Think like a freak

think like a freakHow many options do soccer players have before a penalty kick?

Think like a Freak, out TODAY from Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner is really, really enjoyable. I would stop just about everything (In a perfect world) to read this cover to cover. More to come….

Dong Xoai and the required US shift in Vietnam

Moyar’s final chapter in Triumph Forsaken reveals his deep understanding of the 1965 Vietcong attack at Dong Xoai and the aftermath – yet another change in Saigon’s leadership. This closing chapter illustrates for Moyar the aggressive communist attacks taken throughout the central highlands as a synopsis for the war.

triumph forsakenWhat will surprise many unfamiliar with Vietnam’s countryside, the battle was just 100km (or 62 miles) from Saigon. One of the spoils of military victory is writing history. The NVA claims to have killed over 4,500 South Vietnamese and 77 Americans at the Dong Xoai battlefield. (via Google Maps)

Today this would shock Americans to think a massive Vietcong battle was fought less than a two hour drive to Saigon. As reference, the distance is shorter between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Cannot help but wonder about Moyar’s theme: South Vietnam was destined to collapse by 1965. Yes Johnson’s remark to historian Henry Graff “The worst mistake we ever made was getting rid of Diem” rings true. Regardless of Moyar’s short timeline American interests never groomed a worthy successor to Diem. Despite a series of aggressive communist attacks in the central highlands in early 1965 the role of the US military was still restricted by the White House at 72,000 Americans in country. At Dong Xoai a US Special Forces camp assigned only 20 Americans to support 400 local soldiers from two militia companies.

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Moyar on Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam

triumph forsakenMark Moyar really opens up on journalists Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam in Chapter 7: Attack July-December 1962.

Moyar is attempting to mislead with broad, inaccurate generalizations as if Sheehan and Halberstam fell off the turnip truck and landed on a Smith corona typewriter south of Saigon.

Both Sheehan and Halberstam won Pulitzer Prizes for their Vietnam war coverage. Moyar’s most outrageous statement is that Halberstam “did more harm to the interests of the United States than any other journalist in American history.

Really? Even more than Sheehan or Dan Ellsberg publishing the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times?

But Moyar’s attacking statements on all journalists regardless of political view really misses the mark:

Representing the United Press International was a twenty-five-year-old named Neil Sheehan, who arrived in Saigon in April. Having just entered the profession of journalism, he was the youngest and most inexperienced reporter in a country full of young and inexperienced reporters.

Upon graduation from Harvard where he was editor of the campus literary magazine Harvard Advocate Neal Sheehan joined the Army serving from 1959-1962 in Korea, and Japan editing a weekly Army newspaper called The Bayonet. During this timeframe in Japan Sheehan also moonlighted in Tokyo for UPI. Upon his discharge he landed in Vietnam as UPI’s Saigon bureau chief.  It fair to say Sheehan understood Asia and the US Military operating in Southeast Asia. But here Moyar over reaches:

David Halberstam, who like Sheehan hailed from the Northeast and was a recent Harvard graduate. Halberstam was twenty-eight when he came to Vietnam. Before he left, fifteen months later, he would do more harm to the interests of the United States than any other journalist in American history.

Moyar’s neocon gloves come right off with his last statement. His position that Halberstam was a recent graduate also misses the mark.  Halberstam was the managing editor for the Harvard Crimson. In 1955 he turned down offers from big newspapers to cover Civil Rights and race issues in Mississippi. He left after just ten months when his editor did not want him focusing on those topics in a small town paper. He continued to cover the civil rights movement at The Tennessean in Nashville beginning in 1956.

In 1960 Halberstam was hired by the New York Times. After covering the Kennedy inauguration for six months in Washington D.C. he was assigned to the Congo to cover the war against Belgian colonialism. Then he was assigned to Vietnam when Diem kicked out the standing New York Times reporter.  Halberstam well understood struggles with colonialism.

Triumph Forsaken

Academic debates regarding revisionist history continues to rage across university lecture halls. Yet traditional (orthodox in those academic circles) views on Vietnam were challenged by revisionists including Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965.

triumph forsaken

America’s historical views of Vietnam are actually unique since the war’s bible The Pentagon Papers remained classified for just over forty years.

Moyar published Triumph Forsaken in 2006 and created academic controversy for over five years before the National Archives released the full 7,200 plus pages from the Department of Defense which also focus on Moyar’s timeframe.

Have just found my way last night into chapter three of Moyar’s book. Memories of actually reading the entire Pentagon Papers and the frustrations revealed has caused my eyebrows to be raised….just a bit. Moyar has been portrayed as attacking American journalists who were on the ground in Vietnam.

Moyar’s focus on Ho and Diem in this timeframe are core to his view on America’s early fatal flaws in the war. Time will tell as I continue to read, research and compare notes in the Pentagon Papers.  Moyar may be correct in his assumptions and points of view regarding these two leaders in Vietnam’s civil war.

Also on my bookshelf sits another revisionist view of Vietnam A Better War written by Lewis Sorley.  I will attempt to fully measure Moyar and Sorley against The Pentagon Papers and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam which won the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2013.

Latest read: A Spartan Game

Merriam-Webster defines Spartan as a person of great courage and self-discipline and A Spartan Game The Life and Loss of Don Holleder is just about a perfect story of such a person.  Yet I find it somewhat difficult to share how immense Don’s life was today. Many heroes on the gridiron and battlefield have been lost to our collective memory simply because HDTV, the internet and social media did not exist in the 1940s.

a spartan gameSince the 9/11 attacks only a handful of professional athletes have chosen to serve our country over money. Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal defensive back turned down a multi-million dollar NFL contact extension to enlist in the Army only to be killed under questionable circumstances in Afghanistan. If you found Pat’s story compelling then A Spartan Game reveals how Don Holleder played and lived on a much higher stratosphere. Pat was killed two years after leaving the NFL. Don Holleder was killed 11 years after leaving West Point but within three months of arriving in Vietnam.

The early chapters of A Spartan Game reveals Don’s family history, his extended background and amazing success playing high school football and basketball in Rochester New York. His high school team actually traveled to my hometown of Toledo Ohio in the early 1950s to play Toledo Central Catholic in basketball. I was surprised to read so many Catholic schools in the 1940s and ’50s traveled extensively throughout the country. Don was an extraordinarily gifted athlete and he excelled in football.

Don was expecting to attend Notre Dame on a football scholarship but something changed his life. After his senior football season but before he graduated Don’s father died suddenly. His father never told Don he wished for his son to attend West Point. It was only after his father’s wishes were revealed by his mother that Don focused solely on attending West Point.
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50th anniversary: Diem assassination

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the US-backed assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam. He was America’s handpicked leader to the stillborn democracy in Saigon.

Ngo Dinh Diem assassination

This anniversary marks the beginning of a long reflection over America’s involvement in the Vietnam war. The coup d’état and murder of Diem and his brother Nhu deepened America’s already long standing commitment to a war against the communist north.

Spearheading the upcoming anniversary will certainly be the Pentagon Papers from the US National Archives. Declassified and released for the first time in history these papers now allow permit further insight surrounding the US involvement in Southeast Asia following World War II.

Coupled with the slow release of books, classified documents and interviews with combatants from all sides we now understand our mistakes in Vietnam. Documents reveal a splinter within the Kennedy White House.

The direction for the coup was driven by Henry Cabot Lodge and McGeorge Bundy, not by President Kennedy. Lodge and Bundy made critical decisions without Kennedy’s knowledge or involvement.  A military aid acting only on the orders of Lodge was in contact with the military leaders who drove Diem from Saigon.  It is now known Lodge’s aid also gave $40,000 to the military as payment for the coup. Kennedy was assassinated just three weeks later.

Battle of Ong Thanh 46th anniversary

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the Battle of Ong Thanh. I read about this tragedy in David Maraniss’ award winning book They Marched into Sunlight. The book traces a rather startling weekend in 1967 for Wisconsin and our nation.

memorial day 2013 On the campus of UW-Madison on Saturday October 17th, students clashed violently with City police protesting Dow Chemical recruiting events on campus. Dow produced napalm for the Army before and during the war.

On the other side of the world that same Saturday the ambush at Onh Thanh lasted just two hours. By the time it was over 64 American soldiers were killed including Lieutenant Colonel Terry Allen and every member of the Battalion Command Group.  Allen Jr., the son of World War II Divisional Commander Terry Allen Sr. and led the same 1st Infantry Division as his father. Terry Allen Jr. led two rifle companies (~400 men) into a heavily wooded stream where two enemy battalions (~2,400 soldiers) waited for them. Two soldiers from Milwaukee were killed in this battle.

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Photo history: Vietnam the real war

Vietnam The Real WarAfter reading the Pentagon Papers and a number of critically acclaimed books about the war I am somewhat haunted at this new book.

For the first time, The Associated Press reviewed its 25,000+ photos of the war and reprinted a select 250 in “Vietnam: The Real War

This photograph takes me back to a college history class on the Vietnam war taught by Dr. Charles DeBenedetti. His style and passion for teaching is something that I have never forgotten.  To this day I can still see him at the front of class on the fifth floor of University Hall lecturing us on this tragic war.

MadMen’s Vietnam

Madmen finished a rather interesting season. I only found interest in the season premier when Don sat at a bar in Hawaii and had a drink with a US Soldier on leave from the war.  Many have written about Chevrolet was their “Vietnam” for the season.
madmen vietnam
Other segments throughout this season seemed tied into the cultural change the war took on American society. For example, the necklace of ears segment was rather interesting as the horror of war not only hit home but required the firm to change their advertising strategies.

Did you think their pot smoking scene or the death of a firm’s sibling (killed in Vietnam) reach the audience?  Many didn’t seem to think so — maybe they were not looking deep enough?

Latest read: A Vietnam War Reader

While spending almost two years reading the Pentagon Papers I found a number of credible resources that pointed to this college textbook as an excellent overview of our long war, A Vietnam War Reader: A Documentary History from American and Vietnamese Perspectives.

A Vietnam War Reader

This book is written by Michael H. Hunt, emeritus professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hunt has also written “Lyndon Johnson’s War: America’s Cold War Crusade in Vietnam, 1945-1968” and “Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam.”

Hunt’s book presented in chronological order our long conflict throughout Indo-China. The perspectives from are from leaders in the US, South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam. Wars have been traditionally told from the perspective of the winner, its a somewhat awkward view to read the perspectives of noted NVA military and communist party leaders.  Lessons certainly sting.  And they should indeed sting our national conscious.

Hunt provides a full perspective to the war. The most noted was the last chapter “Outcomes and Verdicts” that include the famous confrontation between Robert McNamara and Vo Nguyen Giap and Nguyen Co Thach in 1995.

The focus of French colonialism opens the book stretching back to 1861 and the coming rise of independence and revolution against French colonial rule throughout Indo-China. Hunt appears to have leveraged the resources also presented in the Pentagon Papers to tell an accurate story of our 30 year war in Vietnam.

The Pentagon Papers: US-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967

In the summer of 2011 the National Archives released the Pentagon Papers. The 47-volume report officially titled “United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967” was an amazing research effort led by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Pentagon PapersSomewhat fittingly today (Memorial Day 2013) I have finished the final volume.

This has been a rather involved “process” to say the least. At times the reports left me frustrated, curious, shocked, empathetic and even enraged. All 47 volumes remain freely available to download in Adobe Acrobat format and total 7,919 pages. This top secret report forever changed America’s view of this long and tragic war.

Robert McNamara appointed a TaskForce of select military, RAND staff members and academic researchers to write the report. Those who contributed included Daniel Ellsberg who would later leak the Papers to Neil Sheehan at the New York Times.

The US conflict in Vietnam, America’s longest war spanned over 30 years. A full generation of soldiers dedicated to our country, democracy and freedom served, fought and died throughout French Indo-China. I am deeply moved by those brave men who gave their lives in battle.
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Roosevelt and Stalin discussed a French-free IndoChina

Many of the secret documents in the Pentagon Papers reveal America’s role Asian politics before entering World War II. Its interesting to see Roosevelt and Stalin discussed a French-free IndoChina at the Tehran Conference.

Pentagon Papers
The Pentagon Papers Volume 33 Part V-B1 reveals a series secret documents regarding a steady stream of communications between World War II allies leading up to the Tehran Conference in early December 1943 where Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met to plan a second European front against Hitler’s Germany.

I think its important to view the timeline regarding French aims regarding a postwar IndoChina. The memorandum below was between Stalin and Roosevelt at Tehran as the Allies were planning D-Day.

Can the irony be any stronger for French demand’s that American support reclaiming their lost colonies while the war in Europe was still raging on just the eastern front?

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