Americanswere told that a U.S.military victory was a defeat

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO

Guest lecturer inLutheran theology at Concordia University in Irvine

Forty years ago today, I witnessedthe start of the most perplexing development in the 20th century – America‘s self-betrayal during the Offensive in Vietnam.

The reason why I have never ceasedwrestling with this event is this: On the one hand, ended in a clear military victory for the United States and its South Vietnameseallies, who killed 45,000 communist soldiers and destroyed theirinfrastructure.

On the other hand, the major U.S.media persuaded Americans that was a huge setbackfor their country. As a result, marked thebeginning of the end of U.S.involvement in Vietnam,which consequently ended in defeat when South Vietnam fell in 1975.

I was there, as Far East correspondent of the Axel Springer group of Germannewspapers, Jan. 30, 1968,when 85,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops struck 36 of the South’s 44provincial capitals.

Two days earlier, a French officerin Laoshad tipped me off that something spectacular was about to occur during thecease-fire for , the Vietnamese New Year.”You’d better return to Saigon,” hesaid.

At 3 a.m. on Jan. 31, I stood opposite the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, watching a fierce firefight between Marines andViet Cong attackers, some of whom were already inside the Embassy compound.

Some days later, I was in thecompany of Marines fighting their way into communist-occupied , Vietnam‘sformer imperial capital, 600 miles north of Saigon.We found its streets strewn with the corpses of hundreds of women, children andold men, all shot execution-style by North Vietnamese invaders.

I made my way to Hué’s university apartments to obtain news aboutfriends of mine, German professors at the medical school. I learned that theirnames had been on lists containing some 1,800 residents singled out for liquidation.

Six weeks later the bodies ofdoctors Alois Altekoester, Raimund Discher andHorst-Guenther Krainick and Krainick’swife, Elisabeth, were found in shallow graves they had been made to dig forthemselves.

Then, enormous mass graves ofwomen and children were found. Most had been clubbed to death, some buried alive;you could tell from the beautifully manicured hands of women who had tried toclaw out of their burial place.

As we stood at one such site,Washington Post correspondent Peter Braestrup askedan American T.V. cameraman, “Why don’t you film this?” He answered,”I am not here to spread anti-communist propaganda.”

There was a time when was the most anti-American city in South Vietnam,to wit, a graffito outside the villa of the dowager empress, which read, “Chat My” (cutthe Americans’ throats). But this changed as a result of Viet Cong atrocities.Now the word “My” (American) was replaced with “Cong”(communists).

Many reporters accompanying U.S. and South Vietnamese forces realized andreported that the fortunes of war and the public mood had changed in theirfavor, principally because of the war crimes committed by the communists,especially in Hue,where 6,000-10,000 residents were slaughtered.

But the major media gave the story an entirely different spin. CBS News anchormanWalter Cronkite, for example, flew briefly into Saigon.When he returned to New Yorkhe told his 22 million nightly viewers:

“It is increasingly clear tothis reporter that the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not asvictors, but as an honorable people who have lived up to their pledge to defenddemocracy, and did the best they could.”

In other words, Cronkite said,”Oops, we lost,” when, in truth, the biggest engagement in this warwas militarily won.

Two decades on, I was a chaplainintern in a VA hospital working with former Vietnam combatants. They werebroken men. Most had been called baby killers on their return home. Their wivesor girlfriends, and in some cases even pastors, had abandoned them. Many hadattempted suicide or withdrawn into the wilderness.

And almost all thought that theircountry, even God, had turned their backs on them.

There was a time when I loved mycraft as a reporter passionately. Vietnam changed this. It taught methe appalling consequence of journalistic hubris, which gave the media, meaningall of us, an enduring bad name.

Reprint with permission of Siemon-Netto, Ph.D., D.Litt.

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