The historian Henry Steele Commager expressed a similar view in an article in the New York Review of Books, October 1972. Comparing the U.S. war in Vietnam to the Confederacy’s war to preserve slavery and Germany’s war of aggression in World War II, he wrote, “Why do we find it so hard to accept this elementary lesson of history, that some wars are so deeply immoral that they must be lost, that the war in Vietnam is one of these wars, and that those who resist it are the truest patriots.” Cited in Neil Jumonville, Henry Steele Commager: Midcentury Liberalism and the History of the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 177. Of course, the peace movement’s quest was to prevent the war and stop the war, irrespective of American victory or defeat.
The United Nations Charter (Article 2, Section 4) states, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….” See Fredrik Logevall, “Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1 (March 2004); and Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1999).
Weather conditions were clear, and seas were calm. At 1440, the destroyer detected three North Vietnamese patrol boats approaching her position from the west. Aware of North Vietnamese intent from the earlier SIGINT [signals intelligence] message, Captain Herrick ordered gun crews to open fire if the fast-approaching trio closed to within 10,000 yards of the destroyer, and at about 1505 three 5-inch shots were fired across the bow of the closest boat. In return, the lead vessel launched a torpedo and veered away. A second boat then launched two “fish” but was hit by gunfire from the destroyer. Re-engaging, the first PT boat launched a second torpedo and opened fire with her 14.5-mm guns, but Maddox shell fire heavily damaged the vessel.
On December 28, 1965, in light of the escalating war in Vietnam, three American private citizens landed in Hanoi, North Vietnam. They were Staughton Lynd, a Yale professor of American history and civil rights activist; Herbert Aptheker, an historian and communist activist; and Tom Hayden, a young 25-year-old student and one of the leaders of the leftist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Hayden’s colleagues in SDS opposed his trip to Hanoi, but he decided to go anyway, representing only himself and not SDS.
During their visit Lynd, Aptheker, and Hayden met with North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front (NLF) officials, religious clerics, intellectuals, youth groups, women’s groups, and trade unions. Their most important meeting was with the prime minister of North Vietnam, Pham Van Dong. The premier presented Hanoi’s positions and conditions for opening negotiations with the US government, and the three Americans asked him to respond to various questions and arguments that had been posed by US officials and in public discourse. They also requested to meet with US prisoners of war (POWs) and convey messages from them to their families. This request was granted, and they visited a captured American pilot.
“The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 1964,” Avalon Project, . See also Peter Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War (New York: Skyhorse, 2003); and Edwin Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina press, 2000).
William Conrad Gibbons, The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Part II (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 42, 43.
“Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at the Conference on Vietnam Luncheon in the hotel Willard, Washington, D.C., June 1, 1956,” ; U.S. Congress, Senate, “Background Information Related to Southeast Asia and Vietnam,” 89th Congress, 1st session (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1965), p. 73; and Clarence R. Wyatt, Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War (University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 63-65.
The U.S. Government and the Vietnam War: Executive and Legislative Roles and Relationships, Prepared for the Committee on Foreign relations, U.S. Senate, April 1984, by William Conrad Gibbons, Part II, p. 224; and Ernest Gruening, March 10, 1964, in Congressional Record, 88th Congress, 2nd session, p. 4835.
Gabriel Kolko, Vietnam: Anatomy of a War, 1940–1975 (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1985), p. 89; the Pentagon Papers, Vol. I, p. 255; and Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), pp. 144-147.
The Pentagon Papers, Vol. 1, Ch. 5, “Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960,” p. 299; Jean Lacouture, Vietnam: Between Two Truces (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 79; and Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Harvard University Press, 2013). On “personalism,” see Jessica M. Chapman, Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam (Ithaca Cornell University Press, 2013), p. 121.
In addition to siding with France in Vietnam, the U.S. sided with the colonial Belgian regime against nationalist forces in the Congo. See Anne Sophie-Gijs, “Fighting the red peril in the Congo: Paradoxes and perspectives on an equivocal challenge to Belgium and the West (1947–1960),” Cold War History, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2016): 273-290.
Quoted in George McTurnan Kahin, “Bureaucracy’s Call for U.S. Ground Troops,” in Jeffrey P. Kimball, To Reason Why: The Debate about the Causes of U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1990), p. 233.
The nature of the American mistakes in Vietnam range from ineffective military strategies (including, from the hawkish side, failure to invade North Vietnam), to inadequate attention to winning Vietnamese hearts and minds, to the identification of Vietnam as a vital strategic interest, to the basic attempt to impose U.S. designs on Vietnam. See David L. Anderson, “No More Vietnams: Historians Debate the Policy Lessons of the Vietnam War,” in David L. Anderson and John Ernst, eds., The War That Never Ends: New Perspectives on the Vietnam War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007); and John Marciano, The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration? (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).