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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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SEPTEMBER 2015

9

AFSA and Vietnam

Congratulations on the recent “Viet- nam” issue of the Journal (April). The

articles, taken together, brilliantly evoke

the drama and anguish of the times with

a coherence that few of us could per-

ceive as we dealt with our pieces

of the mosaic.

The issue did not cover

AFSA’s role in the final days

and, indeed, our actions

were limited compared to

the heroics of our fellow

FSOs and AFSA members.

We had challenges. Use-

ful information was hard

to come by; obviously our

status as the recently elected

exclusive employee representative was

not officially relevant, and there was a

certain chaos up and down the chain of

command.

However, we did contribute to the out-

come, as I recount here. Our actions were

all verbal and part of the inevitable “back

story” that gives oral history its value.

As the crisis evolved, corridor rumor

became fact. We learned that not a few

AFSA members were returning to Viet-

nam on personal missions (one of our

own small AFSA staff left for Vietnam for

the same purpose).

The question was, how will the Sec-

retary and “the system” deal with this

phenomenon? Emotions were running

high, and we feared the worst.

Our conduit to the Secretary was

Larry Eagleburger, then the under

secretary for management and Henry

the K’s alter ego on many issues. AFSA’s

small, informal Executive Committee

decided that I, as AFSA president, would

call Larry and inform him that any

action against Craig Johnstone or Lionel

Rosenblatt (the two FSOs we were sure

had traveled), or any others, would elicit

a strong and public reaction from AFSA.

I called.

“What the hell do you want?” That

was Eaglespeak for “good morning.”

I said that in the event the Secretary

or Director General took any adverse

action against Johnstone,

Rosenblatt or anyone else,

AFSA would throw the

employee-management book

at them. Public demonstra-

tions could not be excluded.

“Are you threatening me?”

I responded that I wanted

him and the Secretary to

have all necessary informa-

tion before making any

decisions in what was a very difficult

matter. We considered the returnees to

be heroes and so should the Secretary.

“I’ll get back to you.” Larry did, and

said that there would probably be a pri-

vate scolding, but no adverse actions.

I do not know how important our

intervention was in the Secretary’s deci-

sion. What I do know is that the outcome

was what we hoped for, and that AFSA,

like our heroic colleagues, had acted

honorably.

Tom Boyatt

Ambassador, retired

AFSA Vice President for Retirees

AFSA President, 1973-75

McLean, Virginia

Vietnam Lessons

Learned

A comparative reading

of two substantively differ-

ent memos describing “The Lessons of Vietnam” (July- August FSJ ) made for much

thought-provoking reflec-

tion, especially for those of

us who lived through that

painfully divisive era.

Neither memo alluded to the post–

World War II history of U.S.-North

Vietnamese contacts, which included

several messages from Ho Chi Minh to

at least three American presidents and

other high-ranking officials.

Historians point out that the North

Vietnamese leader had modeled his

country’s declaration of independence

closely on that of the United States and

had proclaimed his desire for peaceful

relations with our country.

Moreover, in the immediate post-war

years he appealed directly to President

Harry Truman to help his country cast

off the yoke of French colonialism at a

time when the United States was grant-

ing independence to the Philippines

and the British were preparing to do the

same in India.

Sadly, Ho Chi Minh’s appeals were

ignored and his political philosophy

and allegiances—whether he was a true

communist aligned with Moscow at the

time or merely a committed Vietnamese

nationalist—remained unknown.

Two decades later, when President

Lyndon Johnson directly proposed

negotiations to end the widening con-

flict in Indochina, Ho Chi Minh replied

with grim determination that the Ameri-

cans should first end their bombing

campaign and withdraw the hundreds of

thousands of troops that had been sent

to Vietnam to prevent the country’s

unification and to prop up

what ultimately turned out

to be a corrupt and unpopu-

lar regime.

A feeler by President Rich-

ard Nixon a few years later

was met with a similarly blunt

response that mirrored the dis-

ciplined, implacable advance

of North Vietnamese forces.

The lessons to be learned

LETTERS