Symposium: The Vietnam War Revisited

On Friday, 14 September, I attended a day-long symposium called “The Vietnam War Revisited” at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  I was the guest of Miss Trinh Binh An, and I wish to publicly thank her for the opportunity.

Several aspects of the symposium struck me as noteworthy. First, every speaker, discussant, and moderator was a respected academic expert. Second, most of the presenters were Vietnamese. Third, the intellectual level of the exchanges remained remarkably high.

Much of the discussion centered around the question of why North Vietnam won the war and the U.S. and South Vietnam lost. I have strong opinions on those issues myself. I’m largely in agreement with Brian VanDeMark as expressed in his recent book Road to Disaster (see my review at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/road-to-disaster-a-new-history-of-americas-descent-into-vietnam). Among the reasons for the war’s outcome are the U.S.’s scant knowledge of and failure to understand the Vietnamese and their culture, the determination of the North Vietnamese to win no matter what the cost, and the U.S. attempt to fight a conventional war depending on large main force engagements against an enemy using guerrilla tactics. As I noted in my review, the U.S. won every major battle but lost the war.

To my surprise and pleasure, participants in the symposium largely agreed with my views. There was less consensus on the role of corruption among the South Vietnamese government officials but almost universal agreement that a major element in the outcome was the U.S.’s failure to understand the character and history of Vietnam.

I asked the last question from the audience to the symposium speakers: Am I correct in assuring American tourists returning from Vietnam that the Vietnamese they met were forced by the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to create a false picture of prosperity and contentment. The participants unanimously agreed.

Toward the end of the day, Fred Koster of KosterFilms asked to do a video interview with me for his documentary on the Vietnam war. When I find out where and when the video will be shown, I’ll post that information here.

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