SecDef Schlesinger and the End of Vietnam

Chuck and Sparky, characters in Last of the Annamese, keep track of the war and the North Vietnamese encirclement of Saigon by monitoring all intelligence sources available to them. But they also listen to the American Radio Service (ARS), a U.S. government broadcast that transmits news and popular music. About three-quarters of the way through the book is the following scene:

“It is plain that the great offensive,” an authoritative voice was saying, “is a phrase that probably should be in quotation marks. What we have had here is a partial collapse of South Vietnamese forces, so that there has been very little major fighting since the battle of Ban Me Thuot, and that was an exception in itself.”

Chuck and Sparky gawked at each other.

“That,” the ARS reporter said, “was Secretary of Defense Schlesinger speaking today on Face the Nation.”

Sparky swung his head from side to side as if to fight off a case of the wobblies. “What’s that guy smoking?” He sighed. “You can bet we’ll be drafting a message for General Smith to send to Washington ticking off the facts.”

Chuck didn’t answer. They’d be correcting Washington rather than the other way around. Sinister topsy-turvy had become a way of life.

End of quote. Once again, the quote from the novel is drawn from fact. As the North Vietnamese surrounded us, I listened to every broadcast I could—BBC, Voice of America, ARS—to glean any fragment of information on what was happening. I heard the ARS report quoted above. It made me feel more isolated and abandoned as I realized that the SecDef didn’t understand that Saigon would soon fall to the North Vietnamese. I redoubled my efforts to get the last of my people safely out of the country—operating under false pretenses because the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, refused to allow me to evacuate my people. The world might well be turning upside down. So what? It was up to me to get my guys and their families out of Vietnam. No one was going to help me. I had to do it myself.

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