I have just finished reading Bloodstained Sea, a novel by Chau Thuy, and I’m in the middle of Frank Snepp’s Irreparable Harm, his recounting of how he wrote Decent Interval, his nonfiction description of the fall of Saigon. Both books detail the monstrous sacrifice of life that happened when communist North Vietnam conquered noncommunist South Vietnam.
Thuy’s novel describes in detail the thousands of horrendous deaths of those trying to escape. Snepp’s books document the abject failure of the U.S. to evacuate vulnerable Vietnamese allies during that disaster. Both writers brought back into my conscious memory the terrible days I lived through when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. As readers of this blog know, I was at the time head of the National Security Agency (NSA) covert operation in Saigon. My job was to work with the South Vietnamese in intercepting and exploiting the radio communications of the invading North Vietnamese. Through our efforts, the U.S. and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) were warned repeatedly of the coming attack on Saigon. Our alerts were mostly ignored.
The U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin (excoriated by Snepp), refused to allow me to evacuate my 43 subordinates and their wives and children and made no plans for getting the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who had worked side by side with the U.S. safely out of the country. He was convinced that the North Vietnamese would not attack Saigon but would instead negotiate the formation of a coalition government. That struck me as foolhardy in the extreme given that the North Vietnamese had already conquered all of South Vietnam around Saigon and had no reason to negotiate with a conquered foe. And I was producing evidence by the pound that the attack on Saigon was imminent.
More next time.