The End in Saigon: Oddities

I’ve written at length here about the fall of Saigon and my escape under fire. But several zany events punctuated that bizarre experience. One was official U.S. denial that Saigon was about to fall.

Quoted below from Last of the Annamese is a scene based on my experience of listening to the American Radio Service in the midst of our scramble to evacuate everybody possible—even though the ambassador had forbidden evacuation. We were tired to the bone from lack of sleep. In this scene, Chuck and Sparky, two members of the intelligence branch, listen to the radio as they prepare to return to work after a brief rest at home:

“It is plain that ‘the great offensive,’” an authoritative voice was saying, “is anything but that. 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. Washington’s denial was in part driven by the official fiction that the cease-fire signed with the North Vietnamese in 1973 was successful. That falsification was the basis for the ambassador’s refusal to allow evacuations; he insisted that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon.

Secretary Kissinger had crafted the cease-fire agreement working with the North Vietnamese. It required the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Vietnam but left the invading North Vietnamese forces in place throughout the country. The North immediately violated the agreement by resuming hostilities. The later cessation of U.S. air support and financial aid—while Chinese and Soviet aid to the North Vietnamese continued—sealed the fate of South Vietnam.

More tomorrow.

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