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20

APRIL 2015

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Editor's Introduction

BY SHAWN DORMAN

O

n the 40th anniversary of the fall

of Saigon to the North Vietnamese

Army and the evacuation of many

thousands of Americans and South

Vietnamese from the country, we

take a look back at the Foreign

Service role in Vietnam.

Why revisit Vietnam? After all,

the history of the war has been

written and rewritten. Yet the civilian side of the story—the work

and experiences of Foreign Service personnel who served in Viet-

nam during the 1960s and 1970s—is not so well known. At the

time, all those joining the Foreign Service knew there was more

than a good chance they would be sent to Vietnam. That’s what

worldwide availability meant.

Service in Vietnam shaped a generation of Foreign Service

officers, but do we understand how? As of late 1971, some 600

FSOs—or 20 percent of the Foreign Service—had served in

Vietnam, more than half of themwith the Civil Operations and

Revolutionary Development Support program, or CORDS.

In the following pages, we bring you some of the voices of the

FS Vietnam generation, starting with an account of the beginning

of the end, the 1968 Tet Offensive. First-person narratives of the

final days in Saigon from different vantage points follow. And a

critical review of the counterinsurgency effort and an analysis

and snapshots of Vietnam today round out the presentation. In

these stories you will find plenty of drama and tragedy, but also

bravery, hope and inspiration. And, not least, lessons for today.

Expeditionary Diplomacy Redux

The Foreign Service experience in Vietnam, and in particular

History Revisited

FOCUS

ON THE FOREIGN SERVICE IN VIETNAM

with CORDS and its predecessor counterinsurgency efforts, was

“expeditionary diplomacy” in all but name. Language-trained

FSOs serving in the provinces were able to gain a true under-

standing of the real situation on the ground, not something that

was always welcome in Washington, or even at the embassy

in Saigon. In addition to reporting, these FSOs were directly

involved in leading project work in cooperation with the military.

Mortal danger was ever-present. In all, 42 FSOs—most serving

with or assigned to USAID—were killed in Vietnam between

1965 and 1975. Their names are inscribed on the AFSA Memorial

Plaque at the State Department.

In 1975, out of an extremely tragic situation of a new nation

and U.S. ally collapsing, heroes emerged who, collectively, saved

thousands of people. The two other U.S. allies in the Indochina

war also fell that year. Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge on April

17, and Laos collapsed gradually as the Pathet Lao seized power.

In subsequent years, the U.S. accepted significant numbers of

refugees from both countries.

At the heart of our story is a group of FSOs who, acting largely

without instruction (and in some cases without permission)

in the face of U.S. government inaction, organized what would

become the largest refugee resettlement operation since World

War II to rescue at-risk Vietnamese.

Two of them, Lionel Rosenblatt and Craig Johnstone, saw the

writing on the wall fromWashington and, frustrated that the U.S.

government was not planning for the end, set off for Vietnam on

their own, helping several hundred Vietnamese get out. In 1976,

the two received AFSA dissent awards for their efforts. While

Lionel Rosenblatt is not an author in this issue, his insights and

recommendations informed our choices for who best to tell the

story. For that, I offer this public note of thanks.