Tag: Vietnam War

Newman JFK Vietnam March 29, 2019, marked the forty-six anniversary of the departure of the last remaining United States troops in South Vietnam.  Two years after their departure,on April 30, 1975, Siagon fell to North Vietnamese forces as Hanoi tightened its grip around the country.  By the time the war ended, fifty-eight thousand American soldiers had lost their lives in Vietnam.  North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong losses were estimated to be well over one million.  Civilian deaths were even higher in number but despite the large numbers of casualties, North Vietnam refused to surrender and was determined to achieve reunification.  The withdrawal of American troops was a sobering reality and cold hard truth:  the American effort in Southeast Asia had not succeeded.   To this day, there are many people who still wonder how and why the United States became entangled in Vietnam.   The defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 should have served as a reminder that military might is not always a guarantee of success.  In January, 1960, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) took office and from the beginning of his administration until his death, the issue of Vietnam continued to fester like an open sore. Kennedy died before he could implement any further plans regarding Vietnam and took many secrets with him to his grave.  But declassified documents and political memoirs shed much light on what was really happening in his administration as it grappled to combat the growing Viet Cong menace.

Author John M. Newman is currently in the middle of a multi-volume set regarding Kennedy’s murder. I have reviewed three of them so far and eagerly await the publication of the next volume.  The books are incredible and the amount of information Newman provides is nothing short of staggering.  But as we see here, he a long time player in the game and in 1992, this masterpiece was released.  If you have seen the film ‘JFK’ by Oliver Stone, you will recall the scene where Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) meets the character who calls himself “X” (Donald Sutherland).   What many viewers may not know is that Newman helped Stone create those scenes.  His research served as the basis for the dialogue between the two as X enlightens Garrison to many dark secrets surrounding Kennedy’s plans on Vietnam.  The scenes are moving but do not come close to telling the entire story.  This book however, does that and more and should be on the bookshelf of any reader who has an interest in the Vietnam War and in particular, its origins.

Newman takes us back to 1961 as the Kennedy Administration is recovering in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle.  The seeds of distrust had been sown and when the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to press him on Laos, Kennedy was wise to the game.  But the generals had a backup plan and if Kennedy would not go into Laos, then Vietnam was next on the list.  However, the generals had a tough road ahead and knew that the young president would not give in easily to their demands.  As a result a pattern of deception developed and before long Kennedy and his own administration were at odds over American foreign policy in Saigon.   The depth of that deception will surely surprise many and still has me shaking my head in disbelief.   I had been aware of many facts in the book but Newman brings even more to light.

The book is exhaustively researched and the information contained within it will cause shock and anger.  But what I liked the most about the book is while Newman makes the case for what Kennedy was thinking about Vietnam at the time of his death, he is also frank about where Kennedy made mistakes that helped contribute to an already precarious situation.  In all fairness to Kennedy, he never had the opportunity to defend himself regarding his decisions on Vietnam.  But the paper trial he left behind, shows definitive actions he took and intended to take as he grappled with South Vietnam and a cabinet that had split down the middle.

The key to understanding how the deception started is to understand how intelligence was being gathered in Southeast Asia.  Newman breaks down the various divisions in military command and the role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Kennedy’s advisors are also on the hook and the actions of several of them add even more shock value to an already incredibly eye-opening account.  The realization that members of  his administration were deeply divided and at odds with each other, hovers like a dark cloud over the story as the crisis in South Vietnam unfolds.  All of the members of his administration are now deceased and we can only wonder as to why they committed some of the actions that they did.

No book about Vietnam would be complete without a discussion of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu.  Both played a critical role in the development of the war and Newman provides a thorough explanation as to why the brothers were important to American success in Vietnam and where they went terribly wrong. The coup that resulted in their deaths, changed the course of history and gave the war a new face.  A few weeks after their assassinations, Kennedy himself was assassinated.  And although there is no proven link between the two events, actions of several figures in high positions in the time period between the two murders are quite suspicious and will surely cause readers to take notice.

As I read through the book, I paid particular attention to the National Security Action Memos (NSAMs) signed by Kennedy regarding his policy on Vietnam.  They speak volumes and should paint a clearer picture of the forces he was up against.   National Security Actions Memos 55, 56, 57 and 111 are pivotal for they directly addressed many of the pressing issues Kennedy was facing at home and abroad.  The author discusses each so that the reader can easily understand the many nefarious elements that had been influencing foreign policy in some of the most scrupulous of ways.  I

Seasoned readers might be wondering where Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) fits into the story.  His role is covered here and the suspicious actions on his part are paid close attention to.  The war escalated greatly under his administration but we can only wonder how much Johnson knew and Kennedy did not.  Newman does not discuss any Kennedy assassination theories or give any attention to any suggestions of LBJ being complicit in the crime.  But what he does show is that the vice president certainly had an agenda of his own and it would be shown after the events in Dallas.  National Security Action Memo 263 is one of the book’s most critical moments and readers should pay extremely close attention to this part of the story that highlights the stark differences between the late and sitting presidents and their views on the raging conflict in South Vietnam.

A common question I have heard from Vietnam veterans and others who lived through the war is why were Americans being sent 13,000 miles away from home to fight a war against a country many of them had never heard of?   It is a critical question and I believe that Newman has many of the answers they seek.  By no means is the book a complete account of the war. In fact, I believe a better overall account of the entire conflict would the best-selling ” The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War“.   The authors there discussed Kennedy’s administration but concluded that they could not say for sure what Kennedy would have done regarding Vietnam due to his assassination in Dallas.  Newman takes it further and I believe that he clears up much of the mystery surrounding Kennedy’s record on Southeast Asia.

Many years have passed since the Vietnam War ended but for millions of veterans, the wounds and dark memories remain.  Some were sent to Vietnam not yet twenty years of age to a foreign country in which death was prevalent.  They watched their friends die in gruesome manners and were exposed to the horrors of war in a conflict that did not seem to have an endgame.  North Vietnam and the Viet Cong showed Washington that it would not be an “easy” war.  Hanoi was determined to succeed in unifying the country and no amount of United States pressure or troops would change that mission.  In the end, Hanoi did succeed and America was left to wonder what went wrong.   As we move forward as a nation, let us not forget the tragedy of Vietnam which serves as an example of the dangers of misguided and intentionally deceitful foreign policy that changes nations and history.  Newman absolutely nailed the subject in this incredible book that will surely satisfy anyone who decides to open it up.

ASIN: B01N7YNXQ6

Vietnam War

Newman Vol 3In Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume II , author John M. Newman warned us that a storm was brewing.  President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and his brother Robert F. Kennedy (19125-1963) had come to realize that not all who smile come as friends.  But what they could not have foreseen, was the depth of resentment towards them from the military, Cuban exiles and the intelligence community.  In the second volume, we learned about the demise of Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), the relationship between the Kennedys and mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975), Oswald’s alleged “defection” and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  Newman resumes the story and takes us deeper behind the scenes in the Kennedy Administration which found itself in damage control to prevent rupturing at the seams.

The present volume revisits the Cuban situation and also focuses on the doomed Operation Mongoose.  The covert operation has gained traction in research circles as an example of the doomed efforts to remove Fidel Castro, but as we see here, there was far more to the story.  For several decades, the rumor of Robert Kennedy giving a green light to assassinate Fidel Castro has persisted.  The myth was pioneered by former CIA operative Samuel Halpern (d. 2005), who was not fond of either Kennedy brother.  Newman investigates that myth and finally separates fact from fiction.  And the story that emerges is one of deception, exemplified by the actions of many such as Bill Harvey (1915-1976), Richard Bissell (1909-1994) and Gen. Edward Lansdale (1908-1987).  Halpern’s tale is so convoluted that it even caught the attention of journalist Seymour Hersh who examined the Kennedy family in his book  ‘The Dark Side of Camelot‘, which does no favors to the Kennedy name. I do not know if Hersh has read this book but when or if he does, I am sure the facts revealed by Newman may cause him to revise his work.

If you have read Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, then you are already familiar with one of the most peculiar characters in the JFK assassination story, Antonio Veciana.  As leader of the anti-Castro group Alpha-66, he was responsible for daring acts against the Castro regime.  The acts were so worrisome that Kennedy eventually ordered the military to have them cease and desist.  But just who was Veciana and did he really meet a contact named Maurice Bishop?  It is believed that Bishop was a cover name for David Atlee Phillips (1922-1986), a legendary CIA officer and founder of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.   The story of Veciana and Bishop can be quite confusing and for years Veciana played mind games with investigators.  Fonzi died before Veciana would make several changes to his story but Newman catches them all here and reveals the truth about Veciana’s recruitment into CIA activities and his alleged meeting with Bishop. To say it is puzzling would be an understatement.

Oswald’s “defection” to the Soviet Union is one of the most bizarre parts of his story.  While he never actually defected, his actions did catch the attention of the Russian KGB and the CIA.   Americans attempting to defect to Russia at the height of the Cold War was beyond comprehension and Oswald would have known this as a former Marine.  But the question remains, if Oswald really wanted to defect, then why didn’t he?  James Angleton (1917-1987) was the CIA Counterintelligence Chief from 1954-1975.  Undoubtedly, Oswald would have been of high interest to Angleton, whose hunt for Soviet moles within the CIA destroyed lives and damaged careers.  Until his final days in the CIA, he was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency.  During his tenure, Soviet defectors did approach American officers.  One of them was Yuri Nosenko, whose story is another critical part of the Kennedy labyrinth.   However, Nosenko was a strange character and a career spy.  But was he a real defector?  Newman re-examines Nosenko’s story to show us what was really taking place in the spy war between the CIA and KGB.

An often misunderstood part of Kennedy’s election to office is the role of the Civil Rights Movement.  American politicians have known for decades that the Black American vote is crucial to winning a major election.   Kennedy faced an enormous hurdle in gaining the black vote primarily because he was Catholic and a Democrat.   The story of how he obtained the Black vote and why is critical to understand what he represented to millions of Americans.  His “New Frontier” program was advanced in many ways but sadly it never came into reality due to his death.  Newman wants us to understand how Kennedy was propelled to office and why the story is relevant to his death in 1963.  In 1960, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon (1913-1994) by an extremely slim margin.  Prior to the election, a series of events took place that changed the course of history.  They would involve both Robert and John Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

The efforts to secure Kennedy’s claim to the White House by Sam Giancana is well-known to researchers and those with a keen ear for mafia tales.  But the relationship between the Kennedy family and Giancana was quite unusual in itself and had the public known of the connection, I can only imagine what the fallout would have been.  Giancana was a walking tomb of dark secrets and he is mentioned briefly in this volume again, along with Johnny Roselli (1905-1976) whose efforts to topple Castro are part of CIA-Mafia lore.

As Kennedy takes office, he soon finds that the battles in Washington are just beginning.  After the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco, he knew better than to trust the word of the CIA and Pentagon.  But what they did not know was that Kennedy had been changed by the Bay of Pigs and was determined to make sure the CIA and Pentagon never got away with such a ruse again.  This part of the book is where things get deeper and take a much darker turn.  Laos and Vietnam loom over Kennedy like a dark cloud and he soon finds himself on the defensive as military brass are demanding intervention in Southeast Asia.   Cuba is never far off the radar and once again it becomes a hot topic.  It became so hot that the Pentagon concocted plans that repulsed Kennedy and widened the gap between the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  If you have heard the name Operation Northwoods, then you have an idea of where the story is going.  The stage is slowly being set with tensions rising.  The Pentagon and CIA are hungry for a war but can they proceed with a President who is becoming increasingly distrustful of his own advisors?  As the book concludes, it becomes clear that the Kennedys are on a collision course with the military and intelligence community and the climax will be far more serious that Americans could have imagined.

Volume IV is still in the works but when it is released, I am sure that Newman will continue with this eye-opening assessment of one of America’s darkest moments.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07NJRY8WJ

Assassinations

douglas-valentine-phoenix-programThe wars that have been fought by mankind contain many secrets that have survived the test of time.  Hindsight has become society’s treasured tool in investigating the past to learn what really happened.  The Vietnam War is among the most unpopular conflicts in American history.   The war continues to haunt the United States as a reminder of failed foreign policy and according to some as a premonition of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As we look back on the Vietnam War, we come to learn about the very dark side of the American involvement in Southeast Asia and the devastation that occurred when two nations collided in a struggle that pitted ideology against weapons at war. Douglas Valentine, author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, returns with this account of his research into The Phoenix Program, which for many years remained a mystery to those outside of military and political circles.  But just what was the Phoenix Program and how much of it as true?

The story begins with a gentlemen named Elton Manzione, who is a former member of the armed forces. Manzione claims to have been part of the program but Valentine readily states that his service records do not show him being a part of the program or in country at the time.   For some readers that may be enough to disregard what follows but the key to following the book is not Manzione’s story but the complex web that composed the program itself.  I forewarn the reader that the number of acronyms is staggering. If you have served in the military or are a Vietnam Veteran, then you will probably be familiar with many of the terms. But for the average reader, many of them will be unfamiliar and a challenge to remember.  Regardless, the story is interesting but I do believe many parts of it will be lost to history.  But what we can learn from the book is that there did in fact exist a program whose purpose was to infiltrate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strongholds through the use of counterintelligence and other black operations.  Somewhere along the line, things took a dark turn and many regrettable incidents took place that forever cast a dark cloud over any success the Phoenix Program may have had.

To be fair to Valentine, the book is not simply an account of atrocities that occurred.  The My Lai Massacre and other incidents have been documented and the accounts are not for readers who do not possess a strong composition.  Valentine does provide broad descriptions of shocking incidents but spares the reader of extensive and more revolting details.  The book can be tedious to read and requires that the reader follows along closely to get a visual of the many parties in operation in both North and South Vietnam.  But the key to understanding the book is not to memorize all of the names but to follow the bigger picture.  What is paramount to remember is that many honorable men and women served in Vietnam, some of them part of the Phoenix Program.  They in particular might agree with Valentine or feel that his book is way off base.   There were also darker elements of the U.S. military apparatus and intelligence communities whose actions during the war could possibly be considered war crimes.  And through Valentine’s work, we are forced to inquire about the real objective of the United States Armed Forces in Vietnam.  We will never know many secrets of the war but books such as this provide a look inside of some of the more controversial aspects of America’s most unpopular war.

ISBN-10: 1504032888
ISBN-13: 978-1504032889

Investigative Report