A CRITICAL VOICE OF
THE VIETNAM WAR PASSES
A CRITICAL VOICE OF
THE VIETNAM WAR PASSES
The New York Times recently published an article entitled James G. Lowenstein, Whose Reports Questioned Vietnam War, Dies at 95. Included in the article were references to updates of articles published over fifty years ago in The New York Times which I had never seen as it was not delivered to Southeast Asia at that time. I was clearly aware of what was being concealed by the establishment as I was in that arena over much of that seven-year period. James Lowenstein, along with his globe-trotting partner Richard Moose, produced the facts of the ill-conceived conflict that would undermine President Richard Nixon’s ineffective strategy in the Vietnam War. Senator William Fulbright, a Democrat from Arkansas and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was deeply suspicious of Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War through “Vietnamization.”
In 1969, Senator Fulbright sent Mr. Lowenstein and Mr. Moose, both former Foreign Service officers, to Southeast Asia to investigate. I preceded them to that part of the world by less than a year from my posting in New York where I wrote analyses of the Paris Peace Talks and other Southeast Asia issues prior to going to Bangkok and becoming a frequent flyer to Laos. Mr. Lowenstein is shown below giving an address in later years. Nonetheless, from the beginning the Lowenstein/Moose duo made it clear the everlasting war “was not only far from won but far from over.”
Mr. Lowenstein and Mr. Moose returned to the region several times and learned that the U.S. was expanding its efforts beyond Vietnam to include Cambodia. While in Laos, they found a secret, long-running effort by the C.I.A to train pro-American guerrillas. They were Hmong Hill Tribe fighters led by Colonel Vang Pao, shown below in camo fatigues, surrounded by many U.S. advisors in ordinary fatigues near the Plain of Jars, Laos.
The Hmong people were the folks we and Air America provided logistical support including fuel into their U.S. gifted T-28 aircraft, munitions and whatever else was needed. The Hmong covered some of their costs by smuggling opium which made it a tidy relationship until the Vietnamese began to supplement their Pathet Lao local troops with well-trained and well-armed Vietnamese. About the time the image below was taken, there were some 30,000 Hmong forces in Laos. In 1970, Vang Pao’s support base was overrun which marked a dramatic turn in the conflict. I remember that time vividly as I could not catch an Air America ride to our airstrip some seven miles from his former base and had to fly an opium smuggler commercial aircraft with no certainty of a ride out.
Another disclosure by the Lowenstein/Moose truth finders was that the U.S. was actively providing air support for Cambodian armed forces. I also remember the day the U.S. overthrew Norodom Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia as, when I called Air France to confirm they were flying there, they said “take a chance as we will circle the airstrip and, if it looks okay, we will land” which we did. It occurred to me that evening that leaving might be more problematic than arriving. For some time, the U.S. had been “knee deep” in the Cambodian conflict providing training in Thailand and even manufacturing munitions in the U.S. for captured Soviet and Chinese rifles.
In his 1967 trip to Vietnam, Mr. Lowenstein happened to meet Daniel Ellsberg with the RAND Corporation. Two years later, Mr. Ellsberg contacted him about a top-secret report that he had helped write that showed how the Defense Department had covered up doubts about the Vietnam war. Mr. Lowenstein arranged a meeting between Senator Fulbright and Mr. Ellsberg. Mr. Ellsberg urged Senator Fulbright to force the Defense Department to release the report though he considered it politically too risky to do so. Another two years passed before Mr. Ellsberg, shown below, leaked the study to The New York Times and later to the Washington Post. It became known as the Pentagon Papers.
There must be some longevity rub-off from being a “truth and peace “seeker as Mr. Lowenstein lived to be 95 and Mr. Ellsberg is 91. You should know that I marched in the first Peace March in New York before heading over to Southeast Asia for a front row seat of the rout at the end of the three conflicts. Flexibility is often required in war times. Vietnam was particularly difficult for me as the end was crystal clear and the U.S. Ambassador refused to recognize it and allow me to evacuate my Vietnamese staff. The result was I lost a lot of personal friends.
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