Wednesday, March 12, 2008
AIRBORNE AGENTS / XAM NHAP
Although Office 45's earliest efforts focused on the infiltration of singleton agents by land and sea, the backbone of its North Vietnam program came from the sky. Airborne insertion was not an original idea. In fact, Saigon intentionally borrowed a page from one of the most successful French-led units in Indochina, the Groupes de Commandos Mixtes Aeroportes (Mixed Airborne Commando Group, or GCMA).
First fielded in 1951, the GCMA was an effort by French intelligence to harness the historical animosity between hill tribesmen and the ethnic Vietnamese of the lowlands. Using small teams of French airborne advisers as cadre, ethnic tribesmen were given the opportunity to take up arms against the Viet Minh, which was dominated by lowlanders. Thousands accepted the offer and were organized into tribal guerrilla bands. For the French, the GCMA was an economical means of denying the rugged countryside to the communists. For the minorities, the concept gave them the hope of defending themselves after centuries of domination and prejudice.
The GCMA never amounted to more than 9,500 partisans in northern Vietnam, but these guerrillas struck a nerve with the Viet Minh. Referring to the tribesmen by the Vietnamese name Biet Kich (commandos), the Viet Minh in December 1953 issued a resolution calling on field units to "surround and arrest the [GCMA], root them up from their social bases, and isolate and wipe them out." Three months later, another Viet Minh decree called on its armed forces to launch a "prolonged struggle" to wipe out the GCMA by "leaning on the public, persevering to the end, and killing off the root." Even after the withdrawal of French advisers from North Vietnam in early 1955, the GCMA threat refused to die. By Hanoi's own admission, it was not until the end of 1956 that the last of these tribal commandos was subdued.
Hoping to repeat this success, the CIA organized a similar project within Office 45. In fact, some of those involved with the new venture had been Biet Kich during the French war. Prominent among them was Se Co Tin, a village chieftain from Lao Cai near the Chinese border. From the Tho ethnic group, Se Co Tin had been instrumental in helping the French organize twenty-five hundred GCMA partisans around Lao Cai, which had then been used in October 1953 on a spectacular guerrilla attack against communist forces along the Chinese frontier.
By the early 1960s, Se Co Tin was in Saigon as a key adviser to Office 45. "He was a canton chief and had respect, so he could introduce our case officers to recruits from his province and ethnic group," recalled Ngo The Linh, the office commander.2 One of those Se Co Tin brought forward was his nephew, Lo Ngan Dung, himself a GCMA guerrilla from Lao Cai. Dung had come south after the French withdrawal, joined the South Vietnamese army, and was posted to the General Studies Department, the forerunner of the Presidential Liaison Office.3 Following his introduction to Linh, Dung, by then a lieutenant, underwent intelligence training in 1960. Given the call sign Jacques, he was assigned in early 1961 as the first case officer for the airborne agent teams.
Paired with a young CIA counterpart named David Thoenen, Jacques began forming the first hill tribe team. Just like the GCMA, this team was to operate along the border highlands where North Vietnamese security, the CIA believed, had "less control . . . due primarily to poor access and to the traditional animosity of the tribal groups there to the lowland Vietnamese." Unlike the GCMA, which had run sabotage operations and recruited tribal partisans, the team would be tasked just with reconnaissance and intelligence—observing roads and establishing only limited contact with the local population.
In opting for such a limited mandate for its initial team, the CIA and Office 45 appeared to be building a cautious, though perhaps flawed, foundation. While it was true that the highlands could offer the best chance of concealment, the harsh topography and thin population in those areas meant that there was little information for an intelligence-gathering team to collect. Mountainous terrain also meant that it would be difficult to find food. And since the team was forbidden from organizing local guerrillas, the fact that those locals might harbor an exploitable dislike for the ethnic Vietnamese would probably not help its mission.
Still, selection of the first team began in early February. Given the need to find northern tribesmen with solid political credentials and military experience, Jacques was given permission to scour the ranks of the Presidential Liaison Office's own 1st Observation Group. Because it had been conceived as a stay-behind force in the event of a Chinese invasion, the 1st Observation Group was composed mainly of northerners. It had also begun accepting South Vietnamese army volunteers of Tai, Muong, and Nung origin—all natives of northern Vietnam—in anticipation of upcoming forays into the Lao panhandle.5 From among these, Jacques found three suitable Muong and a Tai.
Whisked off to a Saigon safe house, the four began instruction on the RS-1 radio. Airborne and jungle warfare training had already been completed
under the auspices of the 1st Observation Group, sparing Office 45 the trouble. And unlike ARES, who had been trained for an entire year to lead a double life as a full-time spy within Vietnamese society, the four trainees were to live isolated in the hills, so they were not required to learn any spycraft techniques. After three months, they graduated.
As its first airborne team was being readied for deployment, the CIA needed to decide on a form of air transport into North Vietnam that was both reliable and deniable. The agency had performed dozens of similar parachute missions into China since 1952, using a variety of airframes: C-47 and C-54 transports, converted bombers like the B-17 and B-26, and even refitted P-2V submarine chasers. In the case of North Vietnam, it was not so much the aircraft that caused concern as the pilots. The need for "de-niability"—hiding the American hand in the operations—meant that the U.S. Air Force was out of the question. And the CIA was adamant that Air America, its proprietary airline in Asia, not be used because of its high profile in neighboring Laos.
By the process of elimination, this left the Vietnamese to do the flying. But while the South Vietnamese air force had suitably qualified pilots, it, too, needed to operate under a veneer of deniability. So the CIA created a shell company by initiating a paper exercise between the Delaware Corporation—which was affiliated with Air America—and a Vietnamese partner. Called Vietnamese Air Transport, or VIAT, the new "airline" had only a single unmarked C-47 aircraft.
To pilot the VIAT plane, the CIA approached Major Nguyen Cao Ky, commander of Tan Son Nhut airport on the outskirts of Saigon. The young officer—only thirty at the time—had originally been trained as a transport pilot by the French in Morocco. Known for his flamboyance and charisma, Ky put out the word among the Vietnamese air force's two transport squadrons that volunteers were being sought for a special unit. Twenty Vietnamese, led by Ky himself, were quickly rounded up for the northern assignment, which was code-named HAYLIFT.
While the volunteers had sufficient experience with conventional transport flights, the missions to the north required special instruction. Specifically, the crews would be required to fly extremely long missions at very low altitudes to precise drop zones—all without the aid of advanced navigational equipment. And if that was not enough, North Vietnam's heavy rainfall and rugged terrain combined to create some of the worst flying conditions in the world.
To help coach the Vietnamese aviators, the CIA arranged for the loan of one pilot instructor and one navigator from Air America. The pilot, Captain Al Judkins, had spent the previous months on a CIA assignment parachuting Khampa guerrillas into Tibet. The navigator, Jim Keck, was also a Tibet veteran. Beginning with daylight low-level sorties, Judkins and Keck soon had the Vietnamese flying their C-47 at treetop level at night. Many dropped out of the difficult training, eventually leaving a five-man primary crew under the command of Major Ky and a backup crew under Lieutenant Phan Thanh Van.
For a final rehearsal run, Ky took the C-47 for a night flight over the Tonkin Gulf. Aboard for the ride was the CIA Saigon station chief, William E. Colby, long a proponent of action operations. Colby's own military career had more than its share of derring-do. In August 1944, he led an OSS team into occupied France, establishing a flank guard for General George Patton's advancing tank columns. The following March, he parachuted with another OSS team into Norway. At the time, the Germans were redeploying 150,000 troops into northern Norway. They were using the Nordland rail line, moving their men at a rate of one battalion per day. Armed with demolition charges, Colby and his guerrillas cut a bridge and a large section of track, slowing the redeployment to one battalion per month. The mission was rated a major success.8
At the controls, Ky tried to impress his CIA passenger with his ability to infiltrate at low levels. The plane dipped toward the sea until it barely cleared the wave tops. Colby was impressed. "Ky, the next time you fly me like that so close to the water," he quipped, "let me know beforehand and I'll bring my fishing rod.”
Haifa world away, President John F. Kennedy's new administration was talking tough behind closed doors. The war in Indochina was rising to the top of a growing number of foreign policy crises, and the young president wanted to send Hanoi a message. North Vietnam, after all, was not only infiltrating arms and personnel into South Vietnam but also intervening against the pro-Western royalist government in Laos. Edward Lansdale, the CIA's roving expert on both covert operations and counterinsurgency, finished a fact-finding trip in January 1961 and returned to Washington to brief the National Security Council. Kennedy later told his advisers that "for the first time [it] gave him a sense of the danger and urgency of the problem in Vietnam."
Kennedy wanted to act without igniting a superpower rivalry in Southeast Asia, so he turned to the CIA. On 9 March 1961, during another meeting with his National Security Council, the president said that he wanted to "make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in Viet Minh territory at the earliest possible date," and he asked both the CIA and the Defense Department to present "views on what actions might be undertaken in the near future and what steps might be taken to expand operations in the longer future."
Kennedy also approved several covert operations already on the table. The first of these, infiltrating agents into North Vietnam, was currently in progress. The CIA told the president that it had teams "allocated to working on a series of guerrilla pockets" near the Lao—North Vietnam border." But Kennedy felt that this was insufficient; "he wanted] guerrillas to operate in the North."12 So further plans, such as sabotaging northern ports and recruiting North Vietnamese living elsewhere in Asia and in Europe, were put on the fast track.13 Two months later, however, the president again checked on the progress of his covert plan and found that the CIA was not acting fast enough, so in early March he issued National Security Action Memorandum No. 28 (NSAM 28) ordering the agency to "make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in North Vietnamese territory."14
Before these measures could be fully implemented, Washington suffered a pair of policy setbacks. On 19 April a CIA-sponsored paramilitary operation by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs went terribly wrong. This was followed immediately by a series of reversals for the American-backed Royal Lao army, leaving them on the ropes after a North Vietnamese-led communist land grab.
Gathering his National Security Council on 29 April, Kennedy again hoped to turn the tables by using the CIA. William Colby had traveled back to Washington to help make the pitch for an increase in covert operations.15 these actions, far more broad than those outlined the previous month, included propaganda leaflet drops, clandestine radio broadcasts, and sabotage raids into North Vietnam and Laos by the 1st Observation Group. It also called on agent teams in North Vietnam not only to conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence but also "to form networks of resistance, covert bases and teams for sabotage and light harassment."
This latest Kennedy action plan was extremely ambitious—and very confusing. In the space of a month, Washington had expanded the mandate of its untested Vietnamese agent teams to include the full gamut of unconventional warfare. Whereas the original CIA plan had its agents focused on low-profile intelligence collection, they were now approaching a full-fledged GCMA concept, but without any additional training.
The effect of the National Security Council decision had yet to filter down to Saigon. As the council was meeting in the White House, the first airborne team had just finished its brief training. In mid-May, it underwent final fitting and was given the code name CASTOR, referring to the Greek god who aided Hercules. Ironically, CASTOR had also been the name for France's November 1953 airborne operation to retake the Dien Bien Phu valley—an operation that led to France's final defeat in Indochina.
CASTOR would face an increasingly hostile environment in North Vietnam. Already paranoid about penetration by counterrevolutionaries, Hanoi became more concerned in February with the discovery of ARES's boat along the beach near Ha Long Bay. On 1 March the Vietnamese communist party issued secret instructions ordering its security forces to redouble efforts at combating undercover agents, a measure no doubt driven home when ARES was captured three weeks later.18
South Vietnam played into Hanoi's hand by telegraphing its next move with two violations of northern airspace in early May.19 Already fearful about aerial insertions—which had prompted a 1959 directive calling on border defense forces to search the terrain under the flight path of intruding planes—Hanoi undoubtedly saw these probes as clear evidence that an airborne threat would soon materialize.
As if not to disappoint, CASTOR was scheduled to go north on 27 May. A full moon and favorable weather were forecast for that night. Unlike maritime infiltrations, which used moonless nights to approach the coast, the Vietnamese air force crews needed something approaching a full moon that was at least thirty degrees over the horizon—usually only four nights a month—to navigate to the drop zone. In addition, the agents needed the moonlight to get a visual fix on the drop zone and on each other during descent.
As planned, the four CASTOR members boarded the unmarked VIAT C-47 at Tan Son Nhut. In the cockpit was Major Ky. The entire crew was dressed in sterile flight suits with no identification or connection to the military. If they went down over the north, their thin cover story was that they were a civilian outfit smuggling illegal goods. Each member also carried one hundred dollars, to be used during an escape.
The plane left Tan Son Nhut and flew north to Danang for refueling. At 2200 hours, Ky lifted off and headed low over the Gulf of Tonkin on a direct course for Ninh Binh Province in central North Vietnam. The two navigators remained busy: one gave a ground fix every two minutes, the other plotted the route to the target.
Coming upon the Ninh Binh coast, Ky banked the plane on a northwest heading across Hoa Binh Province, then veered north toward Son La. Crossing the Da River, the two navigators called corrections. Below, a forested high point—marked on the maps as Hill 828—shone in the moonlight. As Ky activated the green jump light, parachute delivery officers in the cabin pushed palleted supply bundles through the rear door, with the four members of CASTOR following quickly behind. The aircraft then reversed course and headed home.
On Hill 828, Sergeant Ha Van Chap, the CASTOR team leader, stripped off his parachute harness and assembled his men. They had landed one kilo-meter from a nearby village. Nine kilometers farther south was the Da River, and another ten kilometers south of that was Route 6. By North Vietnamese standards, Route 6 was a major road. Leading across the neighboring district, it then veered southwest into the Lao province of Sam Neua. Given the Kennedy administrations preoccupation with Laos and the fact that Sam Neua was the communist stronghold in Laos, CASTOR's ability to provide an accurate accounting of movement down Route 6 gave the team's mission a strategic dimension. Moreover, CASTOR's ethnic composition—which included two minority groups indigenous to the area—would hopefully enable the team members to supplement their observations with information from local contacts.
Even before they could move off the mountain, however, CASTOR was doomed to failure. The CIA had counted on the ability of a low-flying aircraft to successfully skirt the North Vietnamese heartland without detection. This meant avoiding Hanoi's already robust antiaircraft defenses. By early 1961, North Vietnam had ten antiaircraft regiments in its order of battle, three of which were equipped with radar. Unfortunately for the commandos, a company from one of these regiments was in Son La's Moc Chau District, which had been overflown during CASTOR's infiltration.
Even if the VIAT aircraft managed to evade North Vietnamese radar, much of the flight path was over provinces dotted with small villages. The sound of a twin-engine aircraft, especially in the dead of night, was certain to draw the attention of the rural population. Even in the remote interior, villages were connected through a security network, the Cong An Vu Trang Nhan Dan (People's Armed Security Force, or PASF). Created in March 1959 within the Ministry of the Interior, the PASF was a combination of gendarmerie and border defense force deployed in rural areas as the vanguard in Hanoi's defense against counterrevolution. Decidedly low-tech but highly effective, the PASF provided a coherent, well-armed network that enforced party control down to the district, and in some cases village, level.
When CASTOR jumped over Hill 828, villagers were within earshot. They reported what they heard, and by the morning of 28 May the North Vietnamese authorities had a good idea of the plane's likely drop zone. Immediately, three local PASF formations converged around the commune closest to Hill 828. After three days of hunting, they came upon the team. CASTOR surrendered without a fight.20
Even as CASTOR was being pursued, the PASF headquarters issued a classified set of instructions ordering its field units to "heighten vigilance to cope with, prevent, and defeat the enemy plot." This plot, explained the directive, involved new commando teams being sent by Saigon to the north.
Significantly, the name Hanoi used for the commandos was Biet Kich, the same term it had used in relation to the GCMA.21
While privately ordering its security forces to deal with the Biet Kich threat, publicly North Vietnam made no mention of CASTOR's arrest or the associated airspace violation. Just as with the capture of ARES back in April, Hanoi chose to secretly exploit its captive commandos.
Meanwhile, the CIA and Office 45, as yet unaware of CASTOR's fate, were busy preparing more intelligence teams for infiltration. Just as before, they were allowed to scour the ranks of the 1st Observation Group for candidates. Helping in the selection was Father Nguyen Viet Khai, the same Catholic priest who had helped Lieutenant Colonel Tung find agent recruits in 1957.22
Khai's participation was necessary because the next team was set to parachute into central Quang Binh, North Vietnam's southernmost province, and contact a specific Catholic priest assigned to the village of Trooc. It was hoped that the Trooc priest, when shown a photo and letter of introduction from Khai, would offer food and shelter to the commandos. Using the church as cover, the agents were then to watch Route 15, a major artery running west into the Lao panhandle, which Hanoi used to transport supplies to South Vietnam. The agents were also tasked with confirming the presence of a North Vietnamese infantry division and an artillery unit, both believed to be located just north of the Demilitarized Zone.
On 2 June, this second airborne team of three commandos, code-named ECHO, headed north from Danang aboard the VIAT C-47. Making a shallow arc over the seventeenth parallel, the plane crossed into Quang Binh Province, and the team parachuted into the hills five kilometers north of Trooc.
The team's timing could not have been worse. As the paratroopers exited the plane, two nearby hamlets were in the midst of a late-night ideology session. Hearing the aircraft engine, they rushed outside in time to see the C-47 silhouetted against the moon. It took only a few hours to round up a search party using PASF militia, a dog platoon, and an infantry company. Coordinating along three fronts, they began to work their way up the hills.
ECHO was in bad shape from the start. One of the commandos had drifted three kilometers and landed in a tree. Cutting loose from his harness, he fell to the ground and injured his leg. The other two commandos managed to link up, but they were nervous wrecks, well aware that their drop had been spotted by nearby villagers. With survival foremost on their minds, they contacted Saigon by radio to say they intended to run toward the border. Before they could make any progress, however, North Vietnamese search parties tightened the noose. The next day all three were captured.
Again, the CIA was unaware that its team had been captured. Twelve days later, a third team, code-named DIDO and consisting of four Black Tai agents, departed Danang. The agents' target was the heart of the Black Tai minority, Lai Chau Province in extreme northwestern North Vietnam.24 There they were to parachute near Route 6 midway between the provincial capital and the crossroads village of Tuan Giao. Once more, the connection to the war in Laos was prominent. From their vantage point, DIDO could observe traffic heading toward Tuan Giao, where a prominent road artery forked southwest through the Dien Bien Phu valley—now being used as a base for the North Vietnamese 316th Brigade—and into northern Laos.
Overflying the Gulf of Tonkin toward the Chinese border, Major Ky steered the C-47 across northernmost North Vietnam. Pausing to drop propaganda leaflets over Cao Bang Province near the Chinese border, the plane headed west toward the designated drop zone in Lai Chau. When the green light flashed, the four commandos leaped into the void, while the C-47, linking up with the same return flight path used by CASTOR, turned southeast toward the coastal province of Ninh Binh.
Landing in a mountain clearing, the four DIDO commandos hid their parachutes and assembled. Unlike ECHO, all had escaped injury. But their main supply bundle—containing clothes, ammunition, food, and their radio—was nowhere to be found. For over three weeks, the parachutists, by now very hungry, combed the hills to no avail. Then one morning they ran into a PASF patrol, which for the previous ten days had been sweeping four neighboring districts after receiving villager reports of a parachute drop. The weakened commandos ran for Laos, only to be captured at the border.2^
By the second week of July, Hanoi had all three airborne teams in custody. Publicly, not a word had been uttered. Privately, its security services were working overtime. Fearful that more airborne teams would follow, on 22 June party officials issued a directive underscoring the need for swift searches when commandos were dropped.26 This was followed by publication of a classified PASF booklet outlining how to counter airborne teams.
Even at that early date, the PASF booklet showed a remarkably complete understanding of the CIA's unfolding operation. Written with strong assistance from Beijing, it drew several lessons from China's long experience with CIA airborne teams and revealed an intimate understanding of the agency's methodology. For example, the publication noted that in both China and North Vietnam, teams jumped between 2200 and 0100 hours. The booklet also noted that teams usually parachuted into mountainous areas or along district boundaries, where the jurisdiction between local security forces was often confused. It also correctly pointed out that agent teams would normally move from the drop zone to a nearby area to regroup.
Of course, Hanoi knew very well that whenever agent teams were parachuted into North Vietnam they would soon be followed by supply drops. It was these follow-on drops that convinced the Ministry of the Interior to launch a "counterespionage operation." The plan was to double the Biet Kich radio operators, "persuade" them to establish controlled contact with Saigon, and convince their former masters that the teams were safe. In doing so, North Vietnam's intelligence officials hoped they could not only channel disinformation but also lure supplies—or even future teams—into drop zones of their choosing.
At 1200 hours, 29 June—just over a month after insertion—CASTOR flashed its first message to BUGS, the CIA's radio relay station in the Philippines. Saigon was apparently not overly concerned about the delay in establishing contact because it immediately sent back words of encouragement, followed by a promise to send supplies in four days. To Hanoi's satisfaction, the ploy appeared to be working.
On the afternoon of 1 July, one day before the promised re-supply, pallets were packed at Tan Son Nhut and loaded on the VIAT C-47. Major Ky was scheduled to fly the plane, but at the last moment handed off the mission to the backup crew headed by Lieutenant Phan Thanh Van. Joining Van's men would be three noncommissioned officers seconded from the 1st Observation Group to help kick the supplies out the rear door to CASTOR's position.
After a final CIA briefing, Lieutenant Van lifted off for Danang late that afternoon. This would be the first attempted re-supply of an in-place team, an extremely challenging mission. Using nothing more sophisticated than a navigator looking out the window and following the terrain in the moonlight, the team was expected to work its way through the mountains and find CASTOR's small drop zone.
Following the customary refuel at Danang, the VIAT crew took off near midnight and, traveling along the same air corridor used by CASTOR and DIDO, made a direct line for Ninh Binh Province. Up in Son La Province, meanwhile, PASF officials had hiked to the mountain clearing where, according to their radio play with Saigon, CASTOR would be awaiting the drop. Joining them at the scene was Ha Van Chap, the CASTOR team leader, who had been coerced into providing assistance.28 A signal fire blazed nearby as the North Vietnamese waited for the plane.29
On Hon Ne, a small island six kilometers off the coast of Ninh Binh Province, North Vietnamese soldiers heard the C-47 as it approached the mainland. The garrison on the island had been augmented in mid-June after Hanoi deduced that Ninh Binh was the primary infiltration point used
during the commando flights. By overflying Ninh Binh, Hanoi correctly reasoned, the planes could skirt the antiaircraft ring around Hanoi and take the most direct path to the mountainous northwestern portion of the country where rough terrain and sparse population played against the security forces.
The soldiers on Hon Me—which included both PASF and an antiaircraft platoon—had failed to react during two previous VIAT overflights. This time, the gunners were alert as the drone of the low-flying C-47's engines grew louder. As the plane came into view, the gunners opened fire, riddling the bottom of the aircraft with bullets. Seriously damaged, it dropped from the sky and crashed in a plantation twenty kilometers inland.30
Word of the shootdown raced through official Saigon. The U.S. ambassador, Fritz Nolting, was livid over the potential for diplomatic embarrassment.31 Within the CIA and Office 45, there was a sinking feeling that
CASTOR was under North Vietnamese control and that the re-supply plane had been lured into an ambush.
Strangely enough, the mood in Hanoi was restrained. While the North Vietnamese media converged on the crash site and reported outrage at the obvious purpose of the flight, the Ministry of the Interior was probably less than pleased. The shootdown, after all, jeopardized its long-term plans because CASTOR would now fall under intense scrutiny. Unless it could placate the CIA's suspicions, Hanoi's first counterespionage operation would likely end prematurely.
The price of peace
An in-depth look at the men and the details behind U.S. involvement in Vietnam
By Mark Feeney / Boston Globe
No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam
By Larry Berman
Free Press, $27.50
(A good read)
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Richard Nixon admired no statesman more than Charles de Gaulle. Henry Kissinger esteemed him nearly as much. Yet their admiration did not extend to emulation. De Gaulle's greatest act as French president was to recognize the futility of France's position in Algeria and end it.
Nixon and Kissinger, who by no means failed to recognize the impossibility of the U.S. position in Vietnam, were unwilling to do the same. The subtitle of Larry Berman's book isn't really necessary for anyone much older than 40. "Peace with honor," which doubled as plea and policy statement, was the great mantra of Nixon's first term. (the mantra of his second term was "Who, me?")
Thus a title like No Peace, No Honor all but inevitably summons up the names Nixon, Kissinger and Vietnam. And part of why the war remains such a wound for so many is because those names in turn summon up "betrayal" for almost all parties involved: Vietnamese and American, hawk and dove, victor and vanquished.
It's not as though the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 27, 1973, fooled anyone (other than the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which later that year conferred the Nobel Peace Prize on the agreement's two chief negotiators, Kissinger and North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho).
Soon after the accords were signed, Nixon's chief domestic policy adviser, John Ehrlichman, asked Kissinger what South Vietnam's chances for survival were.
"I think that if they're lucky they can hold out for a year and a half," Kissinger said. Ever conservative, he'd underestimated by eight months.
Shortly before the war really did end, with the fall of Saigon in April 1975, President Gerald Ford was handed the text of a speech he was to deliver to a joint session of Congress. It included the sentence, "And after years of effort, we negotiated a settlement which made it possible for us to remove our forces with honor and bring home our prisoners." Ford deleted the words "with honor."
Berman, the director of the University of California's Washington Center, has published two previous books on the war, Planning a Tragedy and Lyndon Johnson's War. He brings to No Peace, No Honor a sure command of his material, much of which is newly declassified and drawn from archives in Hanoi as well as Washington. He also brings to it a real, if measured, sense of outrage.
Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon's approaches to peace during the Vietnam War are examined in Larry Berman's book, "No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam."
"Well rounded" might be as good a description as "measured." Berman's loathing for Nixon, Kissinger and the war is patent. But that makes him no admirer of the North Vietnamese or National Liberation Front. (As he makes plain, Hanoi treated the NLF with a high-handedness not unlike Washington's toward Saigon; and the almost-theatrical intransigence of its negotiating tactics can be seen as having served no end beyond ideological self-congratulation.)
What Berman works to show is the inherent dishonesty of Nixon's Vietnam policy. This is no great challenge. Even before he was elected president, Nixon strove to undercut the possibility (admittedly slim) of the Johnson administration achieving any breakthrough in the Paris peace talks. That dishonesty continued, and to little purpose, in his and Kissinger's shared mania for secrecy in their negotiations with the North. And, finally as well as most important, there was his highly cynical view of the accords.
"Nixon," Berman writes, "recognized that winning the peace, like the war, would be impossible to achieve, but he planned for indefinite stalemate by using the B-52s to prop up the government of South Vietnam until the end of his presidency. Just as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution provided a pretext for an American engagement in South Vietnam, the Paris Accords were intended to fulfill a similar role for remaining permanently engaged in Vietnam. Watergate derailed the plan."
Berman hasn't discovered a smoking gun. Instead, he offers a deeper, more detailed description of what was generally known or assumed about Nixon's handling of the war and planned handling of the peace. Indeed, what's most impressive about No Peace, No Honor is the comprehensiveness with which it examines what Berman all too accurately terms "a massive historical shell game called 'peace with honor.' "