The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
January/February 2006
ARTS OF WAR
 
 

Newly Released Documents Shed New Light
on Vietnam War History
 

BY MARC LEEPSON

Vietnam War scholars, students, Vietnam veterans, and others with a thirst for knowledge about the war had two pieces of good news last November. First, the National Archives on November 16 released some 50,000 documents from the Nixon administration, more than 90 percent of it Vietnam War material from the files of the National Security Council (NSC) and from NSC Adviser Henry Kissinger’s office. Second, on November 30, the ultra hush-hush National Security Agency (NSA) released the first installment of a cache of previously classified information on the controversial 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.

The release of the NSA material on the Gulf of Tonkin incident made headlines across the nation because it contains an article written in 2001 by Robert J. Hanyok, of the NSA Center for Cryptologic History. The formerly top-secret article, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964,” appeared in an internal NSA publication called Cryptologic Quarterly. It deals with the four-decade-old controversy of exactly what happened to the U.S. destroyer Maddox, which was on a secret, intelligence-gathering mission off the coast of North Vietnam.

The vessel reported on August 2 that it was fired on by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in international waters. On August 4, the Maddox and another American destroyer, the C. Turner Joy, reported a second attack. President Johnson used the attacks as the basis for asking Congress for authorization to wage war in Vietnam. On August 7, Congress approved Johnson’s request by passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which, as Hanyok notes, gave LBJ “the carte blanche charter he had wanted for future intervention in Southeast Asia.”

Hanyok offers what he calls “two startling findings” about the incident, which has been hotly debated among historians and others, many of whom believe that the first attack may not have happened and that the second attack was fabricated. Based on his study of “an enormous amount of never-before-used” NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) material, as well as “watch center notes, oral history interviews, and messages among the various SIGINT and military command centers” involved in the incident, Hanyok concludes that “no attack happened” on the night of August 4.

Secondly, he contends that NSA intelligence officials presented skewed evidence on the attacks to the Johnson administration. Only “SIGINT that supported the claim that the communists had attacked the two destroyers,” Hanyok says, “was given to administration officials.”

The NSA notes that Hanyok’s article and the other material it made public on November 30—articles, chronologies of events, oral history interviews, signals intelligence reports and translations, and other related memoranda—are not intended to “prove or disprove any one set of conclusions.” Instead, the agency says, “through this and subsequent public releases, we intend to make as much information as possible available for the many scholars, historians, academia, and members of the general public who find interest in analyzing the information and forming their own conclusions.”

Nevertheless, the NSA did not release the material until it was the subject of a Freedom of Information request filed by historians who had learned about Hanyok’s article. The NSC material is available on line at www.nsa.gov/vietnam/index.cfm

No FOI request prompted the release of the enormous amount of National Archives Nixon administration Vietnam War material, which is housed at the National Archives facility at College Park, Maryland. The treasure trove of NSC materials includes the Vietnam Subject Files from 1969-73 and the Vietnam Country Files from that same time period. The latter contains correspondence between Washington and the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

The material looks at hitherto secret meetings among high-level administration officials (including Nixon himself, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, then National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, and top Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman) discussing matters such as the political ramifications of the breaking news of the 1968 My Lai Massacre, the 1969 death of Ho Chi Minh, and the ultimately successful 1969-70 effort by Congress to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. There also are letters and other documents showing how the White House kept a close eye on the efforts by Texas businessman H. Ross Perot to win release of American POWs.

The Nixon Vietnam War material is not on line but is available to the public at
the National Archives in College Park. Photocopies of the materials are available by visiting the Archives and doing it yourself, by hiring an Archives researcher to do the copying for you, or by ordering copies on line at the Archives’ very user-friendly web site, http://Nixon.archives.gov If you choose to make a visit to College Park, it’s a good idea to call 301-837-3202 or e-mail nixon@nara.gov beforehand.

ARTS IN BRIEF

Winter Soldier, the 1972 documentary that deals with the 1971 Vietnam Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit, has been playing in theaters, art museums, film centers, and other venues around the country since last August, and will continue its national tour throughout 2006. Panel discussions are held at many of the screenings. In December in Washington, for example, the speakers included Bernie Edelman and Rick Weidman from VVA’s national office, former VVA national staffer Bill Crandell, former VVAW activist Ken Campbell, and Dr. Art Blank, Jr., an Army psychiatrist who served in Vietnam and went on to become the national director of the VA’s Vet Center program. For info on upcoming screenings, go to www.wintersoldierfilm.com


A profile of VVA member Dale Dye in the November 13 issue of The New York Times Magazine covered his three Vietnam War tours and how the former Marine made his mark in Hollywood. Since 1985, when he talked Oliver Stone into letting him be the military technical adviser on Platoon, author Peter de Jonge notes, Dye “has established himself as Hollywood’s top military adviser and hardest working monger of virtual war. In 20 years, he has put his stamp on 33 movies, bringing grisly verisimilitude to films about” the Vietnam War, World War II, and Iraq.

Dye’s secret, de Jonge says, is partly “sweating the details, making sure the weaponry and combat styles are faithful to the period, but his specialty is conveying the timeless toll of combat in gaunt cheeks and hollow eyes and bringing grim authority to what he calls ‘the whole business of dying in war movies.’”


Also in magazine-land: Maya Lin, who made her name in the arts world when she won the 1981 design contest for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, was named one of 35 Americans “who made a difference” in the last 35 years by Smithsonian magazine in its November issue, which celebrated that publication’s 1970 debut. “Her work so far includes some striking additional memorials,” says writer Michael Parfit, “including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and a memorial to the women of Yale, where, as a 21-year-old architecture student in 1981, she designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a class exercise.”

Lin’s body of work, Parfit notes, “also includes several public and private buildings, furniture, individual sculptures in stone and other media, earthworks, and sculptures of the shapes of the land in media such as wood and broken glass.”


Vietnam War arts-related events that took place on and around Veterans Day included a one-day seminar on November 12 sponsored by the Texas Tech University Vietnam Center in Crystal City, just outside Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. Speakers included Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway—the co-authors of the seminal book about that battle, We Were Soldiers Once and Young—and the celebrated Vietnam War correspondent and author David Halberstam.


Also on the Veterans Day agenda: Radio personality and Vietnam veteran The Big G’s annual Salute to Veterans show on WEBR cable radio on November 6 featured rare audio clips from AFVN broadcasts during the war. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City offered free admission to all American veterans and their guests on November 11.


PBS Television’s Independent Lens series on November 8 ran “A Family at War,” an emotionally charged documentary about how the parents and widow of a young Army lieutenant killed in Iraq in April 2004 have dealt with his death. Jeff Kaylor’s mother, Roxanne, turned passionately against the war; his father Mike, a retired Army officer, steadfastly continued to support the war; and his widow Jenna, an active-duty Army officer, held deeply conflicting attitudes about the military, the war, and her widowhood. You can find more details on the film at www.pbs.org/indepdendentlens/familyatwar


The work of six Vietnamese artists, including several North Vietnamese Army veterans who did their work during the war as part of their duties, along with that of American artists whose war-time work reflects their opposition to that conflict, make up Persistent Vestiges: Drawing from the American-Vietnam War, an exhibition at New York City’s The Drawing Center. The show opened in November and runs through February 11. Also included in the show, which received a rave review in The New York Times, are the unique war-influenced photomontages of Dinh Q. Le, who came to this country as a child in 1978 and today lives and works in Saigon. For more info, go to www.drawingcenter.org


Documentary filmmaker Charles Berkowitz in January started production on Odysseus in America, which is based on the book of the same name by PTSD expert Jonathan Shay. The book (and film) look to the past to show the similarities in the effects of war upon the soldiers of ancient Greece and veterans today. For more info, go to www.odysseusinamerica.com

MEMORIAL NEWS

VVA will have an important role in the forthcoming Texas State Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which will be erected on the grounds of the Capitol in Austin. VVA Texas State Council’s John Miterko has been named to the newly formed Capitol of Texas Vietnam Memorial Committee’s Board of Directors and has volunteered to be part of the memorial’s design committee. VVA is the only VSO with a seat on the non-profit committee, which will be collecting private donations to finance the memorial.


Renowned urban designer Charles Atherton died in early December in Washington. The former longtime secretary of the presidentially appointed U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, Atherton oversaw the design of many of the capital’s monuments and federal buildings. That includes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam War Women’s Memorial, the In Memory Plaque, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.

QUERIES

Jack Lykins, a high school teacher whose father served in the Vietnam War, is compiling a book of letters from Vietnam veterans. If you’d like to help, contact him at P.O. Box 720, Vanceburg, KY 41179, or e-mail jlykins@scott.k12.ky.us or tarheelblue12@yahoo.com


Paul Coopersmith is gathering material from American men who came of age during the sixties and seventies for a book on how they dealt with the Vietnam War draft. “My goal is to include men from many different backgrounds,” Coopersmith told us, “with different stories to tell about [the draft] and the prospect of going to war in Vietnam.” That includes stories from Vietnam veterans. Contact him at P.O. Box 900, Inverness, CA 94937, or e-mail coop@svn.net


Lawrence Thompson is compiling a book of quotations from veterans and their families. “The quotes can be anything on any subject,” he told us. “They can be one word or twenty pages. I am looking for something that the everyday veteran would like to pass on to future generations.” Contact him at lt6742@yahoo.com or write to Veterans Immemorial, c/o Lawrence Thompson, P.O. Box 373, Georgetown, FL 32139.

   

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