[Marxism] Scott Camil on the Ken Burns Vietnam Series

Greg McDonald gregmc59 at gmail.com
Fri Sep 29 17:32:16 MDT 2017

Although his name may not be very familiar on the national level, those of
us who have been active on the left in Gainesville, FL in years past will
have  invariably come in contact with Mr. Camil, Vietnam veteran, member of
VVAW and currently active in Vets for Peace. Scott Camil was one of the
Gainesville 8. because of his active opposition to the Vietnam war, the
Nixon administration put him on a hit list and targeted him to be
"neutralized". Subsequently he was shot in the back by undercover police.

Scott has written a series of reaction papers to each episode of the Ken
Burns series and put them upon his Facebook timeline.

Episode 1
PBS Vietnam broadcast: They said that the war began in good faith. They did
not make the case and the Pentagon Papers tell a different story. They
called it a brutal civil war and again did not make the case. When you are
fighting against your own citizens who are backing foreign troops that is
patriotism and protecting your home from foreign occupiers. They left out a
bunch about the Geneva Accords and all of the American violations of it.
They left out the part where the French and British released and armed
Japanese prisoners and went after the Viet Minh. No mention that the
900,000 Catholics who left the northern sector of Vietnam were responding
to the leaflets that we dropped all over the north saying that the
Communists would kill them. This first show had some good stuff, like why
did the US, a former colony, support colonization as opposed to supporting
those fighting for independence and self determination. They did not
explain the reasons. All in all, they are leaving out important history
that would show the US in a less positive light. There is no way to make
the American war against the Vietnamese a noble endeavor.

Scott Camil

I thought that tonights episode 2 did a better job with the history than
last night. I am attaching a paper that I wrote in 1995 on Robert S.
McNamara's book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.

When the news of McNamara’s book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of
Vietnam, first became public, I was both elated and dismayed. I was elated
by the fact that one of the planners of the Vietnam War had finally
admitted that the war in Vietnam was “terribly wrong”. What dismayed me was
that I had to point to this man’s book to achieve “official” credibility
for something that everyone I know has known for a long time. I rushed
right out to get the book, and the first thing I did was read the chapter
dealing with the American-sponsored assassination of South Vietnamese
president Diem and the chapter dealing with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution,
two issues which were key to our escalation in Vietnam and controversial. I
figured that I knew enough about these two issues to decide whether or not
I considered McNamara’s book to be honest.

McNamara’s dealing with the Diem assassination was what I had understood it
to be. Basically Diem refused to control his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu’s [head
of South Vietnamese security forces] repression of the Buddhist protesters.
The United States also suspected that Diem was trying to secretly work out
a deal with France that would reunify the country, so we decided to get rid
of him (I believe this is commonly known as murder). There was a coup and
Diem and his brother-in-law were murdered. The United States had a new
South Vietnamese President to order around.

Concerning the Tonkin Gulf incident, in August of 1964, Congress passed a
resolution known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which “was the closest
that the U.S. ever came to a declaration of war” (p. 127) against Vietnam.
President Johnson’s administration continually used the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution [which was passed unanimously in the House, and with only two
dissenting votes in the Senate, one from Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and
one from Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska] “to justify the
constitutionality of the military actions it took in Vietnam from 1965 on.”
The Johnson administration claimed that two American warships, the U.S.S.
Turner Joy and the U.S.S. Maddox, were attacked by North Vietnamese patrol
boats in international waters and that the attack was unprovoked. This is
one of the most controversial issues of our involvement in Vietnam.

I was hoping to find a smoking gun that would point to deception ordered by
the White House, because I am one of the people who believe that the U.S.
lied concerning where its ships actually were, what they were actually
doing, and whether or not they were really attacked. McNamara believes that
the attacks really did take place. McNamara’s book provides some of the
contradictory information that has caused doubt. To me, the most
astonishing information was the fact that when McNamara contacted Admiral
Sharp (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific) to find out “the latest information”(p.
134), McNamara asked “There isn’t any possibility there was no attack, is
there?” Admiral Sharp replied, “Yes, I would say there is a slight
possibility.” Without fully resolving the question as to whether or not the
attack took place, he changes the subject to whether or not “...under the
Constitution, Congress has the right to grant or concede the authority in
question,” and whether or not “Congress committed the error of making a
personal judgment as to how President Johnson would implement the
resolution.” (p. 141) McNamara goes on to say that “President Bush was
right” because he got “Congress’ support” before he began combat operations
against Iraq, and the “Johnson” administration was “wrong” because it did
not. (p. 143) Since neither president got a declaration of war from
Congress, I don’t see the difference between what Johnson did and what Bush
did. I believe they were both wrong and that they both deceived the
American public to get what they wanted:

The next chapter of the book I went to was “The Lessons of the Vietnam
War.” In this chapter, McNamara gives two reasons that President Kennedy
should not have sent advisers to Vietnam. He also gives five key junctures
at which he says the U.S. should have withdrawn from Vietnam. Finally, he
gives “eleven major causes for our disaster in Vietnam.” After reading this
section, I found myself amazed because none of the reasons that McNamara
gives in this section are reasons based on new information that is just now
being made public. All of the information was available to the public at
the time, and indeed many citizens were expressing these same views.
Unfortunately, the public view was clouded by the foggy lenses of
patriotism and loyalty, which resulted in a blind obedience to authority, a
dereliction of duty by the citizens of a democratic country. When I was in
elementary school, on my report card there was a box called citizenship,
and it was explained to us that in a democracy, it was the responsibility
of good citizens to be active citizens, and that non-participation was how
democracy was lost.

Now, those of the public and the government who once supported the war are
crying “foul” concerning Mr. McNamara’s book. They are saying that he is
wrong for not having told us the truth when he first knew it; even though
this is true, we must not allow them to use McNamara as a scapegoat to
absolve themselves of their own responsibility and guilt as citizens in a
democracy. All the information was there at the time, McNamara did not hide
it from us, he just didn’t tell us that he knew it. His reasons for not
going public were because of his loyalty to the Administration and the
Constitution. I believe that the real lesson is that putting loyalty to a
political party above loyalty to the people is not patriotism, it’s
partisan politics. McNamara totally misses this.

McNamara’s two reasons that President Kennedy should not have sent advisers
to Vietnam are: 1) political stability did not exist and was not likely
ever to be achieved, and 2) “...the South Vietnamese, even with our
training, assistance, and logistical support, were incapable of defending
themselves.” First, if we had lived up to our word, given to Ho Chi Minh
during World War II, and allowed Vietnam to have its independence and
self-determination, free from foreign colonialism and imperialism, there
probably would have been stability by the 1960s. Secondly, McNamara’s
contention that the South Vietnamese were incapable of defending themselves
could not be further from the truth. In my 20 months of combat duty in
Vietnam, I only fought against North Vietnamese troops twice. All of the
rest of the time, I fought the Viet Cong who were the South Vietnamese.
What McNamara probably meant was that South Vietnamese government troops
were incapable of defending themselves, but he fails to question whether
any troops, drafted against their will, forced to fight against their own
countrymen at the side of foreign troops, would really be committed.

McNamara gives five points in time that we should have withdrawn from
"1. November, 1963 - the collapse of the Diem regime and lack of political
2. Late ‘64 - early ‘65 - clear indication of South Vietnam’s inability to
defend itself, even with U.S. training and logistical support.
3. July ‘65 - further evidence of no. 2.
4. December, '65 - evidence that the U.S. military tactics and training
were inappropriate for the guerrilla war being waged.
5. CIA reports indicating bombing in the North would not force North
Vietnam to desist in the face of our inability to turn back enemy forces in
South Vietnam.”

While McNamara criticizes the tactics and the training , the fact of the
matter is that tactics and training don’t amount to a hill of beans without
a plan, and in McNamara’s book, I did not find a plan for what the U.S.
military had to do to accomplish Washington’s political goals. When your
only plan calls for the measurement of success by which side can stack up
the most dead human beings, all you end up with is a bunch of dead and
wounded human beings, and a black marble wall in Washington.

McNamara gives eleven major causes for our disaster in Vietnam. (pp.

1) “We misjudged...the... intentions of our adversaries... and we
exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.

2) We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own
experience… we totally misjudged the political forces within the country.

3) We underestimated the power of Nationalism to motivate a people... we
continue to do so today…

4) Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound
ignorance of history, culture, and politics of the people… and the
personalities and habits of their leaders... . No Southeast Asian
counterparts existed for senior officials to consult...

5) We failed then --as we have since--to recognize the limitations of
modern high technology, military equipment, forces, and doctrine in
confronting unconventional, highly motivated people’s movements. We failed
as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and
minds of people from a totally different culture.

6) We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank
discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale U.S. military
involvement in Southeast Asia before we initiated the action.

7)...We failed to retain popular support...we did not explain fully what
was happening and why...we had not prepared the public... . A nation’s
deepest strength lies not in its military prowess but rather in the unity
of its people.

8) We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are
omniscient. ...We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in
our own image or as we choose.

9) We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action other than in
response to direct threats to our own security should be carried out only
in conjunction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely
cosmetically) by the international community.

10) We failed to recognize that in international affairs as in other
aspects of life there may be problems for which there are no immediate

11) Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top
echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively
with...issues...confronting us. We thus failed to analyze and debate our
actions in Southeast Asia, our objectives, the risks and costs of
alternative ways of dealing with them, and the necessity of changing course
when failure was clear... .”

I find McNamara’s eleven reasons to be somewhat contradictory. He implies
that if we learn from these reasons, we can avoid this type of “disaster”
in the future but if you look at reasons #8 and #10,(our leaders are not
omniscient, we do not have the God-given right to shape every nation...as
we choose, and there are many problems for which there are no immediate
solutions) they really negate the necessity for the other reasons. McNamara
claims that George Bush handled the Iraqi War correctly because it was
carried out in conjunction with multinational forces but in his reason #9
he says that multinational force has to be more than cosmetic. It is well
known that the international support that we received for the Gulf War was
cosmetic, it was paid for by giving a $140 million loan to China, $7
billion in economic aid to the Soviet Union, $12 billion in arms to Saudi
Arabia, the wiping out of the multi- billion debt of Egypt, $187 million to
the United Nations and threats to other nations.

It is important to note that in reason #4 McNamara says we did not have
knowledgeable experts in Southeast Asia in the Administration. Elsewhere in
the book he says all of the experts on Southeast Asia were purged from the
government during the McCarthy period. Also of importance is McNamara’s
acknowledgement in Reason #5 for the first time that we were fighting a
“people’s movement”.

McNamara concludes by saying our current defense spending is at an
exorbitant level. “The United States spends almost as much for national
security as the rest of the world combined. (p. 327). Although we sought to
do the right thing and believed we were doing the right thing, in my
judgment, hindsight proves us wrong. We both overestimated the effect of
South Vietnam’s loss on the security of the West and failed to adhere to
the fundamental principle that, in the final analysis, if the South
Vietnamese were to be saved, they had to win the war themselves. ...We
built...on an inherently unstable foundation. External military force
cannot substitute for the political order and stability that must be forged
by a people for themselves."

Finally McNamara says as far as the Americans who served in Vietnam, “they
answered their nation’s call to service... They gave their lives for their
country and its ideals. That our effort in Vietnam proved unwise does not
make their sacrifice less noble... Let us learn from their sacrifice, and
by doing so validate and honor it.” That is easy for him to say, especially
when you look at who did not sacrifice. Not one member of the house or
senate lost a son in Vietnam in ten years of war. Not one Fortune 500
company CEO lost a son in Vietnam in ten years. Not one defense contractor
showed its patriotism by providing the supplies needed for the war at cost,
without making a profit. No, I can’t find any sacrifices in those places.

We must validate and honor the sacrifices of those who refused to go to
Vietnam and those who tried to keep us all from going. Speaking as an
American who voluntarily fought and was wounded twice in Vietnam, it seems
clear to me that our lives were made expendable by our government for
profit, and because we were lied to and manipulated by our government, it
is wrong for McNamara to say that those lives were given--they were really
The real lessons of the Vietnam war is that as long as business can turn a
profit from war, politicians will come up with the justifications. Until
the people put the government in its place, below us as our public
servants, they will continue to walk all over us. Get active before the
country that imprisons more of its own people per capita than any other
finds a place for you.

Scott Camil

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