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24

APRIL 2015

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Staying, Looking Back

I stayed in Vietnam for another 31/2 years, even though the

tour of duty was only 18 months. The embassy, and Amb. Bunker

himself, kept asking me to extend, and why not? I enjoyed my

work and found the country fascinating, despite the war all

around us.

During my last year there, I served as commercial attaché,

with my own office by the river. In practice I became a general-

purpose trouble-shooter for the embassy, dealing with such

issues as corruption in the port of Da Nang and finding a way

to enable the U.S. military to recover brass shell casings from

battlefields. (They were being scavenged by enterprising Viet-

namese and exported to China via Hong Kong.)

I believed at the time that we were on the right track in Viet-

nam. Pacification was working. The South Vietnamese economy

was developing nicely. Militarily, we were beginning to prevail in

the conflict—particularly after Creighton Abrams replaced Wil-

liamWestmoreland. The South Vietnamese military was begin-

ning to hold its own and even win some major engagements.

Unfortunately, however, it was too late. Congress had turned

irrevocably against the war in spite of all the evidence that the

situation was turning in our favor.

Should the U.S. have entered the conflict in the first place?

Given our reluctance to see it through, presumably not. Ameri-

cans have little patience for indecisiveness and stalemate.

The U.S. fought the war with serious limitations—such as not

invading the North and eschewing strategic bombing of Hanoi

and Haiphong until December 1972, just a few months before

we withdrew our troops. This restraint stemmed from our fear

of escalation, of bringing in China and the Soviet Union, whose

intentions we misread.

Yet there are historians who contend today that fighting the

war in South Vietnam bought time for other countries in the

region to achieve a degree of stability and prosperity. Was it

worth 58,000 American lives? No, given the outcome. Was it a

necessary war? Again, no, but historians will doubtless continue

to study and debate the matter.

Looking back, I recall that just about every FSO tapped to

go to Vietnam went willingly and some even enthusiastically.

Many served with distinction. The war was controversial, of

course, and there was substantial opposition to it at home.

With rare exceptions, the American press tended to report only

bad news.

Yet for a career FSO committed to serve anywhere in the

world, Vietnam was the place to be. At the time, there was no

greater calling.

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