Getting People Out at the End (6)

At my fall of Saigon presentation last Sunday, an audience member asked how it could come to pass that the U.S. government was taken by surprise by the North Vietnamese victory in South Vietnam in April 1975. My answer was that the military side of the government was under no delusions about what was going on in Vietnam, but that the civilian side was swayed by consistent reporting from the U.S. Ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking the city. I remember listening in disbelief to news reports of statements by high level government officials toward the end. Here is a recounting of one such event from my novel, Last of the Annamese. The two characters, Chuck and Sparky, are listening to the American Radio Service (ARS) news:

“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. More tomorrow.

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