Government Misinformation: Afghanistan and Vietnam

The Washington Post has published a series of six articles ending yesterday about the U.S. government’s efforts to deceive the American public about how the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan has gone. The first article began: “A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

The first article in the series compared the government’s dishonesty with what it did over the 14 years we fought in Vietnam. As a veteran of 13 years in and out of Vietnam, I found the comparison apt.

My job in Vietnam was intelligence. I knew what was going on. And I knew when the U.S. government’s pubic statements distorted the truth. It both infuriated and depressed me. As the end drew near in April 1975, I was astonished by pronouncements put out by Washington expressing optimism about how the war would play out. The U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, was persuaded that the North Vietnamese would not attack Saigon. The Hungarian member of the International Committee for Control and Supervision (ICCS), a group established in 1973 to monitor the so-called ceasefire (which the North Vietnamese never observed), had advised the ambassador that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon. Rather, they wanted to form a coalition government with all patriotic forces in South Vietnam—this from a representative of a communist government allied to North Vietnam. The ambassador believed the Hungarian in the face of overwhelming evidence from me and others that the attack on Saigon was imminent.

The civilian side of the U.S. government accepted Martin’s judgment and offered optimistic pronouncements on the forthcoming settlement in Vietnam. Fortunately, the U.S. military was under no delusions about what was happening and prepared forces to evacuate those of us still in-country. The U.S. 7th Fleet was dispatched to the South China Sea where it cruised out of sight from land. Aboard were Marines with helicopters.

More tomorrow.

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