk’s grandfather, and a brother was a court official.  So not only did his siblings earn decent salaries, but the family received gifts from the king’s court.  The family house was one of the largest in the village; they owned fifty acres of rice paddies, and they hired their poor neighbors to help with the planting and harvesting work.

When he was six years old, Saloth Sar was sent to a monastery in Phnom Penh; here he served as a novice monk for eighteen months, learned Buddhist teachings and learned to read and write in the Khmer language.  In 1935, presumably when he was ten, he began to attend a Catholic primary school.  Not being a gifted student, he was held back for two years and finally finished in 1941.  Here he learned about Christianity and how to read in French.  In the same year a new middle school was founded at Kampong Cham, and he became a boarding student there in 1942.  While attending that school, he met Khieu Samphan, born in 1931, and Hu Nim, born in 1932; they would become future partners of his in the Khmer Rouge.  Next, in 1945 he began attending the country’s only high school in Phnom Penh, while living with a married brother.  It was here that he met his future wife, Khieu Ponnary; they would get married in 1956.  Unfortunately he could not stay at the high school long enough to finish, because he failed an exam in 1948, and transferred to a vocational school.  There he met another future associate, a Khmer born in Vietnam named Ieng Sary, and then he secured a scholarship at an engineering school in Paris, which he went to in 1949.

My sources disagree on what Saloth Sar studied in Paris; they suggest he majored in radio electronics, printing and typesetting, or civil engineering.  According to a Jesuit priest, Father François Ponchaud, he also developed a taste for the classics of French literature, especially the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and the writings of Karl Marx.  He and Ieng Sary joined the French Communist Party, and with other Cambodian students they formed a Marxist study group, called Le Cercle Marxiste, or the Marxist Circle.  However, he flunked out after failing too many exams, and returned to Cambodia in 1953.  As it turned out, though, that was a plus for his career as a revolutionary; because he didn’t have a degree, nobody could call him an intellectual living in a high tower.

So far Saloth Sar and his classmates had little, if any contact with the handful of communists that were already in Cambodia.  They joined these communists after coming home, but Saloth Sar felt that they were too dependent on the Viet Minh.  From 1956 to 1963, Saloth Sar led a double life.  By day he was a professor at Chamraon Vichea, a private college in Phnom Penh, where he taught French literature and was much liked by his students; by night he plotted to replace the monarchy with a communist government.

Meanwhile, Prince Sihanouk began cracking down on leftist political movements.  Liberals were upset at him because the government was full of corruption, some of it uncomfortably close to the royal family.  In addition, the economic growth since independence had led to extreme wealth inequality; while city dwellers were getting rich, life for the rural population had hardly changed at all.  When the Pracheachon Party’s newspapers attacked Sihanouk in 1959, he immediately shut them down, asserting they were run from Hanoi.  Then in 1962 Sihanouk got rid of the Pracheachon by arresting fifteen of its leaders, and he complained that the communists in northeastern Cambodia had set up a "spy network" directed by North Vietnam.  Also in 1962, the Cambodian communist leader, Tou Samouth, simply disappeared.  He may have been the victim of Sihanouk’s police, but an alternate theory suggests that Saloth Sar, who was now the number three man in the party, had him eliminated.  By 1963 all of the older party members were dead or arrested, allowing Saloth Sar to become the new Khmer Rouge leader.

To avoid being the next communist arrested, Saloth Sar disappeared without a trace.  He changed his name to Pol Pot, which doesn’t mean anything in Cambodian; he just liked the way it sounded.  Next, Pol Pot fled into the jungle, and cut all ties to everyone outside the Khmer Rouge who knew him, so his friends, relatives and students had no idea what happened, and assumed he was dead.  About fifteen years later, they would find out he was the monstrous dictator who had taken over their country, but that’s a subject for a future episode!

Podcast footnote: I was a teacher from 2001 to 2006; I taught a computer course at the largest community college in Orlando, Florida.  During those five years, I only missed three days of classes.  The first time I missed class, I had car trouble; the second time, I had jury duty; the third time, I needed to go on a trip out of town and could not change the date.  Here is what you need to learn from the story of Pol Pot:  if you are a student and your teacher is absent from school quite often, you have a good reason to be concerned!  End footnote.

*****

Despite the suppression of radical dissent, Sihanouk lost the support of Cambodia’s conservatives as well, because of the previously mentioned communist presence in the country, and because of his failure to fix the now-deteriorating economy, caused by the loss of rice exports; much of the country’s rice had been smuggled to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.  Now only the peasants, who saw Sihanouk as a god-king, continued to support him.

One more parliamentary election took place in 1966.  As in the previous elections, the Sangkum Party won all the seats in the National Assembly, but this time, more than one candidate in the party could run for each seat.  A lot of the candidates were not hand-picked by Sihanouk, and many of those didn’t like him.  In fact, Sihanouk publicly spoke out against four candidates, and because Sihanouk’s attacks made them famous, all four won their elections easily.  Through manipulation and harassment (and to Sihanouk’s surprise), 59 of the 82 seats ended up going to conservative members of the party.  Now that they were entrenched, the rightists chose Lon Nol as the next prime minister, and for deputy prime minister, they named Prince Sirik Matak, an ultraconservative cousin of Sihanouk and a long-time enemy of his.  On the other side of the political aisle, three communists, Khieu Samphan, Hou Yuon, and Hu Nim, managed to get elected to the National Assembly because they were members of the Sangkum Party, too.

Sihanouk’s political balancing act was coming undone.  One of the first things Lon Nol did as prime minister was to fix the ailing economy, by halting the illegal sale of rice to the communists.  Soldiers were dispatched to the rice-growing areas to collect the harvests at gunpoint, and they paid only the government price, which was far lower than the black market price.  There was unrest, especially in Battambang province.  Battambang is in the northwest, against the border of Thailand; it grows more rice than any other province, and in the 1960s it was home to many large landowners, with a great discrepancy in wealth between these landowners and the local peasants.  On March 11, 1967, while Sihanouk was in France, a rebellion broke out in Samlaut, a district in Battambang, when enraged villagers attacked a rice collection brigade.  By the evening of that day, the villagers defeated guards from two other posts and executed a mayor.  With the probable encouragement of local communists, the insurrection quickly spread to eleven of the country’s eighteen provinces.  Lon Nol, acting in the prince’s absence (but with his approval), responded by declaring martial law.  Hundreds of peasants were killed and whole villages were laid waste in the repression that followed.  One of my sources reported trucks carrying severed heads drove from Battambang to Phnom Penh, so that Lon Nol would know his orders were being followed.

After returning to Cambodia, Sihanouk changed his political position again, deciding that the leftists were now the greatest threat.  He personally ordered the arrest of five leftist deputies, whom he accused of being leaders of the rebellion.  Three were Khmer Rouge members, and two of them, Khieu Samphan and Hou Yuon, immediately escaped, joining Pol Pot in the jungles of the northeast.  The third Khmer Rouge member, Hu Nim, tried to keep his government job, but after repeated warnings from Sihanouk, he also departed by the end of the year.  Sihanouk also ordered the arrest of Chinese middlemen involved in the illegal rice trade; that move raised government revenues and pleased the conservatives.  However, at the end of April Lon Nol resigned.  We don’t know the reason for his resignation, but rumor has it he suffered from some form of injury during the rebellion.  The prince responded to the resignation by appointing new leftists to government positions, to balance the conservatives.

In May and June, the military acted even more brutal, with Royal Cambodian Air Force aircraft bombing villages and jungle hide-outs, while the army burned down villages and massacred their inhabitants.  With that done, Sihanouk declared that the Samlaut Rebellion, also called the Battambang Revolt, was over.

When I was doing the research for this episode, two of my sources claimed that the Cambodian Civil War of the early 1970s began with the 1967 Samlaut Rebellion.  I don’t agree with that assertion, but you can imagine the uprising as a dress rehearsal for the war to come, because Lon Nol led the fighting on one side, and the communists were at least partially involved on the other side.  One tragic consequence of the rebellion is that thousands of peasants escaped the fighting by fleeing into the jungle, where Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were waiting to welcome them as new recruits for the Khmer Rouge.  Another consequence was the peasants were reluctant to support the government afterwards; for them the name of Lon Nol became associated with ruthless repression.

*****

The Khmer Rouge launched several small-scale uprisings in January 1968.  The objective of these was not to gain territory but to capture weapons and spread propaganda, since they did not yet have enough troops to take on government forces – at this time, they numbered between 4,000 and 5,000.  The propaganda campaign won them more recruits, allowing them to launch bigger uprisings in February.  The armed forces managed to crush these uprisings by April.

Of course defeating the rebels would have been easier if the prince had the support of a strong, anti-communist power, so he took a new look at his foreign policy.  His attempts to build good relations with China had been for nothing.  The Chinese were too busy with the Cultural Revolution to take an active role in the outside world at this time; moreover, they did not restrain the North Vietnamese, and they were now the principal backers of the Khmer Rouge.  In a 1967 interview with Stanley Karnow, then a Washington Post Vietnam War correspondent, Sihanouk let it be known that he would grant Americans the right of "hot pursuit" against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in Cambodia–as long as no Cambodians were harmed.  In November 1968 he welcomed Lon Nol back into his cabinet as defense minister.  Then on May 11, 1969, the prince welcomed the restoration of normal diplomatic relations with the US and created a new “Government of National Salvation,“ with Lon Nol as prime minister.

US President Lyndon Johnson was reluctant to spread the war into Cambodia.  The only US troops that went in during his presidency were called “Daniel Boone squads,” covert teams of volunteers and mercenaries, wearing either black peasant pajamas or unidentifiable uniforms, going on intelligence-gathering or sabotage missions.  And no, I don’t think John Kerry was one of them.  During the 2004 US presidential election, the senator who kept reminding us that he was once in Vietnam claimed that Richard Nixon sent him on a secret mission into Cambodia in 1968, which is absurd because Nixon wasn’t president yet.  Anyway, after Nixon succeeded Johnson, Washington became more interested in Cambodia.  The first action by Nixon was a campaign to bomb military targets with B-52 raids; we covered that in Episode 88.  The bombing campaign was called Operation Menu, and it consisted of six small operations, directed against base areas near the Cambodia-South Vietnam border, from March 18, 1969 to May 26, 1970.  The whole operation was kept a tight secret, because the world would be outraged to learn that the Americans were bombing a neutral country.  The North Vietnamese kept quiet about it, too, because if they spoke up, it would be a confession that they had troops involved in illegal activities in Cambodia.

Unfortunately there were some civilians living in the areas targeted by the B-52s, so there must have been civilian casualties from the start.  Although Sihanouk did not approve of any bombing, and North Vietnam did not give aid to the Khmer Rouge between 1967 and 1969, the prince found that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong made convenient scapegoats, because they were a larger, more dangerous force than the Khmer Rouge, and getting them out of Cambodia would solve several problems for both the prince and the Americans.  Therefore he did not break the secret about the bombing, either, and his troops gave the Americans intelligence on the enemy bases.

Sihanouk’s political flip-flops had made him a royal pain in the neck, and one of my sources asserts that he neglected Cambodia’s internal affairs by spending too much time on his hobby – film-making.  In January 1970 the prince visited France for medical treatment, which meant a lengthy stay on the Riviera.  The prince was still away in March, when anti-Vietnamese riots broke out; mobs sacked the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong legations in Phnom Penh, and killed innocent Vietnamese civilians who happened to be living in the country.  Lon Nol had been left in charge, and he decided this was the time to crush the communists.  He closed Sihanoukville to North Vietnamese shipping, and he told the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong that they had 72 hours to get out of the country.  Since they couldn’t possibly comply with this ultimatum, you may consider it a declaration of war from Lon Nol.

What happened next is called the 1970 Cambodia Coup in most history texts, but it wasn’t a coup so much as an impeachment.  There was no fighting in the streets, no executions – the whole affair was bloodless.  On March 18, 1970, the National Assembly voted unanimously to invoke an article of the constitution that let them remove the head of state from office.  Lon Nol remained acting prime minister, his brother Lon Non played a strong role as Minister of Interior, and Sirik Matak was still deputy prime minister.  They kept In Tam, the president of the National Assembly, in that job; In Tam turned out to be the most experienced and politically mature of the senior members in the new, right-wing government.  There have been allegations that the CIA was involved in the coup, but no evidence of that has ever been found.  Still, Washington approved of the results, just as it approved of the coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

The new leaders moved to abolish the monarchy.  They dropped the country’s official name, the Kingdom of Cambodia, and for a few months they called it État au Cambodge, which is French for “State of Cambodia.”  Then in October 1970 they proclaimed the Khmer Republic, which would have a president instead of a monarch as the head of state.  Prince Sihanouk was tried and sentenced to death in absentia, a move which ensured he would not be coming back from his trip anytime soon.  The prince had once seen Bao Dai, the last Vietnamese emperor, languishing in exile in France, and he did not want the same fate for himself.  Confused and hurt, he went to China, and the Chinese and North Vietnamese persuaded him to form a coalition government with his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge, with himself as its figurehead leader.

*****

The stage is now set for the Cambodian phase of the Second Indochina War, also known as the Cambodian Civil War.  Prince Sihanouk, Lon Nol, the Americans and the Khmer Rouge are all in place.  However, we have run out of time today, so that conflict will be covered in the next episode.  You can expect to see the next episode in the middle of June, real-time; join me again then.  Or as Adam West used to say in the old Batman TV series:

<Bat-time clip>

Do you like podcasts?  Of course you do.  If you are listening to this in June 2020, a podcasters’ conference, called the Intelligent Speech Conference, is coming up on June 27.  It is hosted by Roifield Brown, a highly successful podcaster in his own right, and it will be held online, so you don’t need to travel to attend – all you need is a broadband Internet connection.  The format for the discussions is still being worked on as I record this, so here is the trailer promoting it again.  I plan to record one more episode before the conference takes place; expect me to have more details next time.

<Play Roifield’s trailer>

Like every successful history podcast, this one is a labor of love, but it needs money to keep running in cyberspace, too.  If you can afford to support the podcast at this time, please consider making a donation, either a one-time donation through Paypal, or a monthly donation through Patreon.  Go to the page on Blubrry.com hosting this episode, and there you will find links to both Paypal and Patreon.  If you make a Paypal donation, you will have your first name mentioned on the Podcast Hall of Fame page, and at the beginning of the next episode recorded after the donation arrives over here.  Thank you in advance for your support.

And that’s not all you can do to support the show.  You can also write a review, at most of the places where you get your podcasts, and that review can attract new listeners, even years from now.  And on Facebook, I have set up the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page, for sharing new episodes and anything related to the show.  The page has gotten several new “Likes” since the last episode; thanks for sharing the love!  And if you are no longer under quarantine from the Corona virus, spread the word, by telling your family, friends, and any history buffs you meet that you listen to the show!  Until we meet again, stay safe, happy and healthy, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!

<Outro>

Episode 86: The Second Indochina War, Part 13

 

 

With the previous episode of the podcast, we took a break from the narrative and had a question and answer session.  Now with Episode 86, we resume our ongoing narrative about the Second Indochina War, also known as the Vietnam War.  Today we finish looking at the events of 1967, and that will get us ready for the Tet Offensive next time.

https://blubrry.com/hoseasia/57384680/episode-86-the-second-indochina-war-part-13/

 

(Transcript)

This episode is dedicated to Alexei K., for making a donation to the podcast.  Alexei, thank you for doing your part to keep the lights on, figuratively speaking.  We’re probably going to get many new listeners while the Corona virus panic is going on, because it is still safe to listen to podcasts, as I will comment about at the end of the show; thank you for helping those listeners as well.  With spring about to begin in the northern hemisphere, may you enjoy this season to the fullest.  And to anyone else listening to this, I’m glad you’re here.  Now let’s go to the regularly scheduled episode.

Episode 86: The Second Indochina War, Part 13

or, Prologue to Tet

Greetings, dear listeners!  If you have listened to the previous episodes, you know that lately the podcast has been covering the Second Indochina War, also known as the Vietnam War in the United States, and the American War in present-day Vietnam.  With Episode 84 we made it as far as the middle of 1967, and then for Episode 85 we took some time out for a question and answer session, where you the listeners decided what I would talk about.  Now it’s time to return to the narrative, and finish the events of 1967!

As you heard a minute ago, this is the thirteen episode in the podcast’s series on the war.  If you haven’t listened to the other twelve episodes yet, what are you waiting for?  Go back to the website or app where you got this episode, and download or listen to the rest!  It will take you some time, but the episodes are free!  By now we have covered too much material to do a quick recap, and I trust you don’t want to start the story in the middle of it.  That would be like watching “Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back,” without watching “Star Wars:  A New Hope” first.  Still, there were some interruptions to the sequence of episodes, as I inserted some special episodes, so here is the rest of the series:

For the war in Vietnam, Episodes 71, 72, 73, 80, 81, 82, 83, and 84.

And for the war next door in Laos, Episodes 74, 75, 78, and 79.

If you made it this far, I assume you’re ready for today’s show.  Let’s go!

<Interlude>

*****

In Episode 84, we saw the American strategy for the war:  bring in more soldiers, more guns, more bombs, more ironmongery, until the American advantage in numbers and technology shattered communist forces, the way it had shattered the forces of the Axis during World War II.  By 1967, the American commander in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, thought he had what he needed to win, and whenever there was a firefight, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong suffered more casualties than the Americans and their allies did, but the Communists showed no signs of giving up.  Nor did they want to talk peace, which would have allowed the Americans to leave without achieving a victory.

Meanwhile in Hanoi, the North Vietnamese leadership, the Politburo, developed its own plans for the war.  This was largely the work of Le Duan, the head of the Communist Party.  Le Duan wanted to launch an offensive so big that it would throw the Americans and the South Vietnamese into “utmost confusion.”  The main goal was to cause the South Vietnamese government to collapse; failing that, the offensive would convince the Americans that the war was unwinnable.  He did not give the offensive a special name, but just called it, quote, "General Offensive, General Uprising."  Unquote.

There was opposition to the plan, especially from Ho Chi Minh and from Vo Nguyen Giap, the commander of the armed forces.  Both of them felt the war was going their way, and they should not sacrifice the lives of their troops to win the war more quickly.  In the end Le Duan had his way, because his opponents were ill in the summer of 1967, and they had to go abroad for medical treatment they couldn’t get at home.  Giap went to Hungary in July, while Ho Chi Minh was treated in China in September.  Other opponents of Le Duan’s offensive, even some decorated veterans of the war with the French, were locked up in the Hanoi Hilton, the same prison that held captured American pilots.

The initial plan for the offensive consisted of three phases.  The first phase would be a series of attacks against remote outposts, in an effort to lure American and South Vietnamese troops away from South Vietnam’s cities, especially Saigon.  These attacks kept the Americans busy for the rest of 1967, and in that way the North Vietnamese gained the initiative, though the Americans did not know it at the time.  The second phase of the plan, what we call the Tet Offensive today, was an attack against the cities themselves by Viet Cong forces aided by North Vietnamese troops, in the hope of “liberating” as many villages, hamlets and towns as possible, thereby igniting a "general uprising" to overthrow the government of South Vietnam.  That would set the stage for the third phase, a direct invasion of South Vietnam by troops and tanks coming from North Vietnam.  Above all this, the ultimate goal of the offensive was to win the war while Ho Chi Minh, the founder of Indochinese communism, was alive.  As an unnamed North Vietnamese officer explained it after the war, quote, “Uncle Ho was very old and we had to liberate the south before his death.”  Unquote.

*****

The first battles we will be covering today took place in Quang Tri and Thua Thien, the two northernmost provinces of South Vietnam and the two provinces farthest from Saigon.  US Marines and one of their partners in the war, South Korea, had nine bases between Quang Tri City and the Demilitarized Zone, which were named Dong Ha, Gio Linh, Con Thien, Cam Lo, Camp Carroll, The Rockpile, Khe Sanh, Ca Lu, and Cua Viet.  All of them were near Route 9, a road running from Dong Ha to the Vietnam-Laos border; we mentioned that road in Episode 79, when covering the 1971 South Vietnamese invasion of Laos.

This area had been the site of Operation Hastings in July 1966.  To prevent further communist infiltration across the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone, Operation Prairie was launched here in August.  It lasted until the end of January 1967, with the result being that 226 Marines were killed versus 1,397 North Vietnamese killed.  It was proclaimed a big success, but with hindsight, it was only a success for the short run.  The enemy troops that got away fled across the DMZ to North Vietnam, where they regrouped, re-equipped themselves, and sneaked back into South Vietnam later in 1967.  Thus, the Marines immediately had to follow up Operation Prairie with three operations so similar that they were given almost the same name.  Operation Prairie II went on from February 1 to March 18, Operation Prairie III lasted from March 20 to April 19, and Operation Prairie IV ran from April 20 to May 17, 1967.

In the middle of all this, on April 6, Quang Tri City was attacked by 2,500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.  They briefly overran and occupied the city, holding it just long enough to break into the Quang Tri provincial jail, where they freed more than 200 prisoners.

Next came the first battle of Khe Sanh, also called the Hill Fights.  I introduced Khe Sanh in Episode 73, when the American base was built here.  Located in the northwest corner of South Vietnam, it is in a hilly area just seven miles from the Vietnamese-Laotian border, and ten miles south of the DMZ.  On April 24, North Vietnamese troops started ambushing Americans in the hills around Khe Sanh, hence the name “Hill Fights.”  Over the next few days, the North Vietnamese also cut Route 9 more than once, between Cam Lo and Khe Sanh, in an effort to isolate the latter.  There were also diversionary mortar, rocket and artillery attacks, on Gio Linh, Camp Carroll, and Dong Ha.  The fighting went on until May 11, when the Marines drove the last of the enemy away.  The casualty count was 940 North Vietnamese killed, 155 Americans killed and 425 Americans wounded.  But we’re not done with Khe Sanh yet; there will be even bloodier battles here later!

Among the Marine bases, the one with the most strategic value was Con Thien, because it was less than two miles below the DMZ, and because it was on top of a hill 525 feet high; this allowed observers to look into much of the DMZ and even into North Vietnam.  On May 8, the thirteenth anniversary of the fall of Dienbienphu, the North Vietnamese tried to take this outpost.  They were driven off by fierce hand-to-hand combat along the base perimeter.  Up until now, Americans had not been allowed in the DMZ, but as a result of the battle of Con Thien, Washington lifted this prohibition.  American and South Vietnamese troops entered the Demilitarized Zone for the first time on May 18, in a series of missions called Operations Hickory, Lam Son 54, Belt Tight, and Beau Charger.  Over the next eight days, they engaged in several firefights with the North Vietnamese, causing heavy losses for both sides.

More assaults on the bases near the DMZ, especially Con Thien, took place for the rest of 1967.  Alas, we don’t have time in this episode to cover all the firefights, or the actions the Marines undertook to hold the bases.  I’ll just give the names of the defensive operations conducted in the area:  Operation Cimarron in June, Operation Buffalo and Operation Hickory II in early July, Operation Kingfisher from mid-July to the end of October, and Operation Kentucky.  Operation Kentucky lasted the longest, from November 1967 to February 1969.  It resulted in 520 Marines killed and 2,698 wounded, while 3,839 North Vietnamese were killed, and 117 were captured.

For the Americans, the worst part of the Con Thien siege was the second half of Operation Kingfisher, from September 11 to October 31.  That period saw a massive long-range artillery duel between North Vietnamese and American guns, as the North Vietnamese fired 42,000 rounds at the Marines, and the Americans responded with 281,000 rounds and B-52 air strikes to lift the siege.

Podcast footnote: I am trying to imagine what more than a quarter million artillery shells would look like.  It reminds me of a World War I photo I saw, where Allied soldiers stood around an enormous pile of shell casings, after an artillery bombardment at the battle of Verdun.  End footnote.

The Marine Corps rotated battalions in and out of Con Thien every thirty days.  The constant shelling and the threat of assaults took a psychological toll on the Marines; they nicknamed the base "Our Turn in the Barrel" and "the Meat Grinder", while the DMZ came to be called the "Dead Marine Zone."

*****

On the political front, the US president, Lyndon Johnson, held another meeting with South Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Cao Ky, this time on the island of Guam in March.  Up until now, he had supported the corrupt South Vietnamese government for the same reasons that Washington had supported anti-communist dictators in other parts of the world.  His predecessors had explained that policy with these crude words, quote: “They may be sons of bitches, but they’re our sons of bitches.”  Unquote. 

Podcast footnote: We will see the same US policy in action in a future episode, when we look at the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.  Boy, will I have fun telling you that story!  End footnote.

When Johnson met Ky in 1966, he got the impression that Ky wanted to turn South Vietnam into a US-style democracy.  Now, with growing opposition to the war in the United States, Johnson felt such a transformation would solve South Vietnam’s political problems, and it would justify continued support of South Vietnam.  So he told Ky that he wanted to see South Vietnam get a new constitution and hold a truly free election.  He put the request in the form of a personal favor, saying, quote: “My birthday is in late August.  The greatest present you could give me is a national election.”  Unquote.

Work on the constitution was already underway at the time of the meeting.  The main changes from the previous constitution were that it created a bicameral legislature, replaced the prime minister with a vice president, and transferred political power to the president.  The election was scheduled for September 3, 1967.  Nguyen Cao Ky and the latest president, Nguyen Van Thieu, were willing to run together on the same ticket, but they argued over what their roles would be, since both of them wanted to be president under the new system.  Eventually South Vietnam’s generals  reached a compromise, where Thieu would run for president and Ky would run for vice president; to balance them out, Ky was also put in charge of a secret military council that would shape government policy from behind the scenes.

Thieu and Ky did not rig the election, the way Ngo Dinh Diem did in 1955, but the way it was set up wasn’t fair to the other candidates.  Candidates from a civilian background were disqualified if they held pro-communist or neutralist opinions; one of those banned had simply called for a cease-fire.  Also, when campaigning, the candidates had to travel together on a plane loaned to them by the generals.  When the election took place, 80 percent of the voters participated.  As they cast their ballots, their identity cards were punched; that way those who did not vote could be accused of obeying the Viet Cong call to boycott the election.

The Thieu-Ky ticket performed much worse than expected, winning only 35 percent of the vote, and most of those votes came from districts where army officers were managing the election.  Ky later wrote in his memoirs that if he had been the presidential candidate, he would have rigged the election, and won with 60 or 70 percent of the vote.

The candidate who came in second place was a creepy lawyer who no one took seriously, Truong Dinh Dzu.  This character had once put up his wife as collateral for a loan, and after he was qualified as a candidate, he broke the rules by campaigning with a peace dove as his symbol, and promised negotiations with the Viet Cong if elected.  He managed to get 17 percent of the vote, almost half as much as Thieu, and this was seen more as a protest against continued military rule than actual support for his platform.  Thieu promptly had Dzu jailed on charges of illicit currency transactions, a crime much of Saigon’s population had gotten away with, and thus was able to become president without the need for a runoff election.  Afterwards, Thieu got around the attempt to balance power between him and Ky, by finding ways to concentrate authority in his own hands.  Over in Washington, President Johnson could say he had gotten the birthday present he wanted, so US aid continued to go to South Vietnam.

*****

If President Johnson was happy with how things were going in Vietnam, General Westmoreland was not.  In July 1967 he requested an additional 200,000 soldiers to be sent as reinforcements.  475,000 had been assigned to go to Vietnam by the end of 1967, so Westmoreland’s request would have boosted the US total to 675,000.  In the past, President Johnson gave the general whatever he asked for; this time he only agreed to send 45,000 troops.  US involvement in Vietnam has not reached its peak yet, but we’re getting close.

So far in today’s show we have mainly talked about battles near the border between North and South Vietnam.  But that wasn’t the only place that saw fighting in late 1967.  The communists hadn’t given up on the territory directly north and northwest of Saigon, where major battles had been fought in 1966 and early 1967.  At the end of September 1967, the US 1st Infantry Division launched Operation Shenandoah II to secure and repair Highway 13, an important road running from Saigon to the Cambodian border.  There was a small battle in mid-October, when two companies of the 2/28th Infantry stumbled upon a Viet Cong camp at Ong Thanh, and were ambushed by VC snipers.  They succeeded in killing 56 Americans, but the Viet Cong regiment involved also suffered heavy losses and fled to Cambodia.

A more important battle came near the end of October, when the Viet Cong 9th Division gathered near the towns of Loc Ninh and Song Be.  By intercepting radio traffic, South Vietnamese and American troops not only learned about the enemy buildup, but also that the Viet Cong was building a field hospital in the area.  This activity couldn’t be ignored, because US Special Forces had a base at Loc Ninh, and an ally of the Americans, South Korea, had a base at Song Be.  When General Westmoreland heard about these activities, he suspended some operations and ordered his subordinate to plan for a major defensive operation around Loc Ninh and Song Be.  Five days later, on October 27, the Viet Cong attacked Song Be, and were driven off largely by American artillery and armed UH-1B Huey helicopters.  The most effective weapons were artillery rounds with proximity fuses, designed to explode just above the trees; the defenders in their bunkers were safe from the shrapnel these rounds produced, but the Viet Cong, caught in the open, had no protection.  After the battle, 135 enemy bodies were found, while the defenders suffered eight dead and 33 wounded.

Then on October 29 came the attack on Loc Ninh.  At first the advantage was with the Viet Cong; they had two regiments going against 11 Special Forces soldiers, 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, and about 200 South Vietnamese regulars.  But then on November 1 reinforcements arrived, from ARVN, the South Vietnamese army, and from the American 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division.  On November 7, the Viet Cong abandoned the fight, leaving 850 dead, while the defenders in turn had lost 50.

Another place where American troops could be lured away from Saigon was the Central Highlands.  Especially the western part of Kontum province, an area of jungle-covered mountains where the borders of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet.  Here in the summer of 1967, Major General William Peers launched Operation Greeley, by bringing in troops from the US 4th Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with ARVN’s 42nd Infantry Regiment, 22nd Division, and various Airborne units.  They carried out search and destroy missions in July and August, and then they stopped finding North Vietnamese units, and assumed the enemy had withdrawn.  But then in October the North Vietnamese returned, and built the size of their force in the area up to 6,000.  They were back because currently the Ho Chi Minh Trail ended in Kontum province, and they wanted to destroy two Special Forces camps nearby, at Ben Het, about five miles east of the Cambodian border, and at Dak To, some 10 miles east  of Ben Het.

To deal with the North Vietnamese buildup, General Peers directed the 3rd Battalion of the 12th Infantry and the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Infantry to launch Operation MacArthur on November 3.  He was helped by the defection of a North Vietnamese soldier, Sergeant Vu Hong, who provided key information on enemy unit locations and what they were planning.  Around Dak To, the North Vietnamese had prepared elaborate defensive positions on the hills and ridges.  To deal with this, massive artillery and air strikes were launched against each unit, followed by an infantry assault to secure the objective.  Thus, the battle of Dak To was a series of clashes, not just one.  Because of the unforgiving terrain, some of the most difficult fighting in the whole war took place here.  For the Americans and South Vietnamese, the worst incident came on November 12, when rockets and artillery destroyed two C-130 Hercules transports and detonated the base’s ammunition and fuel depots, causing the loss of 1,100 tons of ordnance.  Then came an especially tough clash from November 19 to 23; during those five days the two sides fought over a single hill, called Hill 875.  At the end of November the North Vietnamese withdrew into Laos and Cambodia, and the campaign ended.

Podcast footnote: I said previously in the podcast that I am old enough to remember the Vietnam War.  To be exact, I remember the latter part of it, from 1967 onward.  The oldest event from the war I remember hearing on the news was the battle of Dak To.  Because I was eight years old at the time, Dak To, like Vietnam itself, was only a name to me; it wasn’t until a few years later that I learned what they meant.  “And that’s the way it is,” as Walter Cronkite used to say.  End footnote.

My sources disagreed on the number of casualties at Dak To, except to say that again the communists got the worst of it.  I’ll go with Wikipedia’s numbers here; it states that 361 Americans were killed, and 1,441 were wounded, while among the South Vietnamese, 73 were killed, 290 were wounded, and 18 were missing.  Estimates of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong dead range from 1,000 to 1,664, and the wounded were somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000.  The US military command in Vietnam, MACV, later declared that of the four North Vietnamese regiments that fought at Dak To, three were so badly battered that they did not take part in the Tet Offensive of early 1968.

Three members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Pfc. John A. Barnes III, Pfc. Carlos Lozada, and the unit chaplain, Maj. Charles J. Watters, all posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle. 

General Westmoreland gave credit to both air power and the infantry for winning the battle.  Quote:  "Along with the gallantry and tenacity of our soldiers, our tremendously successful air logistic operation was the key to the victory."  Unquote.

Speaking of Westmoreland, he was only in Vietnam for the first part of the battle of Dak To.  In mid-November President Johnson called him back to America to give some talks concerning the war.  Westmoreland didn’t want to go on a public relations tour, but he obeyed orders.  The trip was carefully planned to avoid putting him in front of critics of the war.  Instead, he attended a White House banquet with members of Congress who had supported the war before, but were wavering now.  Here and at his other stops, Westmoreland gave the perfect optimistic message.  At the Pentagon he said, quote, “The ranks of the Viet Cong are thinning steadily,” unquote, while to the National Press Club he promised, quote, “We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view.”  Unquote.  Johnson said the same thing after Westmoreland’s appearance at the White House, when he went on TV and told the American people, quote, "We are inflicting greater losses than we’re taking…We are making progress."  Unquote.

President Johnson spent the last days of 1967 on a world tour to meet with the leaders of friendly nations.  Going to Australia first, he then made a stop in Vietnam on December 23, where at Cam Ranh Bay he was greeted by a crowd of cheering US servicemen.  To them he gave another upbeat message.  Quote:  "…all the challenges have been met.  The enemy is not beaten, but he knows that he has met his master in the field."  Unquote.  Then he met briefly with Westmoreland, before moving on to a US base in Thailand.  This was the President’s second and final trip to Vietnam during his presidency.

The battles at Song Be, Loc Ninh and Dak To encouraged Westmoreland and other American military officials to believe that at long last the enemy was trying to use conventional tactics.  Westmoreland said as much during his US tour.  In a Time Magazine interview, General Westmoreland taunted the Viet Cong, saying, quote, "I hope they try something because we are looking for a fight."  Unquote.

Little did he know that the communists were preparing for that fight.  If Westmoreland felt he had them in the right place, Vo Nguyen Giap felt the same way about the Americans.  Although Giap had lost the so-called “border battles,” he had succeeded in pulling the Americans and their allies out of the cities, and into the countryside.  Now when the upcoming 1968 offensive took place, it would be possible to inflict more damage in the cities.

When our narrative reached the end of 1965 and 1966, I gave some statistics on the war at that date.  Now here are the wartime statistics for the end of 1967.  US troop levels reached 463,000, and there have been 16,000 combat deaths among them so far.  More than a million American soldiers have rotated through Vietnam; draftees did a one-year term before returning to the United States, and most of the Americans going over served in support units, rather than doing combat duty.  An estimated 90,000 soldiers from North Vietnam infiltrated into the South via the Ho Chi Minh trail in 1967.  Overall Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troop strength in South Vietnam is now estimated at up to 300,000 men.

*****

Since were are at the end of a year in our narrative, this is a good place to break off the narrative for today.  For all of this episode I have been leading up to the Tet Offensive, one of the most important events of the Second Indochina War.  Next time we will look at the Tet Offensive, so join me for that.  Some people consider it the turning point of the war; do you agree with that statement?  And if we get far enough, we will also see how the war affected the United States, by bringing down the Johnson presidency.

If you have paid attention to any news stories lately, you have heard that the whole world is panicking over the Corona virus.  As I record this, social events are being canceled or postponed left, right and center, to keep people from being exposed to the virus.  To give two examples, schools are switching to online classes, if possible, and the rest of the basketball season – professional, college and even high school basketball – has been canceled.  I live in a community that is preoccupied with college sports, especially college basketball, so I know this is going to bring a new meaning to the term “March Madness.”

Personally, I’m beginning to think the virus scare is getting blown out of proportion, when I hear people are emptying store shelves of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and some have stopped drinking Mexican beer, just because it’s named Corona.  I am 61 years old, and during those years I have survived the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation, AIDS, the line-up of the planets in the 1980s, multiple announcements of the coming of the Messiah, mad cow disease, Y2K, anthrax, swine flu, bird flu, SARS, the Mayan calendar business in 2012, Ebola, and Justin Bieber.

Now where can you get learning and entertainment at a time like this?  Online, of course!  As long as you keep your computer or mobile device clean, the only viruses you have to worry about are computer viruses, and you shouldn’t pick up those from any app or website that carries this podcast.  So now is the time, more than ever, to support and promote your favorite podcast!  And I just heard today that while the virus scare is going on, some Internet service providers won’t disconnect people who are behind in paying their bills.  Therefore you should listen and download as much as you like, and don’t worry about how much bandwidth you’re using!

But seriously, if you are getting something out of this podcast and you can afford to support it, please consider making a donation.  Lately the number and amount of the donations has been down, so if you have been waiting for a good time to donate, perhaps that time is now.  Donations are secure and done through Paypal.  Go to the Blubrry.com page for any episode of this podcast, and click on the gold button at the bottom of the page, the one that says “Donate.”  If you have been getting your episodes from iTunes or some other place besides Blubrry, the website is spelled like “blueberry,” but with no “Es.”  So here is the spelling of the URL for the podcast’s homepage:  Https://, no wwws, B-L-U-B-R-R-Y, dot-com, forward slash, H-O-S-E-A-S-I-A, forward slash.  The last letters are a abbreviation of “History of Southeast Asia,” of course.  Thanks in advance for your support.

For those who would rather give a little bit every month, sort of like a subscription, recently I also set up a Patreon page.  Since the last episode we have gained a new patron, bringing the number up to four, and this week, at the suggestion of a listener, I added a fourth tier to the ranks of patrons, for those who want to give $10 a month.  Thanks to all four of you; you’re wonderful people!

In the past I told you to write a review of the podcast on the website or app where you get your podcasts, and to “like” the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page on Facebook, if you haven’t already.  By all means continue to do that.  I also want you to keep promoting the show by word of mouth.  You may have fewer contacts with other people during the virus scare, but opportunities may still come up.  If you hear someone complain that there is nothing to do, say “I know a great podcast to listen to,” and add your own words after that.  And if you’re on social media more because you’re interacting less in the real world, promote the podcast there when you get the chance.  Okay, that’s all for now.  Thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!

<Outro> 

Permit Me To Introduce Myself

This is Charles Kimball officially entering the blogosphere. For years I didn’t think I was going to do this, inasmuch as I don’t think of something interesting to write every day. However, it looks like the time as come. In fact, I may be a little late; 2006 was the busiest year I have seen since the twenty-first century began, and some of you probably would have been interested in reading about my adventures, especially after I pulled up some very deep roots to move from Orlando, FL to Lexington, KY.

Anyway, the purpose of this blog will be threefold. First, it will promote my world history website, The Xenophile Historian, and anything related to it, like the textbook I plan to publish this year. Second, I occasionally come up with something witty enough that it’s worth repeating. In the past I would add it to a page on the website called “Random Thoughts” (a poor imitation of Thomas Sowell’s regular column by the same name). However, it would probably be more appropriate to post it here, especially if it concerns current events. Third, for my family and friends who may be reading this, I’ll be posting some of my real-world experiences, though hopefully that won’t overshadow #1 and #2 above.

Finally, in the near future, I plan to have this blog replace the page on The Xenophile Historian listing what’s new. In the meantime, until I think of something else to say, welcome!

Babylonian Crescent